‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ Recap: I Cannae Understand The Judges But I Bloody Luv The Queens
Do not sleep on 'Drag Race UK' (just between us, it's much more fun than S13).
After the first episode of Drag Race UK S2, I have to make a public apology in advance, as I can guarantee I will be continually bringing it up in every conversation I have. These queens are instantly it, and deserve the world’s attention: this was one of the best premieres we’ve had in years, even if I didn’t understand a good forty per cent of the jokes.
Still: Kate Bush! Vivienne Westwood! Bowie! Frankie Goes To Hollywood! Alan Turing turning into a queen! Drag Race UK is my cuppa tea, or should I say Kofi? The judges clearly take theirs with milk, with veteran cabaret artist Joe Black the first queen to make her Brexit this season.
Shocking, given it seemed like she was a sure thing for the top three — and I don’t agree with the judges’ main critique, which was that her looks were a little over-extracted and under-developed at the same time. As Violet Chachki posted on one of Joe’s Instagrams, “I hate Michelle Visage!”.
But with a tight eleven episodes, Drag Race UK has no wiggle room to keep the queens — and this cast is all killer, (mostly) no filler. Someone has to go first.
Before we get into it, it really a shame this will inevitably be overshadowed by S13: the UK editions have lower-stakes (the prize is a WoW Presents Plus show…) and an early-seasons charm to them that makes for a much lighter, fun watch. There’s no Stanford Prison Experiment here — just drag queens being crass, beautiful and ridiculous.
— Violet Chachki (@VioletChachki) January 15, 2021
Well, It Was Fooken Almost All Of Yas (That Killed Your Entrance Looks)
The first queen to walk in is Lawrence Chaney, who describes herself as a Scottish drag legend, which is bold as a 23-year-old. She’s instantly charming, and that’s before she claims my heart by dropping a reference to the best piece of Scottish media there is.
Next up is Cherry Valentine, who knocks her headpiece off as she enters, and is given a do-over. That alone puts her in high esteem: Sharon Needles witch hat fell off as she entered in S4, and they let her refilm: albeit with Cherry they show both entrances. Out of drag she looks like the archetypical white ‘alt’ British person, which means I am, regrettably, into her.
Other highlights? Well, Tia Kofi might have one of the best drag names I’ve ever heard (sorry Jaidynn Dior Fierce, Max and Mrs. Kasha Davis), and you have to respect a queen who openly admits in her opening confessional that looks don’t matter.
Yes, her hair might be thirsty wirsty crunchy munchy or whatever they say in Untucked-ish, but that line about being originally named ‘Tamera Boutros Boutros-Ghali’ showed far more flair than a wig ever could.
Ginny Lemon was my one-to-watch pre-season. You just have to respect her utter clownery, though we’ll see how she’ll translate that energy across the challenges. My other pick pre-season was Tayce, who is just regal.
Asttina, meanwhile, is a dead ringer for Azealia Banks — it’s a missed opportunity if she doesn’t do her for Snatch Game, though maybe that would get too dark too quickly (and this was filmed pre-cat-cooking, too).
No one had a bad entrance, really. Ellie was a little reserved andVeronica was clearly quite overwhelmed and A’Whora’s Wizard Of Oz look didn’t really establish who she was, but that’s okay because Tia says she’s heard ‘bad things’ about her, which is all we need for now.
The best entrance is Bimini’s, an East London trash-slag who gurns the couple of teeth she has and shouts “I’m vegan!” while looking like a pastel-filtered cock destroyer. It’s everything I want from Drag Race UK.
The queens have taken ‘you’re born naked and the rest is drag’ to heart, because (almost) all of their confessional looks are really thought out.
Bimini is again my favourite for looking like the long-lost member of Amyl And The Sniffers; Ginny Lemon looks exactly the same in and out of drag; Tayce is so beautiful that I’d spontaneously combust if we made eye-contact, and Veronica, God-bless her geeky soul, is dressed like a 2011 Doctor Who-obsessed Tumblr star.
But Miss, My Plastic Surgeon Doesn’t Want Me Doing Any Activity Where Balls Fly At My Nose
The queen’s first mini-challenge is a tennis-themed photoshoot, where RuPaul laughs manically while people pelt balls at them. Lawrence takes it out since it’s really a test of personality. Asttina comes out looking perfect and Tayce’s back-bend posing rivals Naomi Smalls’, but it’s the Scottish accent and heavy grunting that gets the win.
Despite her win, Lawrence has a moment almost immediately. Slow to de-drag, she reveals that the make-up and persona provide an armour that she doesn’t have in day-to-day life, as a, in her own words, ‘not conventionally attractive’ gay man.
Cherry and Sister (two conventionally attractive white men) say the right things about transferring that armour over, but it’s not the sort of complex that goes away easily.
There’s so much talent there (I was surprised she didn’t win the main challenge), but next week’s preview shows her having another emotional moment, which makes me worried the competition will stir up a lot of insecurities. Putting on my Alexis Michelle green paint and getting into producer mode, it could make for a winner’s narrative, but it’s just sad that she feels anything less than one of the brightest lights in the room.
Gay Icons? Name Three Of Her B-Sides.
This week’s main challenge is two pre-prepped runway looks — a hometown homage and a tribute to a UK gay icon, which, despite her Absolut Vokda branded gay anthem called ‘Pride’, doesn’t result in a night of 1000 Rita Oras.
We do get two Naomi Campbells though. Rather than milking the potential drama or demanding that the other change, Tayce and Asttina have a conversation about the lack of Black gay icons available to them growing up, resolving to be that for any kids of colour watching at home. It’s a really sweet moment — and the more Naomi, the merrier.
She won’t be laughing at their runway walks, either: they both kill it.
Seeing who the queens pick as their icons is a really smart way to get to know their influences, and made me hopeful the Australian Drag Race will have a similar theme, so we can get Rhonda Burchmore, Nicole Kidman and Dumped Wife’s Revenge tributes.
Let’s get this out of the way: Joe Black shouldn’t have been in the bottom for his mermaid-dress Bowie or Brighton looks. They’re far from perfect, but they were interesting, bold and intricate.
But according to Michelle, the Bowie element wasn’t clear, which, uh, is just objectively false, and as guest judge and incredibly polite pedant Liz Hurley points out, Joe’s gotten the architectural era of the building her look’s based off all wrong!
Meanwhile, Bimini ends up in the bottom alongside Joe for doing cosplaying as a nightlife icon Michelle doesn’t really know and having a tiny bit of tape showing in her (for me) instantly legendary hometown look. Boo!
Most queens went for a more ‘draggy’, conceptual take on their town, like runner-up Lawrence’s pane-glass dress, but Asttina gets the win for her East London girl look, even while wearing an ASOS jacket.
Ellie really sneaks into the top three with little screen-time, but the polish in her looks is undeniable. Hopefully we see a bit more personality next challenge, a musical parody of Cats.
Joe and Bimini land in the bottom, and lip-sync to ‘Relax’ — Joe starts off strong, but halfway through goes for a miming bit about an elevator that would probably work on-stage, but is the kind of gag that’s a death knell on Drag Race.
She looks pretty bitter to be going, and you have to wonder if she’ll be back. If not this season, maybe the next (which will apparently air later this year). Perhaps she’s in a porkchop lounge right now.
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is available on Stan, with episodes dropping each Friday 8AM AEDT.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and freelancer who has written for The Guardian, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter.