Dorian Electra on defying the algorithm
SOME PEOPLE FEAR CHANGE, BUT FLUIDITY AND NUANCE COME AS SECOND NATURE TO POP SYNTHESISER DORIAN ELECTRA, AS THEY SPEAK TO VOID ABOUT THE REWARDS OF AUTHENTICITY.
The new frontier of our digital age sees a dismantling of the tempering and ripening once enjoyed to produce what we consider art. Now, the commercial music industry is dictated by the latest trending TikTok sound or responses to the latest trend, and while this benefits the consumer with an endless onslaught of sound, for artists, this algorithmic pigeonholing sometimes feels completely antithetical to artistry itself.
Dorian Electra straddles a line between appreciation and deep scrutiny of this changing performance landscape. As an advocate of ultimate sexual and gender expression, Dorian takes encouragement from the social media whirlwind to pick up the bar from their past self and raise it a notch. With their latest album, “Fanfare,” Electra delivers more dizzyingly perfect line-blurring of genres laced with poignant cultural references to shake pop from its resting places.
We had the opportunity to sit down with the artist and discuss their commitment to authenticity and the quest to outrun the digital vortex.
It’s been such a pleasure kind of combing through your work and you know, your artistic profile and getting a sense of who you are. Your bodies of work are so textural and sometimes very provoking– on a sensory level but also thematically. Because of this, there’s such a comforting quality to your art. You can tell that as an artist, you’re super referenced, and as a result you can transcend genres. With Fanfare this new body of work, how does it feel compared to your last album?
This album definitely touches more on the rock influences that I grew up listening to. I grew up with my parents being really into classic rock and stuff like that. And I think that rock kind of goes in waves of being cool, and then uncool; on top, and then not; and then underground. It felt really nice to return to my roots and channel some of the stuff that influenced me at a young age. Things like Les Mis and musical theater vibes. I just really enjoy the challenge of trying to pick something that is unexpected. That’s just part of the thrill that I get out of making music.
Hmm, I love that. That’s such an interesting point around rock. As an artist, can you understand from a cultural perspective why that happens with rock music?
Yeah, definitely. I think that like anything culturally, it starts out underground and anti establishment. Then it gets picked up by the mainstream, it becomes corporate, it becomes uncool, and then it goes out of fashion for a bit. Then I think a lot of times some people pick it back up almost ironically. I think that’s what happens with a lot of fashion too. I think of music in the same way that I think about fashion.
And then it becomes subversive to do the thing that is kind of recently considered cringe, you know, and then that becomes cool in and of itself. And then that becomes propagated again in the mainstream and then appropriated and profited off of etc. It’s an endless cycle. But the funny thing is that especially with things like Tiktok, we’re seeing those kinds of cycles happen faster and faster. And that’s really interesting.
How do you kind of find your feet in that as an artist? Has that been challenging at all for you?
Definitely. I think the whole Tiktok thing for musicians in general has been both liberating and challenging. For some, it’s made their entire careers and changed their entire lives. And that’s beautiful and amazing and connected them with their fans. For others and I mean, for someone like me too, it’s challenging anytime that I feel like beholden to the algorithm. Or anytime you feel you need to alter your mind and your behaviour to conform to what’s going to be successful which’ll determine your financial worth and success.
Culturally, I think we’ll probably do this for a while, and then I think a lot of people will be sick and tired of doing this. I don’t know if it will ever stop but I think there will be pockets of people that resist that and look to more local music scenes.
I don’t know, I think it’s too complicated to relate to paint it one way or another. But I also love so many things about Tiktok. It is just people doing crazy stuff.
My recent Tiktok algorithm niche is farm animals getting their hooves picked out (laughs). Do you have a current algorithm that you’re stuck in at the moment?
It’s annoying actually because mine is like: how to grow your Tiktok followers. And I’m like, God, that’s so depressing. Get me out of this thing.
As an artist and for your general human experience, where is your safe space? Is it the same for both?
I really like working on music videos. It really gives you control over the image as a whole. I also love making music in the studio. And to me, when me and my collaborators are laughing, that feels amazing. And when we’re like, this is insane. Like that feeling of laughter and novelty and like something new is really special. It’s definitely something I crave and love. I really liked being in the studio.
Has that identity always been comfortable for you, being perceived by the world?
It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long growing up that I think that now it just feels so rewarding. It’s like, I get to do an interview. People care what I have to say or think. That’s amazing, that’s so special. And so yeah, I do really just feel really grateful. I feel like because people do care what I have to say I want to make sure I can say something meaningful and interesting. There’s so many other things out there demanding our attention all the time, it’s like, you know, I might as well be saying something worthwhile. I hope I do, anyway.
I think that’s something that is very unique about your music is you can actually see clear references of your influences and you pay quite overt respect and homage to the things that have come before you. When you were in the process of creating Fanfare, and when you’re creating in general, are you actively consuming new material? Or do you leave that space free for output?
I definitely am. I like surrounding myself with inspirational objects and things. Even the shirt that I’m wearing is a shirt that I got, you probably can’t actually see it. It’s from Milan, and it just says Milan on the top of the big Cathedral in Milan. I got really obsessed with touristic things, collecting souvenirs and stuff like that. And it really influenced the aesthetics and the concept for the song Sodom and Gomorrah. I try to draw inspiration from from all over.
Do you have any quirky superstitions, or elements of magic that you believe in that help you stay inspired?
Definitely. I don’t know if it’s really magic, but a mantra that I have tried to stick to recently is: focus on what makes me unique. And I think it’s important to focus on what makes you unique, what makes you different from other people and lean into that as your strength. Because I can’t help but compare myself to my peers, to other artists, and things like how many more streams they have than me. Or so and so has this thing, I don’t. And it’s like, comparison is the thief of joy.
And I feel like there’s an innate desire to want to fit in and be seen as one of the cool kids. And I feel like the coolest thing you can actually do is do your own thing and figure out what makes you unique. For me, I’m honestly a huge nerd. And I don’t try to hide that. And I feel like I want other people to not hide that too. Because sometimes online people only present things like sexy, fashion, Cunty, whatever. And it’s like, that’s cool.
But what kind of videos do you watch on YouTube? Are you reading any books? I don’t know, I want to get to know people. And you know, social media can be so superficial in a lot of ways, especially being an artist. It’s just been really nice to try to focus on the nerdiness.
I really love that. Do you think by embodying that, it ends up taking longer to get to where you want, if you don’t take the shortcut of manipulating yourself to fit what others want?
I think that it’s counterintuitive sometimes. Because people think that they’ll have success if they do the things that other people have done. And obviously you always want to learn from others. It’s like everything is an ongoing dialogue and feedback with things like, pop culture and music, etc. But I think that what people want is uniqueness and authenticity. Something new.
Like I said, everyone’s attention span is so short. How can you command somebody’s attention, if you’re kind of just doing the same thing that 12 other artists are doing that look like them? You sound like them. Your aesthetics are basically the same. Like, what are you offering that’s different?
I think that that’s hard too though because I feel like there are opportunities that maybe I’ve missed out on because I feel like people couldn’t see how I fit into their definition. I feel like so much of my work is self aware and self-referential about pop stardom and pop music and what it means to be a pop star.
It sounds really cheesy but my goal is to really create like a new kind of pop star that is as unique as an individual is.
I ask all the artists that I speak to the same question: is there a childhood hope of yours that you haven’t lost faith in yet?
Well, I did want to act on Broadway when I was a kid. And so I think it will be kind of cool to do a stint on Broadway. Live out that childhood fantasy and cross that off the list.
What about for the world?
I mean, I’m a realist. It’s not that I’m not optimistic. But I think my mind does tend to go towards like the darkness with certain things. I guess I hope that people will wake up to the reality of the technology that we’re using and the effects that it has on us. And that we examine our relationship to those things. Personally and societally at large.