Plastique Tiara on How Social Media Has Shaped a "New Generation" of Drag Queens
The 21-year-old 'RuPaul's Drag Race' star opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about her unconventional path to perfecting the art of drag, while commenting on today's most popular beauty trends: "Everything is stolen from drag queens!"
Raised in Vietnam in a relatively conservative household, Duc Tran never anticipated that he would grow up to be one of today's most buzzed-about drag entertainers and a contestant on the latest season of VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race, the pinnacle of success for any queen. "I didn't even know what being gay was until I moved to America," the newly minted reality star tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But here I am today — living my full fantasy."
Tran's "full fantasy" is a woman named Plastique Tiara — his beloved drag persona whose highlight, contour and impeccable wig game could put any Kardashian-Jenner or beauty influencer to shame. Unlike many of the queens who have come before her, though, Plastique's refined aesthetic wasn't developed during countless late nights in dressing rooms at gay bars. Instead, the 21-year-old — who now lives in Dallas and considers herself among today's "new generation" of drag queens — tells THR that social media is much in part to thank for her flawless glam.
"Nowadays, we have the internet, social media, YouTube, so we can learn every single trick in the book. Back in the day, if you wanted to see a drag queen, if you wanted to see a queen do their makeup, you had to go through the system," she explains. "You had to go to the club, see them perform and somehow manage to get backstage to see where all the magic took place. Now, a lot of that magic is right there for you on social media. There's so much more accessibility. YouTube is how I learned most of what I know."
While she's looked to Drag Race competitors from seasons past for instruction — "Miss Fame used to post the most amazing tutorials," says Plastique — the young entertainer points out that gender nonconforming beauty bloggers like Patrick Starr were a main source of inspiration while crafting her signature "hyper-feminine, Asian Barbie" look.
"I follow Patrick a lot. And I listen to what he has to say because I've always valued his opinions about beauty. I've learned a lot of really good techniques from him," Plastique says of the eccentric Instagram and YouTube personality who has painted an array of famous faces, including Kim Kardashian West and Paris Hilton, among others. "Patrick and I are also really good friends. And so many other young beauty gurus are still major inspiration for me."
But that's not to say Plastique hasn't taken any tips from queens who can't call themselves Gen Z — even if she's done so indirectly. After all, as she notes, today's hottest beauty trends are derived from decades-old drag culture. (RuPaul's Drag Race, itself, premiered more than 10 years ago.)
"Contouring and highlighting, yanking the eye back and sharpening everything — especially those brows — girl, everything is stolen from drag queens!" Plastique says with a laugh. "In a way, it's full circle. The beauty bloggers learned from the women who learned from the queens. We all borrow from each other. I love it."
Though Plastique only needed an iPhone and a bag full of makeup to perfect her appearance, the performer — who currently boasts more than 460,000 Instagram followers — is well aware that her drag personality has greatly benefited from personal interaction with the queens who've helped pave the way, especially Drag Race's season five standout Alyssa Edwards.
"A few years ago, I was adopted into the Haus of Edwards. Alyssa's my drag mother," Plastique says of the Texas-based star who now fronts her own Netflix reality series, Dancing Queen. "Naturally, I'm a very quiet person. But Alyssa taught me how to really just embrace myself. I can't thank her enough for bringing me into her world and showing me the ropes. I'm a look queen. But because of Alyssa, I'm also a dancing queen and, most importantly, a confidence queen."
Below, Plastique Tiara talks more with THR about the evolution of drag, becoming a "Ru girl" after just one audition for the Emmy-winning show, as well as her goal to grace the pages of fashion magazines both in and out of drag.
What does it mean to be part of this "new generation" of drag?
These days, drag defies gender. You can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do. It doesn't matter. You don't have to look a certain way in order to be accepted. I am part of the new generation, but I still think it's very important to pay homage to the queens who have come before us. And it's very, very important to remember where you come from and where drag really comes from. Aside from the glamour and the hair and the makeup and the costumes, the truth about drag is that it's just about expressing yourself through the creative aspect of whatever you want it to be.
How does drag in Dallas compare to drag in Los Angeles or New York?
In Dallas, we go through pageants and the curriculum is very intense. It's very hard, but at the same time, it trained me and molded me into the person and the performer that I am today. It's important to go for something new and continue to grow and evolve. Pageants will push you out of your comfort zone, so I'm glad I did them.
Social media has definitely aided your career — both as a tool to learn and a means to promote yourself — but are there any downsides to it?
Social media can be a double-edged sword. The good thing about it is that everyone has a platform and you can create a platform out of nothing. You can build your audience and reach people out there who aspire to be like you or aspire to learn something from you. Sometimes it can be too much I feel with all the negative comments, but you've got to just let the good outweigh the bad.
When putting together looks, do you ever take into consideration whether they will perform well on social media?
Not necessarily. I draw a lot of inspiration from anime, Vietnamese pop culture, Harajuku — I draw inspiration from it all. I don't necessarily think to myself, "People will like this, so this is what I'm going to post on Instagram." I post what I want to post and whoever is following me should understand my level of taste. But I'm the worst Instagram influencer ever. I just post a photo. I don't use hashtags. I don't tag anything. If I like it, I post it — and at any time of the day. I don't believe in rules and I don't overthink it. Just do what you like and if people like you, they'll follow you. There's no need to try to be something you're not. There's no secret or magic to it. The magic is you.
You entered Drag Race with hundreds of thousands of followers. How did you cultivate such a strong presence on social media without having the platform of the TV show?
I guess I was just lucky with timing and everything. I got reposted by other bigger social media personalities and influencers. Tyra Banks reposted me a few times and then I got adopted into the Haus of Edwards. So that kind of launched my platform to a bigger scale, and from there people got to see what I do and apparently, they like it. It's working, so here I am.
Tell me about the first time Tyra reposted you.
Oh, my God, Tyra reposted a bunch of my pictures. Years ago, I was trying to be a male model and I was trying so hard to make it on America's Next Top Model until I found drag. And then, in drag, I thought, "Oh, my God, I could do this so much better!" But it felt so good to have Tyra notice me.
You often refer to Plastique Tiara as a "biological woman." Can you explain what you mean by that?
Being super fishy is not the ultimate goal for drag, and not the ultimate goal for me, either. I use the term "biological woman" just because drag is — like RuPaul has said — a big fuck-you to society's ideas about gender conformity. The term "biological woman" is a hyperbole. I'm obviously not a biological woman by any means. I define myself as a man dressed up in drag because I want to. People say, "Oh, my God, that's a biological woman!" And I just think that's funny because I'm not. So, by saying that, it makes you think, "What even is a biological woman anymore?" You can be whoever you want to be. What defines a biological woman and what defines a biological man? If you define yourself a certain way, nobody can deny it. If you were born into the wrong body and you define a certain gender that is not the gender you were assigned at birth, nobody can take that away from you.
How would you describe the evolution of your skills as a makeup artist?
My makeup kind of changes every time I do it. It's a journey. I continue to find things that make this look better or this look smoother. Or I'll find a new technique to help me do it all faster. But when I first started, I didn't have the resources. I was doing everything with drugstore makeup. Like, here we go, #DrugstoreDragMakeupChallenge. But now I have a lot more resources at hand, which has enhanced the final product a lot more. My face is a canvas, so I take joy in every part of the makeup process. I really like to take my time to make sure everything works evenly. I'm always trying to improve myself. It's the perfectionist in me.
What are your favorite products to use?
MAC full coverage foundation is one of my favorites. A glue stick because we've gotta glue those brows down. And then Coty Airspun. You can get it at Walmart or anywhere and it's only five dollars. It's the best translucent powder ever.
When it comes to fashion and beauty, what can women learn from drag queens?
It's not even necessarily about the makeup, the hair or the clothes. I think the most important thing women can learn from drag is just to be confident in yourself. Just be confident, girl! Every woman should know that she is a queen. Women don't even need makeup. Just go out there, love yourself and live your life. That's what Plastique does.
Many queens audition multiple times to be on RuPaul's Drag Race. What was your experience like trying out for season 11?
I turned 21 last April, so I barely passed the age requirement to apply. So, I applied for my first time and I got on. One of the lucky few, for sure. I was definitely one of the lucky ones. Drag Race is how I decided to start doing drag about four years ago, so it's very surreal. I have to pinch myself every now and then. I'm a Ru girl!
Do you feel more comfortable in or out of drag?
Before, I used to feel more comfortable in drag because you have this whole new confidence. You get to create this whole new face, a whole new persona and you can do whatever you want. But Plastique really helped Duc become more confident in myself because when I put way too much effort into Plastique, Duc is not getting any love. So, I learned to equal everything out and give some love to myself when I'm out of drag.
Both you and Soju (who was eliminated on last week's premiere episode) have spoken out about the importance of Asian representation on the show. How do you hope the Asian community responds to your participation on this season of Drag Race?
I feel like we still don't have enough Asian representation — especially queer Asian representation — on TV and in the media. I'm just so grateful to be a part of something so new, something so previously underground but now so mainstream. And the fact that I am Asian, and I have the opportunity to be part of such an inclusive cast this year, is so crazy and so amazing to me. Especially being Vietnamese, because there are not many Vietnamese actors, models, public figures, influencers out there who are expressing that part of themselves right now. So, I feel very blessed.
RuPaul's Drag Race opens doors for contestants in many different areas: acting, music, fashion and beauty, just to name a few. What do you hope to tackle next?
I always had dreams of being a face in a magazine. Being a little Asian boy, growing up in Vietnam, I never saw a drag queen in a fashion magazine before. I never had that voice for myself growing up. I want a little Asian boy to see me in Vogue and say, "Oh, there's someone out there just like me." I want to be that face on the cover of magazines, that girl — or that guy — in the fashion campaign for people to look up to and say, "I can do that, too." I want to be that singer, that dancer, that performer, that model — I really mean it when I say I want to be everything.
RuPaul's Drag Race airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on VH1.