Two drag queens are shown on a computer screen.
Illustration by Umi Caldwell

Virtual events could learn from drag shows

Enough of boring Instagram live streams; it is time that the entertainment industry steps it up like many drag performers have done on virtual platforms.

Live events seem further out of reach than ever as so many performers turn to virtual events as a temporary solution. However, many virtual events have become monotonous and lack the flair and energy of stage performances. On the other hand, virtual drag shows, like Biqtch Puddin’s weekly show on Twitch, a live streaming platform, have utilized the crafty drag spirit to bring creative, inventive shows to the forefront.

Demand is up for this kind of performance in light of the pandemic. According to the 2020 Music 360 Report by MRC Data, 47% of music listeners feel it is important for the industry to offer live stream performances or virtual concerts, even though only 25% of music listeners have tuned in to one of these shows. 

This is no surprise, as many music stars like Hozier, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Lizzo have all performed in their homes for free on Instagram live. These shows serve as pro bono opportunities for people who cannot afford to go to concerts to experience something more akin to live music. These in-home live streams started off as charming and quaint but quickly grew tiresome, especially when competing with drag performers on Twitch who can eat a jar of mayo, perform burlesque or become the coronavirus through the magic of makeup.

However, the prevalence of online drag during the pandemic is not a new phenomenon, as it has existed on the internet for over a decade. Drag queens like Willam, Jasmine Master and Soju have been posting YouTube videos for over 10 years. More recently, Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova have risen to YouTube stardom with their series “UNHhhh.” Twitch’s first-ever drag performer partner Deere founded The Stream Queens in 2019 as a collective for drag queens on the platform.

The embedded online drag community has served as a springboard for what virtual drag now looks like. Biqtch Puddin’ now has over 20,000 subscribers on Twitch. One of the winners of “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” season three, drag king Landon Cider, also launched his own Instagram drag show in April. He has over 160,000 followers on Instagram.

Why have these shows been so successful, excluding the fact that drag is just entertaining? Drag is always a production, even at home, because makeup, costume and sets must be considered very intentionally; thus, drag is even more demanding than a musical performance or a Shakespeare recitation live stream. The digital drag production value is high, though sometimes rough, and events are accessible because the price is a suggested donation.

Now, other performers like Billie Eilish, BTS and Rolling Loud are raising the stakes. These shows feature multiple cameras, interesting locations and high-quality audio. The only issue is that shows like this tend to charge between $10-$30, which is a huge barrier for many fans, even if the proceeds may go to charity. While that price range is affordable for a live concert, a digital concert does not warrant the same cost because the in-person experience is lost. Winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season seven Violet Chachki charged a similar price for her show “Digital Follies,” but the price tag is warranted given that the hour long show was downloadable, and that she had received little return from her tour “A Lot More Me” that had been canceled due to the pandemic.

Performers do deserve to get paid, but regular people should also have access to interesting and provocative digital content in these unprecedented circumstances without an added charge. Drag performers are proving that quality online shows with accessible pricing can still pay the bills.

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