[Photo credit: Felix Meaker]
A star of YouTube and Chicago nightlife, the Korean-born drag queen known as “Soju” (that’s an extremely popular alcoholic beverage in her homeland) is a quirky and versatile performer loved by thousands. Now that she’s bringing her popular Chi-Town Kpop party Seoul Train to NYC for a special night while also preparing the release of her own Kpop album, her starpower is about to shine even brighter!
Thotyssey: Soju, hello! How was your week?
Soju: Ahnyoung Ha Sae Yo! I’m having a VERY busy week. Lots to get ready for my Kpop Parties.
As if the world didn’t already know, you are part of the fierce lineup of Chicago’s drag elite! How would you describe what it is about the Chicago scene that makes it so special?
I think we are a big enough city where drag queens can make money and grow… but small enough that we don’t have enough competition, so we aren’t pressured to follow one specific style of drag. Usually cities follow drag trends that pay their bills, but in Chicago we focus more on pulling an amazing look. Most drag queens aren’t full time drag queens, so they save up their money to turn heads and have a good time.
Tell us about where we can usually find you there.
I’m usually at XYZ, which is a late 90’s early 00’s party in Roscoe’s Tavern. It’s a fun show / party every first Sunday of the month. I also sometimes perform at Drag Matinee at Berlin Nightclub which is every Saturday. Both hosted by Trannika Rex! They are some of the biggest drag shows in Chicago, so I’m definitely blessed.
I love the segments on your YouTube show where you make your guest queens eat the “exotic” Korean food that you grew up with, and predictably most of them are fearful of it. But Korean cuisine is damn delicious! What food would you never, ever eat?
I have an iron stomach, so I can eat ANYTHING. Actually, there is one thing I can not eat: bananas. LOL, I don’t know why but I HATE bananas.
You are Korean-born, but you grew up in rural Iowa where your military-employed dad was stationed. You’ve spoken of having to hide your traditional food and all aspects of your heritage from the other kids because they would make fun of you. Was there a specific moment later in life when you decided it was time to re-embrace your culture?
When I started driving on my own, I got to finally get out of the rural area I lived in and go to areas where lots of Koreans lived. When I finally started making more Korean friends, I started becoming more confident and embraced my culture. I realized what made me different was also special and amazing. I started educating my friends instead of being embarrassed about my heritage.
What was your first gig like as Soju?
My first gig was being part of Shea Coulee’s art film Lipstick City. I was a month old into drag, but they reached out to me to be part of a scene with Kim Chi and other fabulous queens, so of course I said yes. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and if it wasn’t for [stylist] Tiger Lilly I wouldn’t have known what to wear. I was so nervous to be in the same room with girls like Shea and Kim, but honestly it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from just being there.
I saw you perform here in NYC back in September for the Lady Liberty competition. Your Chicago sis Lucy Stoole was there too! You incorporated martial arts into your number and broke a board onstage; it was everything! Is martial arts something you keep up with in your daily life? And has the board ever not broken when you attempted in the past?
I’ve broken blocks of concrete, so wooden boards are walk in the park for me! Taekwondo is something I’ve studied and practiced since I was 2 years-old. Once you reach a status of fifth degree black belt, martial arts becomes your life. I make day-to-day decisions with the wisdom I gained from practicing martial arts. I think it’s a big part of who Soju is.
Let’s dish on the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race for a minute. First of all, the season’s sole Asian queen, NYC’s own beloved Yuhua Hamasaki (a recent guest on your web show), Sashayed Away. Did you have high hopes for her?
I always have high hopes for my Asian sisters. I really hope I get to see more than one Asian queen [per season] being part of the show. I liked that Yuhua didn’t come in bitchy, or with a less-han smart-edit, LOL I love my girls Gia and Kimora but I just wanted more for Yuhua. It was really sad to see her go home.
The other big moment of that episode (that carried over into the Untucked behind-the-scenes aftershow) was the confrontation between Aquaria and another Chicago gurl, The Vixen. A brief recap: Aquaria came for the Vixen’s borrowed wig, and the Vixen then shot her down with rapidfire clapbacks, leaving Aquaria a weepy mess. This prompted The Vixen to note how viewers would perceive her as the Angry Black Queen bullying the poor white queen, even though Aquaria clearly started it. Many liked her message, but not so much her delivery. Where do you stand with that?
For me, it’s always about delivery. I understand Vixen’s frustration to see Aquaria cry and in turn make her out to be this angry person. It makes good TV, but in real life Vixen isn’t as aggressive as she is portrayed to be on TV. So to see Vixen being that way on TV is sad, and I hope it doesn’t overshadow her talents.
Is being a contestant on a future season of Drag Race something you’d consider?
Drag Race seems like fun, but I don’t know if I can work under SO MUCH pressure. I have a good thing going right now. But I do love the show, and it’s the reason why I can do what I do.
Your YouTube show Shot with Soju Live Ruview where you recap Drag Race, interview its stars and cover a bunch of other stuff, is wildly popular with drag fans. What’s the best and worst thing about internet fame?
I’m so blessed that I have drag fans that love and watch Shot with Soju Live Ruview. It’s been a lot of fun. We started doing the Reviews LIVE every week, which is super exciting because nothing is edited and it’s all unfiltered.
The best thing about having internet fame is that I’m given this platform where my words and actions can inspire and touch so many people around the world.
The worst thing is that because what I say and what I do is so public, people can pick on the smallest thing and misconstrue anything to paint me in a bad picture. When people attack me for things that are not true about me, it hurts me the most. But I also have to learn how to ignore those people. Which I’m trying harder to do now.
There was a little drama a few months back surrounding a video you released where you criticized Monikkie Shame’s casting in the Worlds of Wonder drag competition web series Dragula. You recalled in the video how Monikkie was being racist and just really aggressive during a previous social media exchange you had with her. Monikkie told us a little about her side of the story. Is this all water under the bridge now, or do you still feel hurt and anger towards her?
I’m a very passionate person and I’m sensitive. At the time, I was very upset and angered that someone who was so vile and racist to me was given the chance to be on a show. But Monikkie did apologize to me, and I believe in forgiving people. I forgive, but I don’t forget. And though we might not be friends, I still don’t want any harm for her or her career. I don’t dwell on the past when mends are made; I’m too focused on my current life, and what more is to come.
Has Kpop always played an important part of your life growing up?
Kpop was EVERYTHING every since I was young. When all my friends would listen to children’s music, I would sneak into my older brother’s room and take his tapes.My favorites back then were H.O.T., S.E.S., FinkL, etc.
When I came to America, I stopped listening to Kpop because my parents wanted us to focus on learning English; but when I started embracing my culture again I got right back into it. Kpop is forever part of my life. It’s what excites me and makes me happy.
What made you realize it was time to record your own Kpop music?
Performing Arts were always more interesting to me than Fine Arts. I always loved to sing and be on stage, and I think that’s why drag fits so well in my life. When I knew I wanted to start making original music, I automatically gravitated towards Kpop. I wanted to continue to share my Korean culture, and show my drag art, all in one package. It was the most authentic thing I could do.
I love your new single “So Juicy,” which is part Korean and part English. The video for the song was shot with Jaymes Mansfield in the cutest laundromat I’ve ever seen. Where was that?
It was in a small laundromat in Evanston. It was funny because the owners knew we were filming something, but didn’t know what exactly. When they saw all these drag queens coming in and being… drag queens, they looked so scared and confused!
Jaymes is a close drag friend of mine. She’s always down to collaborate when I’m not even a Ru Girl. She really loves what she does, and it shows in her drag. I love that man.
Tell us about the album you’re releasing.
My mini-album Kpop Idol Reject is set to release end of May! It’s gonna be all Kpop music, and we have some amazing music videos for it coming out soon. My friend Edward Avila is also featured on it. I can’t wait for my fans to hear / see it.
What makes Korean-American beauty blogger Edward Avila so unique and popular, and how did you meet him?
Edward and I were Tumblr friends WAY back in the day! We were just lil’ gay Asian boys on the internet talking, and when we got older we met up and solidified our friendship. We laugh now, seeing how life has brought us together again: him as a HUGE Korean beauty YouTuber, and me as a man in a wig.
Seoul Train party is a Kpop kiki that you and Edward debuted in Chicago. What was the atmosphere like, and who came out to it?
When I started my Seoul Train in Chicago, I thought, “well, I might as well bring out my friend Edward since he’s got his new single out, and I’m sure it’ll be fun.” I didn’t think it would be this HUGE party. We reached capacity on a Thursday night within the first hour, and stayed that way all night. I knew I had to do it again with Edward–but even bigger, in NYC.
Following our successful Kpop Party in Chicago, I’m bringing the biggest Kpop Party to NYC! All my friends and fans in NYC will be coming out. Jiggly Caliente is my big sis, and she’s going to be performing her new hit “IDGAF” during the party, too! There are going to be Kpop lovers, drag queens, models, and just everyone is gonna be there. It’s set in this beautiful location, and I can not wait to have an amazing night with all my NYC Kpop fans!
NYC’s own fierce Korean queen Jasmine Rice will be there hosting as well. Jasmine actually won that Lady Liberty competition you were in, cuz she had to be all extra and bring in a full orchestra for her slaying opera number. Was that your first meeting with her?
No! I met Jasmine way back when I started drag. She’s actually the first one to give me a gig in NYC. I fell in love with her and Brita Filter from that gig. Also that’s how I met Monet and Miz Cracker–they had their show right after Jasmine and Brita’s. I owe my NYC drag career to Jasmine.
Anything else coming up for you?
I will continue to throw Kpop parties all around America, so please stay tuned. Shot with Soju Ruview is every Thursday after the show at 10pm Chicago Time. My album will be coming out end of May, with four songs and a new music video.
Final, random question: There’s a new country-ish album from Kylie Minogue! Yay, Pass, or Who Cares?
Gag! Thanks, Soju!