RuPaul’s Drag Race is a gay institution — that is just fact. Drag Race viewing parties are at all sorts of bars in the city. The show becomes a trending topic on Twitter every week during new episodes. It is an overall success.
For those unfamiliar with the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race is reality competition centered around drag queens competing for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. The show is self-aware and is parodying the format of shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway. The show is helmed by the supermodel of the world herself, RuPaul. Just an FYI drag in itself questions the notions of gender and the cis gender male drag queens often use she/her/hers pronouns while in drag. And it is important to know drag is not exclusive to just cis gender men, even though that is all mostly what is represented on the show. That fact itself raises criticism of the show and its casting.
Over the course of ten seasons and three “All Stars” seasons, a common occurrence that becomes more apparent the more the show progresses is contestants from the show releasing original music. This was originally a trend by RuPaul who has been releasing an album around every season premiere week for years. RuPaul has released 11 full length studio albums dating back to the early 90’s and even has two greatest hit albums and an album of Drag Race contestants covering songs from previous albums.
Now drag music targets a very specific audience and often doesn’t or isn’t meant to reach an audience outside of fans of the show and drag itself. So when multiple queens release an album or single during the airing of their season (the show is prerecorded and not live) they are simply capitalizing on the opportunity they have and the platform the show gives them. Being a full time drag queen or entertainer isn’t easy so the more you have to sell and gain traction from the better.
That being said the end product, being either a full length album or buzz single, often leaves much to be desired. The music itself is niche and plays to catch phrases or references from the show. Incorporating that into a song is smart marketing if released at the right time, but it doesn’t give much longevity to your music. And doesn’t have too much crossover appeal for an non-Drag Race audience. However, the exception to this is comedy music because it doesn’t take itself seriously and serves its purpose to make you laugh.
I’ve lost track of all the queens who have released a song or were featured on a song, because so many of them do at this point. And they release them to varying levels of success. The queens who are successful in music are often the ones who have a musical background prior to the show, are well received by fans from the show and who don’t solely center their music around tropes from the show.
There are a handful of queens who have released EPs and LPs that stand on their own without the drag persona attached. Some standouts to me include season six contestant Adore Delano, season 9 contestant Aja, and season seven contestant/ All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel. Each bring an authenticity to their music that puts the music first.
Adore Delano is one the biggest success stories to come from the show even though she did not win her season. Adore Delano was first introduced to audiences outside of drag as Danny Noriega on the seventh season of American Idol, the show that came back for reasons unknown. While on the show Danny was an out teenageer who made it to the semifinals but revealed on Drag Race that she was advised to “butch it up” while on Idol.
Delano fared much better on Drag Race, finishing as runner-up and gaining a large new following thanks to her honest and carefree personality. Thanks to prior music experience and new fan base clamouring for original music Delano released her debut album Till Death Do Us Party in June of 2014. She chose to keep her music under her Drag name rather than choosing to go back to music as Danny. The album proved to be a success as it was the highest charting album by a Drag Queen on the Billboard 200, even surpassing RuPaul’s albums. Although some of the album’s track titles are in reference to catchphrases from the show the album stands on its own.
Delano was able to continue her success with 2016’s follow up After Party which built on the dance and pop sounds from the previous records for a slightly more serious album and continued with the grunge vibes in 2017’s Whatever. Again the albums standing on their own without the Drag Race link attached. Most Queens from the show use their music to appease their fans, while Delano uses it to expand on an existing fan base.
Separate from the expected genres (dance, pop, comedy) of Drag Music is where Trixie Mattel resides. A fan favorite of Drag Race, Mattel just released her second EP earlier this year. Although successful in her comedy, Mattel has an theatre and music background. Showcasing various skills and an ability to play a variety of instruments.
Mattel has released Two Birds and One Stone, which are purely folk and country, something Mattel referenced was very different for a Drag Queen to release and wondered how well it would play to fans. As it would turn out both EPs was able to reach #2 on the iTunes album charts, which is undeniably an impressive feat. And charted on Billboard’s “Heatseekers” chart.
The success of the EP and Mattel’s bold choice I feel can ultimately remove the limitations of what music from Drag Queens can be. They don’t have to just be these songs that play well at a club or bar or rely on the familiarity of the person that was portrayed on the show.
Also taking their music outside of the drag sphere is season nine and All Stars 3 scene stealer, Aja, who released her EP, In My Feelings in May and is planning to release a full length album later this year. Aja raps throughout the six tracks over infectious house beats. What is refreshing about Aja is her openness in saying she’s excited to perform out of drag since a lot of her music isn’t dependent on her drag persona.
Like her peers she wants her musical endeavors to be taken seriously. Even though she still does love drag. So even though her visuals feature her in drag the lyrical content doesn’t always rely on drag race quips and references. You can see her in the new H&M pride collection amongst other queer artists and athletes, including Kim Petras. Sidenote, I have been told on a handful of occasions that I look like Aja out of drag, I will take that as a major compliment even though I don’t personally see it.
As the season ten finale of Drag Race approaches in the coming weeks I’m sure various singles from contestants will pop up. Below is Aja’s latest video for the track “Brujería”.