Audiences in the U.K. have been living for drag quintet Denim, who have performed with Florence Welch at Glastonbury, surprised Mario Testino at his 60th birthday party, and were the toast of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Part of the band’s allure is its similarity to another infamous British “girl” group: The Spice Girls.
“The thing about the ’90s is that it was just gloriously lame without realizing it,” lead singer/creative director Amrou Al-Kadhi, a.k.a. Glamrou La Denim, tells NewNowNext. “We’re trying to revive the unashamed lameness of the Spice Girls, and show that dancing and singing about sisterhood with cringe choreography is cool.”
La Denim says that she and band mates Crystal Vaginova, Elektra Cute, Aphrodite Greene, and Shirley Du Naughty are “pop cultural nerds.”
“We want audiences to feel that nothing—and I mean nothing—is cringe,” she adds. “I want them to come out of our shows feeling they’ve danced like a teenager on their bed to their favorite tracks.”
The over-the-top front woman bemoans how so many pop singers these days take themselves dreadfully seriously.
“Within the Twitter-sphere/Instagram-selfie chamber, people have become so self-conscious. Pop artists are generic because they have become so open to critique—[Look at] Rita Ora, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding,” she says. “I’ve also noticed that many veer towards apathy, or an ’I don’t give a shit’ sound—like Lorde and The XX.”
Un-self-conscious (and intentionally unpolished), Denim is at odds with the kind of drag that’s become popular Stateside. “It’s tricky,” says La Denim. “Obviously RuPaul has brought drag into the mainstream and there’s a wide cultural appetite for it now—[Drag Race] is one of my favorite shows to watch. But it’s not the kind of drag I relate to. And a lot of British queens I know feel the same way.”
Fans will often tell La Denim she should compete on Drag Race but, she insists, the Denim queens just would not work there. “We don’t aim for pure polish on our make-up or in our clothing, and serving glamour on the runway sits at odds with the cringe pop-cultural images we revere.”
While they do perform covers, Denim does not lip sync—they frequently turn down requests to do them, or to show up and “serve looks” at parties. “It’s just not what we do,” La Denim explains. “Denim is about powerful live vocals and well-rehearsed comedy. That often gets missed in the mainstream image of drag.”
The band enjoys the challenge of performing for crowds not typically into drag, including rock festivals and even children’s shows. “We are all about trojan-horsing queer philosophy,” she explains. “We use pop music as a vehicle to smuggle in our politics. Our visuals are intentionally ’Disney’ and ’sweet,’ so once the audience feels like it has a place in our show, that’s when we hit them with the political material. Like my being a queer Muslim or supporting queer-sex positivity.”
A perfect example of that integration is the group’s eponymous single: It’s a slow-burn dance track with a big build to a singable hook. But the lyrics sneak it some of that revolutionary flavor La Demin mentioned.
Check out a sample of the lyrics:
“Can you hear my cries? Cries of my generation
Screaming that deathly scream/looking for a new salvation.
Can you hear me calling? Calling out for a new direction.
Losing our fragile minds, on a road with no redemption.
Oh, this is our time, the one of a kind, we’re going to start a revolution.
And all that you see/is more than just me/This is who we are.
We are the children of a new day. This time we’re doing it the Denim way.”
“By this point, they’re usually onside and singing along to songs with queer politics, often without realizing,” she reveals. “I think mainstream audiences have an impression of drag as low culture and a bit basic; We show them that queer people have more talent and skill than they could imagine We want audiences to leave going, ’Fuck, it’s an amazing thing to be queer!'”
They’ve even scored support from major beauty brands, like MAC and Bumble, but Denim enjoys playing for the hometown team, too.
“We love queer clubs—the audiences are already much more clicked into the grammar of our show from the get go,” says La Denim. “They recognize our experiences a lot more. When we’re doing ’mainstream’ crowds, there’s a bit more push-and-pull with the audience. Bt that’s the fun—not just preaching to the converted.”
What’s next for the fab five? After their Fringe festival success, the band is lining up dates at the Soho Theater in London, and planning a UK tour.
A trip to the U.S. will hopefully happen soon, says La Denim, “if Trump lets in a queer Iraqi Muslim!”