Part 2: The Impact of the YouTube Parody
In this 3-part series, A. Loudermilk writes about the drag queen YouTube videos that are as transgressive as they are outrageous.
The second part looks at the limits to which the DIY YouTube drag queens push parody, and the often-uncomfortable power of satire.
Part 1 looked at how the origins of the drag queen video in the days before YouTube, and ended with the new generation, such as Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat and William.
Parody becomes the gambit of choice for many queens in the 2000s, not surprising if one considers drag itself a parody of the hussy or bitch. Glamorous or lowbrow, it’s a stereotype emphasizing cooter couture a/k/a pussy power. This stereotype finds equally exaggerated company in several drag music videos, none of which shock the senses quite like those by Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat and Willam.
Revered as the Wigstock founder, Lady Bunny is known for her audaciously cartoon voice, Technicolor fashion sense, and wigs too big to fit in a taxi. Her ‘West Virginia Gurls’ parodies Kate Perry’s ‘California Gurls’, while ‘Like a Cheese Stick’ totally perverts ‘Like a G6’ by Far East Movement.
Lady Bunny’s accompanying videos are brimming with hokey humor (“search all over the wor-orld but you’ll never find as many recipes for squirrel”) and body fluids (shit, puke, semen, smegma and its related tears, and even yeast). It’s so beyond offensive it’s inspired. Lady Bunny’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’ parody, titled ‘The Ballad of Sarah Palin,’ is not nearly as remarkable, as the social commentary is too plainly laid out, telling us what we already know. Hopefully Bunny will try again at political parody—without sparing us all that nasty glop.
Jackie Beat is another formidable broad. Her ‘Don’t Tell Me You’re Gay’ version of the Thelma Houston classic ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ is dedicated to all those straight girls out there trying to land a man at a Jackie Beat show.
“You stole my favorite scarf,” Jackie sings: “My vagina makes you barf.”
The video’s split-screen is a perfect way to show off Jackie’s artfully varied looks as well as some stereotype-driven visual gags. Her ‘Beaver’ takes on the standard ‘Fever’ and shows a classier side of the Beat. It’s parody in its lyrics, yet Peggy Lee homage in its black & white video. Also a singer for the electroclash band Dirty Sanchez, Beat moves beyond the confines of parody to work persona like a butch Annie Lennox. Skip over their temptingly titled ‘Give Head’ video and look for the mystifying ‘Really Rich Italian Satanists’.
As for Beat’s fellow parody queens, Hedda Lettuce and Sherry Vine (who are obsessed with Lady Gaga), they may be less versatile in their drag but they’re consistently good at it. Hedda, a/k/a The Queen of Green because she always wears green gowns and wigs, parodies Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ as ‘Botox Face’. And ‘Telephone’ becomes a mock ad for ‘Memory Foam’ mattresses that begins with drag-on-drag cunnilingus.
As for blonde vixen Sherry, she does ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Americano’ as ‘Shit My Pants’ and ‘Hung Latino’ respectively. In ‘Born This Way’ she twists the sacred title into choruses like “It is worn this way” and “I’m a whore for pay,” leading to this passage:
Most of the comments made on my YouTube page,
were the same questions, baby: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
False lashes on my eyes, foundation piled high,
I’m a drag queen baby—wasn’t born with these curls.
When I can’t afford something, girl, I just steal that bling.
I like to shoplift baby. I get more this way.
Semi-epic, with grotesque characters, the video reeks of a DIY spirit that’s two parts hell or high water and one part que sera sera.
Of all the drag queens making parody videos, the tightest of them all—so to speak—is Willam. As a singer with a live band and her own label, as well as an actor with ten years experience on TV (Nip/Tuck) and in film (Ticked Off Trannies with Knives), Willam may be most famous for not winning season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Bringing a svelte, telegenic kind of professionalism to her music videos, her version of the Wilson Phillips #1 hit ‘Hold On’ does not parody the song but instead jabs at the anti-gay fast food chain Chick-fil-A. “We just want a little meat without your Bible,” Willam sings, with the video receiving over a million hits so far.
Though her most recent release ‘Love You Like a Long Schlong’ is a bit floppy, her ‘Vagina Song’ from 2010 rivals ‘Chow Down’ as satire. Taking on the drag queen fantasy of female genitalia, which may well be Willam’s own fantasy, the video features Willam hoarding Tampax and longing for a pristine new hymen as if it were physically possible. “So turn my dick into a slip’n’slide,” she sings poolside in a leopard-print swimsuit, altering Travie McCoy’s opening line “I want to be a billionaire so fucking bad” by pointing at her crotch and announcing: “I want a real vagina there so frickin’ bad.”
It may seem like male exploitation of the bio-female body, but these queens are following the cue of countless bio-females altering every part of their bodies. In a ‘conspicuous consumer’ way, the bio-female fantasy of being the ideal woman has clearly overlapped with the drag queen fantasy of being the ideal woman.
Hedda Lettuce’s ‘Botox Face’ video makes fun of the idea that one could put sex reassignment in the same basket as cosmetic surgery. Similarly Willam’s “Vagina Song” video juxtaposes lyrics about getting a new vagina with images of Willam shopping for new panties, etc., on a Segway in Beverly Hills.
Pandora Boxx, in her “Cooter” video, is most blatant, seeming to make fun of herself for thinking a real cooter—especially one knocked down in price to $19.99—could give her power over men.
Willam’s drag peers from RuPaul’s Drag Race—Pandora Boxx, Bebe Zahara Benet, Sahara Davenport, Manila Luzon, Raja, and Sharon Needles—have all released music videos, apprenticed on the show itself. A recurring ‘challenge’ for the Drag Race queens is to participate in an original video for one of RuPaul’s new iTunes tunes, like ‘Glamazon’.
Despite the obvious fun they’re all having making their own original videos, Sharon Needles in her 2012 debut ‘Whore’ shows the most promise as a ho-made video star. Goth smut in high heels, she’ll “take a poop on your new Armani suit.”
Read Part 1, ‘Divine Origins’, which looks at the Drag Queen videos & films made in the years preceding YouTube.
Read Part 3, ‘The Original Singers, the Original Songs, and the Future of YouTube Drag’, which looks at the drag queens who sing their own original songs, as well as the future of the DIY YouTube video.