TS Madison is the queen of hearts. The unfiltered, hilarious thoughts she shares online have gained her a legion of fans and thrust her into virality time and time again. The widely shared moments range from an early Vine of Madison yelling “New weave, 22 inches” to a newer one where she finds out that Selena was, in fact, not Puerto Rican.
The social media and television personality has funneled the attention into money-making ventures. Over the past three years, she’s pierced the mainstream with a 2-episode guest slot on RuPaul’s Drag Race and a role in the award-winning 2020 film Zola. She also made history as the first trans woman to executive produce and host a reality series, The TS Madison Experience.
Now, with Beyoncé’s Renaissance, she’s made history yet again. Madison and Honey Dijon (a producer on “Cozy,” the song Madison’s audio appears on) are the first Black trans women to land a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
“I want every trans person out there who is reading or hearing my story; I want them to know that it’s not where you start but where you finish,” Madison tells ESSENCE.
Renaissance, in many ways, is an extension of the work Beyoncé has been doing for the past decade. The global star has excavated, celebrated, and engaged with Black cultural traditions. Her latest work is about Blackness and the plurality of what it means to be Black. It celebrates our creative output while highlighting the oft-erased originators. So, for an album about self-determination, safe spaces, and the regenerative power of the dance floor, pulling from the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically Black trans women, seems a given. “Cozy” does this most explicitly with the inclusion of Madison and Dijon.
“I’m dark brown, dark skin, light skin, beige, fluorescent beige. Bitch, I’m Black!..I’m probably one of the Blackest motherf–ckers walking around here in this motherf–king place. I’m probably one of the Blackest motherf–kers in this county; Black like that!” -TS Madison on “Cozy”
The sampled audio comes from a 2020 video Madison uploaded to YouTube titled “B**ch, I’m Black.” In the 12-minute clip, she speaks straight to the camera. “B–ch, I’m so Black; I like fried bologna sandwiches when I’m hungry,” she says at one point. What begins as a declaration and descriptions of her Black bonafides devolves into disappointment. “The problem that I got with me being all Black and dark as that; I’m trans right after that…I’m tired of being Black and unimportant,” she says.
“She’s a god, she’s a hero, she survived all she been through,” Beyoncé sings in the pre-chorus of “Cozy.” “Confident and she lethal, might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis. Cause she’s comfortable.” The lyrics seem reminiscent of the story of Madison, a former adult performer who, through charisma and tenacity, has not only persevered but is thriving. For years, Madison has often referred to herself as “comfortable” in spite of the adversity she’s endured.
Here, we talk to TS Madison about being included on the album, being cozy in who she is, and getting to the bag.
ESSENCE: First things first: Let’s talk about the sample. Beyoncé sampled your voice from a video you made called “B**ch I’m Black.” Can you talk to me about why you made the video in the first place? I know it was around the time of George Floyd and Iyanna Dior.
TS Madison: That video was me arguing with America. We as Black trans people know that it’s our responsibility to stand up and fight against the injustice against George Floyd. But Iyanna Dior is a trans woman who was beaten in the same city, in the same week almost, and everybody was blaming her for being trans and all of these Black people were beating her in the store.
I was sitting at home, and I had watched all of this stuff happen to George Floyd and Iyanna Dior, and I always say that I have a connection to the Spirit. The Spirit told me: ‘Get up Madison, get in drag, go in your studio basement, and just make a video speaking to people about how you feel.’ I was just like ‘Now? I don’t feel like getting in drag right now.’ But my entire career has been based off what the Spirit tells me, so I did it.
I was just so sick of people not understanding that I’m Black. I don’t want to hear anything about this LGBTQIA stuff in this moment of Blackness. It’s not separate; I’m that and Black at the same time. So I went downstairs and made the video. Whatever came to mind, I said it. I just expressed. It got a lot of traction and people were responding to it. Funky Dineva called me and said it was powerful. I was like girl, I just had to say this shit for my heart because I’m so tired of us being beat as Black people and then getting drug as trans or gay people. We don’t have anyone to support us and they actually are rallying for us to be killed but when are we not Black? When are we not Black?!
How did that video end up being sampled on the album?
Maybe six months after the video was out, I received an email from a record label. I don’t remember it saying Parkwood. But it just said “Madison, this is a powerful piece that you did on YouTube and we’re interested in sampling fragments of your voice for a record.” I was like ‘Okay, well how much you got?’ So we figured it out so I still owned the rights.
A few months later, I ran into someone who was working on Renaissance, but I didn’t know what the project was at the time. So we’re sitting down to eat in LA and he says, ‘Bitch, your voice sounds amazing on this track that’s coming up.’ And I was like “What are you talking about?” He said the “B**ch I’m Black.” So I asked which album and he told me he couldn’t say, but they played it in Croatia and the people who heard my voice, everybody went insane. So I just laughed and moved on, but by process of elimination — this was an international artist who is known for standing in their Blackness — I thought it might be Beyoncé.
When Beyoncé took all of her profile pictures down, I was filming a project in LA at the time. So you know everybody was talking about that. And then right after that, I flew to Costa Rica for work there and I started getting all of these emails [saying], “We need clearance,” “We need approval on song two.” They kept pressing about this July 19 deadline. So I finally sat down and read the emails and Leggra, my manager, went and got the numbers from them and it was like a number and then zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. Then, not only were there all these zeros but it said percent of streaming and a percent of pure sales. I was like, “OH, THIS BEYONCÉ!”
I finally looked at the bottom of the email and it said Parkwood. I found out later that it was Honey Dijon who brought it to Beyoncé.
It’s so crazy because I remember when “Break My Soul” came out, which was like a month before and I said, ‘You know I love Big Freedia and she always gets to work with Beyonce and her voice is so powerful. My voice is powerful too and I would love if one day I can work with her.’ You just never know how things line up.
What did you think of “Cozy” overall as a song?
When you listen to those lyrics, you know she really sat and watched the whole video. So much of the lyrics, so much of the things she is talking about…if you know anything about my life and my story you know it runs parallel. My interpretation of it, it speaks specifically of Black trans women. It’s a song about self-determination. There’s a section where she’s describing the inclusive Pride flag. There’s a clip of me in an interview on Hollywood Unlocked from years ago where the similarities in what we’re saying is frightening.
Even outside of “Cozy,” when you look at “Church Girl” there’s parallels to you. I think you often talk about this duality between being spiritual and secular.
A lot of the girls are raised in the church and we are so confined by what the church has taught us about homosexuality and gender. You know “a man should just be a man and a woman should just be a woman and they should only be together.” If you’re from the South, you know they can be very Kim Burrell about the situation. It’s people like that which cause people like us to have to have a secret relationship with ourselves and a conflicted relationship with God when God loves all of us.
What Beyoncé did with this album was say let me use my voice, which is bigger than all the voices in the room. Let me speak to an audience that’s going to listen globally. Let me add these people’s stories, testimonies and think pieces to this. She said let it be known that we are all Black in totality. That’s what I absorbed from it.
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So what about outside of this? I know you always have so many irons in the fire.
Oh yes honey! I learned early that if you LGBTQ+ and/or Black you can’t have all of your eggs in one basket. You need to have a little chicken laying eggs all over. So that’s what I do. I’m not too big for the big things and I take the small things too. My goddess RuPaul once told me, “b–ch, don’t you ever be too big for the small things because those small things will get you through when you have nothing else. And those small things will catapult you to something big.” Now I don’t let nobody get over on me but I work. I take my jobs.
As progressive a time that we come to, there’s more to go. That’s important to know. You can still get fired for being who you are at work but they’ll hide it under other pretenses. So I know I don’t have the work privileges as a Black man or as a gay Black man. So I have to work. As much as you see us in Hollywood, we are still just trying to get trans people jobs.
But showing up in your fullness as you are — which is also kind of what this album is about as well — is also very important to you.
Listen, either you gonna suck it or you not because I got it. It’s not going to change. This is the way of the place: the food got salt in it. If you don’t want no salty food, don’t eat it. Like I don’t give a damn, you’re going to get what you’re going to get.
Sometimes people like to dance around things but at the end of the day I’m going to still be who I am. When you deal with me you’re dealing with me in a raw form or in my fullness, you’ll get me in high glam or you’ll get me out of it because we aren’t always in a wig and a lash sitting in the house. You’re going to get me how you get me.
“So just know that in my quietest moments, when you don’t see anything going on, baby I’m working.”
So what about the show? I know The TS Madison Experience from WeTV made history as the first reality series starring and executive produced by a trans woman.
I love WeTV for giving me the opportunity and starting with the launching pad they’ve given me. You will see The TS Madison Experience again. It may be under another name, I don’t know. We’ve been back and forth about a second season. But here’s me being honest: I have so many other things in the works that are on the precipice of popping that I would love for a second season to happen but if it does not..maybe not because I have a bigger story to tell than that.
I have a bigger bag to get than that. I don’t want to seem like I’m not humble or grateful, because I’m very grateful for WeTV but they were a launching pad for me. I’m in bed with a lot of people who mean a lot of powerful things in the world. So just know that in my quietest moments, when you don’t see anything going on, baby I’m working.