RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE UK VS THE WORLD: RuPaul Ball

Posted on February 10, 2022

We can’t tell if this is playing out exactly as we kind of figured or if the queens are just serving up what they think the audience expects, but we’ve wondered ever since the first international edition of the show launched whether American queens were shadier than their sisters from around the world (since shade and reading are born out of African-American social and humor traditions), and damn, those American queens were almost aggressively shady a couple of times this episode.

The UK queens in particular seem a little taken aback by it, although we don’t really think there are any hurt feelings or vendettas being formed. Once the Yanks got all the shade out of the way, the episode showed most of the queens supporting each other or getting to know each other better. It was kind of fun to watch queens like Monique observing Baga’s little bout of petulance or giving Janey a little bit of style advice.

 

 

We were in the middle of writing and researching our book when it felt like the show’s fandom had turned on Ru. For a good while, we panicked and wondered how we were going to straddle that line of writing a book celebrating the show (and by extension, Ru’s achievements) while also being fair and acknowledging his shortcomings. We absolutely think things like his comments on trans contestants, his purported fracking, and a lot of the more self-aggrandizing comments he’s made in interviews (like the one about watching a man drown and sending him prayers) are more than worthy of critique. And we think that a lot of the Drag Race alums have legitimate complaints about him, although we also think quite a few of them knew that slagging him in public was going to get them more attention and even more love from the fans.

 

What we’re trying to say here is that Ru is a complicated figure in the drag community and it’s sometimes way too easy for the fandom to paint him as an irrelevancy or even as a villain. But then you see someone like Jimbo, who has not presented himself as an overly emotional person or even a particularly earnest one, literally burst into tears at his first one-to-one meeting with Ru, it’s a good reminder that, no matter what gets said on social media or in Reddit threads, a lot of Drag Race queens are truly in awe of him and grateful for what he’s done for their careers.

 

We also thought this conversation was illuminating and touches on something we’ve seen a lot of drag queens wrestle with: their own gender identity. From conversations and interviews we’ve either had or read over the years, quite a few Drag Race queens have expressed some ambivalence or confusion regarding their own identity and how having a drag persona that delivers attention, love and financial support can be awfully confusing to someone who doesn’t otherwise consider themselves a woman or non-binary. This can be especially difficult to unpack for those queens who, like so many, went into drag to process their own emotions and allow themselves to do and be something they can’t or won’t in their day-to-day lives. This is quite the flip from as recently as a decade ago, when it was extremely common for a drag queen to make a point of declaring their own masculinity. Again, in our book research, we came across countless examples going back a century of drag performers making an issue of their manhood or feeling the need to declare that they definitely do not wish to be a woman. For most of the last hundred years, there was a lot of tension between cis male drag performers and trans women, arising largely out of the reality that for many trans women (especially Black trans women) of decades past, sex work was often considered their primary mode of employment. There was always a little bit of classism, misogyny, racism, and transphobia swirling around the drag world and you saw vestiges of these tensions play out in Drag Race over the years. But enough musing and wool-gathering. It’s time to go to the ball, darlings.

The categories are Kitty Girl, Butch Queen, and (not so much a category as an order) make a dress for Ru out of Werk Room scraps.

Pangina came out in two of the more creative looks of the night. Her bald kitty was fabulously grotesque and managed to avoid pretty much all the kitty drag cliches, although we think it comes pretty close to being more about costume design than drag. Her Butch Queen was a clever take, but we wish it had been just a bit more recognizable as the Queen herself. The pieces were just too mismatched and off-brand. Her Ru look was pretty impressive but we agreed with the judges when they said it needed a skirt.

 

Janey is kind of interesting to us because her looks tend to veer from being okay with a few issues to a drop-dead stunning. Her kitty wasn’t much of a kitty, but what bothered us more was how unflattering the costume was. It stumpified her legs and took away her waist. The second look was kind of a cute idea, but we think she just repurposed an orange romper and tried to pass it off as a prison costume. The Ru look was flawless.

 

 

Cheryl served up two mediocre looks and one truly awful one, in that order. While she might have coasted on the Kitty look, we think the Butch one is kind of terrible. Girl, drag that shit up somehow. At the very least, get it fitted a little better.

 

Jujubee is one of our Drag Race all-timers, so it’s been disappointing to watch her serve up some of the worst drag we’ve ever seen from her. We don’t know if she figures she can just show up and have some fun on her fourth try or if she’s too jaded about the competition to put in the effort, but we were glad to see the judges tell her to snap out of it. She keeps wearing these totally OTR-looking dresses with these horribly thick and unflattering “nude” hose. If her first two looks had been fierce, she might have gotten away with the sort of amusingly horrible take on a Ru dress but it all comes off like someone who’s not taking any of this seriously enough. Also, the first and third wigs are terrible.

 

You can tell Jimbo is fully in this game and hungry to conquer it. She’s not slacking off on any of it. All of these looks are spectacular and while the Ru look was the least fabulous of the lot, he really sold it with attitude and humor. We think Ru might have a favorite in him. She loves goofy/fabulous queens who can be funny (see: Mattel, Trixie).

 

Blu also seems fully energized and in it to win it. Loved the Kitty look, although we think it’s slightly overdesigned. The Butch look was clever, although we think several of these queens didn’t understand the assignment. More on that in a second. The Ru look was pretty good, although we don’t think Ru would wear something that dark and heavy.

 

Baga, like Jujubee, does not seem to have her head in the game. The Kitty look is great. We won’t single her out for this, but we’ll take this opportunity to note how many of the Kitty looks were simply extremely expensive costumes. Granted, that’s always been the way with returning queens and All-Stars. The second look comes close to fulfilling the brief, but like Cheryl’s it’s just a plain jumpsuit with some makeup. The other queens ragged on her Ru look, but we thought it was passably good given her attitude and lack of sewing skills.

 

Monique’s Kitty look was original and striking. Unfortunately, when stacked up against some of those clearly expensive costumes, it came off a little crafty. She is the only one who understood what a Butch Queen category is actually asking for and we were happy to see Michelle point out that it’s a classic Ball category that only Mo got right. It’s a fantastic look. It felt like the judges were being a little polite about the Ru look because we thought it was awful.

 

Janey and Jimbo (which sounds like a double act) were the rightful top two queens and something became very apparent this time around.

While he may have many talents and could just be considered the frontrunner of the group, Jimbo is no lip sync assassin. Given the setup of this season, we wonder if he’s going to continue to place in the top but not secure a badge due to his lousy lip sync skills. Loved Janey’s costume here.

 

We hate to be mean, but what a couple of busted-ass queens. We’re not sure why Jujubee wasn’t savaged for that Ace bandage wrapped around her torso.

 

If we’re being honest, we think Jujubee deserved to be eliminated over Cheryl, but if you’re going by potential, it makes more sense to keep her in and hope she returns to form rather than keeping Cheryl and hoping she somehow vastly improves.

 

 

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: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]

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