36 questions to fall in love with Dorian Electra
Ahead of their third album release, the experimental pop star speaks to woo about friendship, gratitude and work-life balance
words Sophie Lou Wilson
In 1997, a psychology professor called Arthur Aron led a study that set out to find whether intimacy between two strangers could be accelerated if they asked each other a series of 36 specific, personal questions. The idea being if two people are vulnerable and sharing their unguarded personal thoughts with each other, it brings them closer together. In one case, two participants of the study married just six months after. While there's no replacement for knowing someone for years, these questions can be really useful for getting deep with someone on the first time of speaking. And, considering time is something that musicians, actors and other busy and successful people are short on, we figured let's use these questions to make the most of it. Read on to go deep with Dorian Electra.
It's the week before their third album comes out and Dorian Electra is in LA preparing for an afternoon of dance rehearsals. They’re in the midst of planning “a really crazy, big and theatrical show” for the end of the month. Dorian only landed in LA last night, having spent September in Milan for fashion week, where they closed AVAVAV’s intentionally rushed and chaotic spring/summer ‘24 show in a suit made entirely from Post-It notes. It was a conceptual look, and runway show, and not everyone would get it. That’s what made Dorian the perfect fit. Their shapeshifting, avant-garde style and genre-mashing pop merges themes of gender, fandom and internet culture in an experimental mishmash of hyperpop, dance music and operatic rock, spearing homophobes, incels and capitalist greed.
An educational thread runs through their music, a craft they first honed writing songs for book reports at school before going on to start their career making educational music videos about vibrators and the clitoris for Refinery29. Then one day, they received a life-changing call asking if they wanted to feature on a Charli XCX song. “My music’s always been educational because that’s where I started,” they say. “I love big concepts and I love pop music as a medium for explaining hard concepts and making things accessible to people.”
On Fanfare, Dorian's third album, these concepts are translated through humour and irony. In ‘Man Made Horrors’, an anti-capitalist track exploring the commodification of, well, everything, they reference, with deadpan delivery, “a Minion with a strap-on,” “a slutty Mao Zedong thong” and “a Che Guevara shirt from Zara on sale.” Meanwhile, the music video for ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’, the album’s second single, captures people eating McDonald’s, tourists taking iPhone photos and a gift shop selling branded ‘I heart Sodomy’ caps, T-shirts, mugs and keyrings. There's anger and frustration in these songs, but nothing’s so serious that it can’t be laughed at. “I think humour is one of the last defences that we have against agony,” Dorian notes. “To laugh about your own situation, no matter how dark, is absolutely appropriate and necessary for survival.”
For Dorian, music is a medium through which to explore their complex concerns about society and the planet. They're clearly a deep thinker so, to get to them on a more personal level, we decided to ask them 36 questions to fall in love.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?
Oscar Wilde would be pretty fun.
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I think being famous to an extent is nice because it's a lot easier to make friends. You can be friends with anyone that you want to if you have access to contact them. On the flip side, fame can be incredibly lonely. The area of fame that I'd be interested in is being able to make more friends rather than being lonely.
Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
Sometimes, if it's serious.
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Waking up and getting some work done because that's very satisfactory to me. Then being with friends and family and doing something really creative, maybe out in nature or going to a museum or some old historical place and learning something amazing. Then making something creative and dressing up in some crazy outfits and doing something fun at night.
When did you last sing to yourself?
This morning before this. I just woke up and then I was singing the song I've had stuck in my head since yesterday. I was singing a parody version of that when I woke up. I was kind of making fun of it. It's by a friend of mine so I won't say what it is!
If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30 year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
To be honest, in this industry, the body is probably more important. I'd like to say the mind, but having the physical ability to tour and sing may be more valuable in my industry.
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I don't. Maybe Alzheimer's because it runs in my family.
Name three things you and your best friend appear to have in common.
Music, demented humour and trying to do things purposely differently.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My parents and their support and love.
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I would have liked to be pushed to do more outdoorsy things as a kid. My parents weren't really into that. My dad would take me on trips, but it would have been nice to be a little more outdoorsy as a kid so it'd be easier for me now. I'm only now just getting into that more.
Take four minutes to tell your life story in as much detail as possible…
I was born in Houston, Texas. My family is Jewish, but not religious. My mom and dad were both the black sheep of their family, both really weird and different creative people. That's why they were attracted to each other. They got married. They had me. They divorced when I was around five years old, but they stayed friends. My mom was an artist and a jewellery designer. At the time, my dad was selling bootleg videos of rock and roll concerts. They were very supportive, very chill people. I went to schools with a really open learning environment. I had ADHD, but the learning environment was very supportive. I did musical theatre. Then when I was older, I got more academic interests. I joined philosophy club. Then I started doing educational videos for school projects. If I had to do a book report, I would do it as a music video. I got obsessed with music videos and I got obsessed with this band called The Horrors and they inspired me to make music of my own when I was 14.
I went to college and studied philosophy and history of science. I thought I was gonna study that in grad school, but then I got a job doing educational music videos for Refinery29. Then I met AG Cook, Charli XCX's producer, and I was featured on a Charli XCX song. That opened the door for my career in music. I moved to LA in 2018 and I made my first album and put it out in 2019. I went on tour to open for Charli and some other people. Then the pandemic hit and I put out my second album and now I'm putting out my third on October 6.
My music's always been educational because that's where I started, so I love big concepts, like history or theory of gender and sexuality blended into my music. I love experimenting and pushing the boundary of existing genres. I love using pop music as a medium for explaining hard concepts and making things accessible to people.
I came out as gender fluid in 2017 and that's been a part of my work as well. I express my gender identity through fashion, music, music videos. I have directed all of my music videos with my creative partner Weston Allen since 2013. We've been working together for 10 years, even way before I was doing Dorian Electra stuff properly. I did a remix for Lady Gaga. I opened for Rina Sawayama. I collaborated with Pussy Riot. I have collaborated with 100 gecs. I've been lucky to be a part of a musical scene of people who are like minded and who also think outside the box.
If you could wake up tomorrow, having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
Maybe the ability to instantly memorise choreography, but that’s actually not the most useful skill. That's just what's on top of my mind because I'm about to go to dance rehearsals for my tour.
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
I guess I'd probably want to invest in the stock market. That's what they always do in the movies, right?
Is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
I've always dreamed of doing a really crazy, big and theatrical show. It’s the budget and getting to where you’re playing theatres that are big enough as an artist to make that worth it. I'm trying to do that for my show here in LA at the end of the end of October. I hope I can pull it off.
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Being able to make a living off of my music. As musicians, we have all these goals. We always feel inadequate. You want to get bigger or you're comparing yourself to your peers. Somebody reminded me once that if you are a musician that's making a living off of your music and you don't have to do another job, you've made it. That's something to really be grateful for so I'm grateful for all the people that support me and allow me to live that. That's what I really try to come back to, at the end of the day.
What do you value most in a friendship?
I really value somebody that is down to collaborate with me and make work with me or challenge me and push me and be like, I think you can do better than this. I connect with people most when we're in the same headspace and working on something together. It's how I end up feeling the closest to people, whether that's romantic relationships or friendships. Working with someone on a creative level and making art with them is one of the most intimate things you can do.
What's your most treasured memory?
Getting a text asking if I wanted to be on a Charli XCX song was really good. It was one of those life changing moments so it’s a treasured memory to me.
What’s your most terrible memory?
This one's really obvious, but realising that the pandemic was a serious, real thing. That was a pretty terrible, horrifying memory.
If you knew that in one year, you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living?
I would move my parents out to Los Angeles to be with me. I wouldn't go on a tour, but I would make a bunch more music and try to spend time with people that I love.
What does friendship mean to you?
I think friendship means being there for somebody when you need them and being somebody a person can count on, whether that's to help you move or just somebody you can call up and speak your mind to. You can be there for each other. It's a hard thing to have sometimes when you're doing music because you're always travelling around. It's harder to have consistent routines. It changes relationships and friendships because your lifestyle is a bit more chaotic and differently structured.
What roles do love and affection play in your life?
In the past, I've depended on love and affection to give me that baseline support and confidence. I relied on that from my parents when I was growing up. They gave me a lot of confidence to be able to do the things that I'm doing now. I recognise that that’s a privilege. Not everybody has that in their life. If you can't get it from family, it's important to get it from friends and to give it to others too.
What are five positive characteristics of your best friend?
Honesty, like not beating around the bush and not just agreeing with me when I express something if they don't actually agree with it. Humour because there are so many serious or stressful situations that I end up being in and I feel like they can help me see the humour in it and humour always helps pull me out of anxiety. Cooking. Helping me relax. I'm not the best at scheduling designated relaxation time. Yesterday I was supposed to be relaxing and instead I ended up working the whole day, but I was also jet lagged. My stomach was literally hurting out of stress. Just having someone that can help you relax is important. Then another one is helping me appreciate nature.
How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
I don't know if my childhood was happier than most other people's because I had conflict in my family. I had step parents and that was really bad and kind of traumatising. I moved from living with one parent to moving in with another parent without the step parent when I was 14 because I couldn't take it anymore. That was definitely really hard for me, so I don't think it was necessarily happier than most, but also, it was very happy in a lot of ways.
I was supported by my actual mom and dad. I'm lucky to have parents around. Some people don't have that. That I've had them so far in my life is amazing too. There are always things that could have been better about growing up, but the fact that my parents accept me and support me is already a huge win because I have friends who are either queer or do music or whatever whose parents don't understand it. They don't get it or they don't like it. The fact that I have that alone, compared to a lot of my friends, is already a huge win, so I am appreciative of that.
How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
We could be closer in a lot of ways. I think that I was closer to my dad growing up. My mom was sometimes absent from my early childhood, after my parents got divorced, because she was starting her own business. She wasn't a typical motherly mother in a lot of ways. I've never really resonated with this idea of feminine motherhood. I think that was something that she also had a different relationship to, as a creative person, as an artist, pursuing her own career and being a business person. Those things can coexist, but they can also come into conflict with one another.
I think that caused some feelings of guilt for her and then it caused some distance between us when I was younger. I was really close to my mom in high school. I wish we could get back to that because we really bonded then and she's such a creative, inspiring, amazing person.
I’ll start three sentences and you can end them. I am feeling…
Awake because I just woke up
Doing interviews is…
Fun! I honestly love interviews. Some people hate them and it's their least favourite part of the job, but I love them because I get to talk about things that I can't talk about directly in my music. It just gives a whole other life to the story of your art and I'm grateful that anybody even cares what I have to say about anything.
Autumn is starting and that feels...
Really nice. Autumn is my favourite season, but it's also melancholy. There's something sad about autumn because things are dying and you feel like oh shit, did I do enough this year? It's complicated, but cosy.
I wish I had someone with whom I could share...
I want to meet someone that will become my bestie in terms of fashion design and merch design. I have collaborators in music that I feel that way about and I haven't quite found that in merch design. Once I find that person, I feel like we will be unstoppable. I want to develop my own brand. I need someone else to do it with me because I need someone with the technical skill and the aesthetic sensibilities.
If you're going to become a close friend with someone, what would be important for them to know?
The real answer to this question is that I live a lifestyle where my life and my business is the brand of me, so a lot of my life is spent thinking about how to do things in service of myself. That's opposed to other jobs where you're working for a company and you can have more emotional detachment from that and the things that feel like the most you are things outside your work. As a musician, your work is you, so it's all consuming. I think that can get in the way of being able to reciprocate always being there for people. The mental headspace is a challenge.
Say something honest about your best friends, something you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
I would say I'm excited for you to keep developing your goals and being more ambitious with things. Having a goal and sticking to it and working towards it and accomplishing it, rather than just letting life guide you where it guides you. Take charge of things and make your own destiny. I'm excited to see you start doing that because it'll make you happy.
Share an embarrassing moment.
When I was in seventh grade, so 11 or 12, I was on this big atheist, science vibe. At this time, in the US, there was a big thing going on about teaching evolution in schools. Christian creationists were protesting it and promoting intelligent design. My school was very liberal. I was going around the classroom saying, 'I was listening to the radio and I heard about these evangelical freaks and how they're trying to stop teaching evolution in schools and it's so stupid and they're just freaks. I can't believe they believed this stupid thing.'
The teacher said, 'Why do they have to be called freaks? How come people that think differently to you are freaks?' I said, 'Because they don't even believe in science and they want to teach this totally fake thing to kids that isn't even scientifically true. They're freaks because they don't even believe in the truth.' She said, 'Well, what if I told you I'm actually an Evangelical?' She was actually a creationist and I was so shocked because I just couldn't believe that she was a science teacher at my school. She taught evolution and everything, but on a personal level, she was a creationist.
It was the most embarrassed I've ever been in my life because I could tell I really personally hurt her feelings and she was my favourite teacher. I realised how rude I was being and it was such an amazingly teachable moment to have that experience because I was 13 years old, going around blabbering my mouth, just repeating some shit that I heard on the radio. I remember feeling like I wanted to crawl into my body and into my locker and just hide. It was the most physical feeling of embarrassment I've ever had.
When was the last time you cried either in front of another person or by yourself?
Last night because my stomach hurt so bad.
Tell us something you like about your best friend.
I really like how chill they are because I am not a chill, go with the flow person. I feel like seeing how chill they are with things is really inspirational to me.
What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
I think humour is one of the last defences that we have against agony, so I think people can even laugh in the face of death and stuff. I mean, obviously, to laugh at another person's plight is inappropriate, but I think that to laugh about your own situation, no matter how dark, is absolutely appropriate and necessary for survival. I think that there are very few things that are too serious to joke about in that sense. I wouldn't joke about a lot of things publicly, obviously, but to yourself about your own situation, I think nothing's off limits.
If you were to die this evening, with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone and why haven't you told them yet?
I am a very verbal person and, weirdly, making sure I say I love you to people if I were to die before seeing them again. I remember in sixth grade, we had a Holocaust survivor come into our classroom and talk to us and he told us a story about the last time he saw his parents and how he regrets not saying 'I love you'. He told us to say 'I love you' to our parents every time we say goodbye because you never know if that's the last time you're gonna see them. As a child, that really stuck with me so I'm a very verbal person.
If your house containing everything you own caught fire, after saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be and why?
It's a boring answer, but my laptop or phone. Everything's probably backed up. There's a drawer of cash I would probably want to save. I'm not that attached to physical things. There's a pair of loafers, these '90s Gucci loafers, that are my favourite shoes that my mom gave me. They were hers in the '90s and were one of the first things she bought herself when her business did well. I love those shoes so they have sentimental value but also practical value, but I'm really not that attached to physical things because I've moved around a lot.
Of all the people in your family whose death would you find most disturbing, and why?
My dad's death because he has such a wealth of knowledge. I feel like I need to record all of his crazy stories growing up and all of his adventures and all the knowledge that he has about business and things that he's taught me a lot of as a kid. There's still so much to be learned from him. I feel like, if he died, I would feel like there's still so much that I haven't even scratched the surface of that I really want to. I like that you asked this question because it gives me motivation to start recording his stories.
Share a personal problem and tell us how your best friend might handle it.
I think a problem that I have consistently is work-life balance and knowing when to take breaks and knowing how to relax in a healthy way. I think that they would be like, 'Okay, we're going to plan a little weekend vacation. We're going to plan to relax and watch a movie or make a nice dinner or do something outside of work. Let's go take a walk or let's go on a hike.' Even just the act of planning those things goes a long way towards mitigating anxiety and stress and helping a healthy work-life balance, but that's not something that I do as often as I should so that's nice that they helped me with it.
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