By Eli Enis
Where to begin? There’s the unexpected collaborations: My Agenda, the second album from experimental pop maximalist Dorian Electra, features disco legends the Village People owning the hook of a song describing gay frogs. They share space with the viral superstar Rebecca Black, who croons about converting fuckboys into simps. Then there’s the sound: a dizzying hodge-podge of dubstep thumps, black metal shrieks, and baroque keys, with surprisingly radio-ready lyrics satirizing far-right ideologies culled from the web’s darkest corners with an enigmatic blend of earnestness and absurdist humor.
And, of course, there’s the artist themself. The 28-year-old musician grew up in Houston and ran with a crew that practiced martial arts on the playground and played Dungeons & Dragons — the kind of teen who went all out for their steampunk prom theme. A superfan of the English post-punk band The Horrors since high school (in a beautiful full-circle moment, frontman Faris Badwan is featured on the track “Iron Fist”), Electra first received attention for their music when, as a senior, they released a lo-fi love song penned to the classical liberal economist Friedrich Hayek.
It was in 2017 that Electra got a major signal boost with a feature on Charli XCX’s “Femmebot,” followed by the long-awaited release of their debut album, Flamboyant, two years later. Featuring production by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, the record was comprised of eccentric electronic music that established Electra as a fixture in the budding hyperpop scene. The sound grew more playful, but Electra never abandoned their academic approach to lyricism. Thematically, Flamboyant was dedicated to exploring and critiquing aspirational male archetypes: the overachieving finance bro, the macho boxer, and the sleazy Hugh Hefner knockoff.
My Agenda, conversely, is written from the perspective of male outcasts: conventionally unattractive or awkward nerds and, particularly, incels, an internet subculture referring to people who consider themselves “involuntarily celibate.” There are songs about feeling angry at the world for feeling undesirable and unloved (“F The World,” “Edgelord”), fantasies about earning the perfect woman with gentlemanly prowess (“M’Lady”), and tracks that consider the subtle homoeroticism between straight friends (“Sorry Bro (I Love You)”). There are lyrical references to fedoras and winking quotes from The Joker, playful gateways to explore the real issues that plague the online incel community: violent rhetoric and open suicidal ideation, as well as rampant homophobia and sexism.
“I was trying to critique these perspectives but also empathize with them,” Electra tells MTV News. “Especially with meme culture, it’s so easy to call somebody a neckbeard or a fedora-tipper just because they offer to hold the door open. When you sit with the material, actually listen to it, and then people see it in the context of the rest of the project, they get the deeper meaning and deeper connection to this whole crisis in masculinity and culture wars.”
Electra’s impetus for diving into this subject matter came from seeing how the alt-right (a meme-driven flavor of white nationalism that’s sometimes adjacent to incel communities) became so popular with the rise of Donald Trump. And given that Electra emerged from a distinctly internet-born musical subculture, they were already primed with fluency in memes, irony, and oversharing that’s required to truly make sense of this intrinsically net-based lifestyle. However, as fascinated as they were by the social ailments of the edgelord psyche, Electra was equally drawn to its cultural aesthetics, like fedoras and swords. They suggest that it reflects an antiquated version of masculinity rooted in chivalry and warrior-like honor “that really shape the worldview and self-image of the people in some of these subcultures.”
That imagery is dispersed throughout Electra’s music videos, which function like supplementary texts. An epic, digital rendering of Electra wielding a blade atop a giant pile of skulls begins the two-part visual for “Gentleman” and “M’Lady,” before they flip on a cap that floats down from the heavens. It cuts to lo-fi footage of the singer donning a trench coat and lumbering around a filthy apartment filled with video games and fast-food wrappers. It’s intentionally ridiculous and ironic, but it also strikes a strange balance between poking fun at the oft-memed getup and making it look like an outlandish fashion statement.
“I honestly think that that stuff is badass,” Electra says with a laugh. “I think the sword is badass, and the trench coat and dragon necklace [are cool].” Additionally, as a gender-fluid person who interchangeably presents as male and female, Electra connects with both characters in that video. “I identify as both the neckbeard and the “M’lady,’” they say. “I like to make myself into this gross, Dorito-crunching, Mountain Dew-chugging person — which I very much am — but also this perfect fantasy elf.”
That ambiguity is central to the overarching Dorian Electra project, whether they’re toying with gender expression or smashing the boundaries of genre, best captured by the breakout track, “Sorry Bro (I Love You).” With jingling drums, a gooey hook, and witty lines written from the perspective of good buddies falling in love (“And when I try to look at you you look away / Sometimes it’s hard to find the words I wanna say,”) — well, maybe. “I wanted to create something that could literally be a bro anthem, but something that could also be more sexual tension,” they explain. “Something that is hidden romantic tension, but also something that could be totally platonic.”
“Sorry Bro (I Love You)” and “Gentleman” are two of the more lighthearted tracks on My Agenda, but songs like “Edgelord,” a groaning Auto-Tune-heavy track which features a verse from the “Friday” singer Rebecca Black, and “F The World” plunge the shadowy id of the incel. The latter is a ten-car pile-up of hardstyle, grindcore, and hip-hop that Electra describes as “the rawest, straightforward, and literal expression of this kind of angst.” Pointing to its aggressively cynical lyrics (“F the world best I love it / F the world I want to hug it”), they add, “The hatred of the world and wanting to commit violence really comes from a feeling of rejection, a feeling of wanting to be loved, a feeling of literal horniness and frustration. To me it’s, ‘I literally want to fuck the world,’ but also, ‘Fuck the world!’”
It was important to Electra that every song on My Agenda be written from the first-person perspective. Rather than viewing their subjects as removed characters with absolutely no redeeming qualities, Electra is empathetic in their critiques. “What in here is almost universally human and relatable?” they ask themselves. Though they’re careful not to equate this harmful rhetoric with the lived experiences of marginalized people, one way that Dorian was able to personally relate to the incel community was through the lens of their queerness, an experience that often leads to feelings of loneliness and incompatibility with cultural beauty standards.
“There’s a lot of self-hate, feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you can’t be attractive to a partner, feeling like you don’t fit into the ideal of romance or dating,” Electra says. “Dating apps are not going to be good for you because you may not fit in on hetero Tinder or Grindr, or that people would see you and categorize you as this one thing. Like, ‘Oh you’re just this nerdy, nasty guy’ or ‘you’re just this trans person.’”
Electra is a figurehead in a scene of pop music that’s extremely queer and femme-centric. Bubbly Auto-Tune and experimental electronics create an affirming space for queer and trans artist to pitch-up their vocals and express themselves with instrumentation that challenges heteronormative pop conventions. Therefore, it can be shocking to hear Electra singing from the perspective of homophobes and misogynists — the very people their community implicitly stands against. Electra recognizes the touchiness of the subject matter, but they don’t see it as an extended hand to male chauvinist behavior. Rather, by using neckbeard aesthetics and engaging with incel ideologies in good faith, they hope to create a welcoming space for people from all walks of life to productively engage with this masculinity crisis.
“If somehow somebody coming across my music had that kind of effect, I’d feel like I would be hopefully contributing something positive,” they say. “I think it’s totally worth it putting stuff out there that has ambiguity to it because you might draw people in who think it’s one thing and they’re surprised by other elements.”