After ten long-awaited years, the ever-famous RuPaul’s Drag Race has finally arrived to grace televisions across the British Isles with its first ever UK season. Having premiered on 3 October, the show’s UK adaptation came highly anticipated and much talked about by fans; there has been huge speculation on who the upcoming queens would be, what new challenges might be thrown at them, as well as who would be invited as guest judges.
It all started back in 2009, with the infamously vaseline-filtered Season 1. The contestants would compete against one another in various mini challenges designed to test their Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent. This includes rapid changes into ‘fishy’* drag and ‘readings’ of the other queens. Soon after, the maxi challenge is introduced by Mama Ru herself. Tasks can span from acting, singing and comedy to creating an original, theme-specific runway look from scratch. The bottom two queens must “lip-sync for their lives” in order to stay in the race, the loser is eliminated and sent home. In the end, the ruling queen wins a cash prize and is crowned the title of ‘Drag Superstar’. Many have been surprised by the rise in popularity of the show and drag culture itself as it has begun to gain rapid interest from people of all backgrounds. However, drag culture has had a strong influence on the current internet culture, with many teens unknowingly referencing memes and slang that have all stemmed from drag and this show itself. Namely, Jasmine Masters’ (a Season 7 competitor) viral video that took off and claimed top meme status for this year with “and I oop-”, as well as words such as “tea” and “shade”.
There won’t be many significant differences between the US and UK versions, with contestants still facing a similar sequence of tasks and challenges in each episode. It’ll be treated more as an alternative version to its US counterpart, unlike other spin-off series such as, “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars” and “Untucked”. However, it isn’t surprising that the challenges’ themes will revolve around quintessential British culture more than the previous seasons. With queens such as Baga Chips, throwing around words like, “gobsh*te” and the copious references to British shows and celebrities. The UK show is bound to befuddle some fans from across the pond. The only official differences are the number of contestants (ten to the usual twelve) and the lack of prize money for this season. Instead, it has been replaced with an exclusive offer for the winner to start their very own show in Hollywood, an exciting and alluring offer indeed, though some Drag Race fans may disagree.
Many are also speculating that the UK contestants will bring a different vibe to the show, especially given the history of drag in the UK. Drag in the UK dates back to Elizabethan era, with Shakespearean plays and comedies having male actors dress in women’s clothes in order to play the female roles. This in turn led to the appearance of roles such as Pantomime Dames: a portrayal of female characters by male actors which involves heavy make-up, over-emphasised physical features, dramatic acting and bright clothing.
This history may have influenced or shaped the current drag scene in the UK differently to that of the US. UK queens are more well-known for the comedic side of their shows, engaging their audiences with a healthy dose of satire. A prime example of this is Lily Savage (also known as Paul O’Grady) who was highly regarded in the drag scene during the 1980s, known mostly for her tongue-and-cheek humour. O’Grady commented on this prominent feature of drag in the UK during a radio interview, where he spoke about how the backlash that queens received back in the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, may have caused some queens to use humour as a way to cope and defend their career during those times.
On that note, I’m glad to see that Drag Race UK will be airing on BBC Three, a mainstream TV channel, since it will widen access to the show. Given the channel’s well-known nature, it will help the show to expand its current demographic of viewers. This accessibility could also serve as a source of inspiration for younger LGBTQ+ individuals who could potentially be interested in pursuing drag as a hobby or a career. But most importantly, it will allow the wider public to see drag in a positive light, as a form of artistic self-expression, a platform to express political and social sentiments, escapism and liberty, as well as a source of fun and enjoyable entertainment.
Rupaul’s Drag Race UK will run every week on Thursdays at 8pm on BBC IPlayer.
*Fishy= alluding to the smell of a female’s sexual organs, this word suggests that a queen appears to be a very convincing female.
– Lara Ritchie