LEANING IN: Chrissy Chlapecka, who blew up on TikTok, is seeing additional bookings beyond June. (Michael Arellano photo)

“This business is doing extremely well and it’s here to stay”

June is traditionally the busiest month for live acts favored at Pride events, but business is building throughout the year for many drag, queer and other performers in a scene gaining wider interest among mainstream audiences year-round, according to three artists and an agent who spoke with VenuesNow sister publication Pollstar.

“It’s important for people to understand that this business is doing extremely well and it’s here to stay,” said Michael Grinspan, touring manager with UTA, which handles a number of drag artists, among other self-identified queer acts, including Trixie Mattel and Katya. “The opportunities here are substantial and they’re growing. I’m very proud to say that “The Trixie and Katya Show” sold a quarter million tickets across the world. It was one of the biggest worldwide (UTA) tours of ‘22 and ‘23. That’s just a harkening of things to come.”

As for opportunities beyond June, Jan Sport, a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fan favorite, who has an official collaboration with VF Corporation’s JanSport brand, says there are a growing number of Pride events throughout the year.

“From the perspective of a performing artist, Prides are really kind of going throughout the summer,” said the New Jersey native. “The majority are in June, but for the summer, there’s always some great Pride happening around the country.”

The business is indeed growing year-round, according to Grinspan. 

“I don’t think you see a lot in January or February — maybe South America or Australia,” he said.  “The opportunity for a queer artist, whether it’s drag or stand-up or music, to perform to a large audience was primarily through Prides. It wasn’t whether you could fill the space or not by yourself. It was the Pride making that decision and an artist sitting by the phone hoping someone at some Pride would decide to book you. Your income was based off decisions of a group rather than the interest of the fans. 

“What I think UTA has pioneered is an approach. We love Pride [events]; we want to work with Prides, but we also know we can proactively go out (and say) Pride is not limited to June anymore. People are not just gay or allies one month of the year.”

Chrissy Chlapecka, hyperfeminine TikTok sensation who is managed by Spencer Bistricer at Rare Revolutions, said Pride month has caveats.

“It’s great to have a month dedicated to queer artists to play multiple venues and get their art out there, but sometimes it is being a token queer person,” said Chlapecka, a Chicagoan who “stepped into music” a little over a year ago after nearly five years growing an online following. 

This month, Chlapecka released her debut EP, “Girlie Pop.” She opened for Trixie Mattel at Asbury Park Summer Stage to kick off Pride. 

Another artist, Mel 4Ever, whose journey began in Birmingham, Alabama, said she intended to take this year’s Pride off, but the best laid plans oft go astray when opportunity knocks.

NOT JUST JUNE: Mel4Ever is a Brooklyn-based queer act with a strong following.  (Luis Nieto Dickens photo)

“I got a bunch of bookings,” she said. “As a queer artist, in my financial moment, I want to take opportunities, but it’s a double-edged sword.”

A trans artist with a subversively edgy style to her music and visuals, Mel 4Ever has a song, “Heels,” with reality TV veteran Heidi Montag that is out now with a music video coming soon.

Being embraced by a wider audience is uplifting spiritually and financially but unfortunately queer artists and drag performers often draw the fire of some who find their art objectionable. Handling LGBTQ-favored acts comes with unique challenges not faced by CIS-gender acts, from societal backlash to promoters and venue operators who can’t see the rainbow for the green.

“There are more fans. Straight people have been coming to shows,” Mel4Ever said, but she adds that the term “demonic whore” is one that’s been tossed toward queer and drag artists by those with rattled sensibilities. She paid respect to Madonna as a pioneer, ally and inspiration and feels the live industry is increasingly populated by people who “hold positions of power who are queer and who are doing a ton of heavy lifting.”

Added Jan Sport, who has been performing one way or another since childhood and will celebrate her eighth anniversary as a drag artist in July: “You have some who are so proactive and are so like, ‘Okay, we are going to book you out [early],  we’ll have a first call in March,’ or, ‘OK, we’re clearing you for that last week of June, and it’s three months away, but we want to have you for Pride,’ That’s one person, and then the other one reaches out to us on June 1, and it’s like, ‘Hey, can you do this, this and this?’ and, it’s really all over the map with who you’re going to get, or when people are starting to think about their Pride season.”

When it comes to negative backlash, she alternates between just ignoring negativity and reacting.

GREAT SPORT: JanSport has a collaboration with the VF Corp. brand of the same name, whose backpacks are a schoolyard staple. (Tanner Abel photo) Photo by Tanner Abel

“I go through cycles,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just harder to keep it in and not just let them have it online, but my partner is very much like, ‘Do not even waste your time and energy on that!” It’s all just because I care so much about my artistry, and I care so much about the product that I put out, that I want to make sure that everybody’s having a good experience, or at least focusing on the things that I want them to. I lead with my singing. I lead with my drag, and I want people to focus on that and not silly things outside of that.”

Mel4Ever said the edge in her music is a reflection of her experience.

“I felt so bitten that now I want to bite back with words and sound,” she said. “Not in an aggressive way, but just like a, ‘Tag, you’re it,’ kind of way. I want to make people think. I don’t know if revenge is the best motivation, but definitely hearing people and understanding people is important and I’m a new artist, and I’m looking to make a lot of points. I just have a lot to say and a lot to prove.”

Chlapecka feels queer women in mainstream pop have opened a gateway for a wider array of queer performers of various kinds.

“My biggest inspiration has always been Lady Gaga,” she said. “She’s been doing high drag camp glamor in the way I want to do it in my art.”

She also cites Chappell Roan (see Pollstar cover story) as a strong influence and says that artists of this subgenre are familiar with one another and have a sense of community.

“Mel and I are good friends,” she said. “We talk to each other a lot about what it’s like to be in the industry.”.

Increased demand for queer musicians and drag queens, makes it crucial to have the right representation in the music industry — people who grasp what Grinspan calls both culture and business story, the artists agreed.

Jan Sport tours regularly and recently sang the National Anthem for a Pride observance at Red Bull Arena and also sang the anthem at Yankee Stadium during Pride month in 2023. She’s going to celebrate eight years as a drag artist in July and for the last four years has been managed by Gina Garan.

“She gets it. We talk every day,” Jan said. “She’s not only a friend, but an amazing manager, too. But the friendship is what drives the relationship, and I’m so happy to be by her side.”

Chlapecka and Mel similarly praise their management and booking agents for understanding the nuances of a unique niche.

HOT BEYOND JUNE: Mel4Ever says the edge in her music is a reflection of her experience. (Luis Nieto Dickens photo)

From Grinspan’s point of view, promoters and venue operators should take a close look at the growing financial clout of artists like Mel, Chlapecka, Jan, Trixie, Katya and the rest command.

“We want to bring artists to people throughout the year in the venues where they’re used to going to see comedy and concerts at the time when they’re used to doing that,” Grinspan said. “A great example is our client, Trixie Mattel, just did a Solid Pink Disco tour during Pride month where she went to like 10 different cities where there’s a hard ticket, you’re buying it, you’re going there during what is essentially Pride month to a wonderful DJ show. We figured, ‘Hey, this is a big act. This is something people will go and see, let’s be proactive and bring it to them.’”

Pride month events might evoke the drinking from a firehose analogy, but increasingly, the workflow is making its way throughout the year.

“Prides will always have an important place in this, but increasingly, the part I’m excited about is, we can say, we can sell the tickets, we can fill the room, we can get this done,” said Grinspan, who likened the months before June to what Santa Claus experiences in the buildup to Dec. 25.  “Let us bring our artists to people throughout the year, rather than try to pack it all in one month.”

(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Pollstar.)