Brooklyn's Sasha Velour joins me this week to discuss All Stars! (Photo by David Ayllon)
Chad: Sasha! You're a designer, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a magazine editor -- I'm not sure how you describe yourself and what scene you consider yourself in, but my impression is that you're on the avant garde of drag, largely active in the Brooklyn scene, is that right? How do you approach and respond to the Drag Race -- as a fanboy? As a critic? Eager to be on the show yourself? All of the above?
Sasha: I'm definitely in the weirder art-meets-horror-meets-fashion-meets-club-kid part of the drag spectrum... but one of the things I care most about is that drag keeps getting more and more varied. I think Drag Race is a wonderful show, but its focus is purposefully kind of narrow when it comes to the world of drag. And that's okay. For me, the question isn't "does Drag Race do a good job of representing the drag world?" (because it can't possibly... it's a brilliant and fun tv show) but rather "how else are we going to represent ourselves". It's our job to create new platforms to showcase different/weirder/queerer types of drag. And maybe, in response, the show will evolve, too. So my short answer is that I LOVE DRAG RACE. It's fun, it's informative, it makes the careers of so many new talents.... but we need more! Other! Different!
Chad: Cool, I think that's a really smart and productive approach to the show. It evokes such strong and varied responses in its fans, and I wanted to get a feel for your thoughts on it as a place to start off our discussion.
Sasha: Awesome! Yes! I know a lot of people who are really critical of the show... there's definitely a place for that, too :)
Chad: I'm someone who also, clearly, loves the show, even if I find myself criticizing aspects of it every week.
Sasha: I'm ultimately the same. I think we have to celebrate it for what it is, not expect it to be something different!
Chad: Regardless of my feelings about the production of the show, its diversity and representation, what keeps me drawing every episode is my unabiding love for these queens.
Sasha: I feel like one of the show's greatest strengths is that it helps us as audience members fall in love with these weirdo geniuses! I feel really attached to these queens I’ve never met!!
Chad: This week's "merchandising" challenge was pretty brilliant, and a fabulous callback to season 5's perfume challenge. I love seeing these queens' creativity at work.
Sasha: I think some of the most exciting Drag Race challenges are ones where the queens have to be creative from start to finish because we get a better sense of what they are going to be like outside of the show, how their minds work.
Chad: And truly, for a successful Drag Race queen, merchandising is FUNDAMENTAL!I think the whole point of this challenge was seeing the queens display some cunning and self awareness, figuring out how to capitalize on their image and cater to their fans. But were there any remotely marketable products, or were all the queens basically just orienting their items to make a good commercial?
Sasha: In the end, it wasn't really about the items (because none of them are REALLY marketable, aside from being gag gifts), it was about humorous videos.... and it really wasn’t surprising that Alaska, Katya, and Alyssa put together the most successful videos, because they are the three that have already successfully used videos to brand themselves as queens.
Chad: Right, you can't discount the ease and comfort that those three queens must have in front of the camera! I thought Katya's was an absurd masterpiece, and I'm so glad she completely ignored the criticism of her product in the workroom. It's gratifying to see her operating with a grounded sense of confidence this season -- she seems to be in a much healthier and less frantic place this time around!
Sasha: Katya's was my favorite, actually. I still can't get over that her product's initials read KKK though...
Chad: Oh god, I didn't even notice that!
Sasha: But I'm an anxious person and I have stress-treatment sprays in every room.... so I would fully support her Krisis Kontrol product. I wonder what it smells like?
Chad: Wait, wait, wait, are stress treatment sprays a thing????
Sasha: YES!!! Aromatherapy, darling!!!! I love lavender and sandalwood, myself.
Chad: Okay, I think my gay card has just been revoked, I don't know if I can continue this conversation. What did you think of Katya's runway look?
Sasha: I LOVED THE RUNWAY! The yellow brown and gray late soviet depression-tracksuit was all so twisted and weirdly glamorous.
Chad: I was kind of waiting for a reveal under that tracksuit, but I thought she looked stunning. At least, from the neck up.
Sasha: For me…it was innovative. I’ve never seen a drag queen do a look like that! Katya often does pretty out-there stuff with silhouettes and textiles. She’s not a classic fashion queen, but for me she’s a true original…and that’s what fashion needs to be about.
Chad: Yes, very very true.
Sasha: I agree with RuPaul. It was so wrong...it was right
Chad: What are your thoughts about Detox? I feel like she consistently comes down the runway with stunning looks, but she's typically middle-of-the-road in the challenges. I don't know what's holding her back!
Sasha: I was surprised she wasn't in the bottom on this one. The video just really didn't make a strong impression, and the product makes no sense. I LOVE Detox, and I think she has the most brilliant VISUAL eye of the bunch.
Chad: I think her fashion speaks directly to both of us -- extremely sleek, graphic, bold. She's stunning on the runway!
Sasha: The Thierry Mugler pointy red/white fashion vacation look was sooooo pleasing.
Chad: I thought her commercial was FINE, but not... exceptional. I may giving her the benefit of the doubt, though, because her trash talkin' trash receptacle bore a STRONG resemblance to one of my favorite Chicago queens, Imp Queen.
Sasha: Big PAPER eyelashes? Iconic. Chicago drag is so top notch. And there's some strong love between Brooklyn and Chicago queens, especially.
Chad: Yes, I've definitely been getting that impression! I feel like Detox excels at both the runway and in her stage performances, but she just isn't displaying the same creativity as Katya and Alaska in the challenges. I guess everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, eh?
Sasha: I kind of have the same complaint about all these commercials, though... which is that we've seen a lot of the jokes before. All these videos were REALLY self-referential. I think they are all equally guilty of that. Maybe that's the curse of "marketing".
Chad: I agree, but don't you think that a queen inevitably capitalizes on their most popular catchphrases and memorable moments when creating merch?
Sasha: I guess you're right! It's the curse of All Stars then, that we get a more "branded" contestant.
Chad: Honestly, that's part of what appealed to me about this challenge, and about this All Stars season in general -- how do you as a performer maintain a certain level of consistency and fan service without stagnating?
Sasha: Do you feel like some are doing better than others?
Chad: Well, I think Tati and Alaska are both very skilled at surprising us.
Sasha: Tatianna has been one of my favorite parts of the season because she really is giving us something new. Her drag is so different from what it was on season 2. And the show—really the whole audience of drag—has changed. I thought she has been nailing it.
Chad: I really felt like Tati was going to be a dark horse this season -- I mean, certainly, I think she came across very well on the show, but I wanted to see so much more of her!
Sasha: Everyone's jaws dropped at the bar where I was watching. We all wanted more Tati.
Chad: She's not the kind of queen I normally find myself rooting for -- exceedingly fishy and beautiful, but delightfully bitchy when called for.
Sasha: She's really smart, though... it gives her such an interesting edge.
Chad: Yes, she displays an intelligence that should serve her well outside of the show. I hope she takes advantage of her increased visibility and runs with it!
Sasha: Me too! I want to see more content from her! Videos! Spoken word album!! Bring it on! See me with them hands!
Chad: In all this discussion about branding, about expectations, and about playing the Drag Race game, we have to get around to Alaska. I think she's such an amazingly, hilariously, endlessly surprisingly contestant on this show. I think it must be profoundly difficult not only to operate within the confines of the shooting environment on this show and create anything remotely original and creative, but to create something that feels so edgy, strange, and stunning. I absolutely loved her commercial.
Sasha: She is SLAYING this competition every week. She clearly understands herself and her "brand" really really well... and that is the ticket to having success in ANYTHING, especially drag. I could tell that she was really organized and purposeful about designing her commercial--the shots, the voiceover... it was all really well planned out at a totally different level than the other girls. It was still quite simple... but just brilliantly and carefully conceived.Alaska is creative AND professional/business-minded...which is so intoxicating to watch. I was so inspired.
Chad: Yeah, I think Alaska is just wildly intelligent, creative, and focused. And she's so Thunderfucking fun to draw!!!!! Something about her weird, edgy looks pushes me in strange, strange directions.
Sasha: That makes me want to make some art of her!! Yours are always AMAZING!
Chad: Oh, thank you! I find myself using a rough, almost jagged and sparse technique when drawing her this season, more so than with any other queen! It suits her much more than the usually clean, simple style that works with the others.
Sasha: That totally fits! Alaska makes drag look really really fun and wild. That's so important. I think that's why drag queens love her so much, because it's a reminder of that passion and creativity that took us to drag in the first place.
Chad: Right, I think that's a great way of describing her appeal! Frankly, I think you bring a similar creativity and innovative edge to your performances, which is why I react so strongly to them!
Sasha: THANK YOU CHAD!!! <3<3 That really matters to me---to do something different, to be myself, to have fun. I always try to "say something" with drag... even if it's crazy or doesn't totally make sense or looks a little ugly. And I'm drawn to queens and kings with the same philosophy:)
Chad: I think it's that experimentation with the form that pushes it forward and explodes its boundaries!
Sasha: YES! DRAG REVOLUTION NOW!
Chad: What are you hoping to see the rest of this All Stars season? I think there are only a few episodes left!
Sasha: Gladiator-style combat with Ru dressed as Nero? Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming challenge? Write minimalist operas based on your life and perform them with only the help of the pit crew? Create your own religion and try to get converts on the street? Pitch and teach a 300-level seminar at UCLA on the meaning and history of drag?
Chad: HA! Yes, please, ALL OF THEM. I think next week is a makeover episode, which is always fun. I have this feeling that a lot of the drama may be over for the season, or at least, I hope so.
Sasha: That's right! We haven't had a makeover, yet!
Chad: My guess is that the principal source of tension between the queens will be the question of Rolaskatox -- will one of them be forced to send another home? I think there will be some grueling, difficult decisions to make, but it will be some delicious drama!
Sasha: That storyline wasn't the most interesting the first time we got it.
Chad: Ha! True, but now that the queens' fates are in each others hands, it's interesting to see play out.
Sasha: But it's easy to forget when you are home watching through a screen just how intense and personal these decisions are! I have to remind myself how hard it would be if I was with my Brooklyn sisters, trying to make decisions like these.
Chad: Right, these are queens that care about each other and respect each other, so despite all the exciting drama surrounding it, this structure must be excruciating.I saw Willam speculating on Twitter that, at the finale, the queens will have to pick the winner! Which would be a lovely, affirming way to end the season, wouldn't it?
Sasha: All the eliminated queens? That's kind of beautiful.
Sasha Velour is on Instagram, and she also has a shockingly beautiful website. I beg each and every one of you to watch this tour de force performance where Sasha unleashes a stunning multimedia extravaganza -- please, for the love of drag! Sasha's monthly show "NIGHTGOWNS" will be Thursday, October 13 at Bizarre Bushwick in Brooklyn! She's also currently exhibiting 6 new art pieces in a group show Coney Island Babies curated by Patti Spliff and Chris Bogia at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division (in the Manhattan LGBT Center). The second issue of VELOUR: The Drag Magazine (formerly VYM) debuts on October 21 (including a drawing by me!). (Photo by Marloes Haarmans)
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