Every Friday through October is #Dieday Fridays! I’m celebrating the development and performances of my debut solo show Everyone is Dying and So Am I by sharing content around the creation of the show. Join me!
Welcome to the official playlist for Everyone is Dying and So Am I, my debut solo show!
Pop music is my lingua franca. It constitutes much of my cultural DNA and has shaped my identity. Growing up, I was raised on steady diet of icons like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Cher, Prince, George Michael, and Janet Jackson. I grew up obsessing over TRL favorites like Britney Spears and Spice Girls, then Hilary Duff and Ashlee Simpson. I came of age and came out with modern day mega-divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and create my adult life alongside queer contemporaries like Charli XCX and Perfume Genius.
Creating my first solo show from the fabric of my life—fact, fiction, and fantasy—has had me dig deep into the divine inspiration I intuit from the divas and drama of my favorite pop music. These artists and their work have unlocked parts of my soul that I amplify in my work onstage to help manifest an experience of communal celebration and catharsis that I've felt most keenly at my favorite pop concerts. In Everyone is Dying, I try to manifest that experience in a semi-autobiographical solo theatrical event.
Over the next two months and beyond, I am going to share some of the music that inspired me and the creation of the show. I'll reflect on certain songs and refresh the playlist periodically to coincide with my series of #Dieday Fridays.
1. Dance in the Dark - Lady Gaga
Gaga is my creative north star and has been ever since she exploded into our collective consciousness in the late aughts with her maximalist sound: Madonna-meets-Springsteen by way of the Scandipop Disco. "Dance in the Dark" is the song that opened her 2010/2011 Monster Ball World Tour, at which I first experienced her work live. It possesses the magical self-mythologizing, feminine self-empowerment, and dark edge that have become her signature and inspired so much of my creative life.
2. Running Out - Scissor Sisters
We are running out, aren't we?! That's the point of the show, articulated in this sleek cardio anthem from my favorite pop band, gay favorites Scissor Sisters. This song inspires the energy of Everyone is Dying's recurring central crisis.
3. Gone - Charli XCX & Christine and the Queens
"I feel so unstable; f*cking hate these people," is a chorus lyric in this brand new futurepop banger from cutting edge pop star Charli XCX. It explodes anxiety into a muscular dance anthem that feels like moving through our dark feelings towards the dancefloor.
4. Church - Aly & AJ
Yes, the same former child stars Aly & AJ that wrote early-00s "Potential Breakup Song" now craft gorgeously emotional, sensitive synthpop. "For all the times I can't reverse,/for all the places where it hurts,/I need a little Church," they sing, hoping to find something divine on the dancefloor. That sacred practice, that ritual wish is core to my show.
5. The Fear - Lily Allen
There is no pop songwriter more capable of capturing generational crises than Lily Allen, the sharp-penned Brit whose work marries her vulnerability with that of the world around her. "The Fear" captures the pervasive sense of 'something wrong' in the world around us that fuels my journey through the show.
6. Song for the Lonely - Cher
I first found this song in the aftermath of 9/11. Though it was released months earlier, people heard it in a new light following that day. I was 9, and I did, too. Cher is a titan, and hearing her share her seemingly infinite power so generously made me feel superhuman and invincible when the world around me suggested otherwise. It still does.
7. Out Alive - Kesha
"Live it up tonight, no one's getting out alive!" This 2012 Kesha party jam falls squarely into the genre of apocalyptic dance anthems like Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends" and Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" that made the end of the world sound like a prime opportunity to party. The honest kernel of carpe diem at the core of these songs empowers me to find my light in moments of darkness.
8. Haunted House - Sir Babygirl
Sir Babygirl is the nomme de pop of my best friend Kelsie, who creates edgy, honest technicolor bubblegum punk pop. This song means so much to me personally and bravely captures the anxiety, tension, and wild emotion of pain—all at a tempo that feels true to a racing heart's search for solace.
9. Fast Slow Disco - St. Vincent
"Don't it beat a slow dance to death?" sings Annie Clark over grimy uptempo uplift that one can only find in the visceral physical delight of dance. So often in my work I answer a resounding "yes."
10. Autobiography - Ashlee Simpson
I was a huge Ashlee Simpson fan growing up. She was my last earnest celebrity crush on a lady before coming out. Growing up watching her reality show radicalized me for its depiction of her unapologetic vulnerability in her songwriting. I found her so brave and heard myself in all her brash attitude, storytelling, and soft uncertainty. Yes, Everyone is Dying is autobiographical, but it's also craft and self-creation in the same way a good pop record is. It's therapeutic but it's not therapy. It's theatre.
11. Candy Perfume Girl - Madonna
I wrote much of this show to Madonna's seminal 1997 album Ray of Light. She has been called every name in the book throughout her illustrious and unparalleled career. On "Candy Perfume Girl," she examines her feminine softness from her tough exterior in. Such an active exploration of identity empowered me to try the same through my work.
12. Fly - Hilary Duff
Hearing Hilary's bright voice at the center of instrumentation that sounds like a brewing thunderstorm is the dissonant aesthetic I feel throughout my show.
13. What You Waiting For? - Gwen Stefani
Gwen's time crisis—make your art before your moment has passed—is the exact anxiety that snaps me awake whenever I find myself asleep at the wheel of my artmaking career. The humor and theatricality of her utterly elastic, evocative vocal performance renders her anguish in the vivid hues I hope to capture in my clowning around onstage. Perhaps the artistic apex of her pop career (apols, "Hollaback Girl"), this song has felt like high pop art ever since I found myself transfixed by its self-doubting/self-empowering confounding power at the age of eleven.
14. Haunted - Beyoncé
This is the first moment on Beyoncé's iconic 2013 self-titled album where I felt her drawing back the curtain and letting us lowly peons in on the anxiety and desperation of queendom. Such humanity from on high is an exquisitely beautiful thing to bask in, especially surrounded by such spare and macabre production. Everyone is Dying invites its audience to much of the same sincere spook.
15. Close Your Eyes - Kim Petras
This is here because it's an excellent haunt-bop in the tradition of "Thriller," but it is queer and so is my show.
16. Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do - Robyn
Robyn's strength through vulnerability has inspired this show and my exploration of self so deeply. "What to Do" is a very funny dancefloor anthem to how everything we face in our day-to-day lives can chip away at our life force, so we might as well dance.
17. Trouble for Me - Britney Spears
This is an album track from Femme Fatale, Britney's much-manufactured 2011 effort that seems, at first listen, like all synthetic style over substance. However, as ever with Britney, there are moments of her humanity peeking past the puppet-strings. "Trouble for Me" is rumored to be an admission of Britney's work on her own sobriety—efforts familiar to me! The sneaky candor of this song and the way it transforms challenge into a cheeky, sinuous jam is extraordinary coming from such a mythical figure in pop.
18. Drama Queen (That Girl) - Lindsay Lohan
That girl is me.
19. Adore You - Jessie Ware
This recent disco pop dance track from the soulful Jessie Ware speaks to the transcendent healing power of love that catalyzes much of the redemption sought through Everyone is Dying. Her gently soaring vocal line sounds to these ears like the comforting caress of a loved one who's assurance everything will be okay seems sometimes to be the best medicine for what ails us.
20. Piece by Piece - Kelly Clarkson
This evocative piece of songcraft showcases our original American Idol's awe-inspiring confessional storytelling. "Piece by Piece" is an account of her relationships with father figures in her life and effortlessly communicates the hard-won triumph of such love. Such a process is a core journey of my story.
21. Into the Blue - Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue is the ultimate pop princess, conjuring something in her songcraft and performance that feels like effervescent, transcendent magic. "Into the Blue" is one of pop's myriad empowerment anthems about leaping fearlessly into the unknown, but this one actually convinces me for Kylie's charismatically communicating how bracing and worthwhile such faith can be. She makes the leap sound like the only choice. When this song came out, I was in the midst of a rigid depression. Kylie asked me to move forward, and this song inspired me to dance. That charge is the call to action I hope to imbue in all my work.
22. I'm Alive - Celine Dion
Everyone is dying, right, so it's important to remember this in the meantime.
23. Queen - Perfume Genius
This song and its accompanying music video was one of the first times I saw a queer artist much like myself owning the mythos and power of divadom that we so often associate exclusively with divas. Mike Hadreas' Perfume Genius builds himself into the kind of towering, preening royal figure made more and more powerful for all his flaws, scars, and vulnerability. This song speaks to the finish line of Everyone is Dying for its challenge to internalize all the myth and magic we find in art and therefore live more freely and more honestly. You know, #goals, and all.
24. Rainbow - Kacey Musgraves
Did I mention I'm gay? As a gay person, I love rainbows and what they symbolize: a reward of beauty after the doom and gloom of a storm. I hope to make art that does much the same. I hope this show does that. Every time I perform this piece I have so carefully crafted, I hope to walk my audiences and me through the storm to a safe haven from which we can take in the view: a big, beautiful gay rainbow reward that makes us believe magic is real and we possess infinite potential. Come walk with me.