On 11 February 2021, simple high-street retailer H&M was inducted into the Drag Race lexicon. After making a triumphant comeback in the fifth episode of UK season two, Brighton Pavilion stan Joe Black – who controversially sashayed away in last place – managed to extract RuPaul’s inner “We were all rooting for you!” Tyra Banks in one of the most shocking moments in the franchise’s herstory. “We’re looking for Great Britain’s Next Superstar, don’t waste my time. I don’t wanna see any fucking H&M!” Ru told the star, which ultimately resulted in her second elimination of the series.
“I can’t recall another time when that’s kind of happened,” Joe says of Mama Ru’s instantly iconic outburst. “Something about that must’ve sparked something in Mr Charles. All of my Drag Race journey seems to be filled with controversy, which I quite like actually! It’s quite exciting for me. I’ve never felt like I fit in with the Drag Race brand, so the fact that I even got on it in the first place… It would’ve been a wasted opportunity if I had gone on there and done anything else but me.”
For the second time in a matter of weeks, we sat down with Joe to discuss her eventful comeback on Drag Race UK, how she feels about RuPaul’s critiques, and why fans shouldn’t expect her to sashay back into the werkroom for All Stars anytime soon.
Joe, we speak again!
It’s lovely to talk to you again, even under circumstances where, once again, I’ve been booted out of Drag Race!
You kept that quiet, I had no indication on our last phone call that you’d be returning this soon!
[Laughs] Did you ask me whether I’d go back again?
I think you did! I got asked that quite a lot and I think I always said, ‘Ooh, if that phone call comes in I’ll probably say yes!’ and that phone call did come in, and I did say yes! About three weeks before filming… I wish I had the whole seven months!
How did it feel to be picked by your fellow contestants to return to the competition?
That was gorgeous. When we found out that it was going to be a vote thing, even if I hadn’t got a single vote, I still would’ve said, ‘Thank you very much, lovely.’ You can’t go into these things expecting a certain result, but what actually happened was really stunning. And, I was very surprised by Tayce because I thought Tayce would’ve voted for Asttina! So, that was really lovely because these are the people that I’m, hopefully in the future, sharing sweaty, awful dressing rooms with and clunky ol’ tour buses, all that stuff. To have that kind of love from those people, there will be many more years of chaos to come.
I can imagine that UK Hun, bing bang bong, sing sang song, ding dang dong, isn’t a typical Joe Black song to perform?
Oh god no! There were two things in Drag Race that I was nervous about: sewing and pop. Lo and behold, I turn up and – there’s the returning queen curse anyway, isn’t there? Whoever comes back always leaves immediately. As soon as they said Eurovision I was like, ‘Oh… shit.’ It couldn’t be more out of my element, and I think that was reflected in the clear state of confusion on my face the entire time.
But you looked like you were genuinely having fun?! Or were you thinking the whole time, ‘This is ridiculous’?
Well it is ridiculous isn’t it?! It’s Eurovision! I was having fun because I knew this was something I’m probably never going to do again. It was like, ‘Well, I’ll live my pop group fantasy for these few minutes,’ because I’ll go back to standing still and wearing sequin dresses at some point; putting on a cape, drinking martinis and warbling some miserable, German cabaret number. It was nice to try something new. Not for me, but I’m glad I gave it a go!
Have you bought the United Kingdolls and Banana Drama’s songs on iTunes?
I spent quite enough money on buying every single person’s merch, and I never want to hear that song again! I don’t even wear t-shirts and I can see it now, a stack of everyone’s shirts because I was so determined to support every single person. So no! That song took a long time to get out of my head because it’s such an ear-worm. I can’t have it randomly come on on shuffle! I can’t risk that because then I’ll have to work for weeks again to get that tune out of my head.
Is it a bit of a trigger for you now?
I’m sort of glad clubs aren’t open! Imagine wandering into Revenge in Brighton and walking through the door to hear me going, ‘Welcome back, darlings! I’m here to haunt you (woo!), it’s Joe Black!” with a pop-banging club beat underneath it, or a remix, or whatever the hell people do with these things. I absolutely never wanna hear it again! But, it is a banger.
Glenn Close but no cigar.
Cigar. CIGAR? CiGaaaR?! Tia helped me with my lyrics on this, and we were very proud to rhyme “zig-a-zig-ah” with “cigar” because not many things rhyme with cigar!
There’s a Grammy Award waiting for you Joe.
I know! I’m waiting. I’ve got my phone here. It is on Do Not Disturb-mode but I’m waiting for the Grammy’s to, you know, give me a ring.
Right, it’s inevitable. We have to talk about H&M-gate.
Did you ever expect RuPaul Charles to have so much emotion over H… and M?
I’ve never expected anyone to have that much emotion over H&M! I mean, I admit that the pink velvet was very emotive. It was very emotional. The ridges in the dress really told a story. Yeah, I did not expect a high street retailer to really bring out such passion in someone! It made glorious television though, didn’t it?
They’re hilarious! I’ve now got my own infamous, ‘I’ve never shouted at a girl like this!’ Tyra moment. If I hadn’t worn that dress, would that have happened?
Are you still a loyal H&M customer? Will you be sashaying back into an H&M store anytime soon?
Well, it’s funny you say this. H&M have just reached out to me. I’m not joking!
Tell me everything.
There’s not much to tell yet. I don’t know where this relationship is gonna go. I don’t know whether a giant van full of pink velvet dresses may arrive, or if they want me to model the season’s collections, if I’ll have my own collaboration… Maybe I’ll be the new face of H&M, and what a face! Nothing quite says H&M like eyebrows halfway up your forehead.
I would absolutely buy a top that says “I don’t wanna see no fucking H&M” with a picture of you wearing your H&M top.
[Laughs] People are well on it, they’re already printing their own merch! I considered it… Michelle [Visage] obviously said to me, which didn’t make the full edit, ‘You’re a bit stuck in your ways,’ and that’s why I said, ‘I am stuck in my ways.’ But it’s served me well in the real world, maybe not so well on Drag Race! I’m not sure a t-shirt with H&M on it is very me, but I’m very much enjoying other people’s designs. I really wouldn’t mind my own vampire’s wife-esque collaboration with H&M or to release a series of slightly campy, cabaret gothic evening wear. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
Let’s manifest this.
We can make it happen! I believe in us!
In both episodes you starred in, there’s been a lot of controversy over what you’ve worn. David Bowie-gate, Brighton Pavilion-gate, H&M-gate. Drag isn’t just about visuals, so – in the words of Ru – “what say you Joe Black?”
What say me, indeed! I feel like it was this unspoken rule that challenge looks don’t tend to get judged like that? If it does the job… I can’t recall another time when that’s kind of happened. So, I don’t know. Something about that must’ve sparked something in Mr Charles. All of my Drag Race journey seems to be filled with controversy, which I quite like actually! It’s quite exciting for me. I’ve never felt like I fit in with the Drag Race brand, so the fact that I even got on it in the first place… It would’ve been a wasted opportunity if I had gone on there and done anything else but me. That’s where this sort of thing comes in. When you’re asked to be a pop group – look at me! Does anything about me say pop group? My thought process behind it was, ‘Right, what do pop princesses wear? Pink! Short pink dresses, that’ll do.’ That’s what pop people do, isn’t it? If I had known it was Eurovision, I would’ve gone out there looking like Lordi! That’s what I would’ve looked like, should there have been fair warning. There I was, in my simple little pink dress. I had a rule with getting ready for Drag Race. I find it absurd that people end up in unreasonable debt with this whole thing. I don’t think a TV show, no matter how big the platform, should mean that you are unable to survive afterwards because of it. My rule was: if I wasn’t going to wear it again, it would not be a priority. All of my runway looks, every single one of those was a priority because that was the thing. I got that dress and I thought it was quite sweet. I was like, ‘Ooh, I might wear this out over some trousers or something in the evening. I’ll get another use of this! This nice dusky pink…’ But yeah, it seems to have caused quite the shitstorm!
The only two episodes you were in are both iconic, that’s quite impressive.
It feels amazing! The first time, Michelle’s comments ruffled some people’s feathers and the second time, I seemed to insight a particular anger within RuPaul… Very dramatic, ever so dramatic! I’m pleased. It’s nice. Again, as somebody who I didn’t think would fit the Drag Race brand, I’ve made quite the impression and I’m very very proud. And, I don’t think I’m a particularly competitive person in general, to be honest, but I went on a competition reality show. That’s why both times I stood there and took it because I know what I’ve signed up for. There’s no clapping back from me. There’s no tears from me. I’ve prepared myself for being in this environment, and it is what it is.
Are you coming back next episode? Am I going to be speaking with you next week too?
[Laughs] Ooh, I don’t know if third time is the charm! What’s that saying? ‘Fool me once, shame on me… Shame on you, fool me twice,’ something like that? Maybe competition-based reality shows are not for me right now. I’m very glad to have done it. In terms of maybe getting a call for All Stars, there are other people that really wanna go in there and work so well for it all. I’ve done it twice, I think I might need to gracefully say, ‘Please give it to somebody who doesn’t make RuPaul that angry.’ If I do, I’m walking into that werkroom with the pink dress.
To hear our thoughts on the brand new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, subscribe to Snatched! an original podcast from GAY TIMES. Each week, we dissect all of the drama and conflama of the latest episode and chat with the eliminated queen, who spills all the T on their exit and time on the series. Snatched! is now available on all streaming services including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.