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Ginny Lemon RuPaul’s Drag Race UK

Drag Race UK: lessons in flopping upwards and shade without the snark

Episodes three and four saw our Baroness Basic Tia Kofi speak for a nation with her iconic inadequacy, a vital convo on non-binary identity, Bimini’s hilarious Brexit buns, and one queen ‘BenDeLaCreme’-ing herself

Welcome back to our weekly review of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Okay so I just said ‘weekly’, but I actually didn’t file this column last week. Did you notice? I really meant to. But I didn’t. Call it a brief spell of pandemic lethargy. Why am I revealing this ‘behind the curtain’ detail about my own authorial failure? Because of Tia Kofi, of course. Tia has brought a dignity and richness to being clapped that has truly inspired me. Not physically clapped – I hasten to add – but in her aura and, of course, sartorially. 

In episode three last week, Tia was a beacon for all of us who personally feel that we are currently living through our personal flop era (i.e. literally everyone) when she acknowledged both before, during, and after walking the runway that she looked crap. The kind of crap that isn’t trying to be good, or trying to be so-bad-it’s-good, the kind of crap that really isn’t trying at all. “I am serving you an adequate dress, made of material”, Kofi said of her runway look in the confessional. “Vintage? No. Elegant? No. Still stuck on me? Just about.” She spoke for a nation. 

The brilliant thing about this series of Drag Race UK is that, just as you think the narrative is turning one way, these fucking queens creep up and surprise you. Tia wound up in the bottom two, naturally. Up against Asttina Mandella, the soi disant queen of lip syncing, it seemed indisputable that she was a goner. And yet, somehow, through passion, sheer force of will, and nothing-to-lose drive, Tia outshone the queen with slicker moves and slinkier legs. She willed herself out of her own flop era on the mainstage. If Tia can send a professional choreographer packing, surely I can return to my former glory and write up two episodes at once.

“Drag allows you to seal off parts of yourself, encouraging a kind of grandiosity that can seem unpleasant if misused when the wig comes off. Many young queens have to learn that they haven’t been shady, just fucking rude”

So let’s talk about themes in episodes three and four. It seems to me that at this stage in the competition, the queens are constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place: their kindness and cattiness. There are clear instances of close friendships and allegiances in the group which imbue loyalty to a queen’s fault, as A’Whora found last week, when she lost the designer maxi challenge. As a trained designer, she clearly aspired to win, but giving up precious moments of her own time in the work room to help Tayce, her erstwhile lover, might have been to her detriment. It demonstrated a certain capacity for generosity and selflessness in a queen who had, as yet, been brash, mean, and conceited.

Cut to last night’s episode, and the entire fortress of A’Whora’s bitchy defence mechanisms crumbled when paired with nemesis Tia. The pair grew closer through working together, resulting in a heart to heart where A’Whora maturely confessed she had misjudged her rival and been unnecessarily cruel behind her back. She broke down in tears and admitted she lashes out because of past hurt and fear of being hurt by others. I know, I know: a young gay growing a bit and admitting they have been a complete cow to others because they were treated like shit growing up is hardly groundbreaking, but it’s a very real phenomenon. Drag, after all, allows you to seal off parts of yourself, encouraging a kind of grandiosity that can seem unpleasant if misused when the wig comes off. Many young queens have to learn that they haven’t been shady, just fucking rude. I warmed to A’Whora for the first time thanks to the maturity she displayed in admitting all of this on camera, and for her brilliant turn as a TOWIE girl in the ‘Morning Glory’ TV maxi challenge. 

Drag Race is historically ambivalent about its trans contestants and has done little to educate its audiences about nonbinary identities... Bimini and Ginny Lemon reversed this trend in a thoughtful, moving discussion of transness”

Tayce, who dazzled in the initial episodes is, I’m afraid, becoming victim to this series’ twists and turns. I had marked her out to win in the premiere, but now she simply can’t astonish me on the runway as much as Veronica Green. This is perhaps because, as twitter user QueerDiscOx noted, Veronica has the ability to transform herself from someone with the vibe of “someone who overzealously moderates a forum for furries” to fashion week conceptual art turns on the runway. I also like her loyalty to Tia.

Bimini Bon Boulash is also becoming a standout contender as the weeks carry on. I am not sure if I initially overlooked Bimini just because there was too many queens to focus on, or because I have a foggy memory of being at the same east London party as her once in 2014 where I was, uh, ‘not well’, and not focussing too much on her was necessary for my brain to keep up its effective repression of my years clumsily living as a gay boy. In any event, she is a star, and also very gorgeous. Her Brexit jokes in the mini challenge last night were one of the most intelligently funny moments of the series – “This Brexit bun is made of 52 per cent deceit, 48 per cent despair” – and her runway looks always stun.

Bimini is also out here doing it for trans people: as I’ve said repeatedly, Drag Race is historically ambivalent about its trans contestants and has done little to educate its audiences about nonbinary identities which is, frankly, weird, given how common nonbinary people are in drag communities. Bimini and Ginny Lemon reversed this trend last week in a thoughtful, moving discussion of transness that I am sure will have prompted many conversations in locked down households, and hopefully, have given some nonbinary kids the courage to come out in the week since. 

If pre-redemption A’Whora was always missing the mark on how to actually be rude in a way that is so amusing you have to laugh, Lawrence Cheney is a masterclass in how to be rude as hell but sharp enough that, even as a victim, you have to laugh and acknowledge the burn. Lawrence is clearly also a frontrunner as a consecutive two-time winner whose runway looks are as strong as her one liners and her – frankly terrifying – eyebrows. The queens who need to quickly step up if they want to stick around are Sister Sister and Ellie Diamond.

Finally, let’s talk about THAT lip sync last night. I’ll be honest, Ginny Lemon’s sense of humour has never quite meshed enough with my own for me to root for her in the way many of my trusted friends have. I have considered this at length, however, and think it’s because I have never seen Ginny Lemon perform anywhere but on Drag Race UK, where she was somewhat of a square peg in a round hole. Attempts to get her to corset and pad, when this is so clearly not the kind of artist she is, seemed to signal the ways in which the show’s format and demands were quite literally pressing her into being something she didn’t feel comfortable with. It started to become painful to watch.

When she was asked to lip sync for her life against Sister and instead graciously exited the main stage in surrender to her friend, I admired her self-awareness: she was starting to feel brow beaten by the show, and had done enough on it to achieve an iconic status in its pantheon, something her comedic disappearance (“BenDeLaCreme-ing” herself, Tayce noted) instead of fighting for a spot sealed. 

As Sister Sister won by default, the preview of next week’s episode grimly foretold the interruption in recording of this series due to the pandemic. Seven months in total. Hilariously, with RuPaul delivering the news on screen in the workroom in full drag, the edit had the effect of making coronavirus seem like a plot twist the producers had introduced into the show’s structure. Like when the queens learn they will have to make a second runway look or when there is a double elimination. Shantay, you stay (at home).