Season Two of the UK version of the long running LGBTQ+ competition reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race promises to be a ray of light in the already crap year that is 2021, but can it live up to the hype and excellence of season one?
You can join me here on DYCALmag.com each week as we discuss the events of the episode. I have also completely managed to avoid all spoilers so far, which made this week even more shocking for me.
For a quick introduction: My name is Freddie and I am a huge fan of drag, but that would not be the case had I not been exposed to RuPaul’s Drag Race in my youth. I supported my local queens all throughout my time living in Wales, yet I am not ashamed to admit I’ve watched every single season of Drag Race at least five times. For every single episode I can tell you what the challenge was, what the lip sync song was, who went home, and who’s still in the race. So when Drag Race UK appeared as a mix of both worlds I was completely delighted.
If you haven’t already watched the queens introducing themselves you can below. I will be referring to this Meet The Queens (MTQ) video, mostly because it’s the dominant resource that I have based my assumptions on – let’s just say I was very wrong.
Episode one starts like any regular season starts: RuPaul makes some references from past seasons (this time from the excellent first season of DRUK) and then we are thrust right into meeting our first queen.
Usually the first queen to walk into the workroom is a conversation starter, and this season is no exception. We meet Lawrence Chaney who announces that she is the first Scottish queen to compete on Drag Race UK. As soon as she labels herself the ‘Susan Boyle’ of Drag, Lawrence instantly becomes my Mum’s favourite; and I have to say her outfit and her makeup is remarkably polished for someone who is just 23.
Next up we meet Cherry Valentine, another young queen with a very polished look. Cherry is a botox administrator and mental health nurse – AKA she is the moment. What I was most excited for from Cherry’s MTQ was hearing more of that LAUGH, it’s so good! On entering the room her headpiece pretty much instantly hits the studio entrance and falls off not much longer afterwards.
Moments like this show us the struggle of drag whilst also showing it definitely does not take itself too seriously – but speaking of ‘too serious’, I was pretty shocked when Lawrence went STRAIGHT IN for Cherry’s teeth! I’ve seen plenty of British drag over the years and even I thought ‘fuck me that’s harsh!’ Cherry took it so well and really that’s all that matters, but you know that Lawrence is not one to mess with and I respect it.
The third queen is Tia Kofi: Now THAT is a British drag name! Tia’s look is not much to go off but that personality is SHINING, and she is self aware enough to know that’s what she’s serving. Tia is closely followed by Bimini Bon Boulash, from the area of London that Tia literally just slagged off. Bimini’s look is interesting because it feels unique; there’s something very ‘high fashion’ yet rough about it.
Soon after, the self proclaimed ‘drag troll’ that is Ginny Lemon walks in. I remember Ginny from her X-Factor audition, and she really excels in just GOING FOR IT. Her look is also incredibly distinctive and on brand, and she walks in with her signature catchphrase ‘fancy a sliiiice’ which I predict will get real old, real quick. Nonetheless, her drag is a purely British strain that would be totally out of place in America; and it’s quite clear that nobody is counting Ginny Lemon out just yet.
Next up we have a queen that instantly causes Lawrence’s face to CRACK. The editing and music is absolutely brilliant for the entrance of Ellie Diamond; a younger, sweeter, and ever so slightly more polished SCOTTISH queen. Lawrence is visibly fuming, it’s truly a great moment. But, can Ellie bring the comedy to the show? Lawrence is already a much larger presence with her accessible jokes.
Speaking of accessible jokes; Sister Sisters’ jokes make absolutely no sense to me or the other queens. It is for this reason that Sister Sister is my absolute favourite, and why DYCAL have chosen to stan forever. After googling Mauritania, I have learnt that it is a country in Africa, and that her entrance line still makes zero sense to me, but you just KNOW it’a reference to something.
Like a private joke amongst close friends, Sister Sister is making me cry with laughter. Even the way she looks away from the camera for her entrance pose is everything. Ginny Lemon making the base joke that she ‘went down on a Smurf’ is exactly why we need queens like Sister Sister to shake things up – more absurdity, less of the same!
Wales in the house – it’s Tayce! In the MTQ videos, Tayce’s was really the only one to exude a sort of ‘winner’s energy’, but it seems to be a little more muted on this episode. Perhaps a sign of good things to come as the competition develops? Although I’m pretty sure every Welsh person is angry as hell for her telling the nation that ‘popty-ping’ is Welsh for microwave, nobody calls it that. The bitch looks stunning though, for real.
The Queen of the pier enters; Joe Black shows us what she’s all about. A Norma-Desmond-in-Sunset-Boulevard-inspired-black-sparkly-turban-cabaret-fantasy of course. Joe’s reputation for international cabaret artistry has made her certainly one of the more revered queens in the pack, and this is the type of queen that you would expect to go very very far in a competition like Drag Race UK.
Next up we have Veronica Green – and this is where I put my tin-foil hat on. Veronica walks in to Kylie Minogue music; Kylie is an outsider (Australian) who has been adopted by the British people, so subliminally the music is telling us that they’re going to make Veronica out to be the nation’s sweetheart. This is especially true as Veronica talks about how none of the other drag queens know her, so to us she looks like the outsider. Also, being one of the ‘plainer’ queens so far, we as an audience will be able to see ourselves in her. Just a theory.
Asttina Mandela arrives, and she is BEAUTIFUL. As the inverse to Tayce, Asttina’s MTQ video is very reserved, displaying a quiet confidence of sorts. Fast forward to this first episode and everybody is gagging when she enters the room and she knows it. Perhaps one of my favourite confessional moments of the episode is when she looks directly into the camera and says that everybody being intimidated by her is “not my fault”.
In past seasons, the final queen to enter the competition is usually a… how do I say this… shit stirrer? Never have I seen this so blatantly edited before though! A’Whora has been in the door for all of five seconds and Tia has already said “I’ve heard some tales” basically implying that A’Whora is here to be a bitch. We love that.
Whilst predictable in some ways, you can usually count on Drag Race to give a very well rounded image to all the queens, so this sort of feels like it’s setting up some sort of redemption arc for A’Whora? Hopefully? If she is edited as a full-on villain, then god help you girl you will need thicker skin.
So there we have it! And that’s just the entrances! Usually by now a few queens will have piqued your interest. We now move on to the main part of the competition. RuPaul always gives a cryptic clue to what the challenges will entail via video message, before he enters the room to tell the queens: the first mini challenge is a photoshoot!
The photoshoots don’t need to be explained much: A conventionally buff photographer will take some pictures of the queens in a ridiculous scenario and the best wins not much. It’s a great way to see a little more of how the queens minds tick, and this ‘parody’ of Wimbledon (very cleverly titled Wimbled-Hun…. make it make sense please) seems to lean more into the comedy of the photo rather than the high-fashion element of the American Drag Race.
Highlights in the photoshoot for us included “game, set, snatch’, Asttina giving us Serena Williams, and everything that came out of Tia Kofi’s mouth. I was a bit worried to see our Sister Sister seem to shy away, and I think Veronica is truly going to be the cringe queen of the season?
Lawrence Chaney of course wins the mini challenge, further setting up the narrative that she is the one to beat. During the de-dragging process Lawrence doesn’t want to take off his make-up as drag allows him to feel ‘untouchable’: he is already showing character depth in his boy-self and everybody knows that vulnerability is like crack cocaine to RuPaul. However, Lawrence’s comments on him not being ‘conventionally attractive’ feel sort of out of place when you have Ginny Lemon half naked in the corner and Cherry Valentine is standing right there after Lawrence just rinsed the shit out of her teeth (BUT WHATEVER).
Also, on the main stage during judging, RuPaul specifically comments on how Lawrence is only 23. This sets up an important trajectory for her as RuPaul very rarely allows his personal opinions to influence the judging. Lawrence will have a significant impact on this competition – trust me on this one.
RuPaul returns to announce this weeks’ main challenge, and it’s a runway challenge! Can I just say how refreshing it is to stick to the Drag Race basics for the opening episode? (instead of whatever format Season 13 is currently working with).
For the first runway, the queens are tasked with a look inspired by one of their favourite UK gay icons. Noting that a gay icon doesn’t have to be gay themselves, but can be a person that loosely inspires queer people around the world. Then the queens must show a second look that shows why you are the queen of your hometown.
The idea for this runway was borrowed from the first season, and I am so so grateful for it. Being from the UK I am a sucker for learning the quirks of towns and cities we know and love. It’s also a great way for a queen to show us who they are, visually, which is a HUGE part of drag full stop.
Before we get to the runway however, the producers must show us that A’Whora’s villain edit is very much in progress! You know there’s some shady editing going on when they literally edit in SUBTITLES so that we can hear the hushed conversation, amazing.
On the runway, RuPaul introduces the judges and the categories. Of course Michelle Visage returns as RuPaul’s best friend and confidante from American Drag Race Seasons 3-13 (UK viewers will know her from her excellent run on both Strictly and Celebrity Big Brother). The brilliant Graham Norton returns from season one, with him and Alan Carr rotating in perhaps the most brilliant idea the BBC have had since forcing us to pay for their services.
The special guest judge this week is Elizabeth Hurley… I for one wasn’t sure if she would bring the same spark that Andrew Garfield did for the first episode of DRUK season one. But I can say I was very wrong; she really seemed to understand where each queen was coming from and I appreciated that. Although apparently she is a Brexit supporter so maybe scratch what I just said.
Now for the runway, let’s talk about the highlights and lowlights because this write-up is taking far too long. First of all, I thought FOR SURE Tia Kofi was going to get read for FILTH for that Alan Turing outfit. I love the girl to pieces but that was a… fun rainbow fabric? Suits in drag are difficult to pull off though so I respect that side of it. Furthermore, Tia’s second Robin Hood runway was supposed to represent Nottingham but she’s not even from there? I was kind of shocked to see Tia safe, but I am very grateful as she is currently one of my favourite funny ladies.
Asttina for me gave the superior Naomi Campbell look; that dress was absolutely gorgeous and leagues more complex than Tayce’s, as much as I love her. It was pretty incredible how both queens used their similar looks to make a point about the lack of British POC icons too. In addition, for me Tayce’s Welsh dragon look was killer. Sure it wasn’t technically a ‘hometown’ look, but anybody who knows Newport knows why she was left with little choice…
The Scottish queens really represented on this runway! The high placement of both Ellie and Lawrence (especially Lawrence) by the judges felt like an apology for the lack of Scottish flavour on season one. They both were a joy to watch, and knowing that Ellie is so young and makes everything she wears! Diamond! Cherry is another young one who really delivered a gay icon for her Freddie Mercury runway.
Sister Sister’s Dusty Springfield was very true to form, and her Liverpool outfit was completely dragged out and she completely SOLD it. Michelle’s critiques did seem to be very off this episode and lets hope the judging doesn’t falter into strange territory like it does on the other international versions of Drag Race.
Now, as someone who wasn’t quite sold on Bimini’s rougher aesthetic at the start of the episode, I was still pretty shocked to see her placed so low. For me a slaggy version of football masculinity would be safe any day over… Robin Hood fashion? Who from the UK genuinely talks about Robin Hood in their day to day, or even year to year? I did unfortunately think that Bimini’s first look was Pete Burns… I’m dumb though.
I do believe that Asttina Mandela was a deserved winner for the episode. She was fabulous in the mini-challenge and killed the runways. As Naomi Campbell the judges mentioned how difficult it is to paint a male face with such a softness. For her second look I can totally understand why the other queens were mad that she was wearing an ASOS coat, but it fit the brief excellently and simply looked better, sorry.
The judges decide that Joe Black and Bimini Bon Boulash must lip-sync to ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood – gay icon territory. It’s a close battle, and the editing made us believe for sure that Joe was going to take it, but Bimini kept fighting on. It’s that fire you see, and I do believe that Joe thought he had it in the bag. The ‘elevator’ (?) trick didn’t really work on camera unfortunately; but I think it was fairly clear what the intent was. Seeing the two queens lip sync made me truly believe that there was some kind of trick waiting, and the elimination was truly a shock.
To eliminate what I perceived to be a top five queen on episode one is madness to me. It’s the Game Of Thrones style culling of a main character for me. Joe Black is clearly such a star, and a massive kudos to her for carrying herself like she won the entire show in her MTQ video! Did I think her elimination was just? Not really. Was I glad it wasn’t Sister Sister? Absolutely.
The thing about Drag Race is that even if your favourite queen escapes unfairly, or receives praise where they shouldn’t, it still releases endorphins all the same. I could not believe that our Sister Sister was saved but I am eternally grateful because I think she has so much more absurdity to show the world. – and if the promo for next episodes parody of ‘Cats’ is anything to go by, there’s far more absurdity to come.
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