Dan Polyak is the creative force behind your favorite ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ alum

*Photo credit: DragFiles

Behind every great artist is a team supporting their vision. However, Dan Polyak is a one person creative force ensuring that drag artists like, Trinity the Tuck, Priyanka, Gottmik, and Monét X Change, can market their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent in campaigns, visuals, international tours, merchandise, and more. Also, as the creative director for All Stars season five winner Shea Couleé, Polyak ensures that Couleé’s art direction stays as sickening as she is.

A self-proclaimed creative chameleon, Polyak’s start at Chicago’s indie music venue The Metro blossomed into a career conquering the worlds of graphic arts, music, and drag culture for over a decade. With his signature gritty, pop punk princess aesthetic, Polyak has also worked with recording artists like Ava Max, Bebe Rexha, Adam Lambert, and the “Princess of Pop” herself, Britney Spears. INTO spoke with Polyak for our Get INTO It series to discuss his signature artistry, the influence of drag on the world, and why working with Britney was a dream come true.

Your artistry exists at the intersection of graphic arts, music, and drag culture. If you had three words to describe your work, what would they be and why?

Bold. Growing up in the ’90s and 2000s, I was glued to the TV, soaking in Nickelodeon, WWF, MTV, Nintendo, and Sega – essentially marinating in the bold, in-your-face graphics, distinctive aesthetics, and powerful personalities that defined the vibrant pop culture from those generations.

Intentional. In my design approach, I steer clear of doing things just for the sake of it. Research and history play a significant role in my process and I strive to deliver well-designed pieces that leave clients and viewers with a clever personal touch or an engaging “a-ha!” moment.

Timeless. An objective of mine is to craft pieces that withstand the test of time, becoming synonymous with the artist’s image or name. The emphasis on boldness and intentionality really helps me focus on creating works that exude a timeless quality.

You’ve worked with numerous drag artists from RuPaul’s Drag Race, including Priyanka, Gottmik, and Anetra. Not to mention, you’re the art director for Shea Couleé (no big deal). While many people love drag, what do you think they miss when they only perceive drag for its entertainment value?

When people only perceive drag for entertainment value, they overlook the rich history and impact drag has had on LGBTQIA+ culture throughout history. The art of drag has often been a political statement and form of self-expression, challenging gender norms, and advocating for LGBTQIA+ equality. Reducing drag to *only* entertainment overlooks its deeper roots in empowerment and social commentary within the queer community.

Of course people are obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, what’s a TV show, movie, album, or podcast that you’re obsessed with right now and why?

I’m absolutely HOOKED on The Traitors Season 2 on Peacock! This show whisks reality TV competitors and personalities off to a Scottish castle for a murder mystery “whodunnit” competition. Only a few episodes are out, but it’s been full of drama, accusations, and manipulation! It’s a must-watch for any reality TV fan – even if you don’t know all of the competitors!

So Britney Spears handpicked you to design and create merchandise (again, no big deal) for the 25th anniversary of her debut album …Baby One More Time. With Britney being called a queer icon, why do you think the “Legendary Quotes” project connects so much with her queer fans? 

Collaborating with Britney Spears has been an incredible highlight in my career — The “Legendary Quotes” project was about showcasing Britney’s resilience and journey for independence. It’s a narrative that resonates deeply with her queer fans because many of us have experienced uphill battles, faced adversity, and found strength on the other side, just like Britney. Growing up with her, we’ve witnessed her journey to independence, and all we want now is to see her exist and thrive on her own terms. It’s a story of strength, solidarity, and the shared dream for a better future…

Many of the performers you’ve worked with have left indelible marks on queer pop culture, like Britney Spears. What queer pop culture moment defined your childhood?

There wasn’t a singular queer pop culture moment that defined my childhood, considering the stigma around being gay in the ’90s due to the AIDS epidemic. But what stands out is the growth of visibility for queer representation in pop culture that I was able to witness happen. Socially, people started embracing queerness more comfortably, influenced by TV shows like Queer As Folk, Will & Grace, Queer Eye, Miss J on ANTM, Project Runway… movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, To Wong Foo, But I’m A Cheerleader, and Party Monster… seeing the NYC club kids on daytime talks shows, plus RuPaul in general! Those moments made society and middle America more comfortable with the idea of queer people existing in pop culture.

What has been your favorite project to work on so far?

My favorite project I’ve worked on so far would be the album art I created for “I’m Good (Blue)” by Bebe Rexha and David Guetta. A live version of the song was going viral on TikTok, and I was asked to create art for its official release. The fun part was that I only had one weekend to create, edit, and finalize the art. Despite the quick turnaround, it’s a very significant moment, becoming my first piece of work to sit at #1 on the iTunes U.S. chart. Last summer, I received a platinum record for the song, which received over 2 billion streams worldwide… It’s wild to think that something created within about 48 hours has had such an impact! I’ll be in an Uber with my friends, the song will come on, and someone will eventually say, “Does anyone know who did this art for this song?!”

Lastly, with more than a decade of experience being a creative chameleon, what do you want to accomplish in the next decade of your career?

To quote Khloe Kardashian: “You wanna make God laugh? Tell her your plans…”

Jokes aside, I’m eager to create connections between queer graphic artists and designers. As far as I know, there isn’t a dedicated community, beyond social media, where we can come together and thrive, especially in an industry that feels competitive and cutthroat. It’s crucial to have a space that’s shaped and led by individuals who understand the unique experiences of queer people, rather than being primarily orchestrated by heterosexual cis-gender folks. Additionally, I’m interested in starting a mentorship program, hoping to guide and inspire up-and-coming queer designers. My goal is to help them navigate the creative industry by sharing invaluable insights from my own experiences in design, drag, and entertainment. If you’re interested in any of the above, hit me up! 

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