Legendary queen Jodie Harsh wants you to know ‘drag isn’t as easy as it looks on TV’
While most of the world was reeling from the shock of being plunged into a global pandemic last year, Jodie Harsh decided to make the most of isolation.
In February of this year, the trailblazing drag queen, DJ and songwriter announced that she had signed to Warner Records. Later that month, she unleashed “My House” on the world – an infectious, stomping anthem purpose-made for the dancefloor.
Still, Jodie Harsh didn’t adapt to lockdown life overnight. She contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, spent two weeks in bed and was just about back on her feet when Boris Johnson announced what was then expected to be a short, sharp lockdown.
“I don’t work very well when I’m not able to travel and see people,” Jodie Harsh tells PinkNews. “I’m obviously very social. I like going out to loads of stuff and seeing loads of live music and seeing my friends and being in crowds of people and absorbing what’s going on. We’ve only really been able to do that behind screens.”
Lockdown was “a shock to the system”, but she got used to it – and before long, Jodie Harsh decided to channel her built-up energy into songwriting. Her most recent single “No Sleep” – released during Pride Month – captures the addictive magic of a night that feels like it’s never going to end.
Jodie Harsh: The government has ‘f**ked a lot up really’
“I guess I grabbed lockdown by its horns and f**ked it, basically,” Harsh laughs.
PinkNews spoke to Jodie Harsh about finding purpose in a pandemic, getting back to the dancefloor, and why she prefers to focus on the positives instead of the negatives.
Are you looking forward to getting back to the nightclub when COVID restrictions are eased?
I couldn’t possibly be any more excited. I think we need to get back out there, we need to be on dancefloors, we need to hear loud music and feel the bass and see our friends and see people and do normal stuff – obviously in as safe a way as possible. There’s a lot of people depending on this.
How did you feel about the government’s decision to delay the easing of restrictions in June, and how did it affect your work?
We had to move a load of stuff around, as did everyone. It is what it is – nothing’s really surprising me anymore. We’ve had a million things hit us in the face over the last year and a half, by now it’s just like: “OK, I guess we’ll adapt again, change our schedule again.”
I mean, our government’s f**ked a lot up really – I think that’s kind of obvious, it doesn’t really take a genius to realise that. It is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it. I feel really sorry for the businesses that are probably going to close due to that happening. It’s the small businesses and people’s mental health – the mental health of the nation is shot to s**t because we’ve had a pandemic. I just hope we can recover businesses and people’s happiness. We’ve been through a lot in the last 18 months. It’s been a really rough ride for everyone.
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You’re curating a new club night with Little Gay Brother – why is it important for LGBT+ people to have their own spaces?
I wasn’t going to do another club night – I’m taking a more creative consultant role in this project, so I won’t be DJing or anything like that. But I guess I’ve learned over the last 10 years what can make a club go off. It’s what I’ve always done so it’s like a second language for me. I wanted to team up with Little Gay Brother, and we just thought, “Let’s sort of blend what we’ve both learned over the past decade.” After everything that everyone’s been through, this is going to go off.
Jodie Harsh loves watching the energy shift when a drag queen walks into a room
Your new song “No Sleep” is so infectious – how did it come about and what was the inspiration behind it?
I had lunch with [producer and songwriter] SG Lewis just because we became Instagram friends. I’m such a fan of his work, I first became aware of him when he did “Impact” with Robyn, and I was like, “Who is this guy?” I started following him and we became Instagram buddies. Over lunch he was like: “We should do a studio session together,” and I was like: “Well, that sounds amazing – that sounds like a dream.”
I went in with the idea of writing about that feeling when we return to the clubs. I didn’t want it to be a happy, hands in the air anthem, I wanted it to be something a little darker, a little bit like a late, late night after-party kind of vibe in order for it to be different to “My House”, because that was really jolly. I went in with the mindset of: “I want to make something quite cool and dark but it’ll still make you feel good when you listen to it,” and I had this “no sleep” idea in my head. I was like, “I want to write about dancing on tables at the beginning of the night, but by the end of the night, you’re still awake” – just a great night out.
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Do you have any advice for aspiring drag performers or DJs?
Yes, totally – neither jobs are as easy as they look on TV, but then no job is. If you’re making music or if you want to do drag, or any creative field, you should look at references that go beyond what’s around right now. Don’t just look at me, don’t just look at who’s on Drag Race, don’t just listen to what’s in the charts right now. Most of the music I’ll pull out in the studio won’t be top 40 stuff – I’ll pull out something from the ’80s or really obscure things from the ’90s. Whatever area you want to go into, whether it’s drag or DJing, just really know the entire world that came before you and learn from that. I’m always learning, I’m always finding new songs and new techniques. You constantly evolve. Nothing comes for free, it’s all about hard work.
I imagine it’s a tough industry to thrive in.
You have to love it. You have to love making music, you have to love listening to music, you have to love the culture of drag and what transformation can do. You put a drag queen in a room and the energy shifts – it’s really interesting to see that. It’s kind of second nature to me now because I’ve been seeing it for so many years, but you throw a drag queen into a room and the whole dynamic changes. It’s so interesting to play with that. You see on people’s faces. It’s the same with music – energy can shift when you hear a certain song. I can be in a foul mood and a song will come on the radio that I haven’t heard in years, and I’ll be like, “Oh my God, I forgot about this. Turn it up,” and my mood shifts.
To be in a creative field and to be able to entertain people, whether that’s music or drag or whatever field, is such a privilege. When we went into lockdown, I was like: “I’m here to entertain people,” and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I think it’s really important.