“One day, I would love to be able to perform in South Korea and actually have people come out to see me.”
About an hour before doors opened at the Itaewon nightclub SKRT for Mad Bambi’s third drag ball in Seoul, the line already stretched down the block and around the corner. By 11 p.m., the line had grown beyond the fire station at the nearby intersection, down the street and out of sight. Forty-five minutes after the doors opened, tickets were sold out.
Seoulites walking past would stop and stare at the huge crowd. “What is the line for?” they would ask.
“We’re waiting for Kim Chi,” we’d respond. They would continue to stare.
“All these people are waiting in line for some kimchi?”
“No, this person on the poster is Kim Chi, a man who dresses as a woman.”
“…That’s a man?”
The attraction of the evening was, of course, Kim Chi — an anime-inspired, conceptual drag queen and runner-up on season eight of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Born in the USA but raised in South Korea, Kim Chi has a special place in the hearts of Korean fans who turned up en masse to support her debut on the Seoul drag scene.
I’ve never been to such a crowded drag show. I missed half the voguing waiting in line out front, and strained to see over the crowd during the opening performances of local queens Nikki Ashes, Charlotte Goodenough and Cha Cha.
Finally, Kim Chi arrived onstage to the Dixie Chicks’ “Sin Wagon,” twirling her red skirt and tipping a wide-brimmed hat. Kim is a queen known for her incredible looks and makeup talent, so it was a thrill to see her work up close as we all sweated and danced together to the DJ’s tunes that ranged from Lady Gaga and Beyoncé to their K-pop equivalents HyunA and CL.
Kim Chi spoke to the audience in both English and Korean, expressing her joy and gratitude for the warm reception. During her set, Kim performed English and Korean lipsyncs, as well as her RPDR trademark song, “Fat, Fem & Asian,” which is a tongue-in-cheek response to the marginalization of anyone fat, femme or Asian in the gay community.
It was very exciting to see Kim Chi’s triumphant return to Seoul after her rise to stardom on RPDR. It was exciting to see such an excellent turnout despite South Korea’s less-than-accepting stance on homosexuality.
At the annual gay pride parade in Seoul every summer, religious protesters surround the event, preach over loudspeakers and occasionally try to put a stop to the Pride events. In previous years, Christian groups have laid down in the street to stop the parade and, last year, attempted to prevent the event from even receiving its permits from the city.
But the Korean LGBT community carries on, with role models like Kim Chi paving the way. Her drag is captivating and cutting-edge, and she never shies away from her Korean heritage. On “Drag Race,” Kim Chi stood out from previous Asian contestants for not simply joking about racial stereotypes but instead embracing her Korean roots and using that connection to her full advantage. One standout moment came when Kim appeared on the main stage in a beautiful traditional hanbok as a tribute to her mother.
Kim Chi’s sold-out performance at SKRT is hopefully a sign of more good things to come.