Macy Rodman Is The Trans Pop Star We've Been Waiting For
Transforming from a shock art drag queen to a rising star in the underground music world, Macy Rodman describes herself as "the trans pop Courtney Love."
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Club kids in New York have seen Macy Rodman on the scene for a while — and now she's getting some viral attention from the music industry at large. The creator of the notorious (but now-defunct) Bath Salts party held in Brooklyn, New York, Miss Rodman is currently in the process of reinventing herself as an alt-pop icon. Having shifted her attention away from boundary-pushing drag to thoughtful pop music, Macy is an emerging talent in the world of underground music.
I first saw Macy perform as an opening act for the punk rock legend Seth Bogart. She appeared on stage with no props and little fanfare, but she captured the audience's heart with her spirited, yet surprisingly dark pop melodies. I was firmly on-board from the start, but fell in love as she draped her entire body over the edge of the stage to sing a downtempo version of "Believe" by Cher.
"I made that after Orlando happened," Macy told me over the phone a few weeks after the performance. "I was just kind of processing how I felt about it. I kept coming back to the music that's played in gay clubs and how the songs can be very restorative. I just made this really forlorn version of Cher ... It's always had like a really special place in my heart. Whenever it comes on people always freak out and feel it has this power to lift spirits. I think even in my version where it's sort of melancholy, the words are very familiar and very empowering to people."
Although Cher helped Rodman to process her emotions following a tragedy, the gay icon's campy jams weren't exactly Macy's biggest inspiration. Taking cues from "gravelly voiced rock goddess[es]" like Courtney Love, Marianne Faithfull, PJ Harvey, Sinead O'Connor, Shirley Manson, and Julianna Hatfield, it's not hard to see what musical lineage Rodman places herself in. "But I also love the pop divas! Britney Spears, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, Kelis, Janet Jackson!"
Macy hails from Juno, Alaska — a far cry from her current home of New York. "It was a weird place. When I was growing up there, it was a little more like Maine or something. It was very libertarian. People kind of stuck to themselves. It was a pretty lax atmosphere. From what I've heard it's a little more right-leaning now after the Palin Era ... I didn't appreciate how weird it was when I was there. You're just surrounded by mountains and it's just this incredibly beautiful place. It's like any other small town though."
An acceptance to Parsons eventually landed her in the Big Apple. "[I] quickly grew to hate that. I dropped out after the second year and started making music."
Like many young queer kids arriving in the city, Macy found herself attracted to the world of nightlife. After hanging out at Don Pedro in East Williamsburg, Rodman eventually began hosting her own night of gonzo drag. "That was a great place for me to experiment with my gender identity and presentation," she said. "It wasn't a place with like old, seasoned drag queens. It was just a bunch of us messing around. So that just ended up being kind of my playground for exploring my identity."
Little did she know that her party would become something of a breakout phenomenon in the underground, with extreme and experimental artists testing out new avant-garde performances at her show. "It was just like a free-for-all," she remembered. "At our first-ever party we had a naked poet. We had witchcraft rituals. We had a guy staple his testicles to his leg. We had a full range of drag queens: we had really beautiful brilliant drag queens and really messy first time, like, 19 year old drag queens. It kind of became a place where people would come to try stuff out or do whatever they want to do that they thought was weird. That environment was really fun for everybody."
"I identified more as a trans woman and not a drag queen. It was hard to keep up doing a performance like that without getting constantly misgendered or misidentified."
It was around this time that queens began to notice an explosion in this kind of queer transgressive art: "We came out at a moment where people were really receptive to that kind of non-conforming atmosphere. I think it's just a little bit more like that everywhere now." But as the drag world became both more complex and more mainstream, Macy's interest in the scene began to dissipate alongside her changing attitudes about her own gender identity.
"I wanted to continue to make music and do stuff, but then it became something where it was apparent to me that I identified more as a trans woman and not a drag queen. It was hard to keep up doing a performance like that without getting constantly misgendered or misidentified so I had to work my way out of it. I still have an appreciation for drag and I appreciate its value for gender non-conforming kids who want to try stuff out, but I think that after a certain point I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do going forward in my career."
So: Macy released her first EP, titled Help, early in 2016. The 5 tracks of the mini-album are all deceptively sugary — until you start paying attention to the lyrics. From songs about the dangers she faces as a transwoman to the woes and regrets of late-night party culture, Help is a deeply honest, and lovably dance-able pop experiment.
"Help was written at this time when I was still doing nightlife but was really yearning to just make music full time," explained Rodman. "I was thinking about things in my life that were affecting me at the time: going out all the time (which I still do), being rejected all the time, kind of feeling isolated by myself, feeling in danger a lot of the time because I was newly presenting as female and reeling with that and not wanting to leave my house. It was this moment of bursts of isolation and bursts of ecstasy being surrounded by my friends and feeling accepted and having the dichotomy of being out around strangers and having the total opposite reaction."
Macy got frank when asked to elaborate on the kinds of dangers she experiences as a transwoman: "There's danger and persecution on a day to day basis. It's a reality all the time and I think it's going to be for a long time. But I think it gets easier as you go on and you learn to navigate that. But when you're first starting to address your identity it's really magnified and you really notice everything ... Walking down the street is always an ordeal. It's always something you have to think about. A lot of cisgender people just don't realize that. It's important to think about that when you think about being trans. Going to the deli is a total undertaking and potential fiasco. Going on the train is often really traumatic ... I have just been walking down the street before and have been punched in the face. I've been walking home and been hit in the head with a pipe. And so it's just those kind of things where it's not provoked that are really scary."
It's not surprising to see these experiences carry over into the visuals for Macy's endearingly punk videos:
What's next for Macy? Working alongside producer JX Cannon, she'll be dropping an album titled The Lake sometime soon. We can expect a video for the first single off the LP, titled "She Will Be A Relic One Day," sometime in the near future. "[The new songs are] recognizably my style but they're a little bit darker sounding. We've just been experimenting a little bit," she said.
But does the music industry know how to handle this kind of star? Unsurprsingly, Rodman has found herself occupying galleries and DIY venues more than concert halls for her performances.
"People often don't know what to do with me, so I end up performing in a lot of art space but also a lot of underground queer shows. I just performed at a museum for 1,000 people but tomorrow I'll be performing for 30 people at a backyard in Bushwick."
You can take the girl out of Brooklyn nightlife, but you can't take Brooklyn nightlife out of the girl...