“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has had many memorable guest judges for its season premiere: Lady Gaga in Season 9, Christina Aguilera in Season 10, Nicki Minaj in Season 12 and Ariana Grande in the currently airing Season 15, to name a few.
But Britney Spears — whose discography has been a lip sync mainstay on the reality competition series (four times in Season 13 alone!) — has yet to make an appearance on the show, despite numerous efforts.
“Of course,” replied “Drag Race” creator and executive producer Fenton Bailey when asked if Spears has been invited to judge. “Many stars are approached for ‘Drag Race.’ And it hasn’t been possible – whether her schedule or people or her own desires, you know?”
Bailey has a special relationship with Spears. Prior to “Drag Race” and its many iterations, Bailey and business partner (and World of Wonder co-founder) Randy Barbato directed the 2013 documentary “I Am Britney Jean,” which chronicled Spears as she finished and promoted her “Piece of Me” tour in Las Vegas.
Bailey’s experience bringing “I Am Britney Jean” and “Drag Race” to screen are just two chapters in his new autobiography “ScreenAge,” which he calls “a personal odyssey and cultural journey.” Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with such intimate knowledge of these pop culture phenomenons. (Other chapters in Bailey’s 500+ page book, for instance, dive into his experiences with Tammy Faye and Monica Lewinsky.)
TheWrap caught up with Bailey ahead of “ScreenAge” hitting shelves in the U.S. to talk about Britney, “Drag Race” and their similarities.
TheWrap: In your book, you talk about this concept of “play” and putting on a persona. With Britney, she put on this sexy singer persona, when really, she’s just a sweet girl.
Fenton Bailey: Britney was once asked, “What’s one thing people don’t know about you?” And she was like, “I’m just a boring person.” And of course, she meant it in a self-deprecating way. But I think she also meant she is an ordinary person. I love the word Normcore, because I actually think that really describes Britney. And that sexed-up sex kitten is not Britney.
Yet there’s something about that sex kitten persona, that hyper-sexual, hyper-femine persona that appeals to audiences — and something a good number of drag queens imitate.
I would say the thing about hypersexual is that it’s actually not really sexual. It’s like a cartoon or an exaggeration. It’s not really sexual.
Sometimes it can be too literal. Whether we think that Britney is a sex-crazed person or a drag queen is a hyper-sexualized person, children are at risk, and neither of these things are true. There is no connection between these things. It’s only a sort of Puritan outlook that would demand that there is a connection.
The whole idea of drag, and I think pop music, which includes Britney Spears, has always been about creating an image, creating a persona and putting that out there. David Bowie was one of the first shapeshifters and all glam rock, which is something I grew up with. It was all about the show. Or Liberace! It’s the putting on of a spectacle. It is pretend.
And I think that’s where the culture wars come from; to some degree a Puritan mindset cannot handle that idea. They don’t like the idea of someone dressing up and pretending to be someone else and failing to understand that it’s not real.
Have you approached Britney to be a guest judge?
Of course. Many stars are approached for “Drag Race.” And it hasn’t been possible – whether her schedule or people her or her own desires, you know?
She’s been through a lot in recent years, with her conservatorship playing out in public. And despite support from fans, that can be … a lot.
I think Cara [Cunningham] put it best, you know, previously known as Chris Crocker.
“Leave Britney alone.” I felt that of all the commentary and of all the coverage, that’s perhaps the most spot-on. Because, you know, if you free someone from something that protects them, are you really freeing them? Or are you actually putting them in harm’s way? I think that’s the point we’re at now.
Bailey’s “ScreenAge” is now available for sale. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 15 is currently airing Fridays on MTV.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.