Every once in a while, the media presents us with a new pop sensation, but what exactly is it that makes a ‘pop sensation’? What is it that forces like Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga might have in common? If we turn to creative director turned popstar Martin Magner, the answer seems pretty clear: self belief. It was pop-sensation-of-sorts Marilyn Monroe who once said “It’s all make believe, isn’t it?” Magner not only embodies that, but in doing so, gives us something to believe in ourselves. Aside from providing bops for us, pop sensations often create imagined spaces for people — especially femmes and queer people — to exist in beautiful, exciting fantasies. With clubs and spaceslike Vogue Nights Jozi hanging in the balance of lockdowns, Martin Magner’s call for self embrace is one we can’t ignore. Stepping front right to meet thee Pop Sensation in conversation, we spoke about his influences, the influence he hopes to have and settled the debate of sparkling or still.
How are you doing?
Martin Magner: Some days I’m up, some days I’m down, most days I’ve got ‘bing bang bong’ stuck in my head. Look, I’m stunning.
Starting at the beginning: with an already established career in creative direction, what was your impulse to step into music?
Martin Magner: If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” they said. I watched everyone step into their jobs — the accountants, the lawyers, the chefs, the professional trail runners… but me? How does one openly admit he wants to be a Global Pop Sensation without getting laughed at?
I’ve spent my life waiting for the right moment to ‘do what I love’. I’ve quietly whispered my dreams, worn the platforms, crawled on the stage at EVOL. I’ve studied pop music for 29 years, but never fully embraced the pop inside me. Do you know that meme of the little girl with her candy floss and slush puppy, where she takes a sip and her entire body is overwhelmed and she can’t help but vibrate and look insane? That little girl is me right now. That impulse to take action amplified as we were forced into isolation. I panicked, I’d wake up to stay in bed and think ‘is this it?’. We witnessed sadness, jobs were lost, families were broken, the world purged.
As cliché as it is: life is fragile, life is short, so why be still when you can be sparkling?
Judging from some of your feed and your ‘MANTRA‘ highlights on Instagram, it looks like Lady Gaga is an inspiration to you. I can’t help but see a lot of The Fame era in where you currently are in your artistic journey. Would you say there’s some valid comparisons there?
Martin Magner: Lady Gaga makes me so happy I could die. She, more often than not, has terrible, tacky, crafty taste and I love it. I relate! She has embraced everything, worked damn hard and successfully turned all her thoughts and dreams into reality. Through her, I’ve learnt not everything will work. Not every idea you realise will look the way you thought it would. Refinement comes through trial and error. So if you have an idea, make it. A song, write it. A look, turn it. Martin Magner™ can’t dance, but you best believe one day he will.
I think what inspired the thought is the way you’ve created a real sense of pop-glam in the spotlight in a way which I haven’t seen embraced much in current popular culture, and especially not in South Africa. As a self-branded ‘Pop Sensation’ what does that role mean to you?
Martin Magner: I was raised by pop music and the internet. I blame them for my sense of delusional self-confidence. Pop Sensation is a permanent manifestation. It’s an ice breaker, a vision board and an always on reminder to keep me focused on my dream.
Your Instagram account is filled with colourful wigs, Ken doll interpretations of yourself and mermaids. Personally, I love it. What is your relationship with curated imagery?
Curation? No. Impulse? Yes. I try not to overthink things, I’ve finally lost my filter and people (including myself) seem to love it. My character never changes but my personality changes on a daily basis. As I mentioned before, I was raised by the internet and the era of endless referencing and inspiration. It’s hard to not be a little chaotic.
My very talented curator friend Jana Babez pointed out that she admires how I build the boat while I’m sailing. I don’t really sweat the small stuff, as I impulsively put stuff out there, I grow. I’m shaped by each and everything I do. I could do with a little polish, but growing through chaos is a ride!
I think that there’s definitely a strong relationship between fantasy and queer culture, especially exemplified in places like parties and the ballroom scene. Obviously, that’s become even more inaccessible to a lot of queer people with the lockdown. Working as the creative director with a lot of queer led brands in your most recent video for Front Right, what was the fantasy for the video?
Martin Magner: So, the video turned into something completely different to what I had in mind. I had visions of a BlackPink moment, where I burst into choreo and multiplied into a boyband of multiple versions of me (lol). I couldn’t afford the pink Lamborghini and the hat had to be red, but we move right?
I’m very lucky to be surrounded by the best friends in the world, without them I wouldn’t have been able to follow through — what we made together was a perfect window into life right now. The hair, the clothing, the sound, the energy; confusing, exciting, light and a little dark — I love it.
You shared something really beautiful on Instagram, when you said: “I have grown up believing I’ve been put on this planet to create waves and this honestly feels like my first glitter platformed first step to making you feel something.” What do you hope to inspire with your craft?
Martin Magner: I want more misfits, icons and legends to follow through and be whoever they want to be. If my craft can remind someone that they may not be for everyone, but they can be everything for someone, then I’ve made it.
At this very moment, what are you excited for/about?
Martin Magner: CHAOS is coming.