One day while scrolling through YouTube in 2013, I came across the now infamous fight scenes between drag icons Willam Belli and Phi Phi O’Hara during season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The drama and nerve had me instantly hooked and I began watching every season in earnest, allowing myself to get sucked into the glamorous and unique world of drag. And I wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of thousands of viewers were also joining in on the obsession which led to an online phenomenon of memes, references, slang (YASS queen) and artistry that only fuelled our love further. When seasons would end, many of the contestants would go on to become rich and famous. Some created their own films on Netflix (Bianca Del Rio), many released music videos, and others built up successful makeup brands. For the first time in a long time, drag culture was going mainstream.
So it was no surprise when RuPaul announced they would be making a UK version. The thought of some London-based queen calling everyone a “slag” in the workroom was exciting, and season one did not disappoint. Now, season two is being released weekly on BBC One, and for the first time in Drag Race history (due to COVID-19) it’s being released concurrently with season 13 of the US show. Naturally, fans can’t help but draw comparisons between the two versions and in the midst of discussion, Drag Race UK has come out on top. And I agree.
To begin with, there were already some issues with the later seasons of the original show. Due to their predecessors’ success, new queens are under pressure to appear polished and perfect, which has meant that the show has lost some of its grit and edge that made it so appealing in the first place. And the producers seem to be catching onto this, as the first episode of season 13 saw contestants surprised with an introductory lip-sync battle that broke the traditional format, leaving half of the queens thinking they’d been immediately eliminated. In their attempt to keep the show fresh, the producers just made it awkward to watch and despite the restructure, fans on Twitter still felt that the season was too slow, with a general consensus calling the series to end.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Drag Race UK offers a breath of fresh (albeit smokey) air that we all need during the pandemic. There’s no prize money and the contestants are just happy to be taking part and showcase their unique drag personas to the world. It’s more reminiscent of the earlier seasons of the original Drag Race – the queens aren’t overly polished, they can’t all do jump splits, and their mannerisms are a little bit coarse. And what they lack in refinement they make up for in humour, originality, gumption and a diverse range of regional accents. They’ve already given us the song of 2021 – UKHUN? – which became a viral sensation on Twitter and TikTok, as well as a “Snatch Game” episode that featured the hilarious impersonations of classic British icons including Katie Price and Vicky Pollard.
Make no mistake though, these queens want to win, they’re just being real about it. This makes them so much more likeable and it’s this collective investment in the contestants that’s got everyone talking. When one queen is eliminated, everyone vents their outrage on Twitter, when one queen wins a challenge, everyone discusses it on Twitter, and when Bimini Bon Boulash does anything, everyone obsesses over it on Twitter. Even some of the most famous Drag Race veterans such as Katya Zamolodchikova have taken to Instagram Live to talk about their love for Bimini and the show in general.
As we know from our culture editor Jennifer Adetoro’s TV ecosystem analysis, Twitter can play a huge role in making or breaking a show. Therefore the sheer amount of online discussions, viral videos and endorsements that Drag Race UK has received is concrete proof of its superiority. Fans can’t believe the UK version is already down to the final four, whereas everyone just wants original Drag Race season 13 to end.
By Lucinda Diamond, food and travel editor of CORQ. Picture credit: Bimini Bon Boulash via Instagram.