The changing face of drag and the fresh fish on the scene

With the cast of the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race just announced, the scene is expanding with new girls stepping into the spotlight. But how have the styles changed since Drag Race started to go mainstream?

The seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is set to air January 2015 and the 14 new girls were announced last weekend, 7 December.

This brings the total number of RuGirls to 88, but there are hundreds more who aren’t lucky enough to compete in the drag Olympics around the world.

Throughout the casts of each season we’ve seen fishy queens, campy queens, fashion queens, but the styles and genres of performers and their act is widely varied over all.

Gia Gunn prides herself on her fishiness. Photo by LOGO TV/Viacom.

Gia Gunn prides herself on her fishiness. Photo by LOGO TV/Viacom.

As for fishy queens – those who have perfected the art of female illusion and are almost unclockable – you could argue that season six’s Gia Gunn is the fishiest of them all. She is self-confessed “fresh tilapia” after all. Gia wasn’t a fan of some edgier types of drag, especially Milk’s more abstract style.

Similarly, pageant queens put a huge amount of effort into looking as womanly as possible and competing in drag beauty pageants. And, like the competitions for biological women, they can be just as catty. Everyone remembers the Alyssa and Coco feud, right?

Club queens, such as Vivacious, have a distinct look. They originated in New York in the 1980s but still give inspiration to many queens.

Another classic style is the camp, clownish look. These queens satire natural womanly looks and are often very funny to boot. Case in point – season six’s winner Bianca del Rio.

The UK scene is just as varied, as we saw on London Live’s Drag Queens of London. There was the goth queen Meth, talented live singer Vanity von Glow and one third of drag supergroup Buffalo Girls, Lady Lloyd.

And changes to the drag scene are evident on British soil, just like the influx of new performers stateside.

Lady Lloyd says, “I think more people are dipping their toes in, mainly for attention or fame or to get noticed.” But she doesn’t think this is necessarily a new reason, admitting that’s the main reason a lot of performers do so.

A word of advice for new queens just wanting attention, though? She says, “It’s not the most obvious thing to wake up and put on makeup and a dress so unless you have the urge to do it naturally you better think twice if you just want to do it for attention.

“Normally people like that suck.”

Vanity von Glow remembers the classic British style. She says, “Drag in Britain was always about parody, whimsy and humour.

“The current fashion of doing drag has drudged up a fairly vapid contingent of enthusiasts who I’m sure will evaporate when the next fad comes along.”

Trixie Mattel. Photo by LOGO TV/Viacom

Trixie Mattel. Photo by LOGO TV/Viacom

So, perhaps after season seven of Drag Race, which seems to feature a relatively high number of campy queens like Trixie Mattel and Tempest DuJour, the trend may again shift back to the classic.

In Cardiff, South Wales, the style is very much camp, brash and akin to the image Vanity von Glow remembers.

Minsky’s Showbar in the Welsh capital is exactly that. Open since 1995, the venue hosts many performances from drag queens such as Miss Kitty, Marcia and Jolene Dover.

Whilst Minsky’s is the only dedicated drag venue in the city, there are other clubs and bars that have queens performing, hosting, DJing and selling shots.

The Kings, WOW and Pulse, all within a few yards of each other, have weekly events with queens that many people have come to know. Admittedly the knowledge of these queens is fairly restricted to Cardiff, but the style and caliber is no different than that of higher profile acts.

The city’s queens work between venues, with Jolene Dover also hosting nights in Pulse. Joanna Bumme, a younger queen on the scene but with the traditional high camp style, can be seen in The Kings and Pulse, as can Amber Dextrous.

The style of drag doesn’t seem to be changing drastically in Cardiff, perhaps because, whilst RuPaul’s Drag Race is now available on Netflix, it isn’t as accessible as it could be. And there’s always the possibility that there is no demand for a change. Why change something if it works as is?

WOW, Cardiff, UK. Photo by The Queen Zine.

WOW, Cardiff, UK. Photo by The Queen Zine.

One Drag Race fan and Cardiff club-goer, Frances Rock, says, “[Cardiff drag] is not as close to polished as the ones you see on TV in America. They seem to be more classic drag than female impersonation.

“But then again it’s just a side job or hobby and not their livelihood, so that could be why.”

Pulse, Cardiff, UK. Photo by The Queen Zine.

Pulse, Cardiff, UK. Photo by The Queen Zine.

Whether or not this is a direct link with watching the show is unclear, but it is clear that drag is changing and becoming more versatile and more accessible.

Buzzfeed recently posted a video of their “Try Guys” being dragged up by some well-known names, including Mayhem Miller who walked in Marco Marco’s fashion show.

American Apparel used three RuGirls – Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, Courtney Act and Willam – for one of its ad campaigns recently, and sold t-shirts with their photos on.

Adore Delano became the best-selling drag singer in America with the release of her album Till Death Do Us Party.

These are just a few examples of drag making it into the mainstream, or, at least, somewhat, as Vanity von Glow doesn’t think it is actually happening. She says, “Drag is underground by its very nature – the subversion of gender roles in performance is not anymore in the mainstream now than it was in the 80s for Boy George.”

So, whilst drag itself is changing, growing and making a few ripples in the mainstream, it still remains highly unnoticed and, perhaps, mostly unchanged. But would we still love it if it did?

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