“RuPaul’s Drag Race has to be one of the most meme-d television shows I have ever watched”
A very millennial, yet real statement I uttered to my friend after being approved into RuPaul’s Drag Race Fan Group. The closed Facebook group has over 74,000 fans, posting and sharing memes and other user-generated content hourly. This group of loyal and creative fans instantly ‘meme-ify’ hour-long episodes each week. But before I dive further into its meme culture, let me welcome you into the wonderful world of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a world-wide hit, reality competition series created, produced and hosted by famous drag queen, RuPaul Charles. Each episode, contestants (or ‘queens’) compete in challenges from acting, comedy and fashion design. At the end of each episode, the queens walk the runway in an outfit inspired by the set theme for that episode. I like to think of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a cross between America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway.
RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered in 2009 on LGBT+ cable channel, Logo TV. As of 2018, the series is in its tenth season, reaching close to one million viewers (thanks to Lady Gaga’s cameo) and has four Emmys under its belt. The series prides itself on pushing the boundaries of pop culture on an international level, while making history being the first reality television show to feature drag queens.
Drag Race Meme Culture
Memes have been described as an artform, an accurate representation of popular media and “nuggets of cultural currency” central to the internet’s creative culture. Boston University’s Jackie Rocheleau refers to memes as a new comedic art form, deeply entrenched in millennial circles. The ‘memeification’ of RuPaul’s Drag Race is prevalent on many social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Here are a few of my favourite memes (or art) from previous seasons.
These memes are generated by fans weekly, almost instantly after each weeks episode has aired. RuPaul’s Drag Race memes consist of references from each episode, including funny one-liners, facial expressions, fights and runway looks. In a recent podcast interview, current Drag Race producer and writer, John Polly was asked how the show copes with the instant ‘meme-ification’ of episodes. Polly explains that memes come from moments they don’t expect.
“It’s amazing, it’s usually nothing you ever expect, the moments! It’s usually nothing we do, it’s the queens…being themselves, they make a comment and BOOM”
However, in the recent season, the series producers seem to be self-aware of the instant memefication and have begun to capitalise on the meme culture. Let’s take a look at Miss Vanjie.
Meme explained: Miss Vanjie
“Miss Vanjiiiiiie… Miss Vanjiiiiie… Miss Vanjiiiiie”
These were the last words of Season 10 Drag Race contestant, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo. Mateo was the first eliminated contestant, after losing a ‘lip sync battle’ to Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams. After RuPaul announced Karbdashian-Williams as the winner, (shantay, you stay) Mateo proceeded to slowly back away yelling “Miss Vanjie” three times until she left the stage. Since this episode aired in March, Miss Vanjie memes are EVERYWHERE.
Memes began to circulate all social media sites and media outlets began to feature articles with the best of Miss Vanjie memes.
In a recent interview with Billboard, Vanjie Mateo gave us meaning behind her now iconic exit. She explained that her exit wasn’t planned, she said “Fuck it. Might as well have these bitches remember me.” Vanjie Mateo also stated that she didn’t anticipate her exit “blowing up like it did.” However, I have a feeling the producers and contestants had some anticipation.
The episode following Vanjie Mateo’s exit seemed to be re-edited by the producers to incorporate a blooper of host and RuPaul and Michelle Visage. Every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race is produced and edited in a similar way, tight and polished. However, after the “blow up” of Miss Vanjie memes, a flashback clip seemed to be edited into the episode. The clip of RuPaul and Michelle Visage felt as though it was nod to the audience, they were acknowledging the meme.
Following the memeified and iconic fight of Valentina and Aja in Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I also wouldn’t be surprised if contestants (while filming) are now self aware of moments that may become popular online.
After the exit of Vanjie Mateo every episode of Season 10 (so far) has included a contestant saying the words “Miss Vanjie.” Which has further fuelled memes and discussions online.
With both the contestants and producers embracing and capitalising the memes and their memefied moments, RuPaul’s Drag Race is successfully creating a relationship with their audiences. As well as maintaining a loyal audience through this form of user-generated content.
The series has 100,000 fans and I asking…