Forget, for a moment, the music. Under the name Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas has released four albums (2010's Learning, 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It, 2014's Too Bright and 2017's No Shape) of intense, ecstatic, abrasive electronic pop that's explored everything from sexual manipulation to mental illness to domestic bliss. These records have redefined the possibilities of modern music, earning universal love from the queer community, effusive praise from critics and the acclaim of fellow artists, who insist that Perfume Genius is truly an artist of singular origin. Perfume Genius, sui generis – the connections extend beyond just the phonetic.
In many ways, the story of Perfume Genius – Hadreas' personal story, which he has told over the last 10 years with more cutting detail than most artists can muster in a lifetime – is just as captivating. Born and raised in the Seattle area, Hadreas came out as gay at 15, after years of suffering with Crohn's disease and depression. In his early 20s, he decamped for New York, becoming a self-described "junkie artist" addicted to both alcohol and drugs – "everything but heroin," he has cracked in multiple interviews. "It took a while for me to figure out how to take care of myself," Hadreas tells Orlando Weekly. "I felt trapped in my body [when I was younger], unhealthy, not confident."
Four years later, teetering on the edge of overdose daily, he fled back to Seattle, checked himself in to rehab, and moved back in with his parents, both recovering addicts themselves. The sobriety led to an emotional upwelling Hadreas hadn't been prepared for. Confronting the intense self-hatred he felt as a teenager and reconnected with minus the haze of drugs and alcohol, Hadreas wrote Learning in his bedroom. Put Your Back N 2 It was even bolder in its direct dissection of gay dynamics, while Too Bright was confrontational.
Many of those songs were written with the help of Alan Wyffels, whom Hadreas met in AA. The two quickly became collaborators and romantic partners; eight years later, their relationship on solid ground and their happiness growing, No Shape puts the despondency of the past in the rearview to focus on a more content present. "Music helped me as a kid to feel less lonely," Hadreas says. "That's why I sing about the details of life – as a teenager I wish someone had been singing directly to me, so I'm going to try to do that for [queer kids] today."
Performing the excruciatingly personal No Shape material day in and day out certainly takes its toll. "It's been full on," Hadreas says. "At the beginning [of the album cycle], it's exciting, but you're still kind of figuring it out. Now I've played these songs enough where I can kind of relax on stage. I can kind of just flow better. If something feels awkward, that's part of the performance I put on for the audience, who come out so they can be who they want to be."
Appearing in Orlando just two miles from the site of the Pulse nightclub shooting and 15 days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Perfume Genius' first trip to Florida might just take on a revelatory feel for local fans. "Things are totally fucked right now," Hadreas says. "And it seems like they aren't going to get better." How does an artist sing about love and joy at a time like this? "You have to find a way to exist and be happy," Hadreas says. "And today, that's a good way to stand up and be heard."