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It’s been over a year since the premiere of Drag Den and the drag reality show that prides itself in being “for Filipinos, by Filipinos, to the world” is all primed for a second season, set to debut in January 2024.
The first season was warmly received, but not without criticism. The competition’s structure, which drew from barangay beauty pageants and kanal culture, made the show feel uniquely Filipino. Still, certain elements like the non-elimination format and the chaotic wrecking-ball fight they called “dragdagulan” left many viewers puzzled, though intrigued enough for the show to make it to a second season.
The show’s upcoming sophomore outing is looking to be promising. Early teasers have already revealed a lot to look forward to: a new format and new rules, a fierce cast of 10 up-and-coming Filipino queens, and a roster of guest judges that includes screen superstar Dolly de Leon, iconic actress Rufa Mae Quinto, and Drag Race legend Alaska.
As in every second season, the show is clearly operating on a bigger budget this time, so an upgrade in production value is to be expected. As season 1 winner NAIA tweeted on X on December 8: “u know the budget increase is real bec how the hell did the s2 girls afford to buy iphones after filming omg.”
More than that, Drag Den creator and director Rod Singh said that this season’s queens were given more time to prepare their drag, which, for the viewers, could mean more polished looks and performances.
“By more time, we mean more time than any other show,” she said at an interview on the Drag Den season 2 set, which sports a brand new look meant to reflect the spirit of the times.
From steampunk to cyberpunk
“Drag Den is originally conceived naman talaga to change sets every season. Kaya yung cliffhanger in season one was like, there’s a raid, so they need to, like, find a new den,” Rod said.
“In a way, Drag Den is drag. You know, it’s, the show itself is drag. So in a way dapat (ideally) the set itself is drag…it’s a TV show in drag,” she said.
She explained that season one’s look attempted to visualize what a meth trip feels like – warm lights and rustic and industrial elements.
“Because, you know, season one was all about the drug war and all that. It was the political climate. And at that point, as a creator, I know that we just can’t create a universe of Drag Den without considering the current political climate of the Philippines,” she said.
“Because, personally, I want Drag Den to be…I want it to be a reminder of ano yung nangyayari (what is happening) during this time…so that, when gay liberation finally happens, at least meron tayong mga (we have) accounts of what it is during this time. To remind us of, you know, na malayo na tayo pero malayo pa rin talaga (we’ve come so far, but we still have a long way to go),” she continued.
From a meth-inspired aesthetic, Drag Den season two brings to life the colors and space-shifting visuals of a psychedelic trip.
“So before it was like meth and steampunk. This time it’s psychedelic and cyberpunk,” Rod explained. “So, in essence, sa amin ang design story neto ay (for us, the design story of this is) it’s Tondo Manila in 2052. So there’s an element of, like, the futuristic. Tapos (then) it’s like the city, kinakain na siya ng nature (it’s being consumed by nature).”
It isn’t just the set’s facelift that’s dramatic. The show’s new format is also set to stir up the onscreen drama that viewers come to expect from a reality TV show – especially one about drag. For season two, one queen will be eliminated at the end of each episode.
“They want drama, we’ll give them drama,” Rod said. She added that in season one, the show was meant to be more of an escape, since it was released just coming out of a years-long pandemic-induced lockdown.
“The least thing that I would want is to watch a toxic show full of drama. Because we were, at that point, we were trying to look for escape. Even me as a creator…we needed positivity by then,” she said.
“I also wanted to be like an introduction to Philippine drag…and drama is as much as it’s real, it’s not the center of drag as an art form. You know, you can be a drag artist even without the reality TV personality character…. But this time, we’re gonna show them that,” she said.
Of course, in keeping with the supportive spirit of Drag Den, Manila Luzon will be giving each eliminated queen a pep talk before they sashay away.
So while season two will pander a little to the conventions and demands of reality TV, it is still very much the Drag Den it was conceived to be – that is, gritty, campy, a little rough around the edges, and full of sincerity and heart. – Rappler.com
Drag Den with Manila Luzon Season 2: Retribution premieres on Prime Video on January 18, 2024.
Amanda Lago was a lifestyle reporter for Rappler. She is currently based in Brighton, UK, where she is studying Media Practice for Development at the University of Sussex and exploring stories (including her own) about migration and diaspora. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her dog on Instagram @goodgirlmatilda.