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  • Grayson

On Chappell Roan and the Resurgence of ‘Camp’.

While Chappell Roan’s first top-40 hit ‘Good Luck, Babe!’ provoked the gatekeeping instincts in me (yes, I knew about her before you), it also brought some much needed attention to Roan’s album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess. The album, composed of 14 catchy pop songs, outlines a complicated journey from her small town in Missouri to California, during which she worked at releasing her EP titled ‘School Nights’ and her single ‘Pink Pony Club’, before ending up back in Missouri after she was unexpectedly dropped by her label. The album is a montage of self discovery, a love for go-go dancers, turning an infamous teen movie mean girl into the object of her affection, and Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader”.

A part of the true essence of what makes Chappell such a revered artist amongst her audience is her ability to latch onto specific emotions and experiences and fit them into the bold and playful settings of her songs. Her silly, exaggerated and subversive style, often crude or matter of fact, is seen as the epitome of ‘camp’. Her onstage presence is strongly inspired by drag queens in her makeup and her clothes. In fact, local drag queens exclusively open up her shows and she supports charities like ‘For the Gworls’ and ‘The Trevor Project’ through donations and benefit shows. It is in this that we see the true manifestations of this style in her work; Bruce Labruce in “Notes on Camp/Anti Camp” says that ‘camp’ as an aesthetic is political and revolutionary in its purest manifestations. 

Many say that camp culture was strongly the identification of secret codes between the gay community before Stonewall, a secret signifier of homosexuality, and a private rebellion. Through ‘camp’ becoming mainstream, often commercial and no longer a niche belonging to a revolutionary group, many say that camp has lost its true roots. Hardly anyone can forget the 2019 Met Gala, with Jared Leto’s second head and Lady Gaga’s 4 outfit changes. The theme of the night was Camp: Notes on Fashion. The theme is inspired by the 1964 essay by Susan Sontag ‘Notes on “Camp”’ that explains the esoteric nature of ‘camp’ without explaining who the group privy to understanding it is. At face value, it explains camp from a very heterosexual perspective, rarely touching on its roots and impact on the queer community.

While many attendees hit the nail on the head with their outfits, emulating the culture of drag queens and queer resistance throughout history that conceived ‘camp’, many bored onlookers with black jumpsuits and frilly sleeves that seemed camp only in their refusal to adhere to the theme or from Sontag’s bored perspective. This failure to understand the actual meaning of ‘camp’ speaks to the idea that it does not truly exist anymore, and that it never can when queer culture is so often adopted by the mainstream. While one can adorn every theatrical outfit in the world, camp’s esotericism is truly gone, and the question this brings to light is whether or not camp still exists, and whether this resurgence of new ‘camp’ artists means anything for the revival of camp.

Personally, living in a generation in which every aesthetic or subculture is turned into a shopping list, and revolutionary movements are often simply performative, I think artists like Chappell Roan who are bringing back the true meaning of the style are extremely valuable. In my opinion, whether it is simply a celebration of what once was a gay subculture, or an evolved taste that now defies more recent laws like anti trans and anti drag legislation, and the oppression of people on occupied land, camp becoming mainstream is more educational of the movements it is fighting for currently than it is self destructive. Painted green and dressed as the Statue of Liberty at the Governors Ball, Roan quotes what is imprinted on the monument, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” That is what ‘camp’ is about. It originated in a quest for freedom, and that quest will continue until it is reached. To me, a culture that came from hiding, being celebrated and evolving to new heights, capturing a new generation in the process, is very camp.

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Mr Coe
Jun 25

Loved reading this Grayson - beautifully constructed piece. Thanks for contributing!

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