With the arrival of RuPaul’s Drag Race to BBC Three, Jessica Hough discusses what this means for British Drag.
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK aired last week on the 4th of October, and so marked the empire of Drag Race firmly establishing itself on UK soil. This is not to say Drag Race doesn’t already hold an audience in the UK, it completely does. It holds mainstream popularity that not only is rich in meme culture but also has a direct impact on the way drag is viewed and appreciated. However, this is the first time a group of queens from the UK can hold a nationwide platform and compete as the American queens do. The sheer fact that this is possible on English television demonstrates an impact caused by American Drag Race, but how far does that impact stretch?
This question made me think of my first exposure to the world of drag, which was Paul O’Grady’s, Lily Savage. Savage’s charm and comedy was brilliant and in today’s drag culture she would be referred to as an old school comedy queen. She thrived in a gay and straight community that didn’t have Drag Race and her performances were the epitome of the drag of her time. Meaning, Savage was famously a funny man in a dress but out of the dress, Paul O’Grady keeps up the dark comedy and has a career being that same personality. This differs to the drag demonstrated on American drag race where the queen and the man are often separate to some degree. This is important as it demonstrates how American drag race presented drag as much more than a comedic man in a dress. It showed it to be not only a form of comedy but a form of art in many ways. An art form that holds an impact as it allows people to truly find freedom of expression and the freedom to be exactly who they are. It is this precise quality that resulted in the shows extreme popularity.
The show provides audiences with a range of drag and it validates every single one. Queens, whilst also giving LGBTQ+ people a valid platform of work and representation. The impact of this for LGBTQ+ people of all ages is huge, being able to see successful people that are just like you is vital to ensuring someone feels like they are allowed to belong. Even the fact that queens like Sharon Needles, Sasha Velour, Bob the Drag Queen and Trixie Mattel were able to win the show (or in Trixie’s case the All-stars) even though their drag directly contrasted the typical drag of that season demonstrates another level of representation, it shows the world of drag to be truly a welcoming place. This is vital as it allows a generation that sees a form of drag that they understand to be a platform of queer creation, being widely celebrated. This validation holds an impact as it equips a generation with a voice and an ability to be exactly who they are with no shame.
The consolidation of drag culture into mainstream pop culture resulted in the immense meme culture that now surrounds it. Whether they came from the show directly or from the queens once they had finished the show. The most famous examples being Jasmine Masters’ “and I oop” or Adore Delano’s “I don’t belong here.” The importance of this must be stressed as the growth of the memes validates drag into a mainstream society that once rejected it. This opens up drag to more and more audiences and expands how the culture of drag can impact people. Not only does it provide the show with more viewers (and the queens with more exposure) it also opens up drag as an art form to more and more people and expands how the culture of drag is presented and talked about. Watching the queen’s introductory videos for UK drag race already has me certain that many iconic memes are going to be created as the series unravels. The impact for these queens will stretch much farther than just memes, alumni from American drag race have been able to make movies, hold modelling jobs or become internet sensations like Trixie and Katya. This all implies that the future is bright for the successful UK queens. Overall the impact that American drag race holds over the UK drag is truly huge and although it might not be welcome by every queen, the impact is unavoidable.
Image Credit: Pink News