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How "RuPaul's Drag Race" brought drag to the mainstream

movies and-tv


Loyola University Maryland


How "RuPaul's Drag Race" brought drag to the mainstream

From drags to riches

Marley Scheld


Drag queens are starting to jump into the spotlight of mainstream media. With the growing popularity of VH1's "RuPaul's Drag Race", drag queens have gained enormous amounts of Instagram followers, headlined events and shows, and some have even made it to television.

The art of drag is being recognized by Vogue, The New York Times and celebrities like Ke$ha. Queens have made their way into the spotlight of the media––but it wasn't always this way.

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Drag was usually reserved for one small community before the TV show that popularized it. While men have historically dressed up as women, for example in Shakespearian times, the drag culture was created in the mid-1900s in gay bars and night clubs. Gay men were seen dressing in drag and voguing (a dance move popularized by Madonna, of course).

RuPaul Charles emerged in the 80s and rose to the top as a drag model and singer, coming out with his hit song "Supermodel" in 1992. This was one of the first exposures of drag in the mainstream.

As hidden as it was, drag culture was, and still is, one of the brightest and most artistic forms of expression. Although most don’t realize, many words and dances that are used every day were invented by the LGBT+ and drag community––things like "yas," "shady," "fierce," "slay," "bye Felicia," "werk," and even "not today, Satan" were exclusively used by drag queens and people in gay culture.

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Over time, those words started becoming widely used in modern culture and media. Drag Queens popularized the dance move the "death drop"–– it was widely used in night clubs while voguing to upbeat music.

The biggest use of drag in the mainstream media is through lip syncing. A large part of drag culture is when queens get on stage to perform songs. They dance and collect tips while lip syncing to certain songs in order to entertain the audience. Jimmy Fallon took this concept and eventually created the Lip Sync Battle, where celebrities perform just as drag queens would at a night club.

Today, drag is more popular than it has ever been, all thanks to "RuPaul's Drag Race". Queens have heavy social media presences in order to keep up their brands. One of the more popular queens, Adore Delano, has over one million followers on Instagram. Trixie Mattel and Katya now have their own television show premiering this month after the surge of popularity toward their webshow, "Unhhh."

Back in September, Rupaul's Drag Con invited several of drag's celebrities (like Drag Race winners Bob the Drag Queen and Sasha Velour) and drag fans to the largest convention on the east coast. Fans dressed in drag line up and meet their favorite queens, buy their merch, or just show their interpretations of the art of drag.

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What makes drag so special––and what allowed it to reach this level of popularity in the mainstream? Yes, the show is highly entertaining and filled with drama and catchphrases. Yes, the queens invite viewers into a fantasy world of high heels and hairspray. But the key factor that makes drag so important is the art of confidence and self-expression. Drag is one of the most welcoming communities in the world and accepts everyone no matter what, creating a safe space for all.

RuPaul ends every episode of his show with the phrase, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anybody else? Can I get an amen?"

This phrase is something a little more than a fun thing to say. At the end of the day, it is a mantra. It is something that all drag fans and aspiring queens live by. Drag teaches self-confidence and expression better than any classroom ever could, and that's what makes it so important and special.