Reginald Hawkins has always wanted to be a pop star. As far back as he can recall, he remembers going by “Popstar Reg” to anyone who knew him and performing at any chance he could. However, it wasn’t until February of 2019 that Popstar Reg was introduced to the world-at-large with his debut single, “Playing for Keeps.” Since then, Hawkins has expanded on his brazen electropop with “FRESH” in 2020 and his latest single and video “Tricks in the City,” released on March 26th. In “Tricks in the City,” Hawkins embraces his sensuality, addresses systems of oppression, and pays homage to Black queer culture.
“Every time I release a song, it’s like a different era,” explains Hawkins, “it’s just really a reflection of who I am right in that moment.” And right now, for Hawkins, that person is an artist in the midst of immense transformation and learning. Growing up in a small suburb of Detroit, Hawkins attended a primarily white high school and didn’t have any friends who were Black and gay like him. As part of two marginalized communities, Hawkins felt himself assimilating to his environment as a means of survival. But since moving to Detroit in 2018, Hawkins has surrounded himself with artists and friends with shared identities and values and created his own community – the Tricks in the City – which catalyzed a period of vast growth.
“This is the first time that I’ve been in an environment that is gay and Black all the time,” says Hawkins. “Being able to talk openly about the shit that we’ve gone through, as gay Black people…that helps me to break it down and just learn more about myself.” The “Tricks” are Hawkins and his roommates, who are all creative forces of their own. The video opens with Hawkins surrounded by his best friends in formation around a sleek Range Rover. With icy glares and impeccable style, the Tricks embody glamor at its purest form. With his crew in tow, Hawkins goes on to outline his ideal man, sparing no declaration of self worth: “If you wanna chance with me you better fly me overseas boy/Take me on a shopping spree/I got some big designer needs boy/Front row at fashion week London to Paris boy.”
Hawkins explains that while this song is, in part, about knowing your worth and trying to find a good man in a small city, it’s also about breaking down oppressive structures and finding his true self. “It’s about understanding how I am being impacted by these systemic issues of colorism and racism and homophobia – internalized and external. And how can I not be an active factor in continuing to make those things happen to myself?” he says. “As you let go of those things that weigh on you, you inherently become a more confident person and learn about yourself and love those parts of yourself more.”
Tackling systematic oppression within the confines of a pop song sounds like a daunting task, but Hawkins does it with ease, weaving cries for freedom between silky synths and pulsating drums – “Decolonize my mind, I am focusing on gettin’ paper/I’m all for that generational freedom that’s all I’m sayin’/I’m here on the right track just a Black man with some education.” His delivery is as fierce as his fine-tuned Voguing that follows in the breakdown. Hawkins explains that it was important to him to incorporate such an iconic part of queer culture into a visual that celebrates his identity.
“I wanted to really highlight gay culture and show this really queer expression of ballroom and voguing,” says Hawkins. “That is our culture – especially as Black gay people in the United States… If this track is about freedom and decolonization and accepting my gayness and my blackness intersectionally, I need to really include that part of what that means.”
In peeling back stifling layers of oppression and connecting with the history of his queer community, Hawkins has begun the journey to becoming his highest self. “As I slowly began to shed those layers, it revealed this more real and truer version of who I am,” says Hawkins. “I’ll never forget the person who I was. That person still defines me and is still in me in a certain way. But that person is freed now.”
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