In the spirit of summer love (or rather, summer hookups and sex), we present you with Boyfriend. Teacher by day, cabaret rapper by night, we watched the 25-year-old striptease, gyrate, and motorboat on Monday night at Baby’s All Right. She captured the crowd’s attention just like she commands a classroom full of 5-12 year old kids and probably dominates in the bedroom or on the kitchen counter. Instead of giving children candy, however, she drew people toward the stage with her provocative performance, by throwing coffee and peanuts, and offering a double issue of Sports Illustrated, but first asking the recipient’s preference: “tits or ass?”
Few people came knowing what to expect and clearly wanted to know what was going on as Boyfriend unbuttoned her vintage magenta granny dress to reveal a corset and high-waisted Spanx. Eyebrows rose even higher and chants of “boyfriend69.com” grew louder as she removed the corset and performed the remainder of the show in underwear, a black and purple lace bra and chunky black platform shoes.
At first her videos enticed us to learn more, but her performance amplified the interest, so we sat down with Boyfriend the day after her show and talked about everything from sexuality to Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut and religion. Her upcoming EP, Love Your Boyfriend, is scheduled to debut in August, but we’re giving you an exclusive preview of the song “Say You Will.” We recently spoke to her about how she started rapping, how she balances it with her day job, and what her family thinks of all this. (Disclaimer: in attempt to keep her double lives separate, the New Orleans rapper wouldn’t expose her real name. Sorry. We tried.)
Did you always want to be a teacher?
No, dude. I’d never even babysat and then I got this job. I never saw it coming. I was doing PR and event planning for a non-profit, but then this opened up, I moved to New Orleans, and I’ve been doing it for two years.
How long have you been into singing and performing?
About two years as well. My first video came out in February 2012—“Hunch n Munch.” That, to me, is the birth of Boyfriend. I did seven videos in 2012 and 13 in 2013.
Wow. That’s a lot of videos.
I worked in production before education, so that is one thing I feel comfortable doing. It’s hard to write a song without having visuals. Writing the song and then listening to it, trying to think of ideas—that’s a blast.
Your music is so different from being a teacher. Is there a switch you flip?
There’s a switch, but it’s one of those fader, dimming switches in fancy dining rooms. We all are complex human beings and we all have multiple selves within ourselves. I’m just tapping into the dirty, raunchy one at certain times and then the inner moral compass when I’m with the kids. But I like to think it’s a cohesive being, that I’m not split down the middle.
How do you see aspects of your music infiltrate teaching and vice versa?
The live shows are where I see the biggest crossover. When I’m standing in front of a room of chattering kids, I know how to get their attention. I know how to get a room full of chattering hipsters’ attention, too. Give them candy, you know? That’s probably the biggest merger of the two, although I would never take off my clothes in the classroom. [laughs]
Your music would not be the same without such a performance. When you’re on stage do you feel like you’re wearing a persona?
That’s when Boyfriend is really getting to be Boyfriend. When I’m on stage I have the microphone. No one can leave a YouTube comment. No one can ask me a question. That’s when I’m able to tell you and show you what I’m doing. A lot of people have trouble figuring out, “who is this girl? what’s going on?” when they just see the videos or hear the music. The live show brings it together and is my thesis.
In your opening paragraph what would you say?
I always go back to rap cabaret because people approach cabaret and theater with a willing suspension of disbelief. They know they’re going into something that’s a show. I ask people to approach Boyfriend—whether it’s the music videos or live show—with the same approach. I’m not an Angel Haze or an artist speaking from this place of “this is who I am.” I veer into thematic territories and participate in commentary. Rap game Bette Midler is another phrase: it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. It’s a wink and nudge.
I think it’s a little more than that. [both laugh] So where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I watch on average five music videos a day, constantly consume media, and read, read, read. I think of myself as a sponge absorbing my environment—be that waiting in line at the bank or watching YouTube—and when you squeeze my brain some dirty dishwater comes out. Sometimes you realize the things you say conversationally, if you repeat them a couple times over a beat, you get a chorus. It can be that simple.
But rapping in and of itself is a talent. Have you always done that or just one day…
I just one day stumbled into it. I would occasionally drunkenly freestyle at parties, which I would never do now. It always came easily. Part of it—I’ve never told anybody this—part of it is that I come from a family of musicians who are really talented and I’ve never had a voice like my sister. She can blow your pants off with her voice. I can carry a tune, but I would by no means consider myself a singer or a vocalist. I wasn’t confident in writing a song to sing, but I was like, “I can do this. Nobody in my family is rapping.”
What does your family think of Boyfriend?
It’s been well received, but I was terrified. This past Thanksgiving I was nauseated during dinner. My family is from rural Georgia and Alabama so I didn’t want them to know, but there was this great moment when I was talking about it with my cousin quietly in the corner and my super conservative, silent, stoic uncle—who has maybe said two words to me ever—looked at me and was like, “I get it.” He’s the type who I thought would never speak to me again if he knew. It’s been humbling to realize I should not judge these people just because they still go to church.
What are some of the strangest reactions you’ve received?
After every show I have couples like, “We’ve been watching your videos,” or “my wife loves you. My girlfriend loves you. My boyfriend loves you.” That’s awesome to think there are couples digging Boyfriend together. I hope I’m contributing to their love life.
I’m sure they get a little inspiration. Are you dating anybody?
Boyfriend can’t have a boyfriend. I’m not an inherently monogamous person. I like girls and guys, so it’s hard for any one person to satiate my needs. I’m young, so I put me first, and then in two-hour increments put someone else first in the bedroom.
If you could have a conversation with anybody—past, present, fictional, non-fictional—who would it be and what would you talk about?
Immediately three people pop into my mind: Joni Mitchell because I heard in an interview that she does not consider herself a musician. She considers herself a painter. Here’s this person who is arguably one of the best lyricists of all time who doesn’t even consider herself to be a lyricist. That blows my mind. I want to hear more.
Kurt Vonnegut helped me leave the church. He was this cushion into atheism or agnosticism. During my senior year of high school I was directing one of his plays and he passed away a week later. My dad and I were going to take a road trip to see him speak for my graduation gift, but he died, so I feel this sense of “Ah! That was taken from me.”
The third is Flannery O’Connor because she was in chronic pain and had to be recluse, yet wrote these tender stories and had a farm of peacocks. She trained one bird to walk backwards, which is almost impossible. I was reading her short stories at the same time I was falling out of my religion and they were such a comfort and guide, even though she apparently stayed fast in Catholicism. I would love to have that conversation with her—first of all, how did you train that bird to walk backwards? Second of all, what about god?
What do you think about god?
I was raised Church of Christ and the Bible is their doctrine, so they have a very literal interpretation of the text, which manifests itself in strange ways. Like, you can’t have instruments in worship and women aren’t allowed to talk in the church. On more than one occasion, I’ve had an elder’s wife come up to me and kindly ask that I not wear that top to church again. I had some tig ol’ bitties as a little middle schooler.
And then you fell out of that.
Yeah. Now my god is science. I just went to the Grand Canyon and it was the most comforting thing, thinking of the world being so much bigger than we are. I remember when I used to believe in god and feel like there was this man near me all the time qualifying whether what I was doing was right or wrong. That wasn’t comforting. I’m much more inspired when I watch an episode of Animal Planet.