For the last few weeks, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has been setting radio stations and music charts on fire with the biggest hit of her career, "Fancy." In that context, a web video with RuPaul might seem like a normal bit of album promo. And it is that. But there's something more interesting going on here too:
For a straight woman, Azalea's very comfortable playing with drag. "I always call myself a drag queen," she told Between the Lines News, a news organization focused on LGBT issues. "My hairdresser always says, 'You're a big drag queen. You're in drag makeup, drag hair...' And it's true! I can't help it!" she added. Moreover, she's doing something genuinely new by injecting drag — which relies so heavily on embracing the artificial — into hip-hop, a genre of music where authenticity matters tremendously.
As recently as 2009, music critics were fiercely debating what the mismatch between rapper Rick Ross's life (being a corrections officer with perfect attendance) and the things he rapped about (drugs) meant for the genre's future. "Impenetrability of image, that old signal of hip-hop authenticity, somehow no longer seems to count," The New York Times's Jon Caramanica wrote.
Fast forward to 2014, and you have Azalea scaling Billboard's rap charts with songs full of jagged, syllable-breaking snarls and sneers, while her real-life persona gabs about the artificial, expression, performance art, the art of hip-hop, and being a fan of drag culture. "She's not asserting her command by investing in these personas. Instead, she's trying them on, showing you how sickening she can be, no matter the look. She's every woman, or, at least, every woman she wants to be," Gawker's Rich Juzwiak wrote. It's unusual enough for one of America's most successful rappers to be a white, self-professed drag queen, from Australia. But Azalea's whole attitude toward performance is even more striking.