Anthony Johnston’s performance character Popinjay straddles two oddly disparate genres. One part highly sexualized satirist, one part bloodthirsty hip-hop fear-monger, Popinjay first appeared in the New York artist’s solo show Revenge of the Popinjay (which played at Videofag in 2013). This week the character makes his YouTube debut with “Superman Glasses/Kill the Straights,” a two-part track that juxtaposes cum-drenched faces with heterosexual castration fantasies.
We chatted recently with Johnston about psychosexual depravity, subverting hip hop’s homophobic tropes and how he’d like to get banged by Anderson Cooper.
Xtra: There are two very different things going on here. “Superman Glasses” is basically about gay male lust and your personal sexual desires, while “Kill the Straights” is about violence directed at heterosexual men.
Anthony Johnston: What we’re trying to do — we being me and my co-creator, Nathan Schwartz, who’s straight — is seduce the audience with sex and fun. Just when they’re becoming comfortable, we take it to a darker, more sinister level. We’re asking if you’re comfortable with exuberant gay sexuality. The next question is whether you’re angry enough to start a revolution and stand up for your rights. The extreme version of that is the full-blown psychotic depravity of Popinjay’s evil, straight-hating cult.
You’ve chosen to use the frequently homophobic genre of hip hop to explore these themes. Why?
It’s a way of commenting on the hypocrisy of what we consume in popular entertainment and satirizing homophobic culture at the same time. It’s one thing for the hip-hop community to accept Frank Ocean’s coming out, but Popinjay tests the limits of mainstream acceptance of gay sexuality. Is it more controversial for him to rap about sucking, fucking and anal than it is for Biggie to bust in a woman’s eye or Soulja Boy to superman a ho?
When artists like Eminem or Tyler the Creator defend their use of the word faggot by claiming it isn’t homophobia but instead a euphemism for sissy, coward or the loss of manhood, Popinjay proves that the faggot can be just as brutal, violent and sadistic as the aforementioned horror-core rappers when he threatens to literally castrate his straight victims.
A hallmark of effective satire is that some people won’t know it’s satire. Is this satire? Is it comedy?
The character and the video unnerve certain people even within the gay community. Could it be that homophobia is so entrenched in our culture we don’t know how to deal with a representation of a powerful albeit sadistic gay figure? It just shows us that music and entertainment need to be subverted more often by other artists. Of course, it’s also comedy. Rhymes like “Anderson Cooper/Put it in my pooper” — I mean, it’s true. I’d like Anderson Cooper to do that to me. But it’s also hilarious.
The video makes your sexual desires and interests pretty clear. Are you single?
I’m single and ready to fucking mingle. If you find me in a backroom or a bar somewhere, don’t be afraid to say hello. I really wouldn’t hurt a fly.