Soju Talks Diversity in K-Pop, Why She Didn't Recognize Miley Cyrus & More After 'Drag Race' Exit

Courtesy of VH1


On Thursday night, RuPaul’s Drag Race kicked off their 11th season. Fourteen new queens (and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo) sashayed into the Werk Room, posed with Drag Race alumni, met a disguised Miley Cyrus and crafted brand-new outfits out of the scraps left by queens past.

But at the end of the night, someone had to go home. Despite her sweet-but-stomach-curling story of a popped cyst, Chicago queen Soju was eliminated after failing to impress the judges in a lip sync against Kahanna Montrese to Hannah Montana’s “The Best of Both Worlds.”

Soju chatted with Billboard the day after her elimination about becoming an instant meme, her love for K-pop, and why she wasn’t able to recognize Miley Cyrus in the Werk Room.

How are you feeling after watching the episode last night?

Honestly, I cried a lot. I thought that I would be ready to see myself go home, but when it's happening, you're hit back with all of that emotion from the day. To see everybody's reactions afterword is what really took me back. Seeing everyone give me so much support and love, I was like, "Damn, I was not expecting that." I thought everyone would be laughing at me. So it truly was a great moment for me

Plus, it helps that when you woke up this morning, you were a meme, thanks to your cyst. That is a major accomplishment in and of itself.

[Laughs] Well, you know I'm the social media queen, so the more memes that come, the stronger I become. You know I've got all of these medical conditions, so I've got to get really strong. Give me more memes, please keep feeding me.

You and Vanjie have successfully established a new tradition, where the first queen to go home each season must become a meme. "Miss Vanjie" and the cyst are the memes to beat, now.

[Laughs] Yeah, it's really funny that it happened like that, because you just never know what is going to be a meme. At the time, I wasn't like, "Okay, well it's the time to tell the whole world about my cyst." Like, who would have thought that was going to be a thing? But like, it's weird how that happened. That's more pressure on the first home next season, girl. Whoever leaves first better pull out some kind of trick.

Well you certainly made an impression. In the edit, Ariel Versace seemed fixated on the fact that you were "not an entertainer." Is that a difficult thing for you to hear, as someone who came up on YouTube?

It's not because I keep hearing it, and I have heard it my whole career. It's something that I have to prove constantly. What people don't realize about the drag culture is while Ariel and Plastique might be younger than me, they have been in this game for way longer than me. It's kind of like taekwondo, or like martial arts, where you have to earn respect from people. I understand that I have only been doing this for a few years, and I have to work harder to be a part of this group of amazing queens. You can see in the edit that I wasn't really phased by that comment.

See, I don't think it's fair to say that being a YouTube creator isn't performing. It absolutely is, and I feel like you have shown that through Shot with Soju.

Sometimes it's harder because you are essentially performing for somebody that's not there! You are just talking to a camera, but at the same time, you have think about all of these millions of people who are going to watch this video. It is a performance, and you are an entertainer, just like any other drag queen. It also doesn't mean I'm not traveling the world performing, because I am doing that. People are just so stuck in my YouTube career, that they think that's the only thing I do.

Now along with all of these cyst memes, there have been a number of people saying that Miley Cyrus' crew member disguise wasn't very convincing, and that more queens should have noticed her. Would you agree with that statement?

When I tell you that there are thousands of things going on in that Werk Room, that's no joke. There's like 15 cameras, there's crew, there's producers walking around, there's other queens. So Miley could have ditched the disguise, and we would not have payed attention. All we were focused on doing was getting in drag, because they only give us maybe an hour to get ready. Nobody knew she was there until Silky started screaming again [laughs]. Even when she was shouting, I still didn't know what was happening until she literally introduced herself. I fully think, even when people were talking to Miley, Plastique Tiara was still just so focused on her look that she hardly noticed.

I'm not sure if you saw, but Billboard has Blackpink on our cover this week. As someone who is a self-proclaimed K-pop stan and artist, what do you think it is about the genre that has helped it become such a phenomenon in America?

Globalization, I think that's what's really helping. The K-pop industry is starting to realize that they have to kind of change their ways and change their marketing tactics if they truly want to be successful. Before, they wanted to bring what worked in Korea to America, and make it work there. I think that's where they made a lot of mistakes. With this new global market, I think they are starting to do a little more collaboration; I know Blackpink worked with Dua Lipa, a lot of the K-pop groups are even working with people like Rihanna. With that, people are starting to respect K-pop and take it seriously for what it is.

As much as K-pop is fun and stuff, it just lacks some of that diversity when it comes to different kinds of artists. I think that's why it's so important for me to do what I do, because even though I'm not backed up by YG or JYP, like Blackpink and Twice and BTS, I'm doing my own thing and calling it K-pop, because K-pop needs to have diversity. People will get tired if they don't feel represented in the industry. We want to bring more foreigners, we want to see queer people in K-pop. It's slowly changing — the industry is very conservative and very old school, so it will take a while for them to change. But it's happening.

That's why I think someone like Holland is so exciting, because he is actually bringing that different perspective to the genre.

Yes, I adore Holland. Totally. He is so important to the genre right now. We have a few mutual friends, and we're kind of friends. He's a great guy.

Do you have a favorite artist in K-pop right now?

Right now? I'm really in love with Blackpink. They are so fierce, and they're not only pretty, but they're this awesome, strong, feminine group. I love any kind of girls that are pretty, but are also badass. That's why I love movies like Kill Bill and Sin City.