Conchita Wurst and the Importance of Being ‘Cool’

conchita wurst press
Photo credit: Julian Laidig

My latest thoughts on Conchita Wurst come from a Paris Match article I read this morning. Much of the content was the same stuff we’ve read a hundred times, but one comment caught my eye. “Aujourd’hui, ce n’est pas cool d’écouter Conchita Wurst. Je dois œuvrer à devenir cool“. “Today, it’s not cool to listen to Conchita Wurst. I have to work to become cool”.

It’s with comments like this that I become frustrated. Not with Conchita Wurst, but with myself. Because as fast as I think I have a handle on how she thinks, and so might be zeroing in on actually understanding this incredibly complex person – the damned goal posts get moved.

And while I’m thinking “I guess Conchita Wurst is going for a diva image similar to Celine Dion or Tina Turner, and so doesn’t care about being ‘cool'”, she’s already decided there’s a lot more work to do, as ‘cool’ is important, so things need to change.

So, is she right? Is it important to persuade people that listening to Conchita Wurst is cool and, if so, how is she going to do that?

Is Conchita Wurst correct? Does she need to work to become cool?

Actually, she is correct, and while there are plenty of reasons it can be good for an artist to have people think they’re cool, one of the most important is the number of potential fans who are more likely to enjoy and, therefore, buy the music of someone who is cool rather than someone who is not.

Look at the biggest female stars in the pop music world at the moment. People like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Pink, BeyoncéMiley Cyrus and Rihanna.

They are all women who are classified as cool and who have millions of fans following their every move, and hanging on their every word.

Count their Twitter followers (a good indication of their popularity and, thus, star power and, of course, ability to earn mega-millions) – Lady Gaga has 42.2 million, Taylor Swift has 44.9 million, Pink is at 24.8 million, Beyoncé 13.6 million, Miley Cyrus 18.6 million, and Rihanna 37.6 million. Yes, there is a reason they make the enormous amounts of money they do, and why they are classed as ‘superstars’.

Now compare these figures to people like Celine Dion with 294,000 (I did a double-take at that low figure), and Barbra Streisand at 341,000 (another double-take).

Yes, undoubtedly two of the most famous female singers in the world but… No, not really, and not in the highest-earners category either, or with the largest number of fans.

And in this day and age, to be the superstar I believe Conchita Wurst wants to be (because the idea of ‘diva’ à la Dion and Streisand is a bit passé when it comes to starting a career nowadays), and to be able to appeal to the tens of millions of fans she will need to get there, then ‘cool’ is a must.

So how does Conchita Wurst become ‘cool’ in the eyes of the music-buying public?

This is where the challenge lies for Conchita Wurst as, let’s face it, an ultra-chic, almost-girl, bearded Austrian drag artist who often appears quite a bit older than her actual age isn’t who you would necessarily think of as cool. Elegant? Sure. Unique. Of course. Fascinating? Obviously. Cool? Nah.

So you might think, Conchita Wurst has to change herself to become cool. She has to figure out what cool is and become that. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

What Conchita Wurst has to do is to figure out how to make what she already is ‘cool’. To make that 25-year-old, European Parliament speaking, Jean Paul Gaultier-gowned, Charlie’s Angels-wigged (well, that new wig is like a dark-haired Farrah Fawcett, except she looks like she’s 12), currently non-dancing, Austrian drag artist — ‘cool’.

Just like Lady Gaga created an image of herself that, frankly, wasn’t that cool until she proclaimed to the world it was, Conchita Wurst has to figure out how to sell herself so she suddenly becomes the coolest thing since Psy hit YouTube with ‘Gangnam Style’.

Can she do it?

Of course she can.

In just a couple of years, she’s already transformed herself from a stereotypical too-high-voiced drag queen, albeit one with a beard, to one of the most stylish, interesting and unique drag artists in the world.

She sold herself to the Eurovision audience so well she won the entire competition, and now she’s in the process of selling her constantly-evolving self to audiences all over Europe.

The only thing she has to get a handle on in her quest to be cool is to decide who she really wants to be, as that’s still changing by the week as she attempts to figure it out. Once she has a permanent grip on her starting image (and I call it that, because, like any interesting artist, her image will progressively evolve), she then has an image worth selling.

Besides, when Conchita Wurst is already one of the most intelligent people on the European music scene today, a little thing like learning how to make herself appear cool isn’t going to stop her rise to superstardom.

She is, however, stopping my brain from atrophying as I continue to struggle to figure her out. Although, frankly, as fascinating as Conchita Wurst is, I can’t say I’m complaining.

About Michelle Topham

Brit-American journalist based in Austria, former radio DJ at 97X WOXY, and Founder/CEO of Leo Sigh. I've covered K-drama, K-pop, J-pop and music news for over a decade.