While there’s a lot of work yet to be done in terms of LGBTQ rights, it’s exciting that drag is one of the cultural touchstones that’s crushing barriers and pushing queer visibility into the mainstream.
This year alone, drag queens were embraced on national stages like the Emmys and Saturday Night Live; featured in a summer blockbuster alongside Scarlett Johansson; plastered on the side of Coca-Cola cans; and profiled by GQ, a traditionally heterosexual men’s magazine. The aforementioned feature, about fan favorite Trixie Mattel, summed up the phenomenon: “...drag isn’t just a niche curiosity. It’s entertainment for everyone.”
As drag continues to make a safe place for people to let loose their inner glamazon, there’s more room for it in popular culture than ever, as gender becomes a thing of the past. Where drag only used to live underground, it’s moving into the light, a style of performance that’s starting to be acknowledged simply for what it is: absolutely fabulous.
Here are 17 ways drag infiltrated pop culture in 2017. We’re looking forward to seeing what obstacles it destroys next.
Mother Monster Arrives
Lady Gaga made one of the most classic workroom entrances ever on season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race when she entered the room in full regalia, much to the confusion of a few queens who thought she was just another celebrity impersonator. Indeed, it was Mother Monster herself -- a big fan of the show -- who kicked off the ninth season as a judge, and gave the girls insightful feedback on the Gaga-inspired runway looks they served that episode. Nearly one million people paid attention, making it Drag Race’s most watched episode ever.
A week after her win on season nine finale of Drag Race, Sasha Velour tweeted that there was a 650 percent bump in Spotify streams of Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” -- a song she memorably lip synced to in the June 23 finale. The Houston classic wasn't the only track that saw an impressive streaming bump though; after Farrah Moan and Alexis Michelle battled it out to Dolly Parton’s “Baby I’m Burning,” the song saw a combined 2,114 percent increase across streaming services. Tracks by Ariana Grande, CeCe Peniston and RuPaul herself also saw notable boosts after performances on the show.
Ru-ling the Airwaves
RuPaul has always been busy, but this year he popped up across myriad networks, from his delightful Emmys skit, in which he starred as the famed statuette alongside Stephen Colbert, to a tough maître d' at a Manhattan “restauranterie” on Broad City and even Sophia’s neighbor on Girlboss. Not to mention in John Oliver’s idea on Last Week Tonight to have RuPaul run for president in 2020 and “Make America Fierce Again” (start at 20:10) below, or Mark Kanemura’s ferocious choreography to Ru’s “Call Me Mother” on So You Think You Can Dance.
Oh, and let’s definitely not forget those eight Emmy nominations for Drag Race, including Ru’s second win for outstanding host of a variety, nonfiction or reality program.”
Swish, Swish, Bish
Katy Perry performed her song “Swish, Swish” on Saturday Night Live with a coterie of drag queens and club kids like Brenda Dharling, Yuhua Hamasaki, Indya Xtravaganza, and Drag Race alum Vivacious. Dharling told Billboard that performers were invited to audition, but once they got the gig they still didn’t know it was for Katy Perry. The result is a Soul Train-like line experience where each queen or club kid (or even Instagram star) got their chance to shine.
Trixie and Katya Head to Viceland
The wacky Drag Race alums became mega fan-favorites not just on their season, but with their World of Wonder YouTube show “UNHhhh.” Fans weren’t the only ones who went for their wild, improvised conversations, however: cable network Viceland loved it too, and the two were given their very own half-hour show, The Trixie and Katya Show, which premiered in November. How many other drag queens in herstory have had their own major cable TV shows? Well, there’s RuPaul and... now there’s Katya and Trixie.
Madonna, Got Milk?
Ever the chameleon, Madonna has been so much more than just a pop singer in her years on this planet: she’s also been a children’s book author, a director and, now, the doyenne of her own skincare line. To promote the line, called MNDA SKIN, she chose none other than Drag Race season six contestant Milk, who appears in the brand’s campaign video both in and out of drag. Fun fact: he got to try on her legendary Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra for the shoot but, he jokes on Instagram, it didn’t fit.
SNL Has a Fierce Tuck
When Chris Pine hosted Saturday Night Live in May, he and a few of the show’s cast members played burly mechanics who we learn are actually big fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race. They’re especially fond of season nine’s Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor, who they mention by name and by how “you tape your hot dog down between your two buns so you have that flat crotch illusion.”
Trinity herself had no idea it was going to happen. “I thought that they had maybe just said my name with the rest of the girls,” she told Billboard, “but then I watched the skit and saw that they said my name several times and it made my whole week.”
Bob the Drag Queen Has a Rough Night
Summer bachelorette party-gone-wrong flick Rough Night -- starring Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, and Jillian Bell -- features an appearance by Bob the Drag Queen. Spinning Khia’s classic “My Neck, My Back,” as a club DJ, he invites all the characters on stage to re-enact a dance they did their freshman year of college. Though this was Bob’s first major film appearance, he also had his comedy special, Suspiciously Large Woman, debut this year, and starred alongside Detox, Tempest DuJour, and Misty Violet in the film Cherry Pop, now available on Netflix.
Pabllo Vittar Makes Coca-Cola Cool Again
Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar had a successful collaboration with Major Lazer and Brazilian pop sensation Anitta this year with the song “Sua Cara,” as well as the song “Todo Dia” with Rico Dalasam, after it was chosen as the song of the country’s famed Carnival. Pabllo was also chosen by Coca-Cola to be the face of the brand’s latest campaign. Despite conservative backlash, Vittar says she is handling it by counteracting their hate with positivity. “Now it’s important for me to focus on what’s good, like my work, my fans -- because that’s what brings me peace and happiness,” she told Billboard.
RuPaul’s DragCon Takes NYC
After great success in LA, RuPaul’s DragCon had a sister event in New York City. It was the first DragCon on the east coast, and the event drew over 35,000 attendees. It totally sold out. Publications like Vogue, Paper and countless others covered the weekend-long event. Billboard's own Patrick Crowley moderated a panel at which Ginger Minj had a surprise wedding officiated by Michelle Visage; at another, judges Visage, Carson Kressley, and Todrick Hall spilled the T; and RuPaul gave a benediction opening the event, reminding visitors that drag is hope for the future.
Trixie Mattel Goes Country
We knew Trixie Mattel was funny, sure, but with the release of her 2017 folk album Two Birds, we came to know her as a full-fledged country singer as well. Mattel has actually been a musician longer than she’s been a drag queen. With Two Birds, she imagines Trixie’s life as a performer trying to have a relationship on the road, thinking about the experiences as a real person might see them. The album hit No. 1 on the iTunes singer-songwriter chart and peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Americana-Folk chart. She also released Handmade Christmas, a three-track album of holiday tunes featuring “All I Want for Christmas is Nudes,” a hilarious parody of the Mariah Carey classic.
Peppermint Speaks Up
Peppermint made herstory as the first contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race to be openly trans before her season aired. She has since become a powerful trans advocate and appeared at Pride events all over the country, and alongside Sia and The Chainsmokers in a response video to the proposed ban on transgender solders in the military.
“It feels fantastic to have a platform to be able to bring that into light and let people know that we’re here now, will always be here, and we have always been here,” she said of black trans womanhood to Logo earlier this year. Peppermint was also interviewed by Janet Mock for Allure about the role drag has played in her life as a trans woman. Peppermint’s life will soon be the subject of a documentary, Project Peppermint, which surpassed its financing goals this year and will be released in 2018.
Phi Phi O’Hara Does Good
After the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Phi Phi O’Hara, whose husband is Puerto Rican, used her fame for good by assembling a benefit concert for Puerto Rico. All funds went to Somos Una Voz, the relief initiative created by Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. The show featured prominent Puerto Rican queens like Cynthia Lee Fontaine, Yara Sofia, and Kandy Ho alongside Drag Race winners like Chad Michaels and BeBe Zahara Benet, and countless other fan favorites.
“It doesn't take money to show compassion and empathy for people who are struggling in Puerto Rico,” O’Hara told Billboard. “What it does take is a leader to help rebuild and show the people of Puerto Rico that they matter, and [that when] we as humans, no matter race, sex, gender, religious background, see someone struggle, you put out a hand to lift them up.”
Little Mix Gets Power from the AAA Girls
Alaska, Willam, and Courtney Act became beloved as the “American Apparel Ad” Girls in their hilarious parody of Capital Cities’ “Farrah Fawcett Hair” in 2014. This year, they appeared together once again in British girl group Little Mix’s video for “Power.” In it, the three dance and laugh in bright colors and high heels outside of a club with singer (and Drag Race megafan) Jade Thirlwall.
Drag Sells Out
But like, in a good way. After Biblegirl, the queen behind DragQueenMerch.com, made a deal with mall-rat staple Hot Topic, select shirts from the site -- featuring Laganja Estranja, Trixie Mattel, Thorgy Thor, Lucy Stoole, and more -- were sold in select U.S. stores. The initial run sold out so quickly, however, that Hot Topic ended up selling shirts from DragQueenMerch in all their stores in the U.S. and Canada. Don’t worry, though -- you can still get all the shirts you want and need on the site. DragQueenMerch is also a sponsor of The Boulet Brothers’ alt-drag reality show competition Dragula, now in its second season.
Violet Chachki Goes Full Pin-Up
Known now for her Bettie Page and burlesque-inspired aesthetic, Violet Chachki put her look to work in the newest campaign from brand Bettie Page Lingerie by Playful Promises. In doing so, she became the first ever drag queen to be the face of a lingerie campaign. “I’m very happy to work for a company that values being inclusive and glamorous at the same time!” she wrote on Instagram.
Alaska Gets Scared Famous
Taking up residence at a possibly haunted mansion in Savannah, Georgia, Alaska joined the cast of Scared Famous on VH1 -- which also included Tiffany “New York” Pollard and Eva Marcille of America’s Next Top Model -- to see who could endure the most horrifying, frightening challenges, in the hopes of donating $100,000 to their favorite charity. If she wins, her charity of choice is the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which currently has the world’s most programs for the LGBTQ community. Let’s hope those years of dating Sharon Needles work in her favor here.