Bon retour, mes chers lecteurs! It’s the return of Drag Race Belgique! Drag Race Belgique Season 2 Episode 1 was titled “De Retour,” and it was a standard first episode of an international Drag Race: a talent show and a “Drache Nationale” runway that showed off a national theme.
(“Drache National” is the Belgian phrase in French for a heavy rainstorm on Belgian National Day, 21 July.)
J’aimerais pouvoir vous parler de cette émission dans un beau français, mais cela prendrait dix fois plus de temps! Alors, vous obtenez mon anglais. Mais, je vous invite à commenter en français et je comprendrai (la plus grande partie).
That goes for those of you who comment in English as well! If you want to see me continue to cover Drag Race Belgique (and other franchises), your views, shares, and comments really matter. The reason I started covering more international franchises in 2023 is because my coverage of Drag Race France Season 1 in 2022 was massively popular – as much as some of my biggest comic guides!
This premiere episode kicks off an intense week of international Drag Race, with three franchises debuting in just 8 days – Belgique, Drag Race España All Stars, & RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World. When I first saw that schedule I thought, “perhaps I’ll just do a brief post on each.” Yet, as I watched this episode – and especially as the queens of Drag Race Belgique Season 1 returned to walk the runway – I remembered just how much I adored this franchise when I wrote about it last year.
Bien sûr, j’aime toujours une saison qui est en français! Mais il y a autre chose que j’aime dans Drag Race Belgique. L’année dernière, j’ai vu que… there is some tension inherent in Belgian drag. On one side, there are very traditional, established cabaret artists. On the other, there are punks who are playing by their own rules – including all of last year’s top three – Susan, Athena Sorgelikis and winner Drag Couenne.
Yet, no matter what “side” they were on, the queens were incredibly smart. Belgique Season 1 gave us some of the most clever art references we’ve had on any Drag Race runway with their bandes dessinées and “Ce n’est pas une pipe” runways.
Not only that, but the judges have a very keen eye for fashion. They don’t only want over-the-top looks, but looks that speak to certain styles and references from distinct regions of the country or specific aspects of its history.
Pour moi, la Belgique est peut-être la meilleure de toutes les franchises pour raconter l’histoire du drag d’un pays (alongside Drag Race Phillipines!). Despite the widespread skepticism about Rita being a Canadian hosting a Belgian show, I feel like she respects the culture of Belgian drag and is not trying to make it into something exclusively Canadian or entirely international. Just the fact that a weirdo alikeDrag Couenne won the first season of the show speaks volumes – usually first season winners tend to represent something quintessential about the country’s drag.
Because of all of that, I couldn’t bring myself to not write about this season – at least, for the premiere! I think we once again have a cast full of incredibly smart queens who fall to either side of that old-school cabaret / new-school punk divide. And, they seem particularly strong – without the drag neophytes we saw as early outs last year.
(Want to watch Drag Race Belgique outside of Belgium? For most of the world, it’s available with a Wow Presents Plus subscription as soon as the episode is done airing.)
Lecteurs, start your engines. Et, que la meilleure Drag Queen gagne!
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. Every drag artist in the world deserves endless essays dedicated to their talents and life stories. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it fits the established expectations of this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I am obsessed with drag and the people who create it.
Drag Race Belgique Season 2 Episode 1 – De Retour Talent Show & “Drache Nationale” runway Power Rankings
Before we get to our power ranking, we must address the fashion of our Québécois host Rita Baga. If I had one primary hesitation about last season, it was usually about her styling. Even when her garments are gorgeous, sometimes her hair, accessories, or overall proportions are just a little bit off.
That trend continued tonight. I loved her orange velvet suit, but it didn’t fit properly – or, at least, the tailoring was not flattering. And, her runway was lovely (from the waist up), but the hair needed to be 50% bigger and I don’t understand the skirt at all.
#1 – La Veuve, 1 win
La Veuve came on tentatively at the start of the episode only to decisively smash both the talent show and the Drache Nationale runway. If she is as funny, as smart, and as weird as this first week made her out to be, she is absolutely the artist to beat this season.
La Veuve’s entrance look is part of why I wasn’t feeling her very much early in the episode. It felt like a very basic vinyl dominatrix get-up that didn’t say much about her, and the jacket seemed tight. Also, I have questions… maybe even objections… about her peculiarly high slash of contour.
Comedy performances on Drag Race rarely hit for me in any language, but I found La Veuve’s routine as a psychic to be laugh-out-loud funny. So many queens walk into the talent show claiming they’re going to deliver a character without marrying it to jokes. La Veuve’s character was plain as day, and her set was dense with punch lines. Essentially, any time she changed topics or interacted with a new prop, there was going to be a payoff.
Who knows if this was scripted down to the word or just loosely outlined and then off the cuff, but it was an obvious winner to me and in the room.
La Veuve’s “oversized rain jacket to tiered skirt” transformation for the Drache Nationale runway was a stunner. It’s not easy making this big of an impact all in grey! As the judges mentioned, even the pre-reveal look was high fashion, but the post-reveal skirt and chest with pasties were also lovely.
If La Veuve can keep up this level of thoughtfulness all season she will be a formidable competitor. She doesn’t feel like a generic bearded queen or a familiar brand of punk, but something all her own.
#2 – Alvilda
Alvilda is instantly recognizable as the drag artist in this cast who is the most internationally influenced when it comes to her looks and performance. She also strikes me as the most punk queen in this cast. She’ll need to carve out her own niche separate from what we saw from Drag Couenne to prove she is a viable potential winner of the season.
Can we all agree that Alvilda’s talent show is one of the fiercest of all time? It’s one thing to light stuff on fire on stage, but it’s another thing entirely to turn that into its own light show that gives unique shapes and framing to your body.
I think there is an obvious early narrative here about Alvilda making unforced errors. It’s not only the slip in her fire routine, from which she recovered impressively, but also the way she was obviously hampered by the thick strands of her orange wig on the runway.
One was an accident, the other was a choice – but, they both speak to a potential edit that’s about mistakes shattering the perfect illusion of punk rock. If Alvilda’s fashion continues to be as elevated as her inverted umbrella Drache Nationale runway and what looked to be a hand-painted entrance dress, then the only thing that can get in the way of her march to the finale is … herself.
#3 – Loulou Velvet
Loulou Velvet brings a contemplative approach to burlesque drag. On any other franchise, I would think that would be a sure ticket to early elimination. Here, it could be exactly the kind of thoughtful art that the judges become enamoured with as the season develops.
Everything Loulou presented on this episode moved just a little too slowly for me. Her entrance preening, her burlesque number, and how she walked (and revealed) her Drache Nationale runway all felt languorous to me. Yet, what I call languorous might simply be deliberate – and I think that’s a trait that Drag Race Belgique is primed to reward. Also, despite a clear burlesque through-line through all of Loulou’s style, it never felt same-ish or reductive.
I suspect Loulou will do fine in a design challenge – maybe even place high! I’m intrigued by how she might perform in acting and Snatch Game, which I suspect would be two of the next three episodes on this short season. If she can bring this deliberateness to comedy and improve without sacrificing the pace, then she’s one to watch.
#4 – Star
Star represents an old-school approach to drag that’s full of polish, but perhaps not modern enough to resonate in the long run. Yet, I suspect her experience will serve her well throughout the many standard Drag Race challenges, which could make her hard to knock out unless she stumbles on the runway.
At many points in this episode I was struck by the thought that Star is the kind of queen who could easily win Drag Race España. Not because the competition is any easier there, but because España has repeatedly shown a certain amount of reverence (and reward) for experienced artists who pay homage to drag traditions more than any other franchise.
I’m not as sure how that will play on Drag Race Belgique. There were mixed results last season, with Edna out early for being too predictable but Boop (who I found much more predictable) making a deep run. At this point, it’s hard to tell where Star falls on that spectrum. I found her Talent Show act tiresome. She didn’t sell the physicality of her performance enough (like when she was stuck in the chair) and I think I’m done with sagging boobs as a punchline.
Yet, I gave a little gasp when Star revealed her glittering silver rain jacket. I think a buttoned-up jacket like that runs the risk of looking a bit boxy, but hers was perfect – the intense level of glitter, the colorful raindrop appliqués, and the perfectly nipped-in waist all sold this concept to me. There was something both youthful and “First Lady” about it, which felt appropriate for the theme. It felt wildly different than what we’ve seen from other experienced queens on this franchise so far.
If Star can bring the fresh perspective from this runway to the challenges, she might turn out to be a powerhouse of the season.
#5 – Morphae
Morphae was ostensibly in the bottom three on this episode, but I saw that less as a real threat of elimination and more as an early reminder not to waste any time being coy.
The smartest thing you can do on Drag Race is to define your own lane and I think Drag Race Belgique Season 1 proved that this panel of judges are much more receptive to that than other franchises. Morphae is a queen who is entirely her own creation. I think some of the other queens might grow to regret the skepticism they showed toward her looks and her performance on this first episode.
Playing classical piano to an IV drip of tears is some Lady Gaga shit that merges a real-life talent with art pop artifice.
It would’ve been too subtle for American Drag Race, but it seems like it hit just right here.
Morphae is a high-concept queen who seems to have everything it takes to deliver the goods, but she has to accelerate to full speed right away next episode… or else many of these other queens will pass her by.
#6 – Sarah Logan
Sarah Logan came off so much older than she actually is over the course of this episode, with slightly boxy drag and a languidly-paced cabaret act. She is going to have to turn up the pace and the volume of her drag to survive the first few eliminations.
If I were a judge this episode, Sarah would’ve been in the bottom two. I disliked everything she presented, from top to bottom. I think this is one of the worst burlesque numbers we’ve had, and I’m counting Farrah Moan’s slip-and-fall in that accounting. Her outfit looked good, but the burlesque is all about momentum and she had none.
And, I absolutely despised Sarah Logan’s Drache Nationale runway. The proportions were off, the leather panty looked like a diaper, the jacket looked too tight, the umbrella was too small, and head socks almost always look bad on Drag Race unless they are snug to your face and you have the tiniest head in all creation.
After seeing last season, I just can’t picture the judges eating up Sarah Logan’s drag. Even if she can construct a solid garment next week (and I suspect she might), in the long run I think the panel is going to pick apart her runways all season long once she hits critiques – and that will hold her back from the finale.
#7 – Madame Yoko
Madame Yoko is a talented queen with an eye for fashion, but the lack of attention to detail I noticed in her talent show will haunt her when it comes to this incredibly perceptive panel of judges (and I’m not just talking about her tattoos, Morphae).
Madame Yoko’s entrance look was delightfully dense with sparkle but… it was a mini-dress. With ankle boots. It was gorgeous, but not notable.
I was sure Yoko was going to crush her singing talent show based on her “diamonds are forever” vocals on her entrance. Instead, we got a sung performed so tentatively that I can hardly say it was “sung.” Yoko had no support throughout the song and that hurt her projection and pitch. She also had several problems with rhythm, both in delivering lyrics and in timing the reveals of her sombre strip tease. And then to reveal with panache… a bare chest without pasties or anything? It was a giant letdown.
And, yes, I noticed along with Morphae that Madame Yoko’s fake tattoos were peeling. But, more than that… fake tattoos? Of words? In a tiny, hard-to-read font? REALLY?!
This reminds me of one of the few times I went all-out for a Halloween costume. I was Envy of the Seven Deadly Sins, and for weeks I had this concept that I was going to make iron-on prints of gorgeous people from magazines for my undershirt, and then wear a shirt above it with holes cut out with words like “THIN,” “BEAUTIFUL,” “TALENTED,” and “RICH” written next to the cut-outs. That way, you could literally SEE the envy INSIDE OF ME.
It took HOURS to find all the pictures, and then the iron-ons didn’t work, and then the writing was too small…
You know what I did instead at the last minute? Wore a fucked up green face prosthetic that made it look like my “real” face was just a mask that peeled away to reveal I was green with envy beneath.
That’s the energy Madame Yoko needed to bring to this performance. Taking your clothes off to reveal “CRIME” tattooed on your back isn’t impactful, and the way she delivered it wasn’t a talent.
Yet… her Drache Nationale runway was gorgeous and she walked it well, which I am convinced saved her from being in the bottom over Gabanna – a much better singer.
Luckily, with a design challenge next week she has the chance to notch a high placement right away. But, I worry about the thought she will (or won’t) put into the performance challenges that follow. Madame Yoko will need to replicate the size and drama of her Drache Nationale runway in her performances to make an impact on this season.
#8 – Chloe Clarke, 1 lip sync
Chloe Clarke lacked nerve throughout this episode and it almost sent her home despite her gorgeous looks.
I’m not just talking about the lack of nerve shown in her tentative talent show and runway walk. Her anxiety was evident to me from her very first confessional. Could it be that the confessionals were shot after her lip sync, so her nerves were already shaken? Or, is that simply who she is?
(No hate there. I’m anxious all the time – that’s my secret. But, I use that anxiousness to fuel being as big and confident in the moment as much as possible.)
Nerve problems aside, I want to zero in on the poor concept behind Chloe Clarke’s talent show. The idea was that her dance performance was a tutorial. But… it wasn’t. She kept saying to watch her, to follow her, and then did a bunch of random dance moves.
The way to sell this performance was to say “watch me” and then do something basic, followed by something ridiculously over the top, and then say, “just repeat that on the right” before launching into an even more intense version.
I’m not just seeing that in hindsight. I was practically screaming it at the screen during the performance.
My reaction to Chloe Clarke’s fashions was the complete opposite. Her butterfly dress was by far the best entrance look – I loved the massive shoulder wings and the intense ruffles of the inside of the skirt. And, I agreed with Rita Baga that Chloe’s runway was an all-time-great fashion.
It was just too high-concept to click with a Drache Nationale runway theme that was meant to evoke both rain and national symbols.
In the end, Chloe Clarke saved herself with the better lip sync against Gabanna. Again, I found myself SCREAMING OUT LOUD that Rita better not eliminate her! I also suspect the show was invested in keeping her to see what kind of fashion she could turn out next week in a design challenge. I doubt she will be our first out… but, her nerves will get her in the end (or, much sooner than the end).
#9 – Gabanna, 1 lip sync
Gabanna is one of those young queens who is pleasingly attractive and delightfully bitchy, but whose broad array of drag doesn’t cohere into a defined brand. That’s fine – she’s young! But, I think this pretty queen who is willing to be a villain would go farther on other franchises than she might on Belgique.
I think Gabanna hitting one false note in her talent show number obscures the fact that she’s actually a good singer. She had an impressive amount of support and control both in her chest range. And, she had a solid and lovely mixed voice that was meant to sound more feminine (and succeeded).
The problem was less her one botched big note and more that there was no big concept surrounding it to support the botched note. Last year, Drag Couenne gave an altogether peculiar singing performance in the talent show with some flubbed notes (and some growled ones), but it was utterly captivating. Couenne pulled us in with her costume, her staging, and her deliberate delivery.
Gabanna didn’t do that. She looked pretty, sat in a swing, and sang. And, if that’s what you’re giving, then the singing has to be perfection.
Rita Baga seemed almost offended by the see-through simplicity of Gabanna’s runway, despite it hitting the Drache Nationale theme perfectly. I was more annoyed by the shapes. The waist of the skirt was in a weird spot, it was an odd length, the panties were abhorrent, and I hated the transparent boot covers. Gabanna was proud of her two-meter train, but that fabric could’ve been put to better use fluffing up her actual silhouette.
(Also? That runway hair looked exactly like my actual hair after I’ve slept on it once or twice. Your drag hair has to be bigger and better than my hair after two nights of sleep. These are the rules.)
I really thought Gabanna was going to show us something special in the lip sync when she said “time to go all out.” Then she gave us nothing. NOTHING. SHE GAVE US NOTHING TO A LADY GAGA SONG. Girl, don’t talk that talk in your confessional (which you recorded after the lip sync) when you know you gave nothing.
For me, her lip sync would have equaled an instant elimination. Yet, Rita Baga is a benevolent weirdo, and she offered Gabanna a “Kandy wait!” moment to make this first episode a week with no elimination.
I think Rita would’ve gladly cut a queen if the first out was someone very inexperienced or completely outmatched as we had in the first few eliminations last year (or on half of Sverige). But, Gabanna has potential as a performer, a villain, and a potential spoiler, so I agree she was worth saving.