Over the past decade, RuPaul has been in charge of her eponymous reality TV competition by playing mentor, judge and model for people who want to be crowned hoping to become America's # 39; s Next Drag Superstar.
While you glorify the virtues of drag as a powerful tool for self-love and self-acceptance ("If you don't love yourself, how do you love someone else?") RuPaul has also shown the hundred plus queens who went pink "Werq Cream "inside RuPaul & # 39; s Drag Race That part of being a drag queen is selling yourself as a brand.
From the main stage, Ru introduced judges and queens to her own doll, promoted her chocolate bars, reminded viewers to get her latest book, and chased her many albums and singles, turning "Now Available on iTunes" into a discarding slogan. This version of the drag-as-QVC spokesperson has become a guide for a newer generation of drag queens who view merchandising as an integral part of their burgeoning career.
RuPaul & # 39; s Drag Race, Where drag queens compete for a cash prize of $ 100,000, a once niche art (and activist) company has thoroughly overhauled. The promise to be crowned by Ru after winning acting, singing, dancing, improvisation and fashion weekly challenges has changed the way a new golf drag queen & # 39; s view their own craft. Because it offers up-and-comers a platform that is different from everyone else that was previously available – mixing pageantry and lip synchronization with reality TV-ready drama – Drag Race has also cemented the role of drag queen as a business science figure.
Similarly, the rise of drag queen merch has created an entire home industry. It opens up new profitable opportunities for people who practice the art of towing. But it has also played a role in the changing face of the mainstream fandom that the show and its queens now enjoy. Drag, which for decades has been limited to bars and cabaret, focused primarily on a 21-and-over-gay population, is suddenly more accessible to a wider (and younger) audience, who have interacted with queens, not across a stage, but over a screen. Moreover, the presumption of immediacy that social media creation has made fans feel much closer to their favorite queens. The need to transform such digital interactions into more tangible connections has resulted in the explosion of drag queen merchandising.
This version of the sleep-as-QVC spokesperson has become a guide for a newer generation of drag queens who view merchandising as an integral part of their budding career
For Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez, who have been reciting the show since it was first broadcast in 2009 and will release their book, Legendary children: the first decade of RuPaul & # 39; s Drag Race and the last century of queer life, next year the economy around drag changed the relationship between queens and their fans. The fact that you can now easily buy a varsity-style jacket or a pair of socks with patterns and illustrations from your favorite queen has "almost become a requirement for queens," Marquez told Vox. Merch, as it also works for pop stars and sport icons, "is one way [for queens] to thank their fans for their support. And they appreciate it. "
But the explosion of this transactional view of fandom is an indication of a broader change in drag culture. "This level of merchandising in the drag world is absolutely new," Fitzgerald noted. "But I think that when you take a broader view and drag you as a form, as a way to earn a living, this is on the scale of what is expected from drag. That's how you earn a living: you work your skills to pay your bills. That's the history of dragging there. So this is not new as an idea, but it is at a level I have never seen before. "
To visit Drag Queen Merch, the self-described & # 39; Drag Queen Store & # 39 ;, see a plethora of branded items that talk about the unparalleled way fans shout for products as proxy's for their adoration of drag queens. The products mentioned here are obvious, such as emblematic phrases from the show (Trixie Mattels & # 39; Oh Honey & # 39 ;, Tatianna & # 39; s & # 39; s Choices & # 39;), to the more unusual, as baby onesies with an image of drag provocateur Willam as Virgin Mary or blankets with Chicago staple (and bearded queen) Lucy Stoole.
The site also serves as a mini art gallery for artists such as Ryan Vincent, Christian Cimoroni, Chad Sell and Micah Souza, who have become known for their takes on the queens of the show.
As Drag Race artist and comic book writer Terry Blas said to Vox, his fan art of season one queen Ongina, whom he shared with her on Myspace, led to various collaborations over the past decade. His original illustration became the art she used for an early tee that she later sold. His next collaborations with the likes of Jujubee, Kennedy Davenport (which can be seen wearing his design on an episode of All Stars 3) and Chi Chi DeVayne are the proof of the way Drag Race fandom has been helpful in raising and publicizing the queens at the show, creating a mini-ecosystem of like-minded gay enthusiasts enthusiastic about each other's work.
Drag queen merch was, in many ways, a spur of fan art that speaks RuPaul & # 39; s Drag Race & # 39; s possibility of turning fans into active participants in the drag economics market that it has created. To see the illustrations that are part of the various tees and shoes and dolls and album covers, you need to catch a glimpse of the creativity that inspires drag.
Increasingly, however, it is a glimpse of the way fans are now not just fans of their queens (giving a fiver or a tenner after a great gig), but essentially financing their career. Shangela, a drag queen from Paris, Texas, who looked closely at her time at the show (she was last seen in A star is born), has seen firsthand how the demand for fans has driven this turn to designer clothing.
"Immediately after season three of Drag Race was when we started to understand that we had a fan base that wanted to support us through product and merchandising, "she told Vox." That it would really sell! "As with most other queens, her first discoveries in this kind of enterprise were modest. Because she wanted to give her fans choices for different price levels, she started selling rubber bracelets, t-shirts, and posters, many of which wore her famous slogan ("Halleloo!"), And nodded at her iconic, corn-inspired look at the show.
The humble beginnings, where she and her assistant were responsible for ordering and shipping all products, are no match for the type of operation that she now oversees. On her site you can now get glaze pins, drawstring bags, fans, t-shirts, tank tops, DVDs and, yes, even the infamous green popcorn ful wig that she is so famous for.
International fans can now order any of Shangela's products with just a click of the button. That's the kind of scenario that seemed unthinkable when many of us started watching Drag Race on Logo a decade ago, but one that is an example of the radical changes that the show has ushered in. BibleGirl, the CEO of Drag Queen Merch, says that clothing licenses offered her a way to take advantage of the ways Drag Race changed the resistance. Utilizing the power of social media to sell her own merchandise, she was able to seize a new source of income for drag queens – one that did not depend on booking fees at bars, which suddenly created an uneven playing field where Queens on the show, were not surprisingly getting and demanding higher pay stubs than local queens.
"The real game changer was when DragCon LA took place in 2015," she told Vox. "What I thought my merchandise was for the weekend was finally sold out within the first five hours." No longer a side issue, merchandising became the main event at RuPaul and the drag conventions of World of Wonder, which take place on a half-yearly basis. With more than 50,000 visitors in 2018 in Los Angeles and 35,000 in New York, and with more than $ 8 million in merchandise sold last year, the bicoastal event has demonstrated the economic power of a once so marginal art form. Both products and sellers are now in the enviable position to reach a new kind of market that continues to grow.
A booth at DragCon NYC 2018. Santiago Felipe / Getty Images
But this sudden increase in drag merchandising has made the relationship between those artists who once promoted the show complicated and made DragCon a success, and who now find that they are both customers and competitors of the queens they are inspired by. Blas, who sells his own Drag Race art at various comic conventions across the country, has seen the cozy feeling of that first DragCon-sour in a much less artist-friendly environment. In the early years of DragCon, Blas was successful in selling low-priced items tailored to the predominantly teenage audience that attracts the show. Posters and standees that went for $ 2 and $ 5 were easy to sell for fans who wanted the queens to sign at the convention.
But perhaps noticing the success of such a strategy, smart queens are now trying to control the entire DragCon experience. Many offer photo ops with fans for a fee (some from $ 10, some as high as $ 60), but you can get around this by just buying merch. This kind of pricing structure encourages attendees to save for that kind of encounters instead of spending it on fan art sold on the floor.
Controversial functions such as & # 39; Fast Passes & # 39; for meet-and-greets with certain girls, they emphasized last year how revenue generation is inherent in Drag RaceThe vision of the drag caused a break in his fandom. "I get it, but take advantage of your BRAND," Reddit user Trixiespads told Mic last year discussing the daunting message of these layered fan interactions on DragCon. Similarly, discussions about Reddit on exorbitant meet-and-greet prices once again emphasize how the value of a queen becomes inseparable from the dollars you are willing to scrap, and how decisions about what to load end with the value you charge from your fans.
There are just as many fans praising queens for making coins as long as people are willing to pay for what they offer ("she could have earned 20 and her turnover almost doubled," one user wrote) who find women free or offer cheaply as a stand-up for their fans ("I thought it was really admirable that she didn't use it and tried to make herself accessible," another wrote.
The conversation assumes the central place of generating income in the current drag world. There is nothing to illustrate that more than DragCon, which has grown and grown in recent years, these problems about who gains access and who shows themselves as a fan, only get bigger.
"First DragCon, I made a small corner myself," Shangela recalled. "In more recent years it has grown. I now have a huge stand with a non-profit organization or corporate sponsor, with all different types of merch. People come for merch, but they also want your photo so that you can tie them together."
These disadvantages have also made clear the changing face of Drag Race fandom. As Fitzgerald and Marquez have said to Vox, their own online recaps of the show have shown them how the presentation of the show from Logo to VH1 broadened the appeal of the show. The responses to their repetitions were almost exclusively written by gay men in those early seasons with soft focus lenses. More recently, with the show's total embrace of social media ("Hashtag All Stars Four", as RuPaul reminds its viewers), they have seen the audience shave ever younger and more feminine. It is an insight that Shangela echoed when describing her changing audience in her most recent stand-up tour, which she now books in theaters to accommodate a fourteen-and-over audience.
All this illustrates the seismic impact RuPaul & # 39; s Drag Race has had on drag culture. There is no clearer barometer for drag & # 39; s renewed mainstream appeal than for the combination of purchasing power and fan devotion. By encouraging fans to become curators and collectors, flag recruiters and walking advertisements, this merch strengthens a new economy that queer makers benefit from.
But it can also reduce the interaction between fans and transactional encounters. This is of course a bigger question about what it means to consume and support art in a capitalist era where buying Funko Pops or Katya and Alaska or Bianca del Rio t-shirts is a gesture that should say something about our taste choices or our loyalties, but who ultimately register us for a model in which objects serve as a substitute for the real thing.
"The queens feel very close to their fans," Marquez said. "[The fans] just feel like they know [the queens] and want to buy something from them. "That jump, Drag Race has taught us, is logical: you love something, you spend money on his merchandise. Because if you can't sell yourself, how the hell are you going to sell someone else?