These days RuPaul is busy making America’s queens lip-sync for their lives on his Drag Race, but back in 93 he was making waves with the dance hit “Supermodel (You Better Work)”. His producer friend Larry Tee came up with the supermodel concept off the back of Naomi/Cindy/Christy fever, but that bracketed phrase is pure Ru. The track won him global recognition akin to that of the supermodels he sang about, and soon he was counting Kurt Cobain as a fan, duetting with Elton John, bagging MAC make-up campaigns and hosting his own VH1 talk show (featuring the likes of Beenie Man, Backstreet Boys and Pat Benatar). RuPaul worked the underground drag and arts scenes in Atlanta and New York before he made it in the fame game, but now he’s all about La-La-Land.
Dazed Digital: ‘Supermodel’ was a worldwide hit in 1993. How did it come about?
RuPaul: I had been a little downtown star in New York for years, and in about ’91 I decided I’d reached the pinnacle downtown. It was time for me to go for it on a worldwide scale. My other friends from the neighbourhood had made it big time – Deee-Lite – and I thought, ‘Well shit, I better get my act together and get on board.’
So I took all of ’91 to work on a demo tape to send out to record companies, and we got a bite from Tommy Boy Records, and that was the birth of ‘Supermodel’. My friend Larry Tee had noticed that in going from a downtown star to going above 14th Street – or more mainstream – that my look was more polished, a more supermodel look, so he suggested the title ‘Supermodel’ and I thought, ‘Great idea.’ That’s what was happening in pop culture at the time and drag queens have always been social commentators on culture, whether it’s in farce or in a wink-wink ridicule. It’s our job to do that.