RuPaul’s Drag Race UK: The Return of Royalty

Posted on September 24, 2021

Confession time, darlings. Of all the international Drag Race franchises, none of them get us more psyched for a new season than Drag Race UK. It’s not the lack of a language barrier, it’s the way the Brits approach drag from a cultural direction completely different than the American version. As we’ve said before there’s way more of a British comedy tradition and the every-present influence of panto that makes British drag so energetic and fun to watch, along with a more innate sense of camp (part of that British humor tradition) and a higher likelihood of punk influence. American drag, on the other hand, pulls from pageants, deb balls, Hollywood, cabaret and Broadway traditions. All countries or regions of the world have slightly different flavors of drag, but the UK, like Australia, has drag ingrained in its popular culture going back generations.


So the UK girls are back and once again, Drag Race shows itself to be remarkably good at capturing the shifting zeitgeist. Right from the jump, we’re dealing with a post-lockdown version of the show, with one queen having recovered from Covid, one queen mourning a family member they lost to Covid and one queen breaking down when recounting the hardship of being utterly alone during months of lockdown. As fun and campy and outrageous as any version of Drag Race can be, one of the things that separates it from all other reality competitions is the way it allows the lives of queer people to be presented and respected. We kinda wrote a book based on the idea, in case you missed us mentioning it once or twice in the past.


Anyway, the show gave the queens a little room to be goofy with a charades mini-challenge, but this first episode was really about introductions and serving a series of autobiographical looks answering three simple questions: Who are you? Where are you from? What are you into? Let’s tear through the dolls to get a sense of who they are and what stories they’re telling.


Veronica Green returned triumphantly from her truncated time in the season 2 cast. She’s knocked out Rona and she’s ready to hit the ground running. It’s kind of funny to see some of the queens treat her like the learned elder, when we remember her as being quite a bit less savvy about the proceedings her first time around. She’s a fun and goofy queen with a loosey-goosey personality hiding a rather clear and hardened ambition.


Like a lot of the “hometown queen” entries, her look representing the cotton mills of Rochdale had a distinctly local pageant queen feel to it. It’s just a little too craftsy. There are so many fabulously draggy ways to interpret cotton other than gluing cotton balls onto a dance costume. Her salute to her love of computer games was goofily unexpected and well-rendered, although we think the reference could have been made a little more clear.


Kitty Scott-Claus is the ne plus ultra of the classic British Camp Queen. This Legally Blonde homage is not only wittily cute and funny, it’s pretty good drag, although it has room for improvement. The proportions and sense of details are great, but the costume looks like it’s been on a long trip.

She walked the runway as the Queen of Birmingham, saluting it as the “birthplace of British chocolate” and then paid tribute to her love of ABBA. Both ideas were cute, but neither of the costumes were all that impressively original. We think it’s safe to say there are more homemade costumes in this group than in the average season of the American version.


River Medway came in with a sad story about her mother’s death from Covid. She might not have established herself as a looks queen (this one’s kind of cute, but overall, her costumes didn’t impress), but she sure showed the judges she knows how to wring everything she can out of a moment.


Her Queen of Medway costume was spoofing the Thomas Waghorn statue and she got a lot of mileage out of making the judges laugh with that pose. The idea was cute, but the execution was flimsy. With her music costume, the execution was still flimsy but she didn’t even have a good idea to help her. It was just a weirdly half-assed ’80s aerobics costume. It was at this point we started to suspect a lot of the “thing that I like” costumes were basically “the themed costume I have that I think fits the brief for this challenge.”


Scarlett Harlett’s got a cute look. Outside of drag she’s a fast-talking twink from East London who knows she’s cute.


We did love her salute to the Pearlie Queens of East London and how she combined it with an homage to Queen Elizabeth I. Her music homage was really cute but again, it felt like she just picked a costume she already had and called it one of her favorite things. Not a criticism so much as an observation about how most of the girls seemed to approach it.


Vanity Milan’s only been doing drag a short time, but she’s got the polish and the confidence of a seasoned queen.


For her Queen of South London look, she combined a bunch of elements in a really fun way: the colors of the Jamaican flag, “Brixton box braids,” and “big, bold, black post codes.” It felt like a true interpretation of a place rather than a Miss Universe national costume entry. Her “favorite things” look saluted Estonia, because her husband is from there and she lived there for five years. Of all the queens, her looks felt the most thoughtfully autobiographical.


First impression of Ella Vaday? A very polished queen who serves kind of standard drag. It’s good drag, but it feels like Pride float drag, if that makes any sense. Nothing wrong with walking into the Werk Room looking like a Barbie, though.


To be fair, paying homage to the Dagenham women’s strike was a pretty great idea, but the Pride Progress flag drag, while nicely done, just felt like her standard Pride drag repurposed for the moment.


Choriza May served the biggest laugh of the night and one of the best introductory lines in the show’s history: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Hate me because I’m an immigrant.”


Her hometown look paid tribute to Newcastle footballers and her “likes” look was art-based. There’s a sameness to all her drag and it comes off a little fussy at times. Of course too-muchness isn’t normally consider a detriment in drag but all of her costumes feel a little overworked.


Victoria Scone is the girl making history just by walking through the door and she clearly knows it. As Drag Race’s first AFAB Queen, she felt the need to make sure all of her looks were high drag and not just “girl in makeup and a dress.” The art of drag is about transformation rather than gender and she established herself from the jump as a skilled practitioner of the art.

Her drag is big and theatrical and her intro look aside, is less about serving femme as it is about serving drama. We loved her Queen of Cardiff daffodil look but when she said her afternoon tea look was inspired by Leigh Bowery, we swooned. We’ll eat our proverbial hats if she doesn’t establish herself as a frontrunner immediately.


Elektra Fence is cocky and full of confidence, but she did NOT have the looks to back it up.


As the Queen of Burnley, she paid homage to the first female miners in just about the least fabulous way possible and her birthday look came off a little creepy, unflattering and overdesigned.


Anubis came in wearing what she described as a salute to her Egyptian name and background, but like all of her costumes, the reference was muddy and ill-defined. In fact, “ill-defined” may be the best way of describing her.


Her hometown look saluted the Helter Skelter on Brighton Peer and her “favorite thing” look paid homage to sea creatures. Both looks felt like they needed an explanation. Her reveal later that the second look was a salute to the last time she saw her father was absolutely nowhere to be found in it. We get the impression he’s got the affectations of a camp queen down cold, but at 19, he doesn’t really understand what powers or influences those affectations. You haven’t earned that weary tone and saying “shrimp is camp” makes us think you don’t know what you’re talking about.


Krystal Versace is the Aquaria of the group, which means she’s young and fierce, but it also means you shouldn’t discount her. She’s been “watching RuPaul’s Drag Race since I was 13” and at 19, that means her introduction to the show came well into its run. Like a lot of these up and coming Gen Z queens, her looks are insanely well rendered.

To be fair, her Queen of Kent, serving “garden of England” realness, was fairly standard in terms of design and her cat homage (again, this feels like a favorite costume challenge than a favorite things one) isn’t exactly radical, but the quality of her drag – especially her makeup skills – can’t be overlooked here. She’s the strongest at serving looks.


And then there’s Charity Kase. Bless her dark heart.


He served up a freaky Queen of Lancashire, representing the Lancashire Rose in the most horrifying way possible and then revealed the shocking news that freakshows are his favorite things. He informed us he wants to show Ru that “you don’t have to be traditionally beautiful to be seen as fantastical.” All of that is wildly wonderful and we get a huge kick of out his drag and the way he looks like a stoner elf when he’s not in drag. But he essentially sent a message that he has one kind of look and it’s the only one he’s interested in serving. We wish him well, but Mama Ru wants to see you get pretty now and then.


The top two girls, Victoria and Krystal, duked it out for the RuPeter badge and we have to say, as charmed as we are by Victoria and as much as we might want to discount Krystal for his youth, there was no question that the cat queen took this one handily.


Victoria was good, but that bitch Krystal can lip sync the house down.


Elektra and Anubis had to lip synch for their lives. It wasn’t as electrifying as the previous lip sync but we guess Elektra took it for being the more energetic of the two. Truth be told, we thought they both looked like utter messes up there.


So one 19-year-old queen gets sent home while the other one takes the win for the week. It’s early days of course, but both of these decisions seemed like the right ones to us.


Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!




[Photo Credit: WOW via Tom and Lorenzo]

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