The ‘weird, fat art kid with a strong lisp’ captured the hearts of audiences worldwide and helped introduce Korean culture to a global stage
Ever since RuPaul brought her annual Drag Race to screens for the first time seven years ago, the art of drag widened its profile in the mainstream. This year’s season premiere marked the franchise’s 100th episode; as well as being watched by almost 1 million viewers worldwide, the show was streamed a further 1.5 million times online and dominated conversations on social media. This time round also marked a success for racial diversity in drag; only one of the top five queens was white, and the competition was eventually won by African-American political activist Bob The Drag Queen. However, it was Kim Chi that made history by becoming the first ever Korean queen to appear on the show, using her platform to provide a creative yet hilarious insight into her own culture and background.
Furthermore, the star captured the heart of audiences worldwide on numerous occasions by detailing the stigma that forced her to hide her drag career from her family, a childhood spent being bullied for her weight and an initial lack of confidence that the discovery of drag helped her to combat. Her finale song, “No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians” was an astute commentary on internalised homophobia within the gay community; even her choice to name herself after a Korean dish of pickled cabbage was a veiled commentary on America’s limited knowledge of Korean customs. She may not have won, but Kim Chi stands out for her ability to tackle loaded topics through her humour, passion and creativity. Plus, she even looks incredible in a paper dress. What’s not to love?
CHOP SUEY THE COMPETITION
The star opened the season on hilarious form, stating her intention to “chop suey the competition”. She frequently references and makes jokes about her Korean heritage but, as she explained on Cooking With Drag Queens, she chose her name because “Koreans are very under-represented in American pop culture… I figured this stage name was a good way to introduce Korean culture to an American audience”.
BECOMING THE DRAG KIM JONG-UN
Every season, Drag Race presents its annual Snatch Game challenge which sees queens impersonate iconic celebrities. Naturally, Kim Chi evaded the usual choices of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, instead transforming into the world’s first drag dictator, Kim Jong-Un. Incidentally, this wasn’t the last time the North Korean leader was mentioned on the show. In Episode 7, contestant Derrick Barry was left red-faced after inadvertently highlighting a lack of awareness of Korean culture when she asked “are you from North or South Korea?”
GROWING UP AS THE “WEIRD, FAT ART KID”
In Episode Two, Kim Chi explained the various difficulties she faced growing up as the “weird, fat art kid with a strong lisp” and, in the process, cemented her status as a role model to outsiders worldwide. She is also forced to hide her drag career from her parents due to cultural stigma attached to the practice in Korea – she explained in a recent TV segment that “it’s almost seen as a fetish over there… Drag is not necessarily considered an art form there yet, so I would like to be the first one to be able to break that boundary.”
SLAYING THE RUNWAY
It’s impossible to discuss Kim Chi without exploring the runway looks that have become her signature. As opposed to looking to high fashion for inspiration, Chi instead draws inspiration from diverse sources ranging from Pablo Picasso to birds of paradise and the results have made her an Instagram sensation.
She also proved her construction ability in Episode 8, constructing an elaborate couture gown created entirely from paper and cardboard, accompanied by a pink floral headpiece.
NO FATS, NO FEMMES, NO ASIANS
Inspired by prejudice on hook-up apps such as Grindr, “No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians” has quickly become Kim Chi’s signature catchphrase. The term first made an appearance in the ‘Shady Politics’ episode, with Chi explaining to Michelle Visage that men on hook-up apps “just want a generic-looking white guy”. Visage is visibly shocked and labels the term racist, but Chi makes it her mission to reclaim the statement and challenge the narrow ideals of the gay community’s darkest corners. She achieves this feat in the season finale, presenting a lip-sync performance to a song entitled “Fat, Femme and Asian” to rapturous applause.