Country Queer

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Album Review: “Barbara,” Trixie Mattel

By Hank Adams

Trixie Mattel has become a maven of entrepreneurial miscellany. Not only does the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum and YouTube star own a successful makeup company and a bar, but she’s also currently filming a reality TV show, “Trixie Motel,” focused on the renovation and launch of her very own lodge. Looking back on Barbara, her 2020 studio album, it’s clear that her creative energy shines just as brightly in her music.

Opening with “Malibu” and “We Got the Look,” Barbara cements an initial groundwork of easy, bubblegum fun by layering a B-52s funk-o-electric vibe beneath a steady pop beat, like a young woman new to the West Coast and eager to live her California dream. “Girl Next Door” is also boppy and bright; a note to a new neighbor reads, “If you’re ever feeling bored…I’m the girl next door. I’d like to have you on the hardwood floor.”

Yet, lonesome and longing sneak in by the midpoint, when the dream begins losing some sheen. “Jesse Jesse” is quick and easy-moving, but its emotional depth pivots the tone of the entire album. “I know you’re married, separation can be scary,” she sings. “Now you see her, now you don’t.”

“Gold,” meanwhile, is light and hummable with a softer approach. “Where do you go when the gold is gone, when the old front lawn is turning grey?” she wonders. The gold is gone from the dream—the fairytale—and all that’s left are a few sobering questions.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

As Barbara comes to terms with the reality of love, the back half of the album leans on the simplicity of an acoustic guitar, Mattel’s voice, and her honest, quick-witted turns of phrase. From there, it builds back to the fuller sound found in the first few tracks. She’s a little heart-sore and weary, but she’s also found a sense of self beneath the heartbreak.

“I Do Like You” is initially soft and gentle, giving way to a strong rhythm as the song’s story finds its footing. “Why does the street get louder when it gets dark, why do I feel that sound in the pounding in the shape of my heart?”

Love seems to fade as the album ends, and Barbara closes a little more jaded than she was when we met her in the first tracks. Finishing with “Stranger,” a clear-eyed assessment of a would-be lover, she declares, “I see you stepping high with your tight blue jeans on, strutting like a button-down paragon…You’re hotter than the popcorn dancing in the pan…but I can’t shake the stranger out of you.”

Barbara is a thicker album than you might think if you only tune into the dancier tracks. But as it progresses, it moves from light to dusk into the evening, from first blushing love to wherever we end up after we’ve been tossed around by romance a time or two… or three. More thoughtful than she was when we initially met her, Mattel guides us through Barbara’s story with a deft touch.

Hank Adams is a writer and photographer, country music fan from the way back, and an overalls enthusiast. They are based in Central Pennsylvania.