Happyland put world-class drag centre stage

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      It might have been overcast, but revellers at Happyland were overjoyed.

      The one-day Pride festival returned for its second year on August 6, taking over Playland and the PNE Forum for a five-hour chunk of music, drag, dancing, and alcoholic slushies.

      After DJ Softieshan spun some tunes to warm up the crowd, the acts started coming—and hoo boy, did they come thick and fast. Local non-binary drag house Enby 6 took to the stage first, though as a quintet with Rogue conspicuously missing. Venus, the host of the show (and one of the aforementioned six), kept the energy up on the mic, even as rides opened and some of the crowd trickled away to cavort in the theme park. The different Enby 6 members popped up to give solo performances throughout the day—a smart way to both highlight local drag excellence and keep the crowd entertained.

      And then, with no refractory period to speak of, the show launched into Priyanka—winner of Canada’s Drag Race (CDR) Season 1. She’d flown in that morning from Tennessee, where she’s currently filming HBO’s We’re Here, but you wouldn’t know it from her energetic performance flanked by two mesh-shirted dancers. Her set was short and sweet, ending with a powerhouse performance of “Come Through”—with special guest, fellow CDR queen Lemon appearing to bust out her extremely viral verse at the finale. (Priyanka’s in on the joke: she uploaded a one-hour loop of just Lemon’s verse to her YouTube.)

      Slayyyter seemed to have trouble competing with that, but real talk: I missed most of her set queuing for the Wooden Roller Coaster (which has installed seat belts since last time I rode it and thus feels way less like you’re gonna get flung over the safety bar on every bunny hill. Still great though!) “The great thing about Happyland is all the artists have to kill it,” my girlfriend reflected, “because you’ve got to be more entertaining than being jostled around like a naughty pear.”

      Next on the Happyland lineup was Alaska, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 2. She’s something of a pioneer of Drag Race queen music: a catchy, simple chorus riffing on a famous quote, designed to be danceable if not deep. But her ridiculous sense of humour places her exactly the right side of camp. “Your Makeup Is Terrible” was absurd and hilarious, while All-American Rejects-infused “Wow” made a great case for a drag queen-fronted pop-punk band. The highlight of gay chaos came from her dipping into two recent Drag Race memes: Monica Beverly Hillz’ low-key “Not A Soul Can Clock” and Loosey LaDuca’s camp “Let Loose.” A true scholar of culture.

      All hell broke loose when Pabllo Vittar stepped onto the stage. Numerically speaking, she is the most famous drag queen in the world, with tens of millions of social media followers, and hundreds of millions of Spotify plays and YouTube views—and, turns out, it’s extremely well deserved. The Brazilian icon nailed every step of her tightly practiced choreo, whipping around her long pink hair that delightfully matched the sliver of sunset. The tecnobraga beats proved perfect to dance to, and a dedicated crowd contingent delightedly sang along to every word. 

      There was no time for an encore, but she sang a little a capella as she left the stage, showing off a surprisingly rich soprano that seemed unaffected by the workout she just did. It’s genuinely baffling that Vittar played Celebrities last year. On this festival stage, with the audience eating her up, it became clear she belongs in arenas. 

      Finally, the pink-clad crowd roared in delight when nightmare Barbie doll Trixie Mattel took to the stage. Clad in her signature blonde hair, graphic makeup, and dizzying variety of outfits—she went through almost a dozen different looks with a mix of reveals, side-of-stage changes, and one hilariously botched stunt—Mattel was in her element. The multi-talented drag queen-singer-songwriter-comedian-makeup artist-YouTube star-motel owner played a mix of hits and covers, backed by a full band of musicians. In between songs, her easy banter mixed jokes and observations. 

      While mod-pop opener “We Got the Look” was a little subdued, excitement built through the set. Her cowboy cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” elicited a huge singalong, as did surf rock jam “Malibu.” But her bittersweet hometown ballad “This Town” proved to be a standout. Accompanied by home videos of Mattel as a teen and footage of Wausaukee, WI, it evoked a peculiar sense of rose-tinted nostalgia: loving a place that never loved you back.

      Mattel pulled a fake-out non-encore and returned for her cover of “Blister in the Sun.” Rain began to fall in small, soft drops. The cheers swelled. And then the fan-waving patrons jostled out as fast as possible in a mad dash to grab the nearby Evos.

      So, see you back there next year?