If someone would have told me ten years ago that RuPaul’s Drag Race was set to take over social media, I probably would have questioned it. Although the show is sensational and we are living for the mainstream exposure of drag culture to the wider world, who would have thought that it would become one of the biggest shows on television?
If at this point, you’re wondering what the heck I’m on about please immediately go and binge watch the past
ten eleven seasons on Netflix (you might need NowTV for AllStars too!), don’t worry we’ll wait…
Why does this even matter, Henny?
Although you may be thinking why should you care about a programme about drag queens competing to win $100,000 (of course you’re not!) RuPaul’s Drag Race has successfully dominated the social media sphere, in particular, Instagram, spanning millions of followers across the various competitors, official channels and fan accounts and has seen more global success than any other show of its kind.
There’s plenty to learn from Mama Ru’s empire and how this has been shaped by the increasing popularity of using Instagram to grow a personal brand presence.
10s, 10s, 10s across the board
RPDR is absolutely teeming with viral moments which have been turned into everyday phrases used by fans, adorned on t-shirts and ‘memed’ in just about every language possible. From catch-phrases to facial expressions, the contestants and judges have collectively broken the internet, time and time again, with unforgettable content.
From this, fans have created online artwork, as well as t-shirts, bags and pin badges, to name a few, which have forever immortalised their favourite queens and created an online demand for branded merchandise which wouldn’t exist without the
Fan-favourites, winners and even the underdogs sell out stadiums around the world as they kick, twirl, joke, sing and meet fans, proving that anyone can be a winner even if they don’t leave with a sceptre, crown and $100k.
Proof of this is viral superstar Vaness Vanjie Mateo. Being eliminated on the first episode of season 10 was not in Vanjie’s plans but due to the way she exited the runway after being told ‘Shashay away’, she instantly became a viral sensation.
Parodies of her exit, which included repeating the words ‘Miss Vanjie’ whilst walking backwards poured out over the internet, with RuPaul himself even creating a version on the show. Memes and gifs were all the internet could talk about, through the whole season airing and beyond, and the contestant was quickly propelled to stardom, which has lead to her returning to compete in season 11.
The saying stuck around throughout the whole of season 10, not to mention dominating Instagram ever since it aired, so it’s no wonder the producers decided to bring the memorable contestant back for another season.
The numbers racked up by Drag Race clips are something many brands can only dream of achieving, but for the show, the naturally entertaining nature of the content means that producers just need to spot opportunities and edit appropriately to ensure that the audience catches the key moments. It then relies on the fandom to ‘make this viral’, which happens regularly because of the damn ‘regrammability’ of it all.
The charisma, uniqueness nerve and talent runneth over
It should come as no surprise that Logo TV ordered two spin-off series, to further increase the ‘Drag Race’ offering. Drag U aired in 2010 for three seasons, saw women paired with Drag Race alumni to get drag makeovers, whilst ‘All-Stars’, initially premiering in 2012 and with 4 seasons to date, features previous competitors who recompete to gain a spot in the hall of fame.
The show is more accessible than ever, with Netflix playing host to every episode of the main season (1-11). The show is available via the streaming platform, in 30 countries globally, and receives each new episode shortly after it airs in the US. This helps satisfy their international audience and reduces the risk of spoilers on social media.
The show’s format sees a lip-sync performance to a popular song between the two bottom ranking queens, at the end of every episode to determine who will leave and who will stay. Other networks have
Following a 2016 Emmy win for Outstanding Reality Competition Host, 2018 saw a sensational year for the show where it won an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Show Program and RuPaul won Outstanding Host for a second time, with a number of further nominations and wins for hairstyling, directing, costumes and more.
Further proof of the growing fandom includes the conception of its own annual convention; DragCon, world tours, mountains of merchandise and recording careers for a huge number of contestants.
“Facts are Facts.”
It should be well known by now that video is pretty much the most favoured medium when it comes to social media, and RuPaul’s Drag Race has truly embraced this to expand it’s reach beyond the tv and into your smartphone screens.
Not only are media and entertainment publishers uploading content and snippets from the tv show, which includes unseen footage and favourite moments. Personal accounts run by the participants, the judges and more fan accounts than you can shake a stick at, ensure that the party never stops online.
From makeup tutorials to the weekly Fashion Photo
Spilling the tea
Not only is the content highly captivating for the audiences, but it’s also helped offer a platform to individuals who want to talk about the impact of drag on their own ideas of gender and identity – key topics currently under regular discussion in society.
Notable participants include the likes of Courtney Act, who later went on to compete and win Celebrity Big Brother UK in 2018. Courtney, whose real name is Shane Janek, used her platform to discuss gender and drive more productive and understanding conversations around the topic.
Gia Gunn, Sonique and Carmen Carrera are just a few of the queens who have competed on Ru Pauls Drag Race as transgender women and who used the opportunity to educate viewers on what it means to be transgender and leading to more informed conversations around the difference between gender identity and drag.
Much like any other brand, Drag Race has had its own problems in the past (and still has some ways to go when it comes to inclusivity within the community particularly when it comes to gender identity and queens of colour) but as far as reality tv goes, it could be considered one of the most significant of its time for building more
“How is she though?”
So what did we learn? Well, Drag Race, against the odds has taken over the internet and screens to become some of the most mainstream reality LGBTQ+ programming in the world. It’s done this through being damn entertaining and making sure that the fun doesn’t stop when the cameras stop rolling.
Social media has played a huge role in this, with the contestants bolstering their visibility through their own pages and the fandom which spans across thousands of devoted fan and art pages.
The show doesn’t just have any old fanbase, the huge celebrity following has further boosted the visibility of the brand. With shout-outs and visits from some of the worlds most famous actors, influencers, writers, fashion designers and musicians – including the likes of Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Khloe Kardashian, Kathy Griffin and Dita Von Teese – to name a few. It’s no surprise that the celebrity fandom online is
The sheer amount of content on Instagram is one of the most extensive on any of the social media platforms, with the hashtag #RuPaulsDragRace covering 1.8m posts alone. #DragRace may have traditionally been associated with car racing, but now you’re more likely to find clips from previous and upcoming episodes than any kind of automobile content.
The official RuPaul’s Drag Race YouTube generated 73.1 million and Facebook a further 47.5m views over the past 12 months. In the past year, one of the most highly watched video on the official Facebook channel generated 2.8m views.
The success of the show, both in viewership and online just further proves that the audience can’t get enough of the content. The producers understand exactly what the viewership wants, they completely get their USP and Henny, they’re milking it for all it’s worth.
Also published on Medium.