Welcome to my review, recap, and power rankings of the first episode of Drag Race Sverige (AKA Drag Race Sweden) Season 1 – “Start Your Engines.” This is a standard-issue international Drag Race first episode, with a silly photo shoot and a two-look runway that includes a hometown theme.
I love getting to know the drag scene and queer culture of a new country through the lens of Drag Race (which I realize isn’t always 100% accurate or representational).
One of the first things that stuck out to me about Sverige is that it’s international… but not in the same way as some of the other European seasons.
Franchises like Drag Race UK and Drag Race France have felt international because they have centered immigration stories from their cast members. Drag Race Sverige has that from the Brazilian Fontana, but they also have the opposite story – an emigration story! The cast features a pair of returning expats in Antonina Nutshell and Endigo, who live in the UK and Japan, respectively.
I think that said something interesting about Sweden and the relative size of its drag scene. On one hand, of course you’d want to come back to your home country to participate in Drag Race given the chance! On the other hand, with both of these returning queens ranking in the bottom this episode (alongside a queen with little experience), it was giving “We barely filled the cast” vibes.
That’s pure speculation on my part. Plus, first seasons of any reality franchise can be hard to fill with contestants. Once the host country sees the show, then more players emerge from the woodwork for a second season. But, there definitely a sense in this cast that there are a few major contenders and then some obvious fodder for early eliminations.
(I won’t call them “filler,” because they’re each a talented, worthy queen – but, it seems pretty plain who is meant to last past the halfway point in this cast.)
The other interesting aspect of this first episode is that Sweden’s drag aesthetic seems to de-emphasize the familiar form of glamourous pageant drag for something a little more edgy. Out of 18 total looks this episode across two runway themes that openly invited a pageant aesthetic, we only wound up with two looks that fit that vibe. And, the queens took a decidedly dark and twisted view on the benign, “One Night at the Castle” theme which could easily invoke royalty and princesses.
Even Admira Thunderpussy, who turned in a gorgeous pageant-ready look in the first runway, took a more martial approach to the second.
I’m curious to see if this diversity in runway fashion holds up across the season. We might even see a “fashion girls vs. punk queens” divide begin to emerge amongst the frontrunners.
The runway this week made absolute chaos out of my pre-season power ranking, with an unexpected queen on the top and a highly-ranked queen slipping down the rankings. That could go topsy turvy all over again next week, where the challenge is a Talent Show that could see several queens at the middle and bottom of the rankings score high placements over this week’s top queens. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out!
(Want to watch Drag Race Sverige outside of Sweden? For most of the world, it’s available as part with a Wow Presents Plus subscription as soon as the episode is done airing.)
Läsare, start your engines. Och må den bästa Drag Queen vinna!
Reminders: I consistently refer to Drag Race artists with their drag names and with she/her pronouns even when they are not in drag, which is the convention of the show. Some performers may have different personal pronouns. Drag is inherently brave, political, and artistic, and all drag is valid. It’s also hard to do. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it comes across on this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I celebrate all drag!
Drag Race Sverige Season 1, Episode 1 – “Start Your Engines” Power Ranking
Before we get to the pair of runways – Hembygdsdrottning and En Natt På Slottet (or, “Hometown Queen” and “One Night at the Castle”), let’s take a moment to admire our Drag Race Sverige host, Robert Fux. Fux reminded me of Drag Race Holland host Fred van Leer – she’s gorgeous, a bit silly, and game to wear something unusual on the runway.
As much fun as it is to see beloved contestants like Brooke Lynn Hytes, Nicky Doll, and Rita Baga score the big hosting gigs, I think there’s a certain magic that comes from having a local celebrity known for their occasional crossdressing show up in high drag every episode.
#1. Imaa Queen (was Pre-Season #5)
Imma Queen entered the workroom looking like a sea sponge come to life, saying, “Blubb-Blubb, darlings! Ta på dina flytvästerna, för nu blir det djupt.”
(Translation: “Blubb-Blubb, darlings! Put on your life jackets, because it’s getting deep.”)
In my Pre-Season ranking I had a hard time predicting what we might see from Imaa Queen because her drag tends to be incredibly conceptual rather than beauty-based. I think I was expecting a bit more of a punk underneath all that drag rather than the beautiful, crisply dressed person in a topknot we got in her confessional.
I also didn’t expect Imaa Queen to make such an emotional connection to her looks. I think we often see drag queens who fall more into this “art creature” side of drag and we assume all of that comes from pure creativity with no connection to any kind of sentimentality. I love when a queen like HoSo Terra Toma reminds us that artistic, monstrous looks can also be incredibly personal. Imaa did just that with her hometown look emulating her father’s craftsmanship on antique tile or ceramic stoves, which are common in Sweden.
I was less thrilled with her second look, which seemed like a sooty, unspecific take on a monster that didn’t especially scream “castle” at me. It felt as though her win was a reward for having the single best look of the night rather than for her combined runway package.
This early win is a terrific vote of confidence for Imaa’s aesthetic vision. However, my pre-season concern for her remains – and, is maybe amplified by her second runway. Can she make that vision fit every prompt, and can she execute those looks quickly?
Next week’s Drag Race Sverige talent show should be an interesting test of Imaa’s skills, as several of the low-ranked queens have obvious go-to talents. I’m intensely curious to see what Imaa pulls out to stay out of the bottom in a cast that’s already down to eight contenders. As someone who is already known as a “look queen,” she could experience some top-to-bottom whiplash if she doesn’t turn it out in this slim field.
#2. Santana Sexmachine (was Pre-Season #3)
Santana Sexmachine strutted into the workroom and delivered her entrance line in English: “Sorry I’m late! I just did a massive entrance line!”
(Of course, she imitated taking a massive snort of something as she said it. How could you not!)
I was expecting Santana Sexmachine to be a punk in her confessional look, but I don’t know if I was expecting this “member of Green Day dressed up for an awards show” look! She has a certain nerdy, genuine quality to her as a boy which contrasts her sexbomb drag persona in an interesting way.
For me, Santana was the winner of this runway one-two punch. Her hometown cowgirl look was gorgeous but still stamped with her indelibly weird take on beauty. And, I can’t say enough about Santana’s “One Night at the Castle” look, a dragged-up take on Lumière from Beauty & The Beast. Her outfit wasn’t the most complex, but it didn’t need to be because it gave the exact illusion it needed to: candlestick dripping with wax.
That she was festooned with actual candles, including hot wax dripping down her face sealed the deal for me that this is one of my all-time favorite runway looks. It’s absolutely audacious.
I have similar feelings about Santana Sexmachine as I do about Drag Couenne on Drag Race Belgique. Can Santana tone down her punk vibes enough to fit the Drag Race aesthetic while staying true to herself? As great as these looks were, she’ll need to serve some traditional glamour at some point as well.
Even if she does, is the overall Drag Race Sverige vibe punk enough to crown Santana as their first official representative? It will be interesting to see how the judges receive her compared to Admira and Elecktra in the coming weeks.
Also, I cannot wait to see what she brought as a talent show!
#3. Admira Thunderpussy (was Pre-Season #1)
I didn’t expect a humorous entrance from Admira Thunderpussy, but she brought one anyway, saying, “Nej fan, min mamma hade det rätt! Jag klarar inte alls här! … Nej, jag bara skojar. Hon är här nu!”
(Translation: “Hell no, my mom was right! I can’t make it here at all! [Runs out of the room, then returns.] No, I’m just kidding. She’s here now!”)
I can’t remember the last time we’ve had a queen who was quite so haughty as Admira Thunderpussy. She has seen it all and she’s not afraid to tell you about it! I like that for a Drag Race queen. She’s a professional who feels she’s the best there is and is there to pick up her crown, If she delivers high-calibre drag all season long like she did this episode, who are we to argue?!
At the same time, Admira had not only a comedic streak but also a streak of kindness that was evident in her chat with Almighty Aphroditey in the workroom. In that way, she reminded me of Miss Fame, who came off cool at first but turned out to be a highly sensitive goofball.
Admira was incredibly effective on the runway, with the pair of looks that were the most glamorous and the most finely-detailed out of all of the queens. Her petal-covered ballgown was complete perfection from head to toe – every bit of fit and styling couldn’t be any better. And, I loved that her palace guard look was conceptual but not so conceptual that we forgot that the look was about a castle!
Will we see a transformation in Admira Thunderpussy from cold-hearted bitch to warm-hearted mother a la Bianca del Rio? Or, will Admira be icy right to her final moments? I must confess, no matter how good her drag, I can’t see a complete ice-queen winning a first season (or, any season, unless we’re talking about Denali’s kind of ice)!
However, before we get that far, she’ll need to survive the talent show! As a cabaret veteran, I’m sure she has something solid in store. She could even surprise us with a win.
#4. Elecktra (was Pre-Season #6)
Elektra brought dessert to this party, entering with a cake and saying, “Var där nån, som beställde en skånska spettekaka?”
(Translation: “Was there anyone who ordered a Scanian spit cake?”)
Is Elecktra going to be the secret drag assassin of Drag Race Sverige? You might recall from my pre-season post that I discovered that her social media was mostly photos of her as a boy and her exotic birds. Is this low-key queen about to rely on her 15-plus years of drag experience and her make-up artistry to crush her competitors?
The first half of the episode certainly gave that impression. Elecktra’s entrance look was impeccably clean and effortlessly stylish. In the photo-shoot mini-challenge she didn’t just take the best picture, she was the queen who had her shit together the most and who collaborated with her team the best.
If Elecktra defied many of my expectations in the first half of the episode, she fulfilled some of them on the runway. In dissecting her make-up in my pre-season ranking I said it was flawless but seemed small – more like traditional femme beauty than the current trends in drag. Elecktra delivered exactly that in both runways. I’m not saying she isn’t doing drag. She is definitely doing drag. However, there’s something about her brows, eyes, and lips that feel particularly understated in a “feminine realness” sort of way more than they feel like present-day “DRAG” with a capital D.
Also, both of Elecktra’s runways were lovely, but relatively simple. The clear plastic splash on her long black dress was lovely, but the lack of jewelry (save for the TINY earrings) made it look quite plain. And, her fairy queen look was ultimately a lot of draped fabric that didn’t have much shape.
Thus, my big question about Elecktra remains: can she go BIG enough to hold the attention of the Drag Race machine? After seeing this episode, I’m absolutely certain that her experience is enough to carry her to the finale, but all three of the queens I have ranked ahead of her produce much bigger, showier drag. Also, I question how loud and bold she will be in performance challenges, even if she aces the talent show next week.
I’m not betting against Elecktra at this point. I think it would be thrilling to have a stealthy queen slay a season and wind up in contention for the crown.
#5. Fontana (was Pre-Season #4)
Fontana was the first queen to enter the Drag Race Sverige workroom, exclaiming, “E aí… Wooh! The Brazilian beauty has arrived!”
Fontana may be more beautiful in her confessionals than she is in full drag!
Is that a read? Sortof. Fontana already has delicate features on a small face with a relatively low hair line. Many queens use drag makeup to change the proportions of their face or make masculine features look smaller. Fontana is doing the opposite – she’s trying to amp her features up into something much larger than can be seen from the cheap seats.
(It’s almost like she had a future premonition of Marcia Marcia Marcia’s critiques and has already course-corrected for them.)
I think Fontana brought three successful looks, though all of them had details that could be tighter. Her waist was slightly lost in her pink winged entrance look, and her underwear were a weird fit in the hometown look that kept offering sideways peeks at her crotch below.
I believe that Fontana has an x-factor that sets her apart from the majority of queens across franchises. She’s a true pop girl and not just playing dress-up as one. She is also a stunning makeup artist. But, if she wants to translate that into Drag Race success against some of these juggernauts she is going to have to mind every detail.
It seems clear to me that Fontana isn’t a fodder queen in this line-up, but she needs to be more than non-fodder – she needs to be a superstar. Superstar or not, I doubt she’ll have any trouble with the talent show next week.
#6. Vanity Vain (was Pre-Season #2)
Vanity Vain sauntered into the workroom last, purring, “Brum, brum, tjejer! Starta motorerna, så kör vi för fa-an!”
(Translation: “Hum, hum, girls! Start the engines, and we’ll drive for the hell of it!”)
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I want to look like Vanity Vain in her confessional look in my every day life. I’m almost there! Like, I’ve got the hair. I have tinted moisturizer. I know how to do that with highlighter on my nose. It feels entirely within my grasp.
Fawning now over. Onto critique. Because, I have to ask: What the fuck was up with Vanity in this episode?
If Admira Thunderpussy was haughty but still not “over it,” Vanity Vain had major vibes of “Who keeps booking me on these chickenshit gigs?” She wasn’t just over “it,” she was over “everything.”
I could understand that vibe if Vanity delivered a package as clean as Admira’s or as imaginative of Imaa’s or Santana’s. Instead, she was just… there. Her entrance look was a slightly-adorned black bodysuit. Her hometown runway was a flight suit that needed some major dragging-up. And, her “Night at the Castle” look was glammed up, but she took the focus off of her elegance with a somewhat clumsy bald-headed reveal and blood gag.
If you’re going to get to Drag Race and be completely over it, you’ve got to deliver the full fantasy along with your exasperation! If not for a total crash and burn from a few other queens on the runway, Vanity could’ve easily been in the bottom. I don’t think this pair of runway looks was safe enough for a guaranteed safe placement.
All of this from my #2 queen of the Pre-Season ranking! I really thought she had what it took to go far on the show. I don’t think I was wrong, but it’s possible that Vanity Vain’s drag simply won’t read well on-screen. As a queen who serves some strong impersonations, maybe she isn’t all about the typical drag trappings of glitter, stones, and shiny jewels.
That’s all fine, but Vanity will still need a way to stand out on the Drag Race Sverige stage (and hopefully not be a sourpuss the entire time she’s doing it). I strongly suspect Snatch Game is only an episode away, and that might be a major strength for Vanity, but she’ll need to get through the talent show to make it there.
#7. Endigo (was Pre-Season #8)
Endigo entered on the line, “Yatto kimashita ne, Drag Race? Nej, vänta… jag är tillbaka i Sverige. Haha!”
(Translation: [in Japanese] “You’re finally here, Drag Race? [in Swedish] No, wait… I’m back in Sweden. Lol!”)
Endigo’s entrance look was similar to her promo look in that it was things on things on things. In both looks there are several interesting details, but in both looks the mass of stuff detracts from the overall impact and obscures Endigo’s shape.
Yet, maybe there’s a method to Endigo’s things-on-things madness, because she always looks tiny in her looks that are festooned with stuff. I was genuinely shocked to discover she was a tall, stocky person out of drag! It was hard to get a sense of her scale in her solo promo photo, and I thought she was a pocket-size queen like Fontana. I was not expecting her to be downright statuesque.
The challenge for Endigo on the show will be finding a middle ground between her “everything” looks (like her entrance and her hometown runway) and her more cosplay-oriented character looks (like her “Night in the Castle” runway). Right now the two aesthetics feel very “either/or” rather than feeling like the unified looks of a single queen.
Luckily, I think Endigo has slightly more life in her than her placement in this episode suggested, because next week is a talent show and she can seriously shred on guitar. Unless her presentation is a total dud while showing off her axe-slinging skills, I think she’s guaranteed to be safe or better, which buys her another week in the competition.
Yet, in the longer term a queen who seems confused between a sort of mega-kawaii (is that a thing I can say???) aesthetic and a cosplay costume vibe isn’t going to be any franchise’s Next Drag Superstar. (Whether or not that’s fair is another discussion entirely.)
#8. Antonina Nutshell (was Pre-Season #7)
Antonina Nutshell entered full of good humor with the line, “”är här, och är hon här för att vinna?”
(Translation: Antonina Nutshell is here, and is she here to win?”)
Antonina Nutshell is a lovable queen who combines silly with sensitivity. She gives great interview and is an entertaining presence in the workroom. I thought she might win the photoshoot based on her willingness to try anything, including drinking vodka from her boot. That “can do” spirit will serve her well across many staple Drag Race challenges where some queens just can’t get out of their own way.
However, on the runway Antonina quickly hit upon a problem I anticipated in my pre-season ranking. Here’s what I said:
[W]hat I don’t see across her looks is a consistent aesthetic. It’s a lot of gig-ready outfits that look great, but not much in the way of a visual brand. Nor is there much high-end couture. … I wouldn’t count her out early, but I do think the Drag Race Sverige runway will be make-or-break for her.
Tonight’s looks fit right in with my anticipated storyline for Ms. Nutshell. They were fine garments, but they felt more like club outfits than runway fashion. They both fit their themes loosely enough that they may have been existing looks Antonina pulled from her closet. For the record, that’s cool – I love when queens find a way to wear things we can find on their Instagrams from before the show. However, neither look was a strong fit for the brief and I didn’t get a sense of a particular aesthetic from either of them.
That puts Antonina Nutshell in a tough spot. You simply can’t win Drag Race without nailing a few of the runway briefs and doing a bit of glam. It’s possible that Antonina delivers a strong talent show performance next week, which in combination with Endigo doing some shredding could lead to a surprising early ouster of a higher-ranked queen. And, I think she’ll likely do fine in Snatch Game, which will almost certainly be the next challenge to follow. But, if she turns in runway looks on the weaker side on both weeks the show will be in a hurry to send her to the lip sync at the next possible opportunity.
Antonina not only needs to kill the Drag Race Sverige talent show next week – she needs to look stunning on the runway afterward.
Eliminated in 9th Place: Almighty Aphroditey (was Pre-Season #9)
Almighty Aphroditey entered speaking English: “What don’t you do for fashion?”
It wasn’t terribly surprising to learn that Almighty Aphroditey is just a few steps beyond being a “bedroom queen” with only a brief experience doing drag and performing live. That was my expectation from her promo look, and it bore out across her two runways. The outfits were fine, but she didn’t use them to tell a compelling story on the runway. Had she done that, I think she could’ve easily slipped past a pair of other queens to escape her bottom placement entirely.
What did surprise me was Aphroditey’s amount of natural charm. I think many fans expect bedroom queens to all be quiet and mousey when they turn up on the show, but Aphroditey was compelling on camera and in confessionals. All she really lacked was the ability to project confidence on the runway. Not every successful drag queen has fashion model aspirations, but it’s something Drag Race demands from you every week. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin!
I suppose when Drag Race comes to Sweden you have to take your chances and apply, but Aphroditey is a queen who would’ve been much better served waiting another year or two to audition for the show.