If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, or have seen the 21st season of Celebrity Big Brother UK, or have dipped into The Bi Life, or the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars – fuck it, if you have ever directed your eyes towards a screen – you should be well-acquainted with Courtney Act, the drag queen, pop singer and reality TV personality.
If you’ve never heard of Courtney Act, then she’s best described as a mixture of Barbie, Britney and a Beverly Hills housewife who sneaks a few Valium before throwing an elaborate dinner party. She’s also incredibly switched-on. When she was on CBB – as her non-drag self Shane Jenek – she spent a lot of time and energy educating the older, more clueless housemates on things like sexual fluidity and transgender issues. During convos that would have caused most people to scream “who IS she?” in the diary room, Shane spoke calmly but firmly. She eventually won the show.
Now, as you may know, we have this column called 'Smash Hits and Superstars', which is basically when we ring up famous people and ask their opinion on a bunch of new tracks. In the past, we've forced Tom Jones to listen to SOPHIE, had Zara Larsson talking about Little T, and got Idris Elba bang into Sleaford Mods. So as a fan of both RuPaul’s Drag Race and Courtney Act herself, I thought I’d ring her up and ask her opinion on “Old Town Road” obviously, one of Madonna's latest single and many more.
Because she’s Courtney Act – AKA frighteningly well put together, seemingly always in control, never a fake eyelash out of place – the first thing she told me after picking up the phone was that she’d “read the brief and done the homework”. The phone line was a little crackly, but I’m pretty sure I could hear the rustle of paper in the background (notes?) and occasionally she’d pause our interview to watch a certain music video again, just to be sure of her observations. Here's what she had to say.
LIL NAS X – "OLD TOWN REMIX" FEAT. BILLY RAY CYRUS
VICE: How you doing Courtney?
Courtney Act: Very good. I’m in California right now, and last night my DJ friend gave me marijuana edibles. So I was laying in bed afterwards and it was the perfect place to experience this wide berth of popular music.
Edibles fuck me up.
The thing is, in California it’s legal and you can buy it in shops with like 5mg – otherwise people have so many horrible stories. It needs to be measured out in little doses.
You’re right. I don’t trust my immediate circle to do that. But I’m glad you listened to these tracks under those circumstances. Shall we start with “Old Town Road”? That track is everywhere at the moment, even I’m getting sick of it.
I wrote notes but I’m trying to remember which one… oh yes. Well, it’s a far cry from “Achy Breaky Heart” which is probably a good thing because the world’s moved on from that, even though we love a classic.
We do love a classic.
There’s a really cool bass line, and it totally all works together. I was laying in bed rocking out to this interesting collab. The only thing was, there was a fade out. Call me old fashioned, but I love songs that end. As a songwriter, I feel like you put a fade out when you can’t work out how to end a song.
MADONNA AND MALUMA – "MEDELLIN"
I hear you. Maybe I agree? It doesn’t feel so satisfying. What about the Madonna track, are you a fan?
I am a Madonna fan. I didn’t know this new song was coming. I heard that she was performing at the Billboard Awards, and I heard she’s spent $5 million of her own money on the performance. I feel like she is… serious about this. I watched the music video and listened to the song, and my first observation was that Madonna says “one, two, cha cha cha”. Now, a cha cha starts on a “two”. It goes “two, three, cha cha cha”. Now that I’m a boring dance aficionado, I can let you in on that.
Shit, someone needs to let her know before the Billboard performance. Or is it too late?
I know! “MADGE! YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’VE NEVER CHA CHA-ED BEFORE!” I have an important question though… in the music video, does she suck [Maluma's] toe?
Wait, what… when?
She was like, going down on his toes… ‘I was like, what is she sucking on?!’ [Pauses to check the video] Oh my god, there it is! Okay, it happens at 3 minutes and 5 seconds. She’s definitely sucking something. It looks like… a penis? I remember watching it and thinking, this isn’t normal. For PornHub maybe, but for YouTube? She’s got an eye patch on, and a glass of champagne… she’s multitasking. Why is nobody talking about this?
FKA TWIGS – "CELLOPHANE"
Did you like the FKA twigs one? With the pole dancing?
It’s so beautiful. And her voice and the sounds that her breath makes is so detailed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it popped up in OA, that Netflix show.
Can you pole dance?
I haven’t tried pole dancing, but I did meet an ex boyfriend while I was swinging around a pole in a club. I looked across and I saw this cute boy and was like *giggles*. That was back in 2006.
I’m surprised there was never a pole dancing challenge on Drag Race. Or not to my memory…
Yeah I don’t think there has been, even though it seems like an obvious choice? Maybe it was too hard. Pole dancing is way harder than it looks.
STORMZY – "VOSSI BOP"
Very true. I’m also interested to hear your thoughts on the Stormzy track “Vossi Bop” as a non-Londoner.
I’m a big fan of Stormzy. I first heard Stormzy when he featured on the Little Mix track “Power”, which I was in the music video for. And then his BRITs performance… I cry every time I watch that performance, when he starts calling out Theresa May and speaking about Grenfell. It gives me goosebumps every time and makes me feel emotional. I love it when artists comment on society in such a strong and direct way. It's so cool. I love grime. Or is it grimes? Single or plural?
Grime. Single. I'll let you off because you're Australian.
I'm going to sound real, I'm not going to pretend I know what I'm talking about… but grime has such a unique flavour. Which is why – to side step for a second – I'm excited about Drag Race UK. Because when a new culture brings a new flavour to a style, something exciting happens. Some of the lyrics in Stormzy's track I had to re-listen to. I'm guessing the Vossi Bop is that head noddy dance.
I guess you were in CBB UK, so it's not like British culture is completely alien to you, right?
Yeah, and I've been living in London since March last year. It's been a culture immersion for me, which has been really fun. I love it. At the moment my plan is to continue living here.
BILLIE EILISH – "BAD GUY"
We've only got five minutes left I think, so let's chat about “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish. What are your thoughts?
Is this the one that was… let me check my notes. Oh yeah, this song. Some songs are like 'look at me, I'm a song!' But this one is so intimate and minimal and cool that it commands your attention.
If you had to lip synch this for your legacy, could yo manage to do it? With something so lowkey?
God, there would be a lot of pointing and using my mouth, like Coco Montrese did, where she pointed at her mouth and articulated every single word, letting the judges know she knew all the lyrics. At times, this track is a bit like music and ASMR combined. The song is so simple it doesn't even care if you listen to it, it's so cool.
Do you ever watch ASMR videos on YouTube?
Only to find out what ASMR was. Oddly, something about it does make sense to me, because I like meditating. And the meditating I do focusses on the sensation of your breath, and the sensation of your body. And I guess people listen to it because the sound creates tingles on their body and it helps them relax, so when I put on an ASMR video, I was like 'Oh my god, the quietness of it all, is kind of like meditating? In a way?'
I personally love the ones where you're pretending to have your hair cut. I love having my hair cut, I find the experience relaxing. The sound of scissors snipping around my head.
So you put headphones on and can hear the scissors? I have to try that. I feel like I'd be really worried though, like "how much are you cutting off?!” I'll put a wig on. How are you going to spend the rest of the day?
Go for a hike, eat something vegan.
So LA. Thanks for chatting Courtney.
Courtney Act's 'Under the Covers' tour is running in the UK from the 12th of May to the 19th of May, 2019. Click here for tickets and info.