[EDGY POP] You might remember Perfume Genius’ little YouTube scandal from January. The act’s label, Matador, says a video advertisement for Perfume Genius’ new album, Put Your Back N 2 It, was banned from the popular video site for not being “family safe.” The objectionable part was ostensibly the embrace of two barely clothed guys, one of them a meaty porn star. It’s difficult to understand what YouTube could have found offensive in the relatively innocuous short clip, except, of course, all the gay in it.
Now, the actual album is another story. One song, “AWOL Marine,” is inspired by an amateur porno a guy made to get medication for his wife. Another, “17,” includes a metaphor describing a violin strung up on a fence and covered with semen. And the semi-creepy video for Put Your Back N 2 It’s first single, “Hood,” brings back the aforementioned porn star (Arpad Miklos) to smear makeup on a dewy Genius. YouTube allowed this one.
The imagery is unsettling, but it comes from a true place. Perfume Genius—or 28-year-old Mike Hadreas, if you like—could not have had an easy time writing this album. The songs are deeply personal, and most of them are even painful. Hadreas shares what most people would feel uncomfortable telling their therapists.
“I come from a family of oversharers,” Hadreas says via telephone. “Our conversations can spiral up and down. It’s totally normal dinner conversation for it to get really intense or for us to say too much. So it’s what I’m good at.”
For Hadreas, Put Your Back N 2 It is the result of a lot of growth, both musically and emotionally. The new album has the same soft intimacy of his 2010 debut, Learning, but the sound is richer. The quiet piano ballads are twisted with synthesized vocals that sound like they’re coming from an answering machine. Over that tapestry, Hadreas sings about overcoming addiction and working through personal demons. He’s also abandoned what he calls the “teenage angst” of his first album and replaced it with a bit of hope. Many of the songs in Put Your Back N 2 It have happy endings, he says, though that depends on your definition of happy: It’s all still relatively depressing.
“It’s just as comfortable for me to let out how bleak I’m feeling,” he says. “There’s some strange comfort in that. I don’t need to patch up anything. I can just feel it, and then it will go away.”
Hadreas’ music speaks particularly to the gay experience. Not to put him in a box or anything, but his themes of love, addiction and self-loathing practically walk you through the stages of gay shame. Hadreas, who grew up in the Seattle area, says he was self-aware very early.
“I remember being like 5 and being at a toy store, and my dad was like, ‘Pick out what you like,’” Hadreas recalls. “I, of course, wanted the big bridal Barbie on the top shelf—the biggest badass Barbie up there. And I remember looking at my dad and the guy that worked in the store and wondering if they were uncomfortable. And that’s a strange thing for a 5-year-old to think. That they’re making adults uncomfortable.”
These days, Hadreas doesn’t care if he makes people uncomfortable. Not even the censors at YouTube.