A glittering skull-shaped mask appears from the fog, striding out over the moss, with the rest of his (or her?) visage covered by black fabric. A golden hauberk-like hooded dress covers their torso. This mysterious figure is a different sort of drag queen—a dark queen, really—who releases ethereal electronic music under the name Mighty Bear.
The person behind the being is Magnús Bjarni Gröndal. “Drag is now at the level where you can think, ‘Why should I present myself as a woman or a man?’,” he says. “Mighty Bear is just a being, depending on the mood I’m in.”
Also active as the frontman of post-rock stalwarts, We Made God, Magnús now makes music as his drag persona, which sort of shares his name—Magnús Bjarni could be translated as “Mighty Bear.”
“It’s really fun to be in a band, but I wanted to do something that’s mine,” says Magnús. “It’s really just putting myself out there, all the way, making really vulnerable, personal stuff, pouring my heart out. This is the glamour queen in me saying, hey, I’m doing something where I can sparkle.”
Look the other way
Mighty Bear’s most recent video, ‘Hvarf,’ was filmed by himself in the lava fields outside of Hafnarfjörður. “I wanted to be alone, walking in the lava fields,” he explains. “It was only supposed to be test footage, but storms were coming in, so we ended up using the footage.”
The video features the ominous figure of Mighty Bear in the wild, melting in and out of the twilight landscape. As well as the music, lyrics and videos, Magnús is the creator of his spectacular outfits. “It’s a lot of work, but I just enjoy black, dark things,” he says. “I have a fun and bubbly personality, but I enjoy fucking with the stereotype that a gay man in drag only enjoys glitter. I also like darkness and dread and horrible things. Why not incorporate that into my drag? We’re not all little unicorns.”
Mighty Bear’s music feels personal and unapologetic, which fits the glamorous, haunting aesthetic. “It was a little embarrassing walking outside of Hafnarfjörður like that, but I also enjoyed it as a kind of a ‘fuck you’ to everybody,” he says. “I mean, who cares? Like with homophobia—if you see two men holding hands on Laugavegur, just look the other way dude. If there’s a ghastly figure walking around the lava fields, so what?”
Black metal queen
As a member of the performance group Drag-Súgur, Mighty Bear performs regularly in the recently resurgent Reykjavík drag scene. “There’s a great vibe in the scene right now,” he says. “It’s such a production. We have to focus on the pleasure we get from it, because that’s what it’s all about. We also want to build the queer music scene in Iceland. It’s funny how Iceland is liberal when it comes to this stuff, but something’s missing from the music scene. We have Páll Óskar and that’s it. And he’s safe and cool nowadays.”
Magnús confesses that his distinct approach to drag got some pushback from people in the beginning. “As much as I love drag, there are certain stock characters in a lot of the shows,” he says. “I wanted to appeal to a different audience. I grew up going to black metal concerts and loving the shows. With Drag-Súgur, I got a lot of questions from people. ‘Are you really gonna look like that?’ Yes, this is how I want to look! It’s about expressing yourself the way you want. There are no rules, and even if there were, we should break them. Drag queens should be provocative.”
Check out Mighty Bear’s website here.
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