Dragula stars Boulet Brothers on double-edged sword of drag’s popularity and defying toxic fans

Boulet Brothers

It’s safe to say the popularity of drag is at an all time high, thanks in huge part to its new mainstay status on TV screens around the world.

Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Boulet Brothers’ hit show Dragula, have helped drag as an art form reach audiences who may never otherwise have encountered or engaged with it.

Of course, with this proliferation of drag-centric TV shows and celebrity drag queens comes its own challenges. Many have argued that commercialisation has watered drag down in order to cater to the wider, and often straight, audience that enjoy these TV shows. Slang that was coined by the Black queer community in New York City’s ballroom scene now sits uncomfortably in the captions of Instagrams posted by straight, white women in the suburbs of Ohio to Calgary, Norwich to Cork.

Queer people are forced to join queues around the block to enter gay clubs and other safe spaces, standing behind their straight peers who have got there early in order to catch a glimpse of Aquaria, Adore, Jade Jolie or whoever else might be in town on tour that night.

PinkNews caught up with The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula hosts, ahead of their upcoming tour around the UK, to reflect on how the rising popularity of drag has changed the scene and for them, it seems, this peaking interest in the art form is something of a double-edged sword.

“Well, I think that anytime you put something on TV you want to make it as broadly appealing as possible, right?” posited one half of the famous duo Dracmorda Boulet.

“So I think sometimes when you take a medium of art and you turn it into a reality TV show, a lot of things get watered down. It has to become very mainstream so a lot of things that maybe you would assume the general public wouldn’t understand, get cut out of it.

“What you’re left with is a very generic white-washed version of that art form. And so I think, in some ways, that drag being televised the way it has is great for queer people because it’s exposure. But then the other side of that is, you now, having a definition of drag that doesn’t really fit what the actual definition of drag is.

“For example, there has always been trans drag artists, drag kings, non-binary performers and everything. If you look back through the history of drag, you’ll see that, and even us coming from the live event space, that’s been our experience. I think maybe when drag was starting to be televised, the idea that people wouldn’t understand what a drag king is, or these sorts of things, made them say, ‘OK, well, people understand guys in dresses, so let’s just do that,’” they continued.

“But what that caused was this new rulebook to be formed, that sort of limits what drag is. So I think that would be the drawback of it.”

As for their new, broader audience, Dracmorda’s counterpart Swanthula Boulet says they are more than welcoming to wider, diverse crowds at their shows – just don’t expect them to change what they do to suit straight appetites. “If audience members are straight or identify outside of the queer community, I’m OK with sharing that space. I think the more the merrier.

“What we’re not OK with is pandering to those audiences and changing the art to suit them. In fact, we like to lean the other way, and be like, ‘Well, you need to be reminded that you’re sort of guests here, and this is a queer art form.’ So to lean into that queerness and be shocking, and be filthy and fabulous.

“Put that in front of people, make them a little uncomfortable – that’s when things get really interesting.”

There is one major benefit to drag’s ever growing audience that Dracmorda took note to point out however: “With hook-up apps and everything coming out the gay club, in a lot of ways [the gay club] was starting to die. People didn’t need to go out to a club to meet people to hook up anymore. I almost feel like dragging these audiences in is sort of giving these places a boost again, and these places are becoming more queer as opposed to gay.

“These gay hook-up places are now becoming more like queer spaces where everybody comes together, so in a way it’s welcome.”

As for what audiences can expect from the Boulet Brothers’ own upcoming shows, the Brothers advised attendees to be prepared for all the usual debauchery we’ve come to expect from the pair – and maybe wear a raincoat if you’re sitting in the front row.

“You can expect a little bit of filth, and a lot of glamour and a little bit of shock. And maybe to get covered in blood a little bit. It’s gonna be a little messy,” Dracmorda warned.

One thing the Boulet Brothers hope to exclude from venues they’re playing at, and indeed from their audiences who enjoy The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula at home, is any hint of the sort of toxic fandom that has become prevalent in drag audiences.

“It really changed this season,” Swanthula noted. “We learned a little bit about that from really season two, when the show started to kind of break out. And we’re like, ‘OK, this sword is double-edged.’ You have all this love and accolades and celebrating what we’re doing. But then there’s the backlash when you say the wrong thing or your opinion doesn’t necessarily match the audience’s.

“I think it’s just a testament to how much bigger the show is getting, there was tons of that toxicity, and it was really a kind of an ugliness that I wish would go would go away frankly.”

On this point, Dracmorda took the opportunity to highlight that often the extreme criticism faced by stars of drag TV shows is unfairly weighted towards performers of colour. “I want to speak more specifically to the racist nature of it because as much as everybody got hate, it was our people of colour, I think, that got the most hate.

“If a white competitor got snappy, that’s one thing. If someone with brown skin gets snappy, they get a completely different reaction and it’s just really unforgivable. It’s a side of the fandom that I think needs to change desperately.”

In addition to the upcoming season four UK tour, which will see the Boulet Brothers on the road with the top three “monsters” of Dragula’s fourth season, the duo also teased a number of TV projects centred around the The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula brand, new music in the form of a second EP, as well as the continuation of their popular Creatures of the Night podcast.

The official The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula tour kicks off on Sunday, 13 March, in London’s Clapham Grand before travelling to 11 venues around the UK in cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds, Nottingham and Birmingham.

Tickets are available now via SeeTickets.com.

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