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Photo: Paul Citone/Kabik Group

With ’40s schtick, a hip-hop minister and a filthy superhero in spike heels, Emerge gave Vegas a master class on self care and speaking up

Emerge Impact + Music is created and produced by ABP Media’s parent company, A Beautiful Perspective.

On April 7, a topless-burlesque theater inside Flamingo Las Vegas blew the door on another dimension. One where truth strutted and sang and took triumphant bites of breakfast sausage and potshots at God under purple stage lights.

“The Side Eye” at Emerge Impact + Music was more than a showcase of music, speakers and films, it was an affirmational dunk-tank.

Hosts The Apple Sisters dove in with slapstick nostalgia. The trio of smart-mouthed, smartly dressed parody radio personalities from 1943 comically mashed up oppressive aspects of American society in that era and now (and Sarah Lowe, aka Seedy, mashed up her face with a raw egg during a musical number called “Showgirl Breakfast Buffet”).

They cracked wise about the state of womanhood, leading into satirical short film Yes, God, Yes (starring Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer), about teen masturbation spiked with Catholic guilt.

“Bad Reception” took it way further. The video parable by hip-hop artist and licensed minister Sir the Baptist lives on Pornhub.com to allow for a nun with pierced breasts flipping erotically through a Bible between her legs. A pregnant nun. The climax is regular women reacting.

“Religion … I feel like you’re being torn between yourself,” one says.

Crystàl Xochitl Zamora shared her struggle with identity, as a Mexican-American with Aztec heritage, as a woman, as a lower-middle-class resident of New Mexico and as a dancer of both traditional Machika and b-girl breaking. She pointed out that people of mixed descent often belong nowhere, rejected by the very callout culture meant to help the marginalized.

“Whenever a new video of mine begins to circulate,” she said, “I’m afraid people will call me unauthentic, an appropriator or fake, without knowing anything about me or the life I’ve lived. People of mixed identities often fear not being enough while simultaneously being too much. My big realization as I mature is: Who cares? I am the only person who can choose whether I’m enough.”

Hosts of the Side Eye showcase at Emerge Impact + Music, The Apple Sisters sang, danced, interviewed Sir the Baptist about his big family and music videos, and drenched the audience in slapstick nostalgia in the form of parody 1943 radio personalities. Paul Citone/Erik Kabik Group

After stirring up the crowd at Emerge’s opening showcase, Saudi Arabian singer Rotana hit “The Side Eye” with her soaring voice and intoxicating sensuality. She had said she didn’t always want to be profound and represent the struggle, and this set showed her reveling in the freedom to sing about curative love, bitch-ass cheaters and dancing or smoking or sexing about problems instead of talking.

“I find myself using the term ‘freedom of expression’ over and over again,” Rotana said. “I grew up in Saudi Arabia, I live in the States, oppression is everywhere. And I really believe that if we all felt safe to express ourselves mentally, physically, sexually, emotionally, the world would be a safer place. It would have less fear, less hate, less shootings; so please love your neighbor and make sure that you are creating a safe environment for the people that you love to express themselves, because you have no idea what those around you are going through.”

Jamie DeWolf followed her act in the form of two short films, one jabbing at the immaculate conception story, the other retelling the origin of menstruation: Adam bit the forbidden apple, Eve took the fall, and God cursed her with “a pox of menses.” (And then said “Boom!!!”)

The Apple Sisters read the festival’s description of the final act. Then they shared a promise straight from CHRISTEENE: “She’ll be dirty and filthy like a plumber’s taint.”

Despite enduring a San Francisco airport shutdown for insane weather, missing soundcheck and barely making it to the show, CHRISTEENE and her Backup Boyz Dawg Elf and T Gravel brought it hard and so filthy, right on the heels of the Apple Sisters crooning about puddin’.   

Saudi Arabian singer-songwriter Rotana performs at Side Eye. Paul Citone/Kabik Group

The Boyz slipped through the velvet curtain first, like fugitives from the set of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, bare asses acting as the faces of sleepy-eyed beasties shuffling on-beat toward their mistress’ milk crate. They wiggled and shook as CHRISTEENE’s floating voice vowed to put a hurricane on our fuckin’ faces.

“Hold onto yourselves, hold onto my voice, hold onto the fact that you’re inside a goddamn burlesque room with crazy women painted on the door that don’t look nothin’ like me,” she cooed, busting onstage in a rough paper mask, shredded blue leotard and spike-heel boots, the Angela Lansbury tattoo on her thigh battling for attention with a bundle of gold and black balloons. When she turned, “Shirley Temples” written on a bare cheek only distracted for a second from the fact that the balloon ribbons disappeared inside her ass.

So this is drag terrorism.

Tearing the mask over her disheveled black mane, CHRISTEENE revealed electric blue eyes bulging over glowing green paint as she rapped and groped with equal force. She ended the song by popping out the anchor and flicking it toward a woman in the crowd.

“We just came from San Francisco. There’s no chairs there. Not at all—they climb right up and just get you there,” she said with a laugh. “And y’all can come up in the seats to the front if y’all want; I’m not gonna hurt you. I can’t even see you! Delta Burke could be in the crowd and I don’t know.”

Leading into 2017 track “Butt Muscle,” which Dazed called an “anal liberation anthem,” CHRISTEENE got real about hate and judgement.

“Everybody in this room is equal, because everybody in this room has a fuckin’ butthole.”

The song’s hypnotic electro-hop punctuated a tableau meant to obliterate shame around sexuality. Each dose of shock through the short set was followed by CHRISTEENE’s sharp and hilarious stand-up, culminating with a new song from album Basura (“trash” in Spanish), slated to drop May 22.

“This is for all y’all out there who have an empty tank and need a little bit of love. Me and my Boyz, we have it for you. So let’s give these people some ‘Stanky Place’ please,” she said.

There were many easy laughs. But CHRISTEENE singularly uses them to grease the skids for serious social critique: “Nobody’s fuckin’ feelin’ on each other no more! And everybody’s got their face buried in a fuckin’ machine all the time! Everybody’s walkin’ around, squawkin’ and bawkin’, squawkin’ and bawkin’, not lookin’ at each other, not smellin’ on each other, not feelin’ on each other anymore … never fuckin’ seeing each other anymore.”

CHRISTEENE shared a lot with the crowd at Bugsy's Cabaret. Paul Citone/Kabik Group

Sound and lighting techs made it a point after the show to thank CHRISTEENE for showing them something they hadn’t seen. One self-described freak said he needed to experience the full production, and CHRISTEENE sweetly said: “Come find me.”

Here are a few more thoughts she shared that need to be shared.

Las Vegas puts sex right in your face, albeit in forms that can be oddly sanitized. Do you feel like what you’re bringing fits in this landscape?

Sure. It fits everywhere. I don’t believe in places for certain things. It’s not right. And when people start to build certain rooms for certain things, then they stay in those rooms and they don’t really experience the rest of the world. So why da fuck? I’d rather play this room than a fag bar in Austin, Texas. Because that’s like, why am I gonna play in my own room? And why am I gonna play for all the dykes and trannies and faggots? Like why? They know what’s goin’ on. The people here don’t. I mean some of them do; they came tonight. But it’s important for us to go in the rooms we don’t belong and to talk to the people or scream at the people or spit on the people and enjoy each other. And these festivals are supposed to do that. There’s lots of festivals that say, oh you’re this kind of person so we’re putting you in this kind of showcase in this kind of bar, and you’re defeating the purpose of the entire festival. You go to a festival to experience things you don’t normally experience. And all these festivals compartmentalize everybody by their music and their look. … Nobody’s taking a chance and everybody wants to stay in their little tailored rooms. So I like playing in rooms [like this] because it’s fucked up. (Laughs) It’s a drug I can never buy on the street.

Like your awesome video for “African Mayonnaise,” this performance felt like you and the Boyz coming into a space where you weren’t necessarily expected and just saying, here it is. Offering it for whatever reaction.

Just like the world offers it to me everyday, and I gotta eat that shit. Everybody does. You’re either gonna eat it or you’re gonna cry about it or you’re gonna go hide from it or you’re gonna fuckin’ deal with it and figure out how you fit into it, ’cause everybody’s got a butthole. When you start to go high and mighty, you got a butthole just like me. So get with it.

One of your collaborators, Peaches, said it was possible to be filthy and important. You demonstrate that with art that’s courageous, even if it just feels like that’s who you are.

I feel like Elizabeth Taylor, so. (Laughs) … Peaches and I gravitated toward each other because of that. There’s a fashion designer named Rick Owens, and we work together, and he’s the same way with his creative whatever-he-does—people who understand what they’re put on this fuckin’ ball that we live on to do, and they do it louder than they’re supposed to do it. … But people get inspired by very strange things, and it doesn’t have to be some famous person out there or somebody you already know about. It can be somebody you never met. Or somebody who lives next door.

Is there anyone you want to see in Vegas?

I want to find Celine Dion and give her a baked potato.

Your social commentary is underlined right now. You post things on Instagram and Twitter about—

—aborting the president? Nah, I just think the pendulum is swinging. Find your people and find your ponies and find your language and hold onto that. … When you know things are goin’ wrong and you don’t stand up and say something, something’s wrong. So start fuckin’ standin’ up. Start decoratin’ your fuckin’ uniform and start breakin’ through. Put your fuckin’ colors on and get the fuck out there and do something. And don’t come gripin’ to me ’cause you just read it on your computer and didn’t do nothin’ about it.

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