From Hair Curlers To On-Stage Chocolate, Boyfriend Embraces Continually Evolving Act

New Orleans cabaret-rapper Boyfriend has an ambitious plan to release a new single every month.

Following her food-focused show at Outside Lands 2017, Rolling Stone listed Boyfriend among their highlights of the festival, describing the set as “high-concept booty bass” that “unfolded while a chocolatier built a cake sculpture.” Two years later, she concedes that to top it, she’ll have to ask Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones to compliment her.

She’s kidding of course, but Boyfriend is aware that she has her work cut out for her. The New Orleans cabaret-rapper (her own term) was delighted to perform on the GastroMagic Stage and allow the theatricality that she excels at to flow free while celebrating the magnificent joy of chocolate.

“It was one of my favorite sets of that year because GastroMagic was this really fun homework assignment where I had to create something specific to the food stage,” she says. “So I had to fire up the creative engine, which is why any of us get into this in the first place. Each show is different, and in my case, I’ll change out performers — which can totally change the energy of a set, but I know what’s going to happen.

“But to just completely create something from scratch in order to talk about food was really fun,” she adds. “I like that we got to hand out chocolate at the end because I always give prizes out at the end of my shows. I learned this from back in my school teaching days — a little bribery can go a long way in demanding an audience’s attention, no matter their age or inebriation.”

She’s not exactly sure what she’s going to be doing this year — she’s still scheming, although she’ll be mixing old songs with new. There’s plenty of fresh material, too. Boyfriend is currently trying to release a new single every month, something she refers to as her “monthly cycle.” The most recent is “Soulmate,” which is blessed with a rapid-fire, monotone delivery and insightful lyrics such as, “You go shopping in my closet / we go all night without pausing.”

Whatever Boyfriend does at Outside Lands will be fascinating; the rapper-singer has built a reputation on performances that are politically and socially aware, stunningly theatrical and hilarious, too. It’s been seven years since she burst onto the scene, and she half-jokingly says that the biggest change, besides the fact that she’s singing (as opposed to rapping) a lot more, has been the number of costume changes and elaborate choreography.

“In the early days, it was a little bit more interactive,” she says. “I’d get down to the crowd and ask people scary questions. Really try to test people’s comfort limits. When I started playing festivals, I realized that I couldn’t do that because the nearest person might be 20 feet away on the other side of a barricade. That necessitated the inclusion of dancers and choreography, and it opened up this whole incredibly fun world, because in my heart of hearts I’m a musical theater nerd. I grew up watching musicals. The fact that I’m creating my own musical to take on the road is so much fun.”

It certainly is fun, but there are messages to soak up. Boyfriend famously wears hair rollers on stage, which has morphed into a message about the female burden of being deemed presentable. Originally, it came about because she was dashing from her day job.

“Now I’m able to apply these great, sweeping, artistic statements about feminism and everything — but when it first started, I did not know what to do with my hair on stage and I had a full-time day job,” she says. “So I’d often be rushing straight from work to a show and realize, ‘Oh shit, I haven’t shaved my legs,’ and have the audience do it during the show. Or have them paint my nails during the show. The great irony is that now, in order to critique this thing, I have to become it. I have to carry rollers around with me in all of my bags.”

Happy accident or not, she’s a vital, strong and outspoken artist and her blend of rap, eletronica and pop still sounds fresh. Under the current administration too, it can be absolutely cathartic.

“I try to work moments into the set where we all holler together,” Boyfriend says. “I try to end the show where I’m down in the crowd and they’re holding hands around me, and we all “die” together. Face our mortality together. I’m trying to help people feel comfortable by getting through the discomfort. As horrible as these times are, the more beautiful, important and poignant these performances and moments are. There’s like a silent understanding.”

“Beautiful, important, and poignant” sums a Boyfriend performance up perfectly.

Boyfriend, Friday, Aug. 9, 1:20-2 p.m., Panhandle Stage

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