The intersectionality of identity has always been a part of Kiddy Smile's story. As an openly gay French man of African descent, who was raised in a housing project in the Parisian suburb of Groussay, the DJ, producer, dancer and burgeoning actor found fame in the city’s “ballroom” scene. Based around on the practice of “vogueing,” the community — which he describes as a "safe haven" for LGBTQ+ identifying artists to be themselves — gave him the confidence to eschew limitations on his own artistry.
“I wanted to be involved in that because I was exposed to the culture very late and hadn’t really developed my sexual identity on my own and I wasn’t comfortable to become me yet,” he says. “I get sad sometimes when I can’t go to a ball because I have a gig. It’s the place where I feel like I belong – it’s my people – and I feel like I can truly be myself there and just not be judged.”
The veteran talent (born Pierre Hache) has always made activism — and fighting oppression — a part of his work. On the eve of the release of his debut solo LP One Trick Pony last August, which included features by ballroom staples Sinia Alaia and Jack Mizrahi (both of whom appeared on the first season off Pose), he was invited to perform for the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, at Élysée, the presidential palace in Paris, to honor the country's electronic musicians.
To make the most of his platform, Kiddy sported a tee-shirt that read "son of immigrants, black and gay” (“fils d'immigré, noir et pédé”) and enlisted a group of his dancer pals to pose alongside the President on site. The moment went viral. “My work is political because it’s about my life. My life is intersectional and I have to fight many oppressions,” he says. “It's the voice against inequality but I was just being me, so until people help me right these oppressions enough to the point where we become not under oppression, then there is always more work to be done.”
In May of this year, Smile made his film debut in Gaspar Noe’s Climax, which opened at the Cannes Film Festival. There, he unintentionally triggered a debate about gender identity as it relates to the festival’s dress code for its premiers: instead of the standard dress code for men — black tie — Smile rocked a hand-sewn floral garment. After some confusion (and resistance), he was finally allowed to walk the carpet. “That was very nerve-wracking because I really understood at that moment that me being me was just very annoying to them,” he says. “I was being rebellious without wanting to be rebellious. I just wanted to wear something that I liked, but my taste was not what they expected from a cis man.”
For Billboard’s Summer of Pride, Smile crafted a mix that highlights the eclectic sonic influences that have inspired him throughout his own rise, including cuts by Frank Ocean, Sylvester, Aloïse Sauvage, Gossip and more.
“This playlist is very much about what I loved growing up in the LGBTQ community. It’s very difficult for our community to survive, so I think it’s great that Pride started as a day, then a month, but let’s make it a year!” he adds. “Making music wasn’t ever limitless to me as a young artist because I was like 'oh I can only do hip-hop,’ because that’s what I saw black people doing. In the U.K. the only queer artists were Elton John and George Michael, and they were both white. For a very long time I did not know that house music was black until I did some research and found out that it was actually my heritage.”
Give the playlist a spin and also go deep with Kiddy's reflections on five of the set’s standout tracks below.
Rouge Mary, “Boogie Down”
I’m very close to a vocalist named Rouge Mary, and we just finished a tremendous record called “Boogie Down” for her. She used to be in a French electronic band and left for a career on her own. This is exactly the type of thing that's changing – people are more comfortable talking about who they are and being open about it. She's a non-binary artist who fell in love with gospel and has a lot to say."
Cyndi Lauper, "True Colors”
“Being gay wasn’t something that was just OK, so there were still some artists that were very vocal about supporting the community like Cyndi Lauper. “True Colors” is a fantastic queer anthem, you know?”
Sylvester, “I Tried To Forget You”
“This is my favorite song on the playlist! I remember when I picked this song for the playlist I was going through a break-up and those lyrics – I wish I wrote that song. I’m a very, very, very big fan of Sylvester. I'm so sad that he can’t see how much influence he has had on generations after his passing, and how his work has become so important. I hope he sees it.”
Aloise Sauvage, “Jimy”
“Aloise is an amazing artist who also happens to be a lesbian and an actress, who was in the film 120 Beats Per Minute (120 Battements Par Minute) which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2017, and she performed on her own stage. She brings dancing and other types of performance, and is very interesting. I just love what she does.”
Frank Ocean “Bad Religion”
“It has nothing to do with religion, but I love this song. It happened that Spotify was like 'this is for you – Frank Ocean' and I could relate so much to it, because it's the eternal story of the queer person being in love and not being loved back. Everybody has had a love where the other person wasn’t in the same space, so it’s the queer story, but it’s also everybody's story."