Perfume Genius’ Party Rituals

The soul-baring musician spins a secretly senstive party playlist.

Photo: Luke Gilford

Mike Hadreas — a.k.a. musician Perfume Genius — has a well-earned reputation for painfully personal songs, built around emotional lyrics delivered in his sometimes quavering voice. But his just-released third album, “Too Bright,” takes a turn from that formula, adding a bigger sound and a sometimes defiant attitude. He took a break from his ongoing tour to spin us a party playlist that includes a space for the supernatural.


Mike Hadreas: Hi, it’s Mike from Perfume Genius, and I picked a few songs for a dinner party.

I don’t really tend to listen to party music — if I was really serious about what I’d want to play, it would all be songs that were, like, deeply moving or personal, but could potentially fade underneath, and could be played while people were eating.  Maybe I could trick them into having some sorta subconsciously moving experience during their treats.

Mary Margaret O’Hara – “Body’s In Trouble”

The first song I was gonna do is called “Body’s In Trouble.” It’s by an artist called Mary Margaret O’Hara.

She’s Canadian.  She released one album in 1998 called “Miss America.” And I don’t really get as obsessed with music as I used to as a teenager, but this song I heard recently, and listened to it over and over for weeks, and I ended up covering it in my set.

I suppose it’s kind of easy-listening-ish?  But there’s a really weird, subversive part to it: The way that she sings, she kind of sings around all the instruments and around and off of the beats, and I think the things she picks to do are very unexpected.

Her version is very free and seemingly light, but of course I do it very dark and very deadly serious! I really amp up some of the lyrics and twist them to make them a little more disturbing and personal.  As I tend to do.

Nina Simone – “Ain’t Got No”

The second song I picked is by Nina Simone. It’s called “Ain’t Got No.”

I’m gonna get real serious for a second: I first heard this song after a particularly rough night, and I was in sort of a strange “sleeping arrangement” with someone I didn’t know very well. I was not able to sleep.  But he had this record in his room. and I ended up playing it over and over for like five hours.

It’s always a comfort to me, this song.  I mean this song’s essentially about how you don’t need anything but yourself. I still very much kind of rely on external things to reassure me and make me feel good, and this song is essentially saying all you need is you.

I have… like, with my boyfriend, I’ll always  sit him down and make him listen to songs, and if he doesn’t invest in them as seriously as I do, I get frustrated! So I picked this song because I think, since I have such a strong personal relationship with it, I wouldn’t need other people to have the same amount of reverence during… a burger or whatever.  But if I felt particularly bitchy, I might tell people to shut up and listen — just depending on my mood.

Susanna and Jenny Hval – “I Have Walked This Body”

For my third song I really want to take it there. I’m going to take it there with something new, and something a little more weird. And this song is “I Have Walked This Body” by Susanna and Jenny Hval.

It just came out a few months ago, but it’s super intense and real spiritual sounding and loud and droney… but very beautiful.

The first line is, “I have walked this body to the rim of its end.”  It sounds like somebody maxing out their body until they physically just leave it. That’s what I took from it.  ‘Cause I would like… if I was having a dinner party, I maybe would play some Top 40, but then eventually I would want to get real occulty, you know what I mean? Like we’re all there around a table; we might as well do some kind of ritual, or have some kind of out of body experience.

Perfume Genius – “Queen”

For my own song, I’d probably pick “Queen,” which is the first single off my new album.

It’s a very defiant song. I wrote it as much for me as much as I did for other people, hoping it’d be kind of empowering to hear someone talk about how they’re… going to shake off the victimy outlook that they have on the world. Essentially saying, “You can say all you want about me on the street — as long as you back up and let me through.”