Everybody knows Divine from her John Waters films. But the icon, who didn’t really want to be known as a drag queen, had another successful career in pop.
Harris Glenn Milstead, who would have been 76 yesterday, fell into recording kind of by accident, as her outrageous live shows led to producer Bobby Orlando seeing something in her, and tailoring songs to fit her.
Hi- NRG was the genre here, easentially a more frenzied take on the Giorgio Moroder disco blueprint. But Divine took it to the next level, with her feral growl. And the club kids and pop audience alike just ate it up.
Shoot Your Shot, Shake It Up and the peerless cover of Frankie Valli’s Walk Like A Man are all stellar, body positive jams before that was a thing, but my favourite is I’m So Beautiful . These all came out when feminine pop stars were predominantly blonde and lissome- Kylie, Madonna and Debbie Harry were still dominating the top 40- so they feel kinda revolutionary when performed in drag.
That growl, those eye rolls, the epitome of zero fucks given, her alternative persona sat very much in contrast to the softly spoken, sweet Glenn that friends and family knew offstage.
But those endless disco nights and nightclub appearances sadly took their toll on Divine’s large frame. Sadly, she died in 1988 of heart failure, just as she’d signed off on a TV role in Married With Children.
Subsequent generations have discovered her uniquely subversive take on pop though the years. There’s even a queer club night in Glasgow called Shoot Your Shot.
Divine pop intervention, you could call it. Long may she shimmy, shake and sparkle.