The second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is a refreshing alternative to the thirteenth installment of the US version. Despite having a huge gap between filming, due to the pandemic, the simpler format and smaller cast mean that the heart of the show hasn’t been lost under layers and layers of pointless twist and turns (the porkchop loading dock was… an interesting choice). In each episode the drag queens compete in challenges: from daytime television improv, short-lived rival girl groups, terribly written mini (ru)sicals, celebrity impersonations, and design challenges. The challenges test the range and ability needed to become ‘The UK’s next Drag Superstar’.
Last week’s RuRuvision (yes, RuRuvision) challenge elevated the ‘United Kingdolls’ to series one’s ‘Frock Destroyers’ status, which essentially means they’ll get played in the gay clubs once they reopen. Their version of ‘UK Hun?’ topped the UK iTunes chart, and hit number 4 on the Top 40, because it’s a cruel, infectious earworm. Constant echoes of “I like it rough but my lentils tender”, “inches to the floor, I ain’t talking ‘bout my weave”, “Helensburgh to Edinburgh” (hey, I take that train!), over and over as I tried to catch up on the work I’d put off until reading week. I never did think anyone could surpass Blu Hydrangea of series one rhyming home with home, but “when he’s asking for-a more-a, tell him this hoe ain’t a store-a” might be up there. The rival team’s rendition was noticeably weaker, perhaps highlighted by the judges being edited to look like they were about to go to sleep, however, it had its moments underneath the muddled choreography and the controversial H&M dress.
There have been some spectacular runways this season. Perhaps, I’m biased as a fellow Glaswegian, but a personal favourite is Lawrence Chaney’s hometown look. If my account was still on the server, I’d be breaking into my primary school to add her slick Mackintosh inspired dress to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh PowerPoint I made in Primary Four. A’whora’s intricate 3D printed Pre-her-storic runway, and Bimini Bon Boulash’s genderbending Norwich FC hometown runway are also up there- despite the badly hidden tape.
Though, it does seem odd how something as small as tape can ruin a strong runway. As with all reality TV, the judging can be… questionable. A queen’s unique interpretation of the runway theme is only understood if they want to understand it, decent but unremarkable performances can be spun into masterpieces with a mix of editing and carefully chosen critiques. It’s a reminder that it’s all quite fake, yet it still feels more authentic than other reality competitions. I think the heart to hearts bring it down to earth. While RuPaul arguably spends most of his time poking the queens with the crying stick so he can inch closer to that sweet, sweet BAFTA, it’s touching, nonetheless. Bimini and Ginny discussing what it means to be non-binary, Ellie and Lawrence bringing to light pay issues in the Scottish drag scene, A’whora’s initially villainous persona softened by her insecurities. The subversion of the well-worn villain trope with A’whora relatively early in the season was a smart choice. They get the drama they need to make the show engaging, yet allowed for a redemption that alleviated the onslaught of online hate that the ‘villain’ usually receives. These teary-eyed conversations don’t feel like X-Factor-esque sob stories, but rather, an important discussion of issues that affect the LGBT+ community, that don’t normally get airtime in the mainstream media for that very reason. That is something that gives a show so full of competitive tension, a heart.
Image: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons