RuPaul’s Drag Race first appeared on television on Feb. 2, 2009, with its premiere on Logo TV. Since then, its influence has reached far and wide across the globe, bringing drag culture to mainstream media and giving viewers a first-hand look at the world of female impersonation. Now approaching its tenth season (after having moved from Logo to VH1 in 2017), the show centers around 12-14 queens who compete for the title of the next Drag Race “Superstar.” These queens are put to the test by facing challenges every week, which include singing, fashion design, comedy, dancing and more. Yet the show is not only known for its fabulously talented contestants — it’s also become popular for its dramatic twists and turns, culturally significant vocabulary and catchphrases, inspiring stories and educational lessons on drag culture. So, without further ado, here are the top five things RuPaul’s Drag Race has taught me.
1.) Reading is Fundamental!
If you’ve ever watched RPDR, you know that the contestants, judges, and even RuPaul himself all take great joy in “reading” one other. Reading occurs when queens talk shade toward each other, but in a way that’s subtle and almost undetectable. It’s pretty much like the drag form of “roasting,” but in a much more graceful manner. Reading is fundamental in that it helps queens improve their drag (so as not to be read too often), and is often in good fun.
2.) Expect the Unexpected
Each season, RuPaul ups the ante by adding new, dramatic twists that always leave viewers (and contestants) reeling. Some of these twists include bringing back old contestants, sending two queens home in one elimination, changing the rules of elimination, adding conditions to challenges to make them more difficult, etc. As a viewer, you can never be too sure what to expect. And even if you think you know what’s going to happen, you’re most likely wrong.
3.) Drag and Transgenderism
There seems to be a common misconception about drag queens, regarding their identity as a man/woman and the use of drag as an expression of gender. While it’s true that many drag queens are also transgender, and that it was transgender women of color who first developed drag as a form of artistic expression, the two aren’t necessarily synonymous. However, on RPDR there have been several transgender contestants who were brave enough to tell their story, including Trinity K. Bonet from season 6 and Peppermint from season 10.
4.) Drag Lingo
Many popular slang terms and catchphrases have come from drag queens, becoming mainstream and expanding beyond the boundaries of drag culture. This just goes to show how influential drag culture can be. Here are just a few phrases used in and out of drag culture:
Throw shade – (verb) to insult: “Did she just throw shade at me?
Tea – (noun) gossip: “Girl you look like you just heard something real juicy. Spill the tea!”
Beat – (verb) to apply makeup; (adj.) flawless makeup: “She still has to put on her wig and beat her face”…“Girl you look gorgeous! That face is beat!”
Serve – (verb) to deliver greatly: “She served during the challenge this week!”
Sickening – (adj.) beyond amazing; incredible:
“Her dress looks sickening from head to toe.”
Realness – (noun) to imitate something very well, almost to the point where others can’t tell it’s imitation: “She is serving old Hollywood realness!”
Clock – (verb) to point out someone’s flaw(s): “I got clocked for wearing too many accessories with this outfit.”
5.) Drag is Hard Work.
People who aren’t familiar with drag culture might assume that it can’t be that difficult to do. Yet if there’s one thing that RPDR teaches viewers above all, it’s that drag can be very, very difficult to pull off successfully. From the high heels, to the tucking, to the elaborate fashion and makeup choices, to the entertainment — drag queens undergo very extensive transformations that can take hours. All so they can perform for us lucky fans!