The project of singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius spans fragile piano ballads and swaggering glam rock and explores trauma and healing with unflinching and often poetic honesty. His earliest home recordings — many of which appeared on his 2010 debut, Learning — established a empathetic connection with listeners that never wavered, even as his sound became fuller on 2014′s snarling breakthrough, Too Bright, the elaborate collages of 2017′s Grammy-nominated No Shape, and the ecstatic liberation of 2020′s Set My Heart on Fire Immediately and 2022′s Ugly Season.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa and raised in Everett, Washington, Hadreas was bullied for being gay and coped by painting, writing, and listening to artists including PJ Harvey and Liz Phair. While attending Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, he was hospitalized after he was attacked by a group of young men in his neighborhood. Once he recovered, he moved to Brooklyn and spent a few years working at a bar. He returned to Everett in 2005 to go to rehab, then lived with his mother and stepfather.
During this time, he began making music, pairing unflinching lyrics with simple piano melodies. By 2008, he had taken the name Perfume Genius from the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer for his project and began offering his music on his MySpace page, along with similarly spare and evocative homemade music videos. A year later, Turnstile Records released his debut single, “Mr. Peterson,” the tale of a suicidal pedophile high school teacher. Hadreas also signed to Matador Records, which released Perfume Genius’ full-length debut, Learning, in June 2010. To tour in support of the album, Hadreas recruited Alan Wyffels, a classically trained pianist he met in group therapy, as an accompanist. Eventually, they became a couple, and Wyffels performed on Perfume Genius’ later tours and albums. These included February 2012′s even more intimate Put Your Back N 2 It and September 2014′s ferocious Too Bright, which fused the swagger of glam rock and early PJ Harvey with Hadreas’ growing frustration with casual homophobia. Featuring Portishead’s Adrian Utley and longtime Harvey collaborator John Parish, the album marked a breakthrough in Hadreas’ career, reaching number ten on the Top Alternative Albums chart, 83 on the 200 Albums chart in the U.S., and number 77 on the U.K. Albums Chart.
Perfume Genius returned with new music in 2016, collaborating with Sharon Van Etten on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “To Lay Me Down” for Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album produced by the Red Hot Organization to fight AIDS/HIV and related health issues around the world. That September, Hadreas also issued a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that was featured in the ad campaign for Prada’s La Femme and L’Homme fragrances. Hadreas recorded Perfume Genius’ fourth album, No Shape, in Los Angeles with producer Blake Mills. Spanning influences such as gospel, goth pop, and soul, it arrived in May 2017 and peaked at 185 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S. and number 96 on the U.K. Albums Chart. Along with critical praise, No Shape earned a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards; Mills also received a nomination for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Reshaped, an EP of No Shape remixes by the likes of Mura Masa, King Princess, Blake Mills, and more, appeared in 2018.
Hadreas’ next project was writing music for and performing in The Sun Still Burns Here, a dance piece choreographed by Kate Wallich and featuring her company the YC. The experience had a profound impact on him and influenced the creation of Perfume Genius’ fifth album. A looser, freer-sounding set of songs that touched on dance-pop, country, and the anthemic power of Bruce Springsteen, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately reunited Hadreas with Mills and appeared in May 2020. Another critical success, the album hit number 18 on the Top Alternative Albums chart in the U.S. and number seven on the Independent Albums chart in the U.K. The following March saw the release of Immediately Remixes. A December 2021 remix of Charli XCX’s “Good Ones” and a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on their June 2022 comeback single “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” preceded the release of Perfume Genius’ next album, Ugly Season. Appearing later that June, the album was based on the music for The Sun Still Burns Here and ranged from experimental pieces to danceable pop. The album was co-produced by Hadreas and Mills and accompanied by a short film created by visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite, who worked with Solange on her film When I Get Home. ~ Heather Phares