by Manu SharmaJun 13, 2023
The Villbergs are an acclaimed creative couple out of Sweden, whose work treads the realms of performance art, design, television and more. The glamorous and flamboyant duo is made up of John Ronny Villberg, better known as Mr. Villberg, and Simon Andreas Villberg, or, Mrs. Villberg. Through their unique creative identity, they “aspire to inspire, to arouse and to terrify,” as their tagline tells us. However, underneath the glitz and glut that typifies their gaudily extreme aesthetics, there seems to be a deeply sincere push towards affirmation, acceptance and encouragement for folx across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Mr. Villberg puts it succinctly, “On a serious note, if we could inspire creative souls to find their own unique identity and be more comfortable in themselves, we would feel honoured.” Mrs. Villberg adds to this, exploring the other benefits of embarking on a creative journey that celebrates freedom of expression and identity, and tells STIR, “Finding your own expression and unique point of view is great in many ways, not only in that it makes you a one-of-a-kind performer, but also that it makes you more self-confident and humbler with your clients and colleagues.”
The Villbergs do not offer empty encouragement, much the opposite in fact. They are very transparent about the high degree of competitiveness that is part and parcel of the drag and burlesque performance world, but propose an approach that prioritises relationships with other artists over individual victories. These efforts to foster a community have garnered the two a great deal of respect within their scene, which Mr. Villberg comments on, saying, “We are kind of like a “Mom and Dad” in a way. We have our own circus family here in Sweden, which we call The Obscene Family, and they are like our kids.”
To the many that discover the couple through their salient stage presence, it may come as a surprise that both members of The Villbergs have pursued a wide variety of work and education outside the cultural movement they are currently helping define. John Ronny Villberg is a graphic designer who has undertaken studies in design theory and pattern design, and has also worked as a hair and makeup designer as well as a go-go dancer. Meanwhile, Simon Andreas Villberg holds a bachelors in architecture, and in the past has been a competitive swimmer as well. She tells STIR, “We dedicate our success to all of our combined know-how, and to the previous work that we have undertaken. It has enabled us to develop an excellent professional ethic, and to draw upon a broad spectrum of experience.” These are no doubt significant advantages to have when one is a creative in an increasingly saturated section of the performance world, and the duo has most definitely capitalised on them—their “looks”, for example, are radically original, and yet never feel as though the madness is without method. Each of these entails a complex assemblage of costume, pose and gaze informed by elements of art, design, architecture, pop culture, and of course, their own personal magic, and deftly combine these to create an identity that feels villainously haute couture.
Mr. Villbergs was born in Kalix, which is in the north of Sweden, and the Swedish artist explores his early years and budding creative drive as such: “After moving from the north, I went to dance and theatre high school, and at the same time I was a male dancer for a local drag show group. The drag queens taught me all the tricks of the trade, while I was simultaneously being drilled, “by the books” at school.” This created a creatively pragmatic learning experience for the artist, which was further enriched by his growing love for sewing: a passion inherited from his grandmother, who Mr. Villberg tells us he was quite close to as a child. He continues to inform, “After my schooling and a brief career as a model, I realised that makeup, hair and clothes were more exciting to me. I guess that the drag queens had really left their mark on me!” Mrs. Villberg, who hails from Malmö, adds to this, “I am a few years younger than Ronny, and had just decided to put my swimming trunks on the shelf and dedicate myself entirely to academic work when we met in 2009. Through our career, we have traded our formal training and life experiences with each other, and eventually grew to be one fierce power couple.”
The Villbergs have had their own TV show since 2021, and The Villbergs Chronicles, as it is called, has played a huge role in increasing their popularity and reach among audiences that cannot engage with their live work for one reason or another. Mrs. discusses this project, telling STIR, "In 2020, we were approached by Canadian streaming service and production company OUTtv. They had an idea for us, which was that we host our very own TV show, and after going back and forth for a while, we came up with a concept that we all loved—a positive, non-friction, non-conflict lifestyle reality show where the viewers follow us on our adventures. The first season, which we called the Sweden Edition, is a travelling documentary where we journey from the north of Sweden to the south, over the course of six episodes, and explore everything fabulous that the country has to offer. If you ever wanted to see the ice hotel or go to ABBA the museum, then this is the show for you!” Mr. chimes in, telling us that this was followed first by a Christmas special, and then a second season that saw the duo plan and execute their very own spectacular drag wedding. They chose to follow this direction after initially wanting to do another travel documentary style season, which Mr. explains by telling STIR, “We chose to celebrate love and the incredible advantages we have here in Sweden; the possibility of loving and marrying the person that you want to, regardless of gender or cultural expectations.”
As for the future, The Villbergs wish to swap their high-energy creative lifestyle for something a little slower. Mrs. tells STIR that they plan to drift towards stage design for other artists, and Mr. adds to this, mentioning that touring has taken its toll and that they would rather spend more time in their studio. Time will reveal where these new motivations take the duo, but what is for certain is that it will be loud, proud and glamorous.