Pop superstar Justin Bieber has recently come under fire from the drag community after offering just $500 to RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Miss Fame to appear in an upcoming music video.
Fame, who appeared on season 7 of the reality show and has since become a prominent name in the fashion world, posted a screenshot of the email from Bieber’s team on her Instagram story. The email shows Bieber’s team offering ‘AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE’ alongside the $500 payment for a cameo appearance. Fame responded with the following statement:
‘To @justinbieber team:
If you want to involve LGBTQIA+ Artist in a JB music videos, I suggest respectable compensation/rate for their (mine) time & talent. $500 wouldn’t cover a flight from NY to LA & not offering to pay for hair & styling means you expect that all to be included. We deserve to build our lives from our artistry, as Justin has accumulated Net Worth of $265 million. It’s the least you could do. I can’t pay my rent off of the ‘honour’ or ‘experience’.
As you can see, Miss Fame respectfully declined the offer, but others were less calm about this blatant commodification of Drag Queens as a visual trope aestheticised for their visual alone.
For Bieber, one of the biggest pop stars of the 2010s, and his team to only offer $500 suggests a lack of respect for the true art of drag- not just the illusion, but the prep time to get into makeup, hair, outfits and travelling to the location. However, it comes as no surprise that his team is seeking to include a drag queen in his video (with Violet Chachki’s name visible on the screenshot as Fame’s backup). Recently drag queens have become the new queer token in music videos, with Iggy Azalea, Madonna, and Taylor Swift all inviting drag artists to feature in their recent videos.
There’s no denying that drag culture has experienced an explosive increase in interest in the past few years, with millions worldwide watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and the contestants being launched into mainstream stardom. Musicians must, however, understand that drag is one of the most complex art forms, and Queens should be compensated for appearances as well as preparation.
The argument of exposure and experience has long been used in an attempt to get artists of all crafts to drop their prices and make a financial sacrifice to be seen by a wider audience. As Fame puts it, experience does “not pay the rent”. Hopefully being publicly shamed encourages Justin Bieber and his team to think further about the rates they offer talent, and the way they treat fellow artists who aren’t yet on Bieber’s level.