Crazy Tran

Posted June 24, 2010 in Feature Story

Internet “phenomena” like Jeffree Star are sign-of-the-times irritations. Little cyber bitches who Tweet and photo-post their way to infamy despite often dubious artistic credentials. But lately the gender-bending, button-pushing Star—an Orange County-raised make-up artist, fashion designer, model, DJ and singer who built much of his popularity on MySpace and dubbed himself “Queen of the Beautifuls” and “Queen of the Internet”—is taking a real-world shot at being taken seriously as a musician. Going well beyond the usual lip-synced “showcases” in New York and L.A., Star’s extensive current tour—with a full band, no less—is taking him to smaller, less fashionable markets like Victorville this Saturday and even infamously conservative Temecula in early August.


You’re a long way from West Hollywood.


“I’m a Musician Now!”

“I think the kids [in the smaller towns] are even more excited, because acts like me don’t come through a lot,” says the flame-haired Star in his classically camp sing-song timbre. “So it’s a really cool chance for the kids that are different, that express themselves in a different way, to come out and have fun and not be judged by other people.


“From day one I’ve always run my own Internet sites, so I’m very in tune with where the fans are,” Star says. “And I think a lot of bands don’t play small towns—or if they do, it’s that same shitty metal band that everyone’s seen a thousand times and it’s all the same. So I like to come to these smaller areas and be personal.”


Star, 23, admits that music for him was originally a knowingly flippant, almost tongue-in-check sideline to his many other forms of expression. But all that changed three years ago.


“Honestly, I just did [my early recordings] for a joke at my house,” he explains. “I thought it was fun—it was never my intention to be a musician. I just threw it out there on the Internet and it got really big. I played my first festival in 2007 in front of 10,000 people and made $20,000 in merchandise—and I thought, “Holy shit— I’m a musician now!’”


After a brace of EPs that displayed Star’s knack for arresting titles (2007’s Plastic Surgery Slumber Party and 2008’s Cupcakes Taste Like Violence), but little musical prowess, he approached the recording of his debut album, last year’s Beauty Killer, with a fiercely sharpened focus.


And as he talks about it, Star briefly cracks a window into his paradoxical personality: at once very publicly flipping a finger at the mainstream, yet all the while palpably craving a degree of artistic acceptance and musical credibility.


“Obviously I think my older stuff’s music, but I’d always get comments like, ‘Oh, your EP’s cool, but when are you going to make real music?’ And it always perplexed me what people meant by that,” Star recalls, sounding more insecure by the minute.


“So I kinda got away from that shitty electro, lo-fi stuff I did before. I think for Beauty Killer I took myself more seriously and I wanted it to actually be what normal society calls ‘music.’”


Serious Music

The result is a delightfully urgent album that’s decidedly electronic but full of rock dynamics; at times reminiscent of Brit electro-pop pioneers Dead or Alive (whose androgynous frontman, Pete Burns, surely impacted Star’s look) or even L.A.’s Revlon-reveling Orgy (Star’s fave band during high school). The disc’s android, Auto-Tuned vocals nod to Star’s twin sonic passions: synth-pop and hip-hop.


“I really listen to a lot of dance music,” he says. “And I love hip-hop music. I like female rappers like Lil‘ Kim—that’s what I play all the time.


“Musically, I have producers to do all that, but I write all my own lyrics and melodies. When it comes to music, I don’t even know what a guitar is! So I collaborate with a bunch of musicians and I have some cool guest features. I think the most famous one is Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne’s rapper.”


“I think some of the songs for Beauty Killer are actually serious,” Star adds. “Y’know, like I never touched on the subject of love before—it was always funny sexual sarcasm. So I wanted to dig deeper and show people that I have more than one personality and more than one topic to talk about. So being vulnerable and writing songs like ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Get Away With Murder’ were different, but they’re everyone’s favorite songs, so I guess I did something right!”


Looks That Thrill

Star, who tended to rap rather than sing on his earlier recordings, even took some voice lessons recently. Because, for all his studied bravado, it seems Jeffree does want to please (and is aware that this may be the secret to sustained success). There’s a sense that, as his love for singing grows, so do his doubts about his vocal abilities.


“I’ve been rapping on other peoples’ music lately, like as a guest feature, but for my music I kind of wanted to show people that I can actually sing—whether they think I can or not! . . . But, to be honest, I know the facts. I think people think I take myself way more seriously than I actually do. Music was just another thing just to do for fun, but now it’s like the forefront of what I love to do. I love recording; I love performing. So now it’s taken over.”


Beauty Killer debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Top Dance/Electronic Albums Chart last September and at No. 2 on the Top Heatseekers chart. Single “Prisoner” clocked in two million plays by its second week of being available as a stream.


And while he’s no Lady Gaga, Star’s prior releases have impacted consumers and fans: 2007’s Plastic Surgery Slumber Party topped at No. 1 on the iTunes dance charts, at times surpassing artists like Justin Timberlake. His MySpace page at one point listed 25 million listens for Plastic. And 2008’s Cupcakes Taste Like Violence peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s top Electronic Albums chart.


But no recording will ever capture Star’s all-important look, which is currently equal parts heyday Cyndi Lauper, fetish mannequin and mean suburban MILF. As a model and make-up artist (for the likes for Kelly Osbourne, Paris Hilton and AFI vocalist Davey Havok), Star’s clearly all about appearances—so to get his full effect, you have to be at the shows, which last year included several Vans Warped Tour dates.


At the Merch Booth

“I’m very artistic, obviously,” he announces. “So it’s just another way for me to express myself. Growing up, my parents were always really cool and told me I could be whoever I wanted to be, and I guess I took that and I went with it!”


But the now L.A.-based Star doesn’t rely on looks alone to leave an in-concert impression. Though part of a genre that’s plagued by barely semi-live performances, and while admitting he uses backing tracks, Star’s adamant that he actually does sing on stage (and seems genuinely stung by critics who suggest otherwise).


“We recently fired my keyboard player, so on this tour there will not be a keyboard player,” he says. “But we have live guitar, bass and electronic drums, plus a backup singer and dancer.”


And the on-stage action is only one of the reasons why Star has increasingly embraced the touring life.


“I really like meeting people. I mean, if I sit on the Internet forever, I don’t think that’s fair for all the people that support me. Like, usually on this tour, some other bands party and get drunk after the show and they don’t care about their fans, but I’m the one that stands at the merch booth after every show and meets every single person. So being very personal with my fans is important.”


The fans seem to be responding. As with so many outlandish artists, Star’s followers seem to see him as a comforting kindred spirit. In his larger-than-life bucking of convention, they find validation for their own non-conformist instincts.


“I just think I stand for something different,” Star asserts. “When you turn on the radio, every song’s about some heartbreak shit or getting wasted, and I think I’m a little different from that. I have more to say and I stand for more than just partying and having sex.


Death By Cobain

“I think being individual is very important. Like, right now, these people on Twitter wrote to me: ‘Hey, my mom won’t let me come to your show . . . and it really sucks.’ So I write back, to be sarcastic, and I write ‘F*@k your mother!’—and like a million people can relate to that and think it’s funny. Standing out and not giving a f*@k is what I’ve always been about.”


Though talk of a sophomore album later this year now seems overly optimistic (Star predicts the disc will actually emerge next spring), he’ll continue to sporadically post tracks on the Internet to tide fans over.


“The goal is always for me to get bigger,” Star concludes. “I have new management, so [I plan on] doing things bigger and doing more music in the future. So, we’ll see if I’m on the charts or if I kill myself like Kurt Cobain.”


In the meantime, whatever his destiny, you’re likely to see Star (and you can hardly miss him) in a town near you—even if you don’t go to his show. 


“Whether it’s L.A. or New York, everyone stares at me,” he explains. “Everyone thinks L.A. is so different, but when you walk down the street, no one else has 7-inch diamond Chanel shoes and pink hair. So I’ll probably be at the Del Taco in Victorville, getting some tacos. I might Taser someone, so that’s the difference . . . I have a Taser, a Mace gun and a baton.”


See, Star’s defensive. Because, whatever he might say, Jeffree Star really does give a f*@k.


Jeffree Star w/Brokencyde, Blood On The Dance Floor at Karma, 12152 Cottonwood Ave., Victorville;, Sat, June 26. 4PM. $12; w/William Control, Teen Hearts at The Vault, 41607 Enterprise Circle, Temecula; Aug. 6. 6:30PM. $12 advance.


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