Arts & Crafts - Mike Hadreas Of Perfume GeniusBy Tess Duncan
You probably already know about the scandal surrounding Perfume Genius’ promo for “Hood”—YouTube banned the 16 second clip of two men embracing (one of whom happens to be a porn star) because it wasn’t “family safe.” What you might not know is that Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius) made his own creepier version of the video modeled after a phone sex commercial. It makes sense, considering Hadreas’ interest in altering fetish videos set to his own music. His DIY films are as honest and heartbreaking as his beautifully melancholic songs. I talked to Mike about his rather unique hobby, his more professional music videos, and future film plans. Get stoked for some less serious, but equally awesome-sounding videos starring Hadreas in a power suit and pearls.
When did you first start watching fetish films? Who or what introduced you to them?
It became a stress of everything at the same time. Right when I started making music I became sort of obsessed with watching YouTube clips and spiraling into different weirder and weirder fetishes—some sexual ones and some non-sexual—and muting them and putting my music on top.
Do you feel that most of the films you create have messages? Or are they more of a creative outlet for you?
Sometimes, I like to pair a video with a song that’s sweet or warm, just because I think most people would watch those videos and be creeped out and see them as shameful or deviant, and I don’t think that that’s true. I might not start watching them with that purpose, but when I put the music on top of them and think about it more it, becomes more about that.
What is the creation process like for you? How do you decide which songs you want to go with which films?
What I like about the fetish videos is it’s someone doing exactly what they like, you know what I mean? I’m not a prude at all, but I’m a little shameful still, so I like watching things where all that is gone from a person. They’re in this moment where, no matter how weird or fucked up people will think it is, they’re doing exactly what excites them. Sometimes, it’s really non-sexual; it’s like wearing a mask and hanging out with your dog in the backyard. [Laughs] But you’re totally done up in five different layers of lady masks. Some people are really into holding their breath in a bathtub for as long as they can. [Laughs] You know what I mean? And then they’ll pop up with a big smile on their face.
I don’t know. I’m not certain why I troll; I don’t even know why I do it sometimes. My boyfriend would come home and I’d just have all these windows up [on my computer], eating cereal, watching people with shoes all over their faces. He’d be like, “What are you doing?!” And I’m just like, “Oh, I’m just hangin’ out! How was work?” [Laughs]
So what you’re saying is that you don’t have a particular process.
I might, I might just not be very good at explaining it.
The idea of repurposing art also finds a place in your songs with “Dirge” and “When.” Why did you cover these particular poems? Are Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sharon Olds inspirations to your work as a whole?
Definitely Sharon Olds is a big inspiration. Millay has a pretty crazy back-story that I didn’t really know about before I made the song. I more picked the Millay poem because it kind of fit in with the themes I was already talking about, and she had already said it all. It was the shortest poem in the book and I like to write kind of short, concise things, and I could already hear the music when I was reading it. Sharon Olds is really compassionate, even to the people who maybe harmed her. She’s kind of fearless about everything and the different sides of different things that have happened to her.
What is the film you paired with the song “When?”
So many of them just come from an hour of clicking through videos. Sometimes I’ll make a folder of the different things I’ve tagged, just thinking it was cool. I don’t remember how I got to that one. Usually I’ll type in Youtube or Google image search random groups of words that don’t make any sense. I was trying to find “gay,” “children,” “dancing,” and then add something at the end just to make it creepy. [Laughs] You know, to spice it up and see what happens.
The promo ad for “Hood” was banned from YouTube. Tell me about your alternate version.
At home on my laptop, I made one where I zoomed in on the faces and put it in slow motion with this scrolling text that looked like one of those late night phone sex commercials. You know, with the yellow numbers. It was way creepier, but there were no nipples. It was just a close-up of faces and the hairbrush. It probably would have gone through because it wasn’t apparent that we’re both shirtless and very close to each other. The one that they made was a lot sweeter and a lot more tender, but then YouTube thought that was inappropriate. It was a weird sequence of events. I wish it was more surprising than it was; that’s the sad part. I wish I was angrier about it, but I was kind of just like “Oh.”
Do you still have your version?
I do. I don’t think they liked it because it was too lo-fi. They want me to be more professional and make real music videos. It’s strange now; I can’t just make my little videos that I used to make because other people have played instruments on the songs. There’s this whole way they map out releasing songs like that so I can’t just keep putting stuff on the internet, because other people are involved. I do miss that part of it: make songs at home, make the video right away, and then put it right up on the internet.
It’s kind of a fun project though—to try for more poppy music and be more credited, but still talk about the same things I would have talked about when I first started making them. And making videos where there’s a director and other people there, but with the same feeling as the originals. Hopefully.
Were you happy with the way the “Dark Parts” video came out?
Yeah, I did like that. The weird part about it was it was my mom and me and my dogs and my mom’s house, so it just looked normal to me. I didn’t know if other people were going to be affected by it, because they don’t know anything about what happened or about my mom and her house. I didn’t know if all of the feeling would come across, but people seem to like it. I was worried that people were going to be really mean to my mom on YouTube. People are just awful! Like on the “Hood” video, they were terrible! People were making their own usernames just to troll the video. I removed the few death threats, but I leave everything else up. YouTube censored me and I’m not going to censor other people. I can take down death threats though, because that’s not really an opinion; that’s just not nice. No death threats for my mom.
Are the dogs in the video yours?
They’re my mom’s, but I’m kind of obsessed with them. I’m actually at my mom’s house right now because she’s out of town, and I’m looking after them.
Are you a dog person?
I am now because of these weird little dogs. I wasn’t really before. When I’m on tour and I’m coming home, I have this feeling that I’m going to get to see them. Like, that’s what I get excited about, even though they’re not at my house. They could care less. I’m looking at them right now. I’m so dramatic about them and talking about how they represent home and stuff like that and they’re just like, farting and staring at me. [Laughs]
Is your personal YouTube account the “perfumegenius” one?
Yeah, the perfumegenius one is the one that I’ve always had. I have another one too where I made all these drag videos. I do characters and stuff. I made them all around the same times as my music. I feel bad—I took most of the drag videos down because they’re all…funny? [Laughs] Well, to me they’re funny. I thought if people saw both [the drag characters and the music videos], they couldn’t take either seriously. They couldn’t listen to my music and find it sad if they knew I also made these ridiculous drag videos. I think I’m gonna start making more videos though. I just bought a bunch of stuff. I bought one power suit and a string of pearls from my mom’s house.
Are any of the drag videos still up?
There’s one up called “Teddy’s Tape.” [Laughs] Just search for that. Hopefully, I’ll make a couple soon. I want to make consumer reports in my power suit and be very professional. Like, I want to do one about my scanner, but just talk about what the scanner looks like and not anything about what it actually does. [Laughs] Just making up shit. This probably doesn’t sound very funny, but it’ll be funny. I also want it to be clear that I’m being forced to do it. That I’m not doing it because I want to, but that someone is forcing me to make these consumer reports. I don’t know who it’s going to be yet.