Perfume Genius has a serious whiff of talent

He’s had death threats from Eminem fans, and is at odds with conservative America, but Perfume Genius could still be one of the most fun acts at Electric Picnic, writes Ed Power.

THE death threats still arrive each week says Perfume Genius’s Mike Hadreas. In 2014, the singer began selling at his gigs t-shirts emblazoned with the image of Eminem in drag. This was at one level a joke on the part of Hadreas, whose music is characterised by a devastating wit. 

In 2014, the singer began selling at his gigs t-shirts emblazoned with the image of Eminem in drag. This was at one level a joke on the part of Hadreas, whose music is characterised by a devastating wit. 

 

But the shirts were also a commentary on what Hadreas regarded as Eminem’s misogyny.

Slim Shady devotees did not take the criticism well. “Eminem fans still contact me to make death threats. I do whatever I want and I don’t really stop to think about it,” says Hadreas from his home just outside Seattle. 

“With the Eminem shirts I thought… ‘Well, maybe it’s a little provocative’. But I was surprised at how riled up they got. It’s not as if I’m a massive figure.”

Eminem’s feelings about the t-shirt and Hadreas, 35, can only be guessed. But Hadreas, who performs at Electric Picnic this weekend, does not lack for famous backers. Michael Stipe, late of REM, is one notable cheerleader. 

He had proclaimed himself “blown away” by Perfume Genius’s bittersweet melodies and confessional lyrics.

As a gay man in contemporary America, Hadreas is naturally aghast at much of the country’s lurch rightward. And though his songs are more personal than political, he nonetheless felt obliged to acknowledge recent upheavals. 

Hence the starring role in the video to new single ‘Slip Away’ of actors dressed like terrifying caricatures of Donald Trump.

“I’ve never felt fully protected in America [as a gay man]. Even in Washington State, which is a pretty liberal place, you go 20 minutes outside the city and you will run into people with pretty conservative views. 

However, things are really terrifying now,” he says. “We’re in this dark and terrifying spiral and it isn’t getting any better. I don’t see any hope or light. There’s no positive spin we can put on this.”

Not that dark and terrifying is any novelty. Growing up, he was the only openly gay kid in his class and was bullied remorselessly. At around the same time he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which attacks the immune system and can result in severe weight loss. His salvation was music, as he discovered artists such as PJ Harvey and Alanis Morissette.

Hadreas has a natural flair for catchy pop: A talent he initially resisted, feeling that music should be challenging to himself and to his listeners. But he has now embraced his gifts. Not that this makes songwriting any easier, with new album No Shape the product of painstaking toil and self-doubt.

“My personal feelings are near hard to dredge up. But I have to wonder if this is something other people will actually want to hear. I have to push myself — I don’t want to just write journal entries about my life anymore.

“There is usually a month or two in which the writing is very difficult. you’re got the wrong voices in your head. You’re worried about making something incredible and impressing everyone. Eventually it clicks — and that’s when something true comes out.”

Hadreas struggled with his sexuality growing up. He moved to New York in his 20s and spiralled into substance abuse. He sings honestly about this issues — his willingness to bare his innermost feelings drawing listeners struggling with issues of their own. 

Often, they reach out to him. And while he initially found this terrifying he has made peace with it.

“I like the responsibility,” he says. “I try to make the sort of music that I would have wanted to here when I was young and looking for something that made me feel less lonely. I haven’t been very helpfully through my life so this feels very purposeful to me. 

“I used to think people wanted practical advice — which I don’t feel equipped to give. Actually people just want to listen.”

Perfume Genius plays the Cosby Stage at 11pm tomorrow at Electric Picnic.


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