The warm and wonderful Nina West continues to prove that no one else could wear the crown of Miss Congeniality from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10. Last Christmas, she gave us her heart, and some instant classic Christmas tunes (including the insanely catchy “Jingle Juice”), on her West Christmas Ever EP.
This year, Nina is back with another video from the EP, and this time, she pays tribute to a classic cult movie from director John Waters. In the video for the 1960s-inspired “Cha Cha Heels”, Nina pays tribute to some Waters’ most famous characters, including Kathleen Turner’s Beverly Sutphin from Serial Mom, Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray and, of course, the legendary Divine’s portrayal of Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble.
We were able to chat with the “queen of Christmas” about her new video, the future of digital drag and her plans for Christmas in our exclusive interview.
“Cha Cha Heels” is my favorite bop from the EP and the video is fantastic. What was the inspiration for the song and video? I definitely see the John Waters influence!
It’s the scene from Female Trouble where Dawn Davenport walks down the stair on Christmas morning and says, “I better have them cha cha heels!” All of those things Divine said. That’s where the impetus of the song came from. I wanted to do a song that celebrated this version of Christmas. Because not everything is perfect. Not everything is beautiful and that’s what it’s about. It’s messy and it’s probably more like Dawn Davenport version that we see in Female Trouble that it is a gorgeous version of “O, Holy Night” by Celine Dion. Do you know what I mean? (Laughs)
What was it like shooting the video during COVID?
It was very, very different from what I’m used to. I envisioned this big flash mob, John Waters Hairspray extravaganza and because of COVID and the quarantine, we couldn’t so it. So, I worked with people who were COVID tested and masked-up (except when we were on camera) and socially distanced. It was extremely challenging, and it required us to be very creative with how we told the story and how we progressed the video. If you’ve seen the video, it’s three John Waters stories rather than just focusing on the Dawn Davenport/Female Trouble story because we just couldn’t do it with the amount of people we had. We had to be really creative and inventive on how we could tell the story in COVID times. It was like, we’ve got me, what can I do? And COVID was the impetus for giving us Dawn Davenport, Mom from Serial Mom and Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray.
I worked with Zachary, who’s Link in the video and Tom who is the father in the video and they were in my COVID bubble from doing a virtual show together. And Jamie, who plays my mom, is also my drag son and also in my COVID bubble. I was working with what I could to pull this off and I think given the circumstances, I think it’s pretty John Waters magical!
You’re obviously a fan, so what is your favorite John Waters movie?
I think Polyester with Tab Hunter is special. I have never quoted any movie more that I have quoted Female Trouble with my drag family and my drag mother Virginia West. We have quoted Female Trouble A LOT through our friendship. It’s a highly quotable movie. I think Hairspray, for me, is a really perfect film in the way it’s told, and Divine as Edna Turnblad is absolutely divine. He’s just remarkable in that movie and the story is so good and it became my favorite musical. There’s something about art that inspires more art…I love it, and it inspired this art. John Waters, he’s known as what, the King of Filth? Whatever his moniker is. I think he’s just so campy and so ridiculous and I think that’s worth celebrating. Cry Baby is so good! All of his movies are so good. I love them all.
If you could remake any John Waters movie, what would it be?
Oh my God, I would never want to remake a movie because I think they are pieces of art and they stand on their own. But, if John Waters wanted a new muse, I’m in!
You’ve been active doing digital drag shows, like the recent “Heels of Horror”. Do you think digital shows will continue to be important and impactful post-COVID?
I think the virtual space is really difficult. But, what we have seen a lot of new drag artists – who are very important and their voices are very important – throughout this entire time period. Virtual shows first started off in March really kind of bumpy – cell phone-based, with a shower curtain backdrop – and they evolved because of the movements we’ve been seeing in our country, like the Black Lives Matter movement. In May and June, that really exploded, and it changed the voice and the art that was being released, especially with drag artists, and how they were telling stories – how we were all telling, watching, viewing and listening to storytelling virtually.
My fear is that audiences are not taking the platform seriously enough. As a consumer, there’s so much of it. There’s a lot to consume, but they’re not willing to pay for it. And so, drag artists are having a really hard time making money. So, I would encourage people who are consuming drag art, who are going on Twitch and they’re watching a show with (drag king) Tenderoni from Chicago or if you’re watching Monique Heart’s show that books entertainers from all over the world, my request would be that people tip. Because no one gets paid, there’s no money. Everyone’s doing it because they want to do a show and they want to entertain, but It’s so important that these audience members throw a couple of bucks at these entertainers.
For many people around the globe this is their work and this is their art. We can’t expect everything to come back 100% the way it was before, and it’s not going to. I hope that virtual drag continues in whatever world we have after COVID. We’re never going to go back to what life was like, so people are going to have to adjust and allow and get used to this kind of art form and this kind of accessibility to drag because even if theaters or venues are full again, there are still going to be people who are nervous about going out, especially in the first year or two after we get a vaccine. We’re going to be dealing with this and the after effects for a very long time.
We joked last year about recording a song for every holiday(and I still want an Easter album). What’s next for you?
I’m the holiday queen! (Laughs) You know I love a holiday! You can’t clock Nina West for loving a little decorum and pomp and circumstance! Listen, I would fit so well in the royal family in the UK because I’d be like, “What is this? A ceremony? For me? Okay, sign me up!” I love decorum. I love tradition. I love that stuff.
So, what’s next for me? There’s a lot of stuff coming up. We’re going to be working on some new material that’s going to be coming at people in a variety of ways. So, I ask people to go to my YouTube page and subscribe. Follow me on Instagram. We’re going to be dropping stuff in a lot of unconventional ways. Also, we’re working on some really exciting projects – some of them are going to be familiar to some people and there will be some new music in 2021. Some things are not what you’ve come to expect from Nina and I’m really excited about that. But, of course, I can’t say anything yet! (Laughs)
What are you planning for Christmas this year?
Listen, I’ve got a lot on my plate. You better get ready because this week we’re releasing “Cha Cha Heels” and next week, we’re releasing a collaboration with my friend who is a Disney artist and the new video that is going to be crazy and blow your mind, it’s amazing. And then we’re releasing another holiday video the week after that.
I am producing content left and right because I want to stay busy during this isolation and during COVID and I want to give a little bit of happiness and inject a little bit of fun during this otherwise crazy and scary time. And I want to remind people that though it looks a little different this year, I want people to stay safe and to wash their hands and, most importantly, wear masks and not gather. I also want people to feel comfortable and safe enough to celebrate the holiday anyway.
I’m going to try to keep up my traditions, even though I might be doing it with one or two other people rather than my family. And, yeah, it sucks. I’m not going to a holiday gathering with my mom and my dad and my sisters and my nieces and my nephews. But I’m grateful enough that I get to have a holiday meal with the people who have been in my bubble, two or three of my closest friends and be thankful and grateful and continue to do my job. I believe my job is to be a beacon of light and hope and entertainment and fun for people so they can be reminded that they are allowed to shake loose a little bit and let go and smile. I think that’s what I’m supposed to do this holiday.
Listen to “Cha Cha Heels” and all of Nina’s holiday hits on The West Christmas Ever, which is available wherever you get your music and on Nina’s website. You can follow Nina on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.