Once a bulwark of wholesome family entertainment, Disney has been getting in on the popularity of men dressing up as vampish, makeup-caked women, inviting groups of drag performers to pose alongside the stars at premieres of movies like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Frozen 2.
Since RuPaul’s Drag Race debuted in 2009, the show has won 13 Emmys and sparked numerous lucrative careers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Contestants from the show have landed roles in movies like the 2018 remake of A Star is Born and Netflix’s Dumplin.
The counterfeit-female craze is generating a lot of money.
Brandon Voss, the owner of Voss Events, the company that runs a tour featuring Drag Race stars, told the Reporter that his drag clients all earn more than $500,000 per year and one queen, Aquaria, has made more than $1 million just for endorsements and performances.
That tour has grown from 22 cities across the U.S. and Europe in 2017 to 85 cities this year, including more arenas than ever before, according to the Reporter. The tour has sold more than 130,000 tickets in 2019, with prices from $50 to more than $170.
Drag queens have also gotten deals with record labels to lip-sync songs and have appeared for major fashion brands. But the real money “is on the road,” drag queen Nina West told the Reporter.
“Without the show, I don’t know if businesses would be interested in the viability of drag,” West said.
DragCon, an annual event held in New York and Los Angeles, attracted a combined 100,000 fans last year, according to the report. They spent $8 million at the events. London is being added to the lineup next year.
World of Wonder, the production company behind Drag Race, even has its own streaming video platform, WOW Presents plus, which offers shows like Drag Race and its spin-offs and the Macaulay Culkin movie Party Monster for $4 per month.
“Drag queens have tapped into an audience that’s been desperate for a different kind of entertainment,” Randy Barbato, co-founder of World of Wonder, told the Hollywood Reporter. “Madison Avenue, the fashion industry and Hollywood are finally catching on.”