Is Drag Race good again?

The all winners All Stars 7 season has already had some stunning fashion moments and the best Snatch Game we’ve seen in years.

by Tom George
|
23 May 2022, 5:55pm

Just like trainspotting and Ryan Murphy TV shows, Rupaul’s Drag Race is one of those things that was arguably better before it went mainstream. What started as a reality show with hardly any budget, filmed in an LA basement with its drag queen contestants waiting in a hallway between judges deliberations and a broom closet for a control room, has since become an international juggernaut of a franchise. Just over a decade since premiering, the cash prize for the show’s winner has gone from $20,000 to $200,000. In the same period the show has moved from the small queer cable network Logo with an average viewership of 300k, made up mostly of LGBTQ+ people, to VH1 where it’s seen by millions and has spawned no fewer than 16 spin-off shows. World of Wonder, the show’s producers, told us in 2017 they didn’t expect the show to be such a “blockbuster hit”.

But as the show has got bigger and bigger, dare we say it got a little… cheugy? Often the show’s drag artists and their abilities are undermined by a need to keep the format fresh, shocking and new with twists, turns, goops and gags, from the “jury of queers” deciding the final two on All Stars 3 to the forced double saves after fairly “meh” lip syncs just so there’s at least one each season. We’re still not quite sure we understand the point of the whole chocolate bar thing on season 14. Additionally, with all the new spin offs and producers attempting to drag out the number of episodes per season by having no one go home for eight (8!!) episodes, we all just became so tired. In 2021 at least one episode within the franchise aired every week and gurl, who has the time?

That is in no way a reflection of the newby talents vying for drag success being presented each season and fans have noted that the most recent season of the US iteration had one of the strongest casts in the franchise’s history. Meanwhile, the recent UK vs The World series had heavyweights such as Jujubee, Mo Heart and Blu Hydrangea competing against each other and the first season of Drag Race España has seen some stunning drag hit the main stage.

However, as the show’s viewership has increased and it’s alumni become cultural icons post-airing, the authenticity and natural hilarious absurdity of early seasons has, over time, disappeared in favour of manufacturing viral social moments, pushing queens to share traumatic backstories and attempts to build an entire brand around an entrance line á la sponge and brown cow gate – take us back to the days of drink throwing, sugar daddy drama and Tammie Brown please.

But this weekend we got the first two episodes of All Stars 7, also known as the all winners season due to its contestants being those who have previously already secured the paycheck and lifetime supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics that comes with the crown. With some of the strongest of competitors in the show’s history,  the new series is in a unique position. Its contestants no longer needed to build brands or force moments because well, they’re all huge successes already. Whether it’s having their own talk shows and podcasts, touring the world, walking fashion shows and gracing the pages of the world’s biggest fashion magazines, these queens are already superstars and as a result we were treated to three hours of iconic moments. Where else but a winner’s season are you going to have Shea Coulée wearing Maison Valentino, Monet X Change wearing an ode to that Schiaparelli muscle dress and jaw-dropping gilded glamour from OG fashion queen Raja that would put most of the Met Gala guests to shame?

The season began with a welcome twist, hosting Snatch Game in its second episode (usually this is reserved for a season mid-point. The result became the highest rated episode of the show ever, and had us rolling on the floor with Jinkx Monsoon, who embodied Natasha Lyonne before having Rupaul cry-laughing at a bursting-into-song parody of Judy Garland. Trinity Taylor then had us all by the throat as a twink bottom satan and beloved short king spring icon Leslie Jordan.

Then there were the guest stars. Naomi Campbell stopped by to give the queens a masterclass in runway walking and we’re honestly still mentally processing the divine power we witnessed on screen. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz came out of retirement to critique on the main stage and remind us all why we miss her so much. Someone commission The Sweetest Thing 2 now, we’re begging you! 

Though there are still twists (and with only two episodes out we’re sure there will be more), the new format of All Stars 7 of having no eliminations and instead the four with the most wins lip synching for the crown actually allows all the queens to thrive and showcase their best drag. “This is what it looks like when Drag Race has a queen that doesn’t take inspiration from Drag Race. her work is unaffected by whatever is popular in her art form, it transcends everyone else because SHE IS THE RULEBOOK” tweeted @twinktrash about Raja’s runways. “I’m so happy that the young fans are getting to experience the magical Jinkx Monsoon in action.” said @snowgothh. All Stars 7 takes what we loved about the early seasons of Drag Race and brings it to the fore for its now mainstream audience and they seem to be loving it. 

“I think we can all agree that in only 2 episodes, All Stars 7 has become the best season of Drag Race already,” @rpdr_thingssss tweeted. That’s tea tbh.

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more TV.

Tagged:
TV
LGBT+
queer
Drag Race