The Adventures of Popcorn, Queen of TaipeiWritten by Sarah S
Popcorn is one of Taipei’s most prestigious drag queens, complete with a photo shoot in Vogue Me. Find out how he discovered his passion and how being free to express oneself is about so much more than feathers and heels.
Against the backdrop of Taiwan’s cultural awakening, a new genre is stepping front of stage as Taipei begins to snap at Bangkok’s heels as the drag queen capital of Asia. We talked to Nick – English teacher by day and drag queen Popcorn by night – about how moving to Taipei, shedding his self-consciousness and replacing it with six-inch heels changed his life.
It was only a year ago when Popcorn was just Nick from New Zealand teaching English in Japan. Before regular evenings of sequins and feather boas down at PIPE Live Music’s C.U.M Party, he tells us, “I always loved to perform and dress up. But I really decided to do this after going to a festival in Taiwan. I was dancing on a beach with this girl who was also bald, and we were swapping a wig back and forth. I was swishing my hair around and I thought, ‘I could do this, I could really do this all the time!’ And, as soon as I moved to Taipei, I just threw myself into this persona.”
Moving to Taipei with now-fiancée Henry in 2017, Popcorn now leads the most fabulous double-life as an English teacher by day and one of Taipei’s most prestigious drag queens by night. Donning the name Popcorn at the very same festival, he enthuses, “It just has an explosive ring to it. It’s pop art, pop culture, pop music and popping my p***y on the stage.”
Growing up artistic, Nick’s personal drag style is a tapestry of influences from the theatrical, dark fashion of Alexander McQueen to the geometrical makeup of Berlin’s drag queen Hungry and the other-worldly. And his performances are no less eclectic. “Sometimes I do traditional feminine elements, but usually I do quite terrifying harsh eyebrows and alien characteristics. I do a kind of writhing, claw-like, slithering towards the audience. I will pull things out of me – I actually gave birth on stage once,” he says matter-of-factly. “I like to scare the audience a little bit, to not just challenge what gender is but also question what it is to be human. What are our bodies for? How can we push our fleshy vessels into all these different, colourful and bizarre directions?”
It’s an attention-grabbing approach that has worked. Just this September Popcorn was featured in a “saucy, humid and steamy photo shoot” for Taiwanese Vogue Me. It was through this media coverage that Nick introduced Popcorn to his parents back home in New Zealand. “They’re still somewhat conservative, so I introduced it to them in bits and pieces. It was only when I did Vogue that I sent them photos of what I’ve been doing,” he explains. ‘They were very taken aback, but I think they saw could obviously see I was passionate about it, and the creativity and joy I got from it, so in the end, they were just happy for me.”
With an upcoming marriage equality referendum in Taiwan and conversations igniting about Taiwan becoming the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, moving to Taipei was a crucial move in Popcorn’s freedom to be herself. “In terms of LGBT rights, Taiwan is definitely the freest place in Asia and is on par with Bangkok for drag,” says Nick. “It’s very free, you can dress how you want, your performances aren’t going to get raided by the police. It’s just so polite and doesn’t have that culture of street violence.”
Whilst there is a lot to smile about, he recognises that liberalism is ever-evolving and no place is a perfect haven. “I think there is still that feeling that drag queens are deviant, evil and scary. Some people just have such a strong binary and anyone in between is scary. I think it’s somewhat influenced by pop culture – in Silence of the Lambs the transvestite characters were serial killers,” he laughs. “But in reality, drag queens are the lightest, most creative and generous people that’ll always help you no matter what.”
Still in the self-proclaimed “infant stage of drag”, Popcorn already wants her unapologetic sense of self to resonate with those watching her. “I just really want to do and try everything without fear or nervousness. If something scares me, I will go out and do it. I want to try and get other people to that point as well, where you’re not afraid of expressing yourself and being scared of what other people think of you. Where you just say, ‘I’m here!’”
Whilst nothing quite says “I’m here” like stripteasing down to popcorn nipple tassels, this is a message everyone can take home, and one Nick is keen to share. “Looking forward, I really want to run a drag school in Taipei and make a theatrical and artistic base where people can come and be as expressive, queer and bizarre as they want in a safe space.” It’s a message that transcends well beyond Popcorn’s outfits and out-there performances, and one with ripple effects way beyond her own niche. If art mirrors life, Taipei is about to get a whole lot more fabulous.