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From the Shadows to the Spotlight: RuPaul and the Reinvention of Drag

Published on March 23, 2021, at 3:54 p.m.  
by Maggie Palmer.

Drag is a gender-bending performance art in which extravagant clothing and makeup are used to portray a particular identity, most commonly one of the opposite sex. It’s a celebration of fashion, artistry and, perhaps most importantly, self.

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If you’re familiar with drag at all, you’ve probably heard of RuPaul Charles.

Charles is regarded as the most commercially successful drag queen of all time. His career began in New York City in the early 1990s, where he was known for his eccentric and energetic performances. After he signed a record deal and released his hit single “Supermodel,”, his campy and charismatic brand took the world by storm. And Charles hasn’t slowed down since.

Now, with 12 studio albums, three books, a long-running television show and dozens of awards under his belt, the development of Charles’ personal brand is credited for propelling the art of drag from the shadows to the spotlight.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” played a massive role in changing the narrative. The show premiered in 2009 with Charles as its primary judge and mentor. Each season follows a new group of drag queens battling for the crown in challenges encompassing everything from celebrity impersonations to dramatic lip-syncs. The show first aired in the United States, but spin-offs have since been produced in the United Kingdom, Canada, Thailand, Australia and Spain.

However, before the premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Charles’ widespread popularity, drag wasn’t celebrated. In fact, it was largely despised, as its association with the LGBTQ community gave it a subversive reputation. It wasn’t until Charles found success with his drag-centric brand that the art form was cemented in contemporary culture.

Photo by Chalo Garcia on Unsplash

And Charles isn’t the only one who has benefitted from his brand’s popularity; “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has helped up-and-coming drag queens perfect their own personas. Contestants on the show are practically guaranteed to amass a large social media following after competing, and many have even gone on to create their own podcasts, studio albums and makeup brands.

Through the wild success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Charles’ personal brand, drag has become a cultural phenomenon and a beloved art form that is celebrated worldwide. In the words of Charles himself, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”

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