THE SITUATION On a recent cold winter's night, I'm at Vito's on First Hill with Celene "Leeni" Ramadan, a solo artist who released three chiptune records of 8-bit electronic music before transforming herself into a '50s-style pop singer called Prom Queen just this past June.
HOW SHE GOT HERE Ramadan grew up in suburban New Hampshire before moving to Seattle in 2004. She holds down three part-time jobs, using her background in improv comedy for one of them—performing celebrity impersonations at parties. Ramadan says her best impersonations include Nico, Britney Spears, and Björk, and that December's a busy month for the business—last weekend she sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" as Marilyn Monroe at a man's 80th birthday party. "They actually told me 'Don't make it too racy,' " she says.
SHOP TALK Earlier this month, Ramadan posted a series of cover songs on her Bandcamp page, including Madonna's "Justify My Love" and Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." The songs are moody, lush, and dramatic, recalling the dark romance of David Lynch's films, but they're just a prelude to the album of original material that Ramadan intends to release early next year. Prom Queen songs deal with love and heartbreak, channeling an old-school girl-group aesthetic, "like finding someone's dusty old diary from the '50s," she says. "I just really adore that whole time in music. With music these days, you're either a badass or you're super-sexy . . . It's nice to go back to a time when women were classy!"
There's a Prom Queen visual aesthetic, too—a video of Ramadan performing Guns N' Roses' "November Rain" at the Columbia City Theater is currently circulating online. It's an accurate representation of what to expect at her shows—Ramadan alone onstage with her hot-pink electric guitar plugged into an antique suitcase amp, wearing a puffy vintage prom dress. The dresses are thrift-store finds—she never actually went to her high-school prom.
BTW: Ramadan can pinpoint the moment when art, costume, and music collided in her mind. She was in high school and heard David Bowie's kaleidoscopically theatrical "Life on Mars?" for the very first time. "That stage persona really stuck with me," she remembers. "Living in New Hampshire, you just didn't see anything that remotely resembled that. And I wanted that, so badly. I wanted to be around people who did stuff like that, who were more colorful and wild. It's really what propelled me to where I am."