Peppermint has a habit of breaking the mold. Both the first out transgender woman cast on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the first to originate a principal role on Broadway in “Head Over Heels,” this versatile performer is just as comfortable acting in the Emmy Award-winning series “Pose” as she is taking the stage to headline an international tour. Now, as she prepares for the release of her brand-new album “A Girl Like Me: Letters to My Lovers” on Oct. 16, the seasoned singer-songwriter is taking a different approach yet again: this album is her rawest and most intimate creative work yet.
The first part of a trilogy, each of the upcoming three albums will take listeners on a deep dive through a year of Peppermint’s dating life, and “A Girl Like Me” explores the rosy side of the “honeymoon period” at the start of a relationship. She said that in addition to it being full of “open and light” R&B tracks, Peppermint hopes it’ll be a helpful tool for people in the LGBTQ community to use in reflecting on their own relationships.
“I want people to like it and identify with it, and if it helps people with their breakups? Great. Or, if it helps people understand more the experiences of someone who is queer or what a Black trans woman can go through, then I obviously want that. And so, hopefully, it will be helpful. And if they say, ‘We wanted a dance song where you were just saying, “Look at my shoes,”‘ this is not the album for you,” she said with a laugh. “That’s all.”
And when not working on creative projects, Peppermint is no stranger to using her platform for LGBTQ activism. She’s worked to help the Ali Forney Center prevent LGBTQ homelessness, bring awareness about the trans experience through roundtable discussions, uplift the voices of Black LGBTQ people through events like the Black Queer Town Hall and much more. Ahead of a busy release schedule, Peppermint caught up with Between The Lines over the phone to talk more about why she hopes this album will inspire other LGBTQ musicians to create, why artistic honesty is more important now than ever, the lessons she learned making “A Girl Like Me” and why “dating is a dirty game, honey!”
What was your musical inspiration when you were putting the album together?
My musical inspiration was really everything from my childhood. I’ve done dance music before and since I’m an independent artist, I have the luxury or the ability to just create what I want. I don’t necessarily have a label telling me, “You need to be this brand or that brand.” And I think that goes along with being an independent artist, but now that feeling is really growing in the music industry where labels aren’t really dictating everything that an artist does. And so, I really wanted to opportunity to do a straight-up just R&B, nitty-gritty album that was very real and would talk about feelings and emotions in a way that we’ve never seen a drag artist do before.
The interludes between songs definitely gave me an R&B feeling. Was your intention with them to give a backstory to the listener?
One hundred percent. I really like the idea of interludes on an album, and I think it’s pretty obvious that my approach to album listening is more from the experience or perspective of somebody who listens to a full CD or a cassette tape. And so, I still wanted to be able to present this as though people were listening to it on a record player, and I wanted to take them through this journey because this album is really one part of a journey that I went on. The interludes and the songs are really the first season of last year when I fell in love and met someone and was in a relationship getting to know them and flirting and having wonderful sex with them — all of the great things that can happen at the beginning of a relationship, the honeymoon period. And so, that’s what the album is. And more than the songs, I wanted really to explain what was in my mind and I knew that, other than talking with you, I wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to express or explain what was going on behind the album.
This is a trilogy, so is the material already being written for the second and third installments?
Yeah! They’re almost finished. Everything’s written and some things are recorded, but they will be coming out next year. I want people to kind of go on this year-long experience with me just how it was a year-long experience creating it. This first album, I literally met my lover in this album in the summer, and we were together for a year. And by the time we broke up, it was around the fall around the end of the year. That’s exactly the timeframe that this all takes place. So the first album is the first few months of our relationship and the next one will be the middle of it and then the final one will be the end of it, but I won’t say how it ends (laughs)!
So many people can relate to having a transformative relationship like this one, but not many people make something creative out of it. Has reflecting on this relationship to make the record changed how you approach relationships?
Well, I can’t say that just writing this album has changed how I approach relationships. Really, writing the album is how I’m coping. I was in love, and writing the album is how I’m dealing with the end of the relationship — spoiler alert (laughs), but that’s probably pretty obvious. And, to be honest with you, I’ve had other breakups — as we all have, they’re a part of life — and I remember having a different relationship. And although I want to say that this is heavily inspired by one relationship last year, it’s me speaking, so there are other parts and experiences and things that I’ve had that are reflected in this album, too. I’ve had another relationship before this one where it ended terribly. It was [like] a song! I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t want to listen to music. I believe I was clinically depressed, and that was a tough thing. This is the first time I was able to take something that felt so painful and something that felt so depressing and upsetting and triggering and turn it into something that I feel is so beautiful. I’ve taken all these experiences and all this pain and turned it into art that I’m very proud of.
This album seems really timely because it’s a raw and honest work released during a time when people are having a lot of frank conversations about major issues like COVID-19 and systemic racism. Do you hope that this willingness for discussion, in art and one-on-one, will continue on even after this quarantine period is over?
Well, look, I hope so. I definitely think it’s high time that we have these conversations. Obviously, I think that’s why people are participating in them, so it almost feels as though there is no alternative to having these honest conversations that people have been having. And, I do think that — and this is me speaking for myself — it feels as though the world, or at least America, hit a rock bottom when it comes to the actions and the act of doing everything that we were doing before. And it’s really interesting. So, I do think that the pandemic, it took us a minute. I think for a month everyone was just stunned. Industries stopped, people weren’t working, and people were having a hard time, and people were dying and that’s very serious. So, it’s really difficult to come from something like that and go, “OK, let’s party!” I feel like that’s disingenuous. And so, an artist’s job, I think, by definition is to express how they see the world through their eyes and run it through their processor and put it out to everyone. So, what we were seeing when we were captive in our homes, what was happening on the news, the world around us, a lot of the problems that were still happening, we had no choice. I was a little bit afraid that people are just going to want this lighthearted dance CD or album, and that’s not where I am. And then when I saw Taylor Swift’s album [“Folklore”] and when I listened to what she released last month, I was like, “OK, we’re good.” And people were more receptive to these deeper conversations, and I think that they’re more receptive to change.
Going back to the point you made about artistic expression, your Carole King cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” it’s a great example of the relatability of a classic, in that people might think they have nothing in common with a Black trans woman, yet this song resonates in your life as much as anyone’s who has had a breakup. Was your intention when covering that song to use it as a message as well as a piece of art?
Well, it was definitely a little bit of both. I don’t know what Carole King was feeling when she wrote it, but it seems pretty apparent, right? And when I first heard the song and the lyrics to the song, it was kind of one of those ruses. I knew the song was obviously a big hit and has been around for ages, but when I first heard it, it was a dance hit. I heard it from the ‘60s and it’s a beautifully written song. The melody’s lovely and it’s so catchy and it feels like you’re humming along with a platitude, “Will you still love me?” Everyone wants to know the answer to that question. But when you actually listen to the words, it’s about this romance that happens undercover and at night only, and that’s something that’s so vulnerable and that’s something that does describe a lot of the experiences that I’ve had as a trans woman romantically. Especially dealing with cis, hetero-identified men who are definitely 100 percent attracted but 100 percent equally scared to let other people know that these are the people who they love or are into or whatever it is. And so, I just found that to be really interesting. And then, maybe it’s ironic that Carole King wrote a song that allows a Black trans woman like me to so easily express how she feels about her experiences in love and romance. And so, I wasn’t very calculated about it — I certainly didn’t feel it was a chore. It was a song I absolutely loved and I’ve listened to it, not necessarily my own version of it, and the words alone could make me cry.
Do you hope an EP like this one will inspire other artists to speak their truth the same way? Of course, we do have LGBTQ artists doing this, but it feels like we could absolutely have more and from different perspectives than we’re seeing now.
Yes! The answer is yes. It wasn’t that long ago that we know if you were out, period, you were in danger of losing your job and your career and there’s countless stories of folks in entertainment having to marry beards and have a fake partner or hide this and that about their identity. And, luckily, we’re in a place now where queer people and everyone, hopefully, feels free to express what it is that they need to say. And when it’s your identity and when it’s about your love and those emotions and how they connect your identity, you need to say it. You need to. So, I think that’s certainly how I felt writing this, and I certainly hope that other artists who are queer feel free enough to talk about their experiences that’s not so coded. And so, hopefully, they can sing about it in a way that’s so much more truthful and allows them to connect with other queer people in a much easier way.