Chappell Roan’s work traverses multiple media platforms. While primarily a singer and songwriter, some of the most memorable and celebrated parts of her persona include her elaborate music videos and costumes, both online and on stage.
Roan’s persona is an homage to drag, and in order to further honor this tradition she has forgone typical musicians as openers for her concerts. Instead, her shows begin with a drag performance in each city. In Boston, the show opened with Kulfi Jaan, Tara Dikhof, and Chanel, each drag artists from the Boston area with varied aesthetics and artistry. These openers felt especially fitting as Chappell Roan walked on stage in makeup inspired by traditional drag.
Roan emphasized fan interaction throughout the performance. Members of the crowd were brought up on stage to dance with Roan and she frequently paused her performance to read signs and phone screens held up by audience members. Fans returned this energy with a project that a member of the audience had prepared; the audience members held colored paper up to their phone flashlights while Roan sang “Kaleidoscope”.
We had the joy of meeting with Chappell Roan a week before her Boston performance. During this time, we discussed her philosophy surrounding fan interactions, as well as her creative process in designing costumes and music videos.
Ava Filiss: As a queer person from a conservative state, do you feel that there’s an expectation from the general public to act as a spokesperson for queer people from your area? If so, how are you managing these expectations?
Chappell Roan: If there’s an expectation, I don’t identify with that, because I don’t think one person can be a spokesperson for an entire community. Any expectation is not going to be met because I’m not that girl.
I can only do what I’m best at, which is writing and singing music. That makes me feel free and happens to make a lot of other people feel free. But when it comes to expectations, I think expectations come from the people expecting. Don’t expect a popstar to speak for you!
I manage expectations because I know what I’m capable of, and I know that if you expect something from me and I can’t meet it, it’s not my fault.
Allison Stein: You mentioned before that internet platforms, especially TikTok, are draining due to their high expectations for constant content. What other alternatives for interacting with listeners have you found to be more fulfilling?
Live shows are the best thing, obviously. But when it comes to social media specifically, I go live on TikTok, and that’s a way I really love to be online. It’s very unhinged and it’s just a lot of laughing. It feels good because I can actually talk to people in real time. But nothing beats fan interaction onstage.
Stein: What’s your favorite song to perform?
I love Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl. The intro is so fun. People scream so much and I love it.
Filiss: These songs spark so much enjoyment and are really only one side of your creative process, with your music videos being another important consideration. How do you map these videos out? Are they designed in tandem with your songwriting process or closer to when your song is nearing completion?
The songs sometimes take years to finish. I don’t map the videos out while I write the songs. Instead, the video ideas usually just come to me. I usually think of some aesthetic or an idea like, “It would be fun to do a siren or cute magicians.”Then, it usually takes around eight weeks to make everything come together. But I love the different concepts of the videos that are out right now.
Stein: Could you speak more about your process of designing and creating your costumes?
Last tour, I styled everything by myself. I thrifted and bedazzled so much, but I literally don’t have time to do that anymore. I now have a stylist for the first time, and she helps so much.
Everything is still very inspired by drag or burlesque – a lot of my outfits for this tour were made by a drag mother so they’re very bedazzled and campy. It’s not supposed to look perfect; it’s just supposed to look fun and like something that people can maybe make themselves at home. It’s very DIY but it’s very camp.
Filiss: Now that you’re working with a stylist, how are you balancing assurance that you have a unique voice in what you’re wearing with this other person’s expertise?
My stylist’s name is Genesis Webb, and if you were to look her up on Instagram, you would be like, “Oh there’s no way this is Chappell’s. There’s no way!” She looks like a vampire! I’m obsessed with her.
You would think, “How does this work?” since our styles are so different. But she understands the campiness and the aesthetic of tacky trashiness within drag. She also just knows so much about drag and burlesque, so I trust her a lot. She always elevates my ideas. So I definitely still feel like it’s myself, but Genesis adds her wonderful spin on it, and it always looks better with her in the picture.
Filiss: Speaking of dressing up, what Halloween costumes are you planning on wearing this year?
We play Dallas on Halloween, so my band is all dressing up as Mean Girls. I’m gonna be Regina George in her Playboy bunny outfit.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.