Trixie Mattel gives pop culture a run for its money on retro-themed album ‘Barbara’

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American drag queen and television personality Trixie Mattel has just released her third studio album, Barbara, and it’s undoubtedly Mattel’s most iconic record yet. While her previous albums, Two Birds and One Stone, channel her country and bluegrass roots, Barbara proves that Mattel is more than just a one-trick pony when it comes to music. 

Her electro-folk album incorporates dance elements to accompany the acoustic backbone, giving fans a new sound while keeping them comfortable with something they know and love. Filled with lyrics praising acceptance, loving oneself and growing up, Barbara takes listeners on a journey through the ups and downs of Mattel’s life.

Mattel begins the album with the catchy, summer-inspired pop song, “Malibu.” The artist is known for embodying the image of a life-sized Malibu Barbie — hence the surname Mattel and the record name, Barbara — and fully lives her Barbie fantasies through this song. Mattel sings, “You can keep me in the bedside drawer/ And when you want you can slide me out again.” The catchy pop hooks mask the lyrics’ deeper undertones, hinting at feelings of wanting to be wanted like a doll who hasn’t been played with for too long.

“We Got the Look” is a pure 1960s surf song, whisking listeners back to the time of go-go boots, exclusive Hollywood clubs and colorful-yet-mod outfits. It’s also a nod to Mattel’s exaggerated, doll-like makeup, pink clothing and big, blonde hair. “Girl Next Door” explores the theme of identity and self-love, sporting innuendos hidden behind an innocent and bubbly pop song. “I’d like to have you on my hardwood floor” screams girl next door in only a way Mattel could make work.

The crown jewel of the record is the song “Jesse Jesse,” endearingly written about beloved actor Jesse Eisenberg. With lyrics like “Jesse, Jesse, take my hand/ You can meet me in Zombieland,” and “Like the pictures of a magazine/ You know I get your pages stuck together,” Mattel croons about her love for Eisenberg while giving listeners a good laugh. And for those wondering, he is completely aware that this song exists.

Where Barbara shines the most is in its second half. After Mattel ropes listeners in with four happy, humorous tracks, she switches gears and pays homage to her two previous Americana records. The organization of the tracks creates a pleasing juxtaposition between the deceivingly joyous first half and the raw, emotional second half.

“Gold” is a beautiful track that taps into Mattel’s softer indie side. In a similar vein, “I Don’t Have a Broken Heart” is an indie folk song that similarly captures Mattel letting go of a love that didn’t work out. Listeners can sense her growth in the song through lines like “There is more to me than potion.” The song evokes an image of Mattel wearing her heart on her sleeve, emphasizing that she is more than just a funny drag queen — she’s a songwriter with substance.

Mattel couldn’t have ended Barbara better than with “Stranger,” a cover of gay country band Lavender Country’s song “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You.” The song is an excellent showcase of Mattel’s musical chops, and those unfamiliar with Lavender Country wouldn’t even be able to tell that the song is a cover. Mattel owns the track in a way no one else can, making it a capstone part of her narrative.

To say the least, Barbara is a versatile album. But it’s more than just an agglomeration of different musical genres tinged with comedy. It’s an album that seeks to expand the boundaries of what drag queens can do, both in drag and out. It’s a message to the queer community that Mattel hears them and that she stands with them through the inner struggles, the good times, the heartbreaks and the moments of doubt. Mattel is no longer just a “Skinny Legend” — she’s truly a musician for the masses.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].