Drag Race UK: What is Wrong with ‘Regional’ Drag?

Mary Karayel

RuPaul, I have to ask… UK Hun

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2 resumed recently after a hiatus from filming during the pandemic and the vibes were immaculately tumultuous. This week, the Queens competed in girl groups to win the Ru-RuVision song contest. The results were an LGBTQ+ anthem that both offended the ‘cis-tem’ and stormed the UK music charts. Iconic. 

However, RuPaul was clearly not in the mood to celebrate the Season 2 reunion, and the end of the episode was dedicated to critiquing Tia Koffe and Joe Black for their “regional” looks and lack of polish on the “international stage of drag”. 

It was the comments to Joe Black, who had only just rejoined the competition as Veronica Green’s replacement, that left viewers, and myself, astounded. Black was critiqued harshly by RuPaul and Michelle Visage for their “off-the-rack” outfit in the performance that looked like it was from Primark (H&M, actually).

Whilst thousands of people thought RuPaul’s explosive “Don’t waste my time. I don’t want to see any f****ing H&M” was hilariously meme-worthy, I think it more fundamentally uncovers the link between ‘polish’ and money in the Drag community. It also suggests that RuPaul fails to understand the economic position of UK Drag Queens compared to those in the US.  

This comment about ‘polish’ became glaringly tone-deaf when the BBC released Queens On Lockdown, a documentary vlogged by the Drag Race UK contestants during the pandemic. A large focus of the documentary was the financial impact of the pandemic on the Queens, who didn’t qualify for furlough: Bimini Bon-Boulash and Laurence Chaney applied for Universal Credit, Tayce relied on her family to help her pay her rent in London, and Ellie Diamond’s family became homeless and she had to apply for council housing. 

Joe Black also candidly told Pop Buzz that she struggled to make ends meet during the lockdown: “Everyone was trying to make money where they could… And then I actually sold quite a lot of my stuff, so there were some runways and things and I was like ‘Oh, I don’t own those costumes anymore.’” So not only did Joe Black return to the competition with three weeks’ notice compared to the seven months of the other contestants, she re-joined the competition with less drag than before.

To expect the Queens to have “stepped” up their game over a lockdown of financial insecurity and a decline in mental health really makes me wonder – is this a competition to find the UK’s next drag superstar? Or find another Drag Queen who fits in with Ru’s aesthetic and his expectations of drag?

Former UK contestant Ginny Lemon sums up this issue perfectly by pointing out that “THIS IS BRITISH DRAG. We aren’t perfect, we can’t afford to splash all our money on frocks and frivolous crap when we have bills to pay and need to survive”. 

Critically, UK Queens aren’t getting the opportunity to show what UK drag is truly about and are being let down by the stringent formula of Drag Race’s performativity of a certain drag aesthetic. 

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