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Shea Couleé Talks New Music, Touring With Betty Who & World Domination

Shea Couleé Talks New Music, Touring With Betty Who & World Domination

Shea Coulee
'Let Go/Your Name' music video

During an interview with PRIDE, Shea Couleé revealed her masterplan to take over the world in 2023.

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Shea Couleé was introduced to the world on RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine. She then came back to compete on All Stars 5 and won that season, officially entering the Drag Race Hall of Fame. In 2022, Couleé competed a third time in the all-winners edition of All Stars 7, where she was once again a finalist.

Since All Stars 7, Couleé has made headlines for landing a role in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show for Disney+, Ironheart. She’s also been gagging the fans with new original music and stunning visuals that establish her as a legitimate popstar in the overall music industry.

During an exclusive interview, Couleé spilled all the tea to PRIDE about her debut studio album, opening for Betty Who in her upcoming 2023 tour, and headlining The Lipstick Ball starring Shea Couleé in Europe. The All Stars 5 winner also talked about the current anti-drag rhetoric going around the country and how she’s fiercely dealing with that negativity. And to top it all off, Couleé told us exactly what to expect from her world domination in the coming year.

PRIDE: You released 'Your Name' and 'Let Go' earlier this year, and you’re now finishing 2022 with a new single called 'Xmas Time.' What was the idea or inspiration behind releasing a holiday song?

Shea Couleé: I just really wanted to finally release a holiday song. It's one of those things that's just so special, and I feel like holiday songs are very polarizing. People tend to either love them or hate them, but no matter what every year at this time, you can't escape them. So I was like, 'I have not done a holiday single.' And I was like, 'Why the hell not?' So I was feeling a Christmas in July moment and I reached out to my friend and longtime collaborator GESS. I was like, 'So do you want to make a Christmas song?' Because we had actually talked about doing it two years prior… but pandemic and all of that. So it just finally felt like the right time to do the Christmas single.

Are these new songs leading up to an upcoming album or EP, or are you just focusing on dropping these songs for the time being?

Yes. So I'll be dropping my debut album in February 2023 right after my birthday. It's a little gift to myself and to everybody else who've been so patiently writing with me while I've figured out how to write an album. I really went into this whole process like when I did 'Cocky' back in 2017. It's going on almost six years now.

Has it really been five years since 'Cocky?' I am gagged.

Yes, I know! So I'm just all like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe that it's been five years since I dropped that.' And I've literally just been spending the last five years of what feels almost like an apprenticeship, figuring out the ins and outs of writing and putting together music. 'Cocky' just popped off in a way that I never really anticipated. And it was kind of similar to when the first time I performed in drag ­– I got such a visceral response from people and I was like, 'OK, maybe I should explore this a little bit more.'

After seeing the way that people received 'Cocky,' I was like, 'Well, maybe I should really explore music more.' And so the past five years has just been me figuring out how to develop my sound, what it is that I want to say, what the story is that I want to tell. I've just been kind of continually showing the fans my progression as far as my music is concerned. And it's all really just leading up to this debut album. I'm really excited for people to hear it.

What have been some of your more recent music inspirations that are impacting your songwriting and music production?

Ooh, that's a good question. I would say I've been listening to a lot of Midnight Star, Chaka Khan, Black Box, and Sylvester. Also Kylie Minogue's disco album – she really hit it out of the park with that one. Touched on so many moments.

But yeah, I've just really been deep in the dance floor with this one because I really wanted the project to reflect my experiences coming up in queer nightlife in Chicago, and how do I tell that sonically, and how do I then compliment that and tell a story visually? It's been a lot to try, and in the age of Beyoncé where fans now have all these expectations of what the visuals will look like, you kind of have to really spend the time writing this whole story and creating this whole world so that you can be ready to package [an album] out and put it out there to be consumed.

I also wanted to talk about your new holiday song with Priyanka, Alaska, and Lemon. How did that collaboration come about?

Priyanka was in town. She was doing a gig here in Chicago and I had brunch with her and my partner Dan. We were a couple of mimosas in and she was talking about wanting to do a Christmas kind of 'Lady Marmalade'-style song that would just feature some fun new girls. And then next thing I know she was just all like, 'Hey, here's the beat. If I can get these vocals back from you in two weeks, I would greatly appreciate it.' So I literally got home – it was one of my first few days being back from filming Ironheart in Atlanta – and worked on dropping the vocals on that. And then now we have a song.

You’re going on tour with Betty Who in 2023. Can you tell me how that collaboration came about?

I was just honestly chilling, minding my own little business in Atlanta, and I get a call letting me know that Betty Who's tour manager had reached out to ask if I would be interested in coming on and lending direct support for her on her tour. And I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' I was just so flattered. Like, 'Wow, what?' Just a really cool experience. I've been a fan of Betty's for, gosh, going on seven, eight years now. So it was kind of a no-brainer.

I'm going to tour and the fans are going to get to see all this amazing new music that I've been working on so hard. So I'm like, I have spent so much of my drag career post-Drag Race really going out and performing other people's music in front of audiences. So now it just feels like it's a really cool step to go out there touring with such a phenomenal musician doing my own music.

Next year we’re also getting The Lipstick Ball starring Shea Couleé tour in Europe. What can we expect from those shows?

So The Lipstick Ball is going to be a kind of elaborated version of what the fans will be seeing on the Betty Who tour. What you'll see in my set here is kind of a prelude to the bigger show, The Lipstick Ball, which picks up where my short film Lipstick City from 2016 takes off. I've always been really inspired by Janelle Monáe and the way that she puts together her concept albums and the way she mirrors her own life experiences through these really elaborate plots and stories that go along with her music. The Lipstick Ball is the same thing.

You’re going to be doing a lot of touring in 2023, but this has been a very troubling time for the LGBTQ+ community and for drag performers in particular. A particular report from NBC News featured touring queens saying that they’re hiring extra security guards after what happened at Club Q. For as much as all the queens in the story were very compassionate in their statements, I love that your statement was basically like, 'We as queer people can't live in fear just because these crazy people are out here trying to hurt us, and we have to keep being visible and keep going at it.' How has this situation impacted you as a drag performer who will be touring so much in the next year?

I mean, I don't want to seem as if I am insensitive to the threats that are facing the community, but I just don't live in a place of fear. I don't go out into the world with those same fears and I understand that there are very viable threats out there. But for me, it's not what I choose to focus on. I choose to focus on the love and positivity that I know that I'm bringing into the world with my art, with my music, with my performance. The more that I give any sort of attention to these ill-faded, ill-equipped, ill-informed people, it's just feeding into exactly what they want. It's giving them power. And to me, they're just like little toddlers throwing a tantrum and I cannot be bothered to give them my attention.

Period. I love that at least one of the queens in that story basically said, 'I'm not worried about these crazy people. They should worry about me.' And I'm obsessed that such a statement came from a badass queen like you. Because yeah, we should absolutely make them fear us, not the opposite.

Yeah. It's just like, it's all tactics from much smaller people. You see these demonstrations of these Proud Boys, which is so ironic to me that they call themselves Proud Boys when they all hide their faces. If you were so proud and this is your deep firm belief system, and you feel convicted to protect children in this way… if you're all out here trying to protect children, the innocent, wouldn't you be proud to show your face?

They hide because they're actual cowards. I don't fear cowardice behavior because I know how empowered and powerful I am and I cannot be bothered with minute minuscule small people like that.

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 just dropped, so I have to ask if you’re excited about anyone in the cast or if you know any of these queens personally.

Oh gosh, you’ve got to give me at least until the premiere. We got a lot of Drag Race happening here. But I'm rooting for everybody black, we'll just start there. And also, I know that there are two twins, so I'm very interested to see how that goes.

Sugar and Spice!

Yes, and everything nice. But look, one thing that I've really learned after doing this show literally three times… this is honestly all about how the girls handle this new platform because there are things that can happen on the show that can edit public perception. And some girls, like Miss Vanjie for instance, she turned being sent home first into such an iconic moment. I'm sure she thought to herself that it was probably the most terrible moment of her life, but then she turned it around to become one of the most beloved, fan-favorite queens. So, for me, I always hold out my reservations until I can at least see all the girls walk into the werkroom.

Let's zoom out for a second: what can fans expect from Shea Couleé in 2023?

What fans can expect from Shea Couleé in 2023 is her entering her Sasha Fierce era. We're about to really just take it to that next level with this new album and with Marvel. I feel like I'm really trying to step out and just really show people the type of star that I really, really am.

World domination.

We're coming for it. We're trying to live up to the amazing footsteps of Mama Ru and give full-on drag. Triple threat mogul status.

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Bernardo Sim

Editor

Bernardo Sim experiences and explains queer multiverses. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim experiences and explains queer multiverses. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.