[Interview] Bea Brat Talks 'Heavy Metal Princess,' Social Media, & Performance Art During a Pandemic
Author’s Note: This interview was conducted on October 8, 2020, one day before the release of the song “Ratz,” and two weeks before the release of Heavy Metal Princess. Having worked with Bea Brat a couple of years before her music career got going, it was an honor and a privilege to have a conversation with an old friend and colleague. I’ve covered Bea’s work countless times on the site, and now, for the first time, you will get to hear straight from the Brat’s mouth how this all came to be.
CT: You have another new song coming, “Ratz.” Tell us about it. With the title of it, there’s certain imagery that comes to mind, the cover has the Bratz logo styling, so tell us about “Ratz” and what we can expect from that track.
BB: Ratz is kinda like… it started off as an inside joke with somebody saying my name was Bea Rat, and I thought it was pretty funny. I like that. So I have a really big love and obsession with the juxtaposition of really cute, pretty in pink, and then dirty, garbage, and nasty stuff. With this song, I was talking to one of my friends who I met through my art, and he loves what I do. I went on Instagram and I said, as a joke, “if I ever have a fanbase, I’m gonna call my fans ‘rats.’” And I was totally joking, because I think it was funny how some artists give their fan bases names, like that’s a little impersonal. But I understand that a lot of fans like to be called something, from what I see on Twitter and stuff.
But I think the names that some musicians call their fans are ridiculous. Like Selena Gomez calls hers “Selenators” or something weird like that. I just think it’s funny, some of the names are really stupid. So I went on Instagram and said that, and then my friend changed his username to “kevintherat,” then everyone was like “I’m a rat.” I was like “that’s cute, that’s funny.” I think rats are so cute, but I don’t have any rats myself. Maybe I’ll get one, or two, cuz you can’t keep just one. A lot of people see rats and think gross, like “ew, a rat!” You associate it with garbage, the sewers. It makes sense that if I called my fans anything, even though I hate saying that, I mean, they’re cute, they’re harmless, unless they’re rabid. But people look at them as dirty and nasty.
That’s what I think I am, that’s how I associate myself with my art. It’s alternative, it’s dark and weird sometimes, but I have a lot of love to give. I just feel like I can relate with a rat, and so do a lot of people that like my art. Being the black sheep of the family, being the odd one out. When I mentioned it to him, I wasn’t 100% set on it, but if I produced it right, came up with the right sounds, it would happen. One night I was sitting there, coming up with beats and such, and I came up with “Ratz” in like, twenty minutes. I wrote the lyrics super fast.
I’ve known Chaseicon for a minute. She came out with this Kylie Jenner voiceover series, saying dumb shit over it, pretending she was her. It was sarcastic and ridiculous, it was great. Her fanbase on Twitter is crazy. They love her, they eat her shit up, and I get it, I do too. Sometimes it’s so stupid, it’s funny. Her humor is so nonchalant and sarcastic. So she did the intro for the album, and I liked the way her voice sounded, so I needed her on an actual song. She can hit a beat, spit some fire, so I sent her the song and she wrote her verse so fast. And it sounded so good. It’s very playful, very pop, with an edge and griminess to it.
CT: That griminess in pop is indicative of all of your music, from “Pretty” to “911,” there’s that playfulness and aloofness, but there’s an edge, a social commentary. There’s more to it. It feels like there’s a lot more of that in mainstream pop music, with artists like Billie Eilish and Poppy, this radio-friendly music but there’s way more to it. We’re kinda past that teeny-bopping phase.
BB: I’m actually really inspired by Poppy and Rico Nasty, more so Poppy. I love that mysteriousness, that definition of that little cute, innocent girl. When she first started making music, yeah it was pop, but she had those weird music videos. Then with the I Disagree album, you see her and think one thing, then you hear it and you’re like “what the fuck?” I just love that about her. She and Ghostemane make an interesting pair. I feel like Babymetal inspired some of her sound too. But there’s not a lot of people doing that. I would love to make music like that one day. Maybe the album will open more gateways to experiment with different sounds.
Our radio, the things we hear that are “popular” sounds like mush, sounds the same. I’ve noticed a lot of underground artists on TikTok getting some of the spotlight, being able to share their art and get it to a bigger platform more easily. It’s been so cool to see a smaller artist blow up because of this silly video app. We don’t have a lot of new artists coming into the scene. We’re still listening to like, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, these incredible, well-known artists, but we don’t get much variety. We get these one-hit wonders that might get something out there, but at least in the mainstream, wider sense of music, there’s not much diversity at all.
CT: In that sense, getting known through the use of their song in TikTok videos, it feels like TikTok has become the new Myspace.
BB: For sure. There’s been so many times this year that I’ve asked my friends, “What is this song?” and they’ll be like “oh, it’s from TikTok.” I haven’t sat and thought about it much, but it is a great way to discover new music. But the app is video- and audio-related, so that plays a big role. I’ve found some cool artists and songs from it, and I hope that continues to happen. Or maybe more options besides TikTok for people to find music. Myspace was a social media platform, yeah, but their music platform was huge. They’d put on the secret parties and pop-up shows, they really built those underground artists and unsigned artists, and Myspace had a team that worked for them. I miss that about Myspace.
CT: What would you say to people that say “they should just play music, we’re not here for their opinions?” Especially with your songs like “911,” but also generally speaking?
BB: Then don’t fucking listen to it. There’s plenty of music where they don’t talk about political beliefs. Go listen to, I don’t know, Taylor Swift’s first album or something. You don’t have to listen to it. People behind screens get so brave, they say things they wouldn’t say in person. They can be so nasty. I was a little nervous when “911” came out. When the video started to gain momentum, I was thinking, “what if that one conservative person with a platform finds this and blasts it, and then I have all these people they send after me.” Cuz I have this tough exterior, but I’m actually really sensitive. I’ve had my fair share of learning when I have the spoons to read comments online or not.
Someone commented “all gimmick, no substance,” and it bothered me. I know the people that have been watching and know why I do it and why I made it enjoy it, but I couldn’t imagine if a bunch of people came after it. I find it irritating that people go out of their way to shit on somebody’s art. It’s OK to have an opinion and not like something. My cousin told me “I don’t agree with the lyrics, but it sounds great and I respect your art and you as an artist.” And I thought that was a great way to word it. I just wish some people had better things to do, to spend their time on.
Bea and Antidote (right), from the "911" music video
CT: Speaking of “911,” we got a remix with Yvie Oddly. With “Pretty,” you had Aja. Maxi Glamour is on the lineup for Heavy Metal Princess. How the fuck do you know all of these people? How have you been able to make these connections?
BB: Virginia West told me, my first time working in Columbus, “I want you to come back here and perform. And I want you to know that you’re a really good person, you have a kind heart, and that will get you anywhere.” Sometimes I really hate that I can be a doormat, or too trusting of people or open. I’ve been hurt a lot of times in my life, business and personal things. But it’s what’s helped me make these connections that have gotten me the opportunities that I’ve had. Up until recently, I’ve been really hard on myself. I didn’t want to say “oh, I’m a cool musician” cuz I hate when people aren’t humble, when they’re like “I’m fucking good and I know it.” I don’t want to invalidate my own work like that. Out of everything that I have in my life, when it comes to material or personal things, the one thing I’m confident in is my music and my art. I feel really good about it. I’m not at the level I want to be, but I’m able to tell myself, “it’s OK to be confident.”
I met Aja at Axis in Columbus. She’s in my top 3 of my favorite Drag Race people. Especially since she wants to be known for more than the drag. I went to the meet and greet, had a conversation with her and opened up to her. I never thought I could do drag because of my skin. It’s not the best, but I got bullied for it all the time. She told me she appreciated me, she followed me on Instagram and followed me, and then she went live and chatted with me. We FaceTimed for like three hours and it was great. People are like “never meet your idols, you’ll be disappointed,” but it was the complete opposite of that. As much as I want to say that I don’t need it, it helped me keep going. She talked on Live about my stapling myself, my alternative performances. So we worked on “Pretty.” She was supposed to be on the album, but she has to book five hours out at a time because of COVID, plus she’s working on her own album. So it just didn’t work out. We’re gonna work together in the future, but that’s how it goes.
If you’re just real with people, things happen. When it comes to collaborating with people, the worst that can happen is that you get left on read, or they say no. I have a friend who wants to do a makeup collaboration with other people. So she asked Maddelynn Hatter, even though she thought she was too big to ask. But if she doesn’t ask, there’s no way of knowing what would happen.
I met Yvie when she came to Axis as well. She followed me on Instagram, but Neurotika is their drag kid, so Yvie heard “911” and loved it. It was 3am, I was drunk, I wanted to work with Yvie, but was it a reach? So I shot my shot, only having like three thousand followers, talking to a Drag Race winner with over a million followers. I woke up at 9am, she responded and said “absolutely,” and by 11am she’s like “I just wrote 16 bars, where do I send it?” I was like “what the fuck?!” It was so crazy. I was screaming like a little girl. I don’t know how, things just happen.
I truly think that as hard as it is to say this, I deserve it. I work really hard for it. Before I started doing drag, my life was a shitshow. I was homeless, living in shelters. I was kicked out of my house right after I came out. Music was the only thing getting me through. My art got me through. I was making music before drag, and when I did it then, it didn’t make sense. I enjoyed it, but once I put it with my drag and experimented with gender, I was like “I know what my brand is. I know who I am, this makes so much more sense.” I don’t know, it came so easily to me.
CT: With the pandemic going on, the live entertainment industry is in crisis mode. I know you’ve only recently been doing in-person shows and livestreams. What has your performance experience been since the pandemic began?
BB: It’s been very here and there. Right now, the shows [Insect] I’ve been doing with Robyn [DaCultyre] have been crazy. We mesh really well together and work well together behind the scenes. The planning is great, getting back into shows is stressful, especially day of. But the audience is so weird. First “Insect” show we had, it was weird. It’s been on and off, not as many people showed up to the next one, and the next one after that. Is weekly the right thing to do? I mean, we want to make this a variety show, not just a drag show, so we want to make the performers comfortable. But not everyone is comfortable going to bars right now.
Robyn DaCulture, Bea's "Insect" co-host
Another thing that really struck me is the diversity. We want to book people of color and keep things diverse, and we were sitting there and realized there weren’t as many POC performers in Columbus as we would think there were. Not that there aren’t any, we appreciate the ones we have, but I wish more people would just get out there and do it. I’ve talked to so many people that want to do it, and I wish they would do it. We’re on such a skeleton cast as it is, and we want to make a diverse show. We don’t want just queens performing. We can’t find that many kings, either. And one you look at the state of Ohio or the tri-state area, yeah, it’s different. But we don’t have the money to bring them in right now. Because it’s so hit and miss, it’s hard to give folks a booking fee price.
And being on stage, usually people hand you dollars and you interact with the audience. You can feed off the crowd that way. And now we can’t have that. The show starts at 8pm, everyone’s completely sober. They’re sitting there, listening to the show, being respectful, and it’s a little awkward, honestly. Having a weekly show, I feel so pressured to come up with something each week. I’ve performed songs that aren’t out yet, but it would be fun to give them a preview. We’re coming on week, what, five or six, and now I’m like “what am I gonna perform?” I don’t wanna go back to lip syncing and “drag” stuff, so I want to brand myself more as a musician. There are songs I want to lip sync if it hits hard and is important to me, or if I have a cool concept for a performance. But it’s hard to go to a show and be like “you can just host, you don’t have to perform.” And now that we have the chance, I want to jump on the opportunity. It’s the little things that add that anxiety and pressure to make sure you do a good job.
CT: How do you see this affecting the release of Heavy Metal Princess? There’s not really the option to tour in the traditional sense, so how do you see this album cycle playing out?
BB: From how it’s gone so far, I don’t have any expectations. I didn’t expect “911” to get as many streams and listens as it did. So any “success” it gets makes me happy. If anything, my music has done better and that I’ve accomplished more because of being in quarantine. People have more time to pay attention to music and art. They’re on their phones more, they’re exploring more. It’s like when Lady Gaga released Chromatica, when other artists pushed back their releases because of COVID, that bothered me. We needed it right then and now. People are losing their jobs, their money, their hope. Music is one of those things we just need. It made me so mad, it was a money thing, and it had to be. They say things like “I want to be able to share this with you in person” and I just don’t buy that.
I feel like the person who set the standard was Charli XCX. She worked on her album on Live, interacting with fans, and some of these people were literally waiting for her to get on live, it was their thing to look forward to. To be involved with something so intimate, so private, it gives people more of a reason to watch and be involved. It feels so much more personal. When the fans listened to the album after it came out, we could be like “oh, I remember when she was writing this song!” I’m not saying everyone has to do that, but a lot of artists were scared of their albums not being as successful. But we don’t know how long this is going to last. Do you really want to hold back your album until things are back to “normal?”
My music has been doing really well, and people need music right now. So I almost feel like if I released my album when things were “normal,” I wouldn’t be able to plan it as well as I do now. I have more free time to get it done a lot faster than I thought. I was going to do an EP, I was going to do a mixtape, and I finally put my foot down and told myself that I needed to put something out. If I keep changing it and changing it, I’m just gonna keep putting out singles. I needed to put an album out. Because of what’s going on, I’ll be able to figure out how to handle it after it’s released easier. Like if Gaga doesn’t get to tour Chromatica for a year after its release, the fans are still going to go see her when it’s time. It’s not like people are going to forget, when you’re at the level she is. People will be excited to be in a crowd, dancing to music from an artist they love and adore. Music is needed now more than ever to distract ourselves, and to feel more hopeful about what’s going on and the future.
CT: So I came across a Reddit thread that suggested that you should be on Dragula.
BB: (laughs) Yeah, Clinica [Deprecious] showed me that. They sent me a screenshot of it.
CT: I saw it in my inbox, and I was like “wait a minute.” Is that something you would want to do? Is that something that interests you? What are your feelings on Dragula?
BB: It’s definitely something I would do, especially because I love it. But I really want to be on a platform to share my views and show people that performance is such a spectrum, all different things. Drag as we know it gets boxed so much, I’ve sat there and done it to. I feel weird telling people that I’m a drag queen. I tell people and they’re gonna be like “have you ever heard of RuPaul’s Drag Race?” I want to show them my music and my art and teach them otherwise. But I need to get out of the box I have myself in in my own head. To change my perspective on drag to a more positive one. But I want to show that I’m a musician and don’t want to be boxed as one or the other.
I like a lot of the people that have been on the show are changing that perception for sure. But I think that when people get on these shows and their platforms are boosted overnight, so many of them could be doing more. Everyone’s different, and I admire a lot of them, but for the standards I would hold myself at, I would want to boost other underground artists and change people’s perspective. That’s what I want the platform for, to do something more with it, as cheesy as that sounds. Obviously things will be different, nothing’s going to be how you picture it, but I know I would do a lot with it. I don’t want to be famous, necessarily, and I don’t do what I do for anyone or to get on Dragula. At some point, my art is what I just want to get off my chest. If a song I release gets one play or a thousand, I’ll be just as happy either way.
If I don’t ever get on, I wanna see who does. Especially right now, with the state of the world. I wanna see what kind of artists get on. They talked on their podcast about having more trans and POC performers on the show, and Vander [Von Odd, season 1 champion and producer from season 2 forward] talked about how a lot of them don’t audition. And if they do, are they going to get casted? Are they gonna make it through casting? Vander was saying something about POC in horror, and how there’s such a small percentage of those people in the scene. But right now, with all of the digital shows and the wide spectrum we’re seeing, I’m excited to see who they choose and which new people feel comfortable to audition.
CT: Finally, how does horror, however you define it, define your artistic output?
BB: It influences my art in ways that I don’t sit and take a look at. It’s always been my favorite since I was younger. I loved Halloween, I remember going to my first haunted house, all that. I always found it so fascinating. And always being weird in high school and with my parents… like my mother is a very Christian, Republican woman, and her not accepting me pushed me to like things they didn’t like even more. As weird as it sounds, it was that horror, grungy, weirdo vibe that caught me. It’s brought me comfort.
It’s about traumas that I turn into visuals or lyrics for a song. Things that aren’t so easy to tell, that motivation. When I was in Face Off [a Columbus-based pageant series], and we got to the horror challenge, of course it’s something I wanted to win, but instead of looking at it as something that will win me the challenge, I want to do something that scares me. So I used my dad, who sold meth out of our garage when I was growing up. He was just not a good person, and being around him terrified me. So I turned Maja Jera into myself and used them in my performance, and painted myself as a drug monster. Turning that traumatic situation into art, into something where I could express how it made me feel, it took a weight off my chest for something that I don’t normally talk about. Being able to let that out without projecting it or venting, just to an audience who can interpret it as they will, it felt better than any other way I could have let that out. There’s always something about horror-esque looks and vibes that hit that soft spot within me, because it’s the easiest way that I can do more than just portray it. I saw such weird shit, zombies and monsters and shit took me into another world. And I really love sci-fi horror, like Alien was one of my favorite movies growing up. My dad let me watch horror movies at a really young age, like my parents were watching Thirteen Ghosts, and I was terrified. It scared the fuck out of me. That being my first horror movie I watched, it took a lot to scare me after that. I loved it so much, I got into it so young, that it brings me comfort now.
Bea with Maja Jera (left)
So that’s how I got into pretty in pink, things that are cute and that, and used them in my songs. Like Ayesha Erotica or Slayyyter. Ayesha produces for a lot of people, and she talks about things like Paris Hilton, Gucci kind of way that’s sarcastic, you don’t know if she’s serious. But I love that whole vibe, and playing a character. I write my music as a character a lot of the time. Throwing in dashes of horror, whether in the look or the lyrics adds that bit of coding, that safety net where I’m being true to myself, while still writing as a character.
Stay tuned for a review of Heavy Metal Princess very soon.