Lig-walk ganern! “Drag Den” is back and better than ever. The second season of the drag reality competition for and by Filipinos had a two-part premiere on Jan. 18 and it’s already garnering rave reviews from the likes of Vice Ganda.
And with a new den comes new rules, ones that made for a more polished show that had us beaming with pride.
Manila Luzon brings the drag cartel to a new psychedelic, cyberpunk den designed after 2052 Tondo. It isn’t just more visually stimulating than its predecessor, it’s also a better reflection of Filipino culture and humor.
To enter the actual “den” you have to enter The Alley adorned with plastic banderitas and neon signs like one for a boxing gym sign. Then, you go through a secret vendo door to enter The Arcade where the queens create their looks. There’s also a confessional area where much of the drama gets stirred.
The moving stage with its periaktoi (which is a revolving door for stage design) adds so much drama and movement to the runway. The judges area also houses a new, more industrial looking throne for Manila Luzon.
As for the format, big changes made way for a better showcase of the queens’ talent. The competition is fiercer than before with one queen getting eliminated per episode. But now, the queens are given more time to prep their looks and presentation.
The dragdagulan is also more clearly set up as a baranggayan showdown. The queens seem more prepared, giving lip sync performances to a great selection of songs as opposed to last season’s chaotic wrecking ball swinging. But instead of lip syncing for their life, the “Drag Den” queens performing aren’t necessarily the bottom queens of the week. Their names are randomly picked from a fish bowl as they fight for an immunity card. Last week’s back-to-back episodes had the queens performing to Gloc-9’s “Sumayaw Ka” and “Morena” by Roxanne Barcelo.
The theme wear and main drag showdowns were also a step up. The first episode titled “Kalyeah Culture” had the queens strutting in street-style ternos. One of the standout looks is Mrs. Tan’s Harajuku-inspired cyberpunk ensemble composed of a custom Happy Andrada headpiece and skirt, a Dino Bancoro terno top, and shoes from Aries Night. We also loved Deja’s Vivienne Westwood-inspired look with a top by Julienne Paran and a bottom by her lola both made from Cordillera woven textile. Maria Lava’s Jann Bungcaras Filipiana shedding light on the murder of Kian delos Santos was simple but very memorable.
The theme wear for episode two called “Parlor Gayms” was a lesson in camp. Russia Fox’s Ramily Couture look with its dinner table reveal had us gagged. Mrs. Tan’s balisong ensemble by Job Dacon and Dysco also grabbed our attention.
For the main drag showdowns, we were treated to a girl group performance for the song “Sustah” written by Kumareng Harvey and Silas for the show. This was soon followed by a musical challenge titled “Parlorista D’ Musical.”
Apart from being witty and well-presented, songs for both main showdowns spoke of Pinoy queer narratives, with the former tackling prostitution and the latter tackling parlorista discrimination. Even if these remind us of certain “Drag Race” challenges, the content and treatment were “Drag Den” to its core.
The elimination comes with the introduction of the lig-walk with Manila Luzon. It’s a nice gesture that allows for the eliminated queens to still feel uplifted and celebrated as they exit. But that’s not to say that the safe space the show is cultivating isn’t without drama and tea. There’s still plenty to be found here.
But of course better format, direction, and camerawork wouldn’t be enough to make a better season if the queens weren’t serving CUNT. Maximalist AFAB drag artist Marlyn as well as pasarela pro and beauty queen Russia Fox each brought underrepresented types of drag to the table. Other early fan favorites include the expressive and fashion-forward Mrs. Tan and powerhouse performer Deja.
The first two episodes have us excited for the next episode with Alaska Thunderfuck and the rest of the season. Brava, Direk Rodina Singh!
Photo screen capped from Drag Den’s “Kalyeah Culture” episode.