Why Ru Paul's Drag Race is the best thing you can watch right now
Ru Paul’s Drag race is a Netflix series in which drag queens compete to be crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar. And it’s the best thing on TV right now.
At first glance Drag Race could be viewed as fluffy. Modelled on Tyra Bank’s ‘America’s Next Top Model’- the show is all hair, high heels and catchphrases that come thick and fast- but guuurl, that’s kind of the point. In a millennial, meta sort of way, the show is wise to the clichés that come with its chosen format and has no problem poking fun at itself. Scratch beneath the surface though, and all that self-referential cynicism gives way to something much more pure.
A message of real authenticity runs throughout the show. I don’t know anything about what it must be like to live as a drag queen but I imagine that even in the most liberal of environments making the decision to be a man that performs as a woman, is not the easiest of choices. The contestants have been true to themselves, and despite the obstacles, have reached the pinnacle of drag superstardom. It’s emotional. But as Ru Paul himself (the unashamed star and host of the show) repeats at the end of every episode ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’
In amongst the sea of Drag Race wigs and sequins, powerful stories are frequently told. Topics such as transgenderism, marriage equality, HIV and drug addiction are not shyed away from, and yet the show never comes off as preachy or political. It succeeds in giving a mainstream voice to those who historically have struggled to be heard; all while remaining light-hearted and slapstick.
A community is represented on Drag Race; a diverse range of ages, sizes, shapes and races all speak to their own slice of the drag community watching at home, as well as represent that slice to the public. And they haven’t forgotten their roots either, the history of the gay rights movement is touched upon, educating a new generation on the struggles of the past and paving the way for the future. And that’s the T.
Oh and then there’s the language. Drag has always influenced pop culture, but this influence has been at a distance; the original source usually lost in translation. But not anymore. ‘Slay’, ‘yas’ and ‘throwing shade’ are some of the phrases that began their lives on the drag scene, are regularly heard on Drag Race, and are now part of many young people’s everyday vernacular. The middle (wo)man has been cut out.
Language isn’t the only aspect of drag that has permeated popular culture; fashion, hair, makeup are all affected. The artistry created by Drag Race contestants every week make most professional makeup artists look like toddlers playing with finger paints. ‘Contouring’, the makeup technique made famous by the Kardashians, was in fact born from drag and there are plenty of young people wandering around Dublin who seem to take inspiration from that particular look.
Drag’s influence on popular culture aside, the central message of authenticity is an important one. It goes without saying that these are tough times for anyone is a little ‘different’, in the United States especially. Ru Paul’s Drag Race brings to life a vibrant and colourful corner of that country that could easily be pigeon-holed, misunderstood or forgotten. It is so much more than a drag competition, it is a window into what open-mindedness, fabulousness and fun should look like in the 21st century.
Now, let the music play.