In the immortal words of Robyn, “fembots have feelings, too,” and you’re going to get an earful when their fierce leader speaks hers into existence on the RuPaul’s Drag Race judging panel this week. Ahead of her guest-panelist stint alongside actress Thandie Newton on the back half of the Emmy-winning reality show’s two-part premiere (Friday at 8 p.m. on VH1), the Swedish pop icon exclusively spoke to EW for a preview of the episode, in which she opens up about her time on set, RuPaul’s impact on the queer community, her feelings on Jujubee and Raven’s famous All-Stars 1 lip-sync to “Dancing On My Own,” and why she feels like she was born naked (and the rest was drag). Read on for the full conversation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m sure you’ve seen, but I think the internet assumes that all gay prayers have been answered by you going on RuPaul’s Drag Race, right?
ROBYN: That’s of course very nice for me to hear. I’m happy that it’s pleasing.
What was your relationship to RuPaul’s Drag Race before going on the show?
I’ve watched the show for a while! I binge-watch, especially when I’m on tour. I got to know Detox before she was on the show, because she was one of the fans that were at every single American show during the Body Talk tour…. So, I got to know her. Now she has more Instagram followers than me, and when she posts about me, I get new followers. [Laughs]
Detox is your Drag Race gateway! Did she offer any advice?
I should’ve called her, but I didn’t. Drag Race has been in touch with me over the past couple of years trying to get me on the show, but it was just timing issues. When I released this last album, Honey, and started doing more promo, I got in touch with them before the album came out and said, ‘If you guys still want me, then I’m yours!’
What was it like working on set with RuPaul? Can you sort of walk me through what you were thinking or feeling from the start of that day?
They are meticulous and so professional. We were in feedback mode for every contestant, and talking with and without them about everything, and not just about what they were wearing or their performances, but the judges really care about the contestants. It’s like, “Okay, well, what do you think here?” or “Do you think this is authentic to who they are? Are their personalities coming through?” They care about their personal lives. It’s very thorough. I don’t remember half of the things that I said because it was a full day of analyzing and talking.
Were you inspired by your time on the show? Might we see you in some 7-inch heels and wigs on your next tour?
I can’t say! But, I’m definitely working on something, and we’re doing this kind of continuation of the tour that we did last year. There’s going to be an update, but I can’t tell you anything! It’s a secret!
Though you’ve never been on the show before, one of the most iconic lip-syncs in RuPaul’s Drag Race history was on All-Stars 1, when Jujubee and Raven went against each other to “Dancing On My Own.” Did you see that?
Yes, I have! But, I’ve only seen it once. I can go on YouTube and look at it, if you want.
Yeah, I’d love to get your thoughts on it because it’s such an emotional moment.
It’s amazing. Whenever that song is performed by someone else or relived in the moment of my shows, it means the world. But, let me look at it again. I don’t feel like I can give you good feedback if I don’t look at it
[RuPaul’s voice sounds in the background: “Two queens stand before me” is audible as Robyn exclaims “Okay, here we go!” She proceeds to watch the entire lip-sync in the middle of the interview].
Oh my God, it’s good. I love that they’re already crying, they’re getting into it. I’m getting chills. I love that they’re hugging, that my song is making them hug! It doesn’t feel like a battle, it feels like they’re supporting each other. It’s really sweet.
They were good friends, so they were upset!
Well, I would say one thing [laughs]… I would’ve loved after the line ‘I’m just gonna dance all night,’ I wish they would’ve danced a little bit there, that would’ve been so nice. But, I just think it’s the sweetest performance ever. I love that they’re supporting each other…. it’s in the spirit of the song!
RuPaul let both of them stay, so it got to him, too. And Jujubee famously says “I just want fried chicken” after that.
[Laughs] I know that feeling!
So, you’re obviously important to Drag Race, but why is Drag Race important to you? Why did you want to be a guest judge?
The drag community is very diverse, and it would be ignorant for me to say that drag culture is the same or that I can identify with all of drag culture. But, I think RuPaul’s Drag Race is special because RuPaul is special, and so are the contestants. What really makes it an important show is that RuPaul has decided to protect the culture that he comes from. It’s a commercial show and it has been very successful, but I think he’s been open to the community while he’s doing it. Of course, there’s healthy discussion about how drag culture is commercialized, and that’s an important discussion to have, but he’s done it in a good way. He’s aware, he’s smart, and he talks about the issues that concern the community. I could feel that when I was on the show.
What was it like reconnecting with RuPaul and being on set?
I was in my dressing room in the morning, getting done up, and it was funny because my makeup artist and hairstylist, all of a sudden, I could see that both of them were really focused and quiet. They were working really hard, and I looked in the mirror, like, “Oh my God!” I had glitter on my eyelids, which I never have, and my hair looked amazing. They were telling me to like, shut up while they were working. I was like, ‘What’s going on with you guys?’ Usually we have a glass of wine and we’re laughing, but they were so serious. I realized it was the most serious, important thing that they could do, which was a good moment. I was also hearing all of this amazing music in my dressing room, and I [thought it was coming from] set, it was like club music, but not commercial club music, it was like, old-school stuff, soul music, all these things that I love and listen to. I went on set and I couldn’t hear it anymore, and I realized it was coming from RuPaul’s dressing room. He was in there playing all the best music and having a good vibe. And that was the spirit of the day: Relaxed and fun. That’s why it’s successful. Drag culture is an important cultural expression, but it doesn’t mean that all parts of drag culture feel authentic, but I think RuPaul’s Drag Race does. He’s guarding the interests of drag culture in the best way he can.
You’ve had an androgynous look throughout most of your career, so do you live by RuPaul’s mantra of ‘You’re born naked and the rest is drag’ when you’re doing more feminine looks?
I’m glad you’re asking me, because 10 years later, there’s no stigma around it, but when I did Body Talk and the album before that, I was surprised that it was an issue…. even the fact that I had short hair. It feels ancient, now… it shows how far behind popular culture is or has been over the last 20 years. Looking back at Prince, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, and Madonna, [they all] did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I didn’t think I was doing anything radical, just playing around with identity a little bit, and it got a lot of reaction in America. Now, it’s a different environment… I feel like I’m in drag all the time. My mom was an actress, and I grew up [around] all kinds of characters, so it wasn’t even a thing. In Sweden, the name Robyn is a boy name, and I kind of looked like a boy when I was a kid. My mom used to cut my hair short, and she was aware of what she was doing. She was giving me lots of options! I never felt that I had to choose.
So you’ve been in ‘drag’ throughout your life?
I don’t look at it as drag, I look at it as expression or what fit with my mood and represented what I wanted to be. You can challenge people’s perceptions of you [with clothes]. I talked to my friend today, and he’s a 45-year-old man working in advertising, and our stylist friend was working with another guy in his forties who also works in advertising, and she called him to ask: “Can I go into your wardrobe and get some clothes? Because I’m styling this guy who’s 40 and works in advertising.” My friend was like, “This is so depressing, that’s what I look like! I’m the 45-year-old guy working in advertising!” And I was like, “Yeah, RuPaul says you’re born naked and the rest is drag!” So, even a 45-year-old guy working in advertising is in drag. We’re all portraying some kind of image!