Perfume Genius, Musician


"The name Perfume Genius is kind of nonsense because I didn’t think I was going to have a [music] career. It was just some random gibberish my friend came up with while we were watching the movie Perfume, starring Ben Whishaw. I’m kind of glad—I think I would have picked something really pretentious if I would have thought about it too much, you know? But I didn’t know I was gonna play shows, didn’t know I was gonna have an album. My first album was 2008. I’m a veteran. I’ve made four of them now.

I don’t think I wrote my first song until I was 25. And then everything I wrote ended up becoming my first album. I put my music online and from that, things just happened. I played my first show and then I was on tour, so it was all pretty rapid. When I was younger I wanted to be a musician, but it didn’t come easily to me. I went to school for painting for a year and dropped out. For a while I thought I would maybe be a writer. But with music I was such a nerd, I was really obsessive about it. The problem was I couldn’t really sing. I think one day I sang from a different part of my body, from my gut for the first time, and I was like, ‘Oh! That’s how you’re supposed to do it.’ Then for a while it was about getting healthy and committing. And then, actually working on things. Going out and drinking was my career for a long time. [Laughs] But I didn’t make anything doing that. Once I started actually working, stuff started happening.

In the interviews following my first albums, people were always asking me if I was OK. Or, endlessly talking about how I’m gay and sad and like, went to rehab. In part I can’t blame anybody—that’s what the album is about. But it felt weird to constantly be talking about it. And I still talk about it all the time. [Laughs] People are sometimes upset because if say, something comes on TV, they assume it has to appeal to all gay people, which is impossible to do because there are infinite amounts and kinds and flavors of gay people. It was important for me to be specific in my music and to talk about my background because I didn’t have that growing up. I really didn’t mean to be political. It just is, because I wore lipstick once or something. And after that, it becomes a political thing because people are just gonna fucking ask you about it all the time. In the end, I’m just doing whatever I want.

I started out behind the piano and as the music’s gone on I’ve become more frontman-y, I suppose. Each show has like, a nasty portion—a lot of hip-and-crotch centered things. [Laughs] Then there’s a more joyful, free, spinning part. And then there’s the quiet, vulnerable part. [Every performance] is kind of a 360 emotionally. Essentially, I try to get as close to the feeling and as far into it as I can, even though there are a bunch of people watching me. If you heighten it you can make it seem really dramatic. If it’s nasty, then I go full-on nasty. If it’s scary then I try to really embrace something dark, you know? It’s all drama. Or it’s magic. It just depends on your mood.

Over the years I learned to write more deliberately and I’m more of an adult about it, I suppose. At first it was sort of just emotional therapy. Now it’s more focused. I usually have a tiny world in my head, and then I end up working with people who bring their own things and it becomes something we make together. The more I do it the more confident I get reaching out to people—dream people!— to work with. I worked with Inez & Vinoodh for this album cover. I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking them a few years ago.

I’m kind of addicted to beauty stuff. To the point where I think it was bad for a while. I have pretty greasy skin, I break out a lot, so I was originally just trying to peel it off—everything was drying. Every night I was like, let’s just see, maybe I’ll get a new face. But I went to a dermatologist and he said I have rosacea, it never was even acne. So I dropped all the harsh stuff and my skin got a lot better.

When I found out I had rosacea, my dermatologist gave me this—sulfacetamide. It doesn’t smell like sulfur and it’s not super harsh, almost hydrating. I put that on after I wash my face and I feel like I can put anything on top and I won’t break out as easily. I use it twice a day. It totally changed my skin. I wish I would have gone to a dermatologist a long time ago. Before, I would self-diagnose shit on Google, and ended up using Differin for months. It was the absolute worst thing for me to use on my skin. Go to a dermatologist! That’s the biggest tip.

I like to feel clean, but I don’t want [my products] to be super stripping. Morning and night I use this iS Clinicals, which is like a gel face wash, and it does that for me. It’s slick and it foams a little bit, but it doesn’t make my skin feel tight afterwards. At night I’ll use it dry if I’m wearing makeup, and then I’ll wash with it again, sort of like a double cleanse. Then I use the Drunk Elephant B Hydra Gel. Which seems like it still does something...but it also feels like water, so if it soaks in really quick I’ll put a few layers on. Drunk Elephant I like because it’s natural, but it doesn’t have a really heavy smell. I feel like a lot of [brands think] if you put a smell in something you can pass it off as natural because it smells like the woods.

For moisturizer, I use this one from First Aid Beauty. That feels really soft—I can’t use anything super Vaseline-y or thick, because it’ll just sit right on top. It has to be watery enough to soak in. I bought the Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream and I’m letting my boyfriend use it until I get home, in case it makes me break out. He can do anything to his skin and he’s fine. I’m really jealous of that—I react to almost everything.

I did the Dr. Jart Water Replenishment Sheet Mask on the plane when I came back from London, and I think that makes a big difference. I did it in the middle of the flight because when I’m flying I get really dry, but then like, slick. It’s really bizarre. And gross. Once, I got some kind of laser facial thing. My skin looked really good for a few days, and then it looked the same—maybe even a little worse. [Laughs]

Makeup, I didn’t really get the courage to try it until a few years ago. I still don’t really know what I’m doing. But the Chanel Aqua Foundation is pretty nice. It’s fragranced, but since it's makeup, I feel like if I put a layer of not-fragrant things underneath then I can put anything on top. With skincare stuff, I try to keep it all kind of clinical and efficient, and not super pamper-y. But when makeup is fancy and the packaging is fancy, that’s sort of the fun part. So the Chanel, and then I use Nars Soft Matte Concealer. I like it—it just works, you know what I mean? You don’t have to blend it a lot, it doesn’t look super fake. I just use it on zits since it’s a little dry for under my eyes.

I’m a little scared of overdoing it, though. [Laughs] So I’ll just put a little bit of shiny metallic gold right in the center of my eyelids—it's this Jelly Pong Pong Cosmic Light Pigment. Oh, and I’ll use this too, the Benefit Boi-ing Hydrating Concealer. I do not need a highlighter because I’m so greasy, but Glossier Haloscope is fun. I use Too Faced Bronzer—I put that on my eyes in the morning. Blushes are fun. I like to do circles—like a Caravaggio painting almost, or Victorian looking. I’ve got Nars in Orgasm and Tarte in Blissful. Or there’s this cushion by Iope, it’s this Korean blush that’s a pink-y, peach-y shade. I use that one during the day because it’s not shiny or glittery, it just makes me look a little more rested than I am. On my lips, I wear Glossier Gen G in Crush. And I got this powder—It Cosmetics Airbrush Powder. It’s good! It doesn’t make me look crusty.

Fuck that. Fuck the body. It’s about the face.

No supplements. I was taking cinnamon regularly for a while and I have no idea why. It was more like a fun thing. Like magic almost. But I think that stuff is all in your head. I do not work out regularly, but I do dance so much and jump around so much on stage, and I do it every day, so I feel like that’s my exercise.

I switch [my fragrances] up. I wear a lot of them. My favorites are Chanel Coromandel, Diptyque Eau Duelle, Lalique Illusion Captive, Bottega Veneta Bottega Veneta, Bruno Fazzolari Lampblack, and Agent Provocateur L’agent. Today I’m wearing the Chanel one—it’s my favorite. It’s a patchouli. If it’s a fancy patchouli, it’s so good. I like incense, leather, patchouli. But I like it to be feminine. I hate clean smells. I probably wear the Diptyque one the most. It’s like really heavy incense. Straight up like an old church at first, but then like a little cupcake creeps in. A church cupcake. I wear that to bed. I’ll spray it on before I go to sleep. It’s really wintery, I think. Almost kind of festive. I’m about the religious baked goods.

Fragrance is almost like…I pick the one that’s who I want to be that day. I’ll wear sort of a more feminine one, or a more masculine one depending how I feel. Or a more mysterious one or more straight up. Depending on who I want to be."

—as told to ITG

Mike Hadreas shot in New York by Tom Newton on December 11, 2017.