This North Carolina Band Made the Most Moving Music Video of the Year
Rainbow Kitten Surprise's coming out story, "Hide," follows four New Orleans drag queens and gives a voice to marginalized LGBTQ communities in the South.
When Sam Melo started writing the song "Hide," he didn't intend for it to be an anthem. The lead singer and songwriter of the band Rainbow Kitten Surprise had just returned from attending his first music festival and was reeling from a confusing new discovery.
"As I dove into these sort of new feelings, I realized that maybe I, you know, was gay," Melo told VICE. "Obviously I had never thought anything of it in other people, but it’s like when you discover it in yourself, that you’ve maybe been hiding a part of yourself, it’s intense, you know?"
Out poured "Hide," a song about finding love and accepting the inevitable, written by a musician living in North Carolina who had been raised by missionaries in the Dominican Republic. Melo wrote the song in 2015, but didn’t share it with anyone for years, afraid the words and sentiment might not be right for the rest of the band.
"I thought that it might be a step too far, because there are just so few songs that talk about it, you know? Like can you say 'him' in a song? As a boy, can you do that?" Melo said. "Because especially if the song were to be a hit, then immediately we're poster children, you know?"
Ultimately, Melo came out to his bandmates, who he said were "incredibly supportive," and the song became the third single on the their first full-length album with a major label, How to: Friend, Love, and Freefall, released earlier this month. But when it came time to make the music video, Melo shifted the focus away from his own personal experience. Inspired by Paris Is Burning, he tapped director Kyle Thrash, who’s shot music videos for Modern Baseball and the Menzingers, to make a mini documentary about four drag queens living in New Orleans.
In the same way Melo struggled to come to terms with his sexuality, each queen keeps their drag persona hidden for various reasons. Some fear "harm" in their neighborhoods, and others are fearful how their families—particularly their father figures—will react. We see them getting ready in gas station bathrooms, and watch anxiously as Justin Scarbrough (a.k.a. Britnee Alexander) and Kev Davis (a.k.a. Xia Maddix) prepare to share their drag lives with their loved ones.
"[Kev] was joking because his mom was sneaking off to go see his shows without his dad. And his dad thought that she was maybe cheating on him. Like he didn't know where his wife was going, you know?" Thrash told VICE. "She was driving an hour and a half to New Orleans to go see her son's shows. And it got this point where I think everyone—Kev's partner, Kev's mom, and Kev himself, too—was kind of like, this needs happen."
The result is a six-minute emotional gut punch that captures the challenges the LGBTQ community still faces in parts of America today, even with the mainstream success of shows like Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race . It highlights real people, with very real struggles in an era of “woke” celebrity music videos from artists who aren’t really part of the communities or social movements they’re singing about.
But more than that, in "Hide," we get a privileged glimpse inside the queens’ private lives offstage, and a revealing look at how men in the rural South still view masculinity. Growing up Scarbrough was told he should never "enter or leave the house in drag," and Davis said there was an unspoken rule in his house about being too feminine, even though his dad knew he was gay.
"There was always this joke that was done, like, 'It's OK to be gay, but I don't want to catch you wearing any high heels or anything,'" Davis said over the phone. "It was something he had to work on definitely because he was raised in Mississippi and Louisiana and just thought that it was wrong."
"[My step-dad] knew I did drag, but it was more something that was to never be spoken of," Scarbrough told VICE. "It was more, 'You go live your life. Do what you want to do, but don't bring it in my house.'"
Melo might not have intended for the song to be a gay anthem, but its music video elevates it to something truly worth celebrating, both for the queens featured and anyone watching. For Scarbrough and Davis, it even served as an opportunity to come out a second time to the men in their family who had had a difficult time processing their sexuality. What comes across onscreen is a collection of beautiful moments that capture their father figures reacting to their sons truly in the only way they know how.
"I was fucking terrified to tell my dad I did drag because you never know how someone that you love is going to react just based on their upbringing. But they're still going to have that love for you if it's strong enough. And I feel like my dad definitely did," Davis said. He says that now their relationship is "phenomenal."
"I went over to my mom's house the other day, and [my step-dad] and I were just talking about everything that I felt like I could never talk to him about… I didn't feel like I had to hide anything with him anymore," Scarbrough said. "It's liberating. It's strange. I've never felt so free… It was an experience I will never, ever, ever forget."
The song and the video serve as a resounding refusal for anyone, queer or otherwise, to stay hidden. Melo’s own coming out story, sung by a band from a state that’s been pretty openly discriminatory toward LGBTQ people, has already lent a voice to others growing up in marginalized communities—all because a boy from the South put the word "he" in a song.
"Like I said, I didn't think or expect or want us to be an anthem poster child band," Melo said. "But if given the opportunity to make other people the face of this, we'd rather do that. Because even my struggle is nothing compared to what some of the queens in the video go through."
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