ARTICLE CARRIE BATTAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BJARNE JONASSON
STYLIST ZARA ZACHRISSON
Cody Critcheloe, the mastermind behind SSION (pronounced shun), makes art that is unabashedly, categorically loud. Glittery modern-day disco-pop, highly choreographed live shows that tend toward performance art, stylized music videos in which he sports full makeup, outfits ranging from Day-Glo Charlie Chaplin to some sort of Eastern European Olympiad from the 1980s—these barely scratch the surface of his vibrant world.
“Real-life” Critcheloe is calm and accessible compared to his blown-out artistic experimentations. When we meet early one evening at a restaurant on the Bowery in Manhattan, he’s entirely Zen-like and sage in discussing his art, his relationships, and his plans. The 30-year-old moved to New York last year from Kansas City (he was raised in Kentucky), and he speaks with a gentle Southern lilt. “I turned this inside out because there was a stain on it,” he says, pointing to his red cotton T-shirt, when I ask what he might wear to a bar. Matching red shorts, a black fitted hat, and a carefully manicured mustache complete the look. Critcheloe eventually tells me he enjoys monogamy and that he doesn’t like to drink much, which sounds relatively conservative coming from a guy whose live act is often compared to a Village People video.
Still, he explains, “I don’t feel like I’m stepping into a persona [onstage or in my videos], I’m just amping things up. And I feel like that’s the common thread among everyone I hang out with in New York—everyone is doing what they do. It’s like punk.” He begins to laugh a bit and then qualifies the statement. “I hate using that word, I’m sorry,” he says. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
Critcheloe is preparing to reissue last year’s SSION album, Bent, on Brooklyn label Dovecote in September, all fleshed out with high-volume remixes and glitzy, conceptual music videos. He’s also working on a new mixtape, which he describes as “singer-songwritery,” and gearing up for a tour with New York rap-and-performance collective House of LaDosha. He’s sometimes circumspect, and can be refreshingly blunt about all of it.
“When we were setting up this tour, I said I didn’t want to just play in gay clubs. I don’t want to be a drag artist right now,” he says. “I want people to think of it as music and not just some crazy show with video and costumes.” So he’s done away with the video component of the live show, instead focusing on tightening his band and gunning for traditional venues. An artist like Critcheloe could easily accuse others of misunderstanding his work, but he seems far too relaxed for that. “I’m going to put all this makeup on and someone’s going to dismiss it because of that,” he says. “But I get it, because that’s how it goes...and it doesn’t seem homophobic to me. I just don’t think about it like that.
HAIR KAYLA MICHELE USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE (ATELIER MANAGEMENT) GROOMING STEVIE HUYNH (THE WALL GROUP) PHOTO ASSISTANTS RYAN GARCIA, STEPHEN WORDIE, TAYLOR MILLER STYLIST ASSISTANT LUNA GARZÓN-MONTANO LOCATION SPLASHLIGHT SOHO