Review By Tessa Stickland
Juniper Rising is a drag inspired, cabaret whirlwind of fun.
It's camp; it's iconic; sexy; dumb (complementary); and existential. It's a religious experience for the girls and the gays. (Actually, it's for anyone who doesn't hate fun and glitter and dark rituals). It takes you to Hell and back in the best way.
Juniper Rising is the latest show from Juniper Wilde, who is definitely a real influencer and not a pop star persona created by Alex Hines (Golden Gibbo winner at MICF 2022 for To Schapelle and Back, among many other award wins and nominations across her career).
I had a brilliant time, despite never having seen any of Juniper Wilde’s shows before (or her music videos). I’m sure if you’re a fan of Juniper and have been following her for a while, the whole experience is heightened. There might be some in-jokes or running gags, but I couldn’t tell. You don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy this show.
As the audience enters, there is a figure veiled in back standing on the stage. It’s giving gothic widow vibes, but in a leotard. On the other side of the stage is a TV screen.
The show starts with a layered montage of news clips reporting the death of Juniper Wilde.
Then, the figure on stage starts to move one arm and starts to text…? Text messages appear on the TV screen. It’s Juniper, and she needs our help to resurrect her. We chant the ritual written on the screen and she comes back to us — her “Wildelings” — to bring us a the new album she recorded in Hell.
And thus the show continues. Through storytelling, sketches, videos, and song, Juniper fills us in to how she got from her accidental suicide to the afterlife and back.
The songs, for the most part, are original tracks. The few existing songs that feature are either only sampled briefly or have alternate lyrics.
Vocally, Juniper is a mix of Britney Spears, Kylie Manogue, and Madonna. Stylistically, she’s Lady Gaga and original songs from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Plus the general ‘female pop star’ look and feel of today (think Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat, the good looks at the Met Gala etc.). Plus one song with vocal moments that sound straight off a Kate Bush record.
As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of rock duo Tenacious D (Kyle Gass and Jack Black). It’s all a wild romp, funny dumb lyrics and weird choices, but still a banger. Plus, the devil is there.
This might seem like a lot, and maybe over the top; but it’s supposed to be and it works.
Juniper is a satirical amalgamation of all these people and more. She is The influencer (who maybe isn’t as influential as she thinks). However, Juniper (Hines) also has the voice to back it up. She’s a great vocalist and so fun to listen to. There are silly (and demonic) voices within her songs too, which push the comedy — but she’s a genuinely impressive singer (albeit to the ears of a non-musician like me).
While definitely satirical, I wouldn’t quite describe Juniper or her music as parody. I mean, from a technical standpoint she does meet the definition of parody; imitation of style exaggerated for comic effect. But I think pastiche is slightly more fitting.
It’s an imitation, but it doesn’t feel that exaggerated. Real life pop stars/influencers/celebrities are already so hyperbolic that Juniper doesn’t feel like a stretch. The main difference is that the world of Juniper Rising includes resurrections and black magic.
Plus, there is a level of nuance and reality to Juniper that grounds her (a little) and creates pathos. It is parody, but it’s not your classic broad parody, cartoonishly lampooning everything. It criticises influencers and the media machine, without totally demonising individuals.
The music puts a lens on how stupid “femenist female pop music” can be (when driven by producers and capitalism), while still being femenist pop music. It’s a little mocking, but ultimately feels like it’s laughing with rather than at it.
She takes digs at pop lyrics that appear to make a political point, but in surface level ways for financial and cultural gain. Juniper, in character, is an LGBTQ+ ally in her music to be a gay icon to have a fan base and love.
Hines’ intention doesn’t seem to be “these femenist messages are bad and shouldn’t be in songs”, but rather holding up a mirror to the weird exploitation of marginalised issues, the focus on (cis) women’s bodies and their sexuality, and calculated use of this by the music industry and ‘brands’ in general.
It still is femenist, but there’s an undercurrent of earnestness to the self awareness.
The camp nature of Juniper Rising is what pulls it away from basic parody. It’s gaudy and loud and ironic, but still holds love for itself, its subjects, and audience. Camp criticises and accepts in the same breath.
It’s in the text of the show and the aesthetic. Juniper wears a black leotard with horned shoulders, white fishnets, high heel/wedge sneakers, intense make-up, and a sequined Sacred Heart belt. Her hair is fluorescent orange. This pairs fantastically with the theatrical lighting. A few times Juniper is bathed in ethereal dark blue lighting, blurring her features — while her hair glows bright in the dark, adding to the otherworldliness.
Go see this show. It’s so camp and smart and dark. Juniper’s physicality is impressive and hysterical (she goes full Exorcist). Juniper Rising is an absurd witchy party of a show that you don’t want to miss.