Justice for Rock M. Sakura, robbed queen of RuPaul's Drag Race
It's times like these — after a superstar queen exits RuPaul's Drag Race far before her time — that we're most reminded of the eternal words of lauded American poet Paula Abdul: "I'm tired of people not treating me like the gift that I am."
Gifts like Rock M. Sakura, the latest lady to sashay away from the Emmy-winning reality competition series, are a blissful rarity. With genuine kindness, quick-witted humor, and singular fashion sense inspired by Japanese anime, manga, pop stars, and the beautiful chaos that lives inside her mind, the San Francisco-based queen won our hearts from the moment she decided to take a nap in the middle of a live runway during the season 12 cast reveal.
Amid a peculiar (but not horrendous!) showing on this week's ball-themed drag ball challenge, Sakura's avant-garde sensibilities (and more-is-more approach to style, complete with a genius tetherball-inspired wig that literally swung around her head on a chain) shockingly landed her in the bottom two against New York City's Brita. After struggling to make ends meet (and convey a convincing pineapple silhouette on her Hawaiian-themed gown), Brita stitched together a cohesive lip-sync that ultimately overtook Sakura's split-tastic approach in the eyes of Mama RuPaul. Even as she left in tears, Sakura's irresistible charm shone through, as she looked the audience dead in the eyes and reminded them to never give up on themselves while also beckoning: "Remember: Every time you fart, that's just me saying 'I love you!'" Never forget a legend!
In the wake of her surprising elimination, Sakura had a chat with EW about her time on the show, wearing her emotions on her (humungous) sleeves over her three-episode stint, how she feels about being a walking thirst trap in the eyes of #DragRace Twitter, and who she would've played on Snatch Game if she'd had the chance. Read on for the full interview, and be sure to tune into RuPaul's Drag Race season 12 when it returns Friday at 8:00 p.m. on VH1.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hello Rock!
ROCK M. SAKURA: Hi baby! How are you?
I’m simultaneously happy and sad that we’re talking because I hoped I wouldn’t have to interview you again for another two months when you won the crown.
Trust me, I was devastated when it happened the first time!
I’m so sorry we have to relive it again. Months later, is it still shocking that you were eliminated second?
I never expected in my wildest dreams to go home when I did because you saw the challenge, I was very confident. I honestly don’t think I was the worst-looking person up there. I lip-synced my heart out. To this day, it still confounds me. I’m still perplexed. I don’t know what I did wrong!
There are so many positives though. People are obsessed with you. Did you have any idea fans would peg you as a walking thirst trap and turn your booty into a Twitter meme?
Oh my God, I had no idea, especially because the first episode I’m in, you see Dahlia Sin saying that I have all these muscles, and they cut to me but I look like a chicken that’s been sitting in brine for two days. I was so swollen that day. I’d not been drinking any water. When you come out of drag, you look like a freshly born baby, just completely saggy and puffy. I didn’t think I would be a thirst trap. I never see myself like that!
Was that encouraging?
It was definitely cute. It helped me with my self-image because I’ve had so many [negative partners]. One of my first boyfriends — it was like a middle school relationship — was very toxic and was like "You’re ugly and fat and no one’s ever going to like you and you’re lucky to have me!" That wasn’t great for my psyche!
What a child. He was literally being childish. We can’t pay attention to that now!
It’s ok. His other ex-boyfriend was on The Great American Baking Show and I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race, so we’re both on TV and he’s not. [Laughs] Also, he came to my first show I did in San Francisco and he was like, "I'm a big fan!" and he leaned in like, "I’m so sorry!” And then I pulled my knife out. He’s apologized multiple times, but I’ll never forgive him. He’s dead to me. Every day I go up to his picture on my makeup counter and I just put a big X on his face.
I think we need to move on from this man. It’s been 15 years?
I have so much baggage!
I want to talk about that because I think people know you as a hilarious person, but we also got to see a vulnerable side of you. You seem so in touch with and open about your pain and anxieties. Do you typically wear those emotions on your sleeve?
The intensity and stress of the competition brought that out. Going forward, I didn’t want to be another crybaby. I get worried that people are thinking I’m crying in order to get something and not crying because I’m hurt. My mother was an addict and she used to be like, "Stop crying, what do you want from me?" Being a healthy adult is crying when you feel upset. One thing I learned from the show is: You can cry when you feel upset but be brave when you need to be.
You tweeted the other day about people criticizing you for crying on the first episode and how that was triggering. Why was it important for you to publicly address it?
Especially that first episode when I talked about my mother, I had so many people sending messages about being in similar situations, like, more than 100 people saying their parents were addicted and blamed it on them. I’ve seen the impact that representation has…. I like to tweet about things I know: Food, anime, and video games, and I know how I’m feeling or the things that hurt me and the things that I don’t feel are right.
Were the Trixie Mattel and Kim Chi comparisons frustrating as well?
I don’t give a crap about the Trixie and Kim Chi comparisons. When it comes to personal matters, I like to tweet about things I care about!
I’ve noticed your humor comes out when you’re anxious or self-conscious. Why do you think humor and sadness go hand in hand for a lot of naturally funny people?
People who have a lot of trauma have survival mechanisms. For me, that was humor. I use it to tell myself that where I am is okay.... to keep me from my own anxiety and to keep me from facing things head-on. I used humor growing up as a way to tell my mom, who’d be like, “What do you want from me? Do you want something to eat? You know we’re poor. Do you want me to whore myself out?” that “I don’t have to eat today. I enjoy being skinny!” Before the show, I thought there was strength in vulnerability. That’s one of the strongest and fiercest things we can do: Communicate how we’re feeling and cry.... if something moves you we should be able and allowed to feel hurt. I don’t think people let themselves hear that enough, that it’s okay to feel hurt and that it’s okay to cry.
Despite how it turned out, it was great seeing the show go back to the queens designing things yourselves in this episode. Did the competitive aspect of building things by hand lead to your downfall?
I always make my stuff by hand…. I felt design was my strong suit, which is why I was confused when I went home. I think my downfall was I always wanted to be different and create something bigger than everyone around me, and sometimes that can alienate me. I don’t think I [should've been] in the bottom. It was conceptual and avant-garde. I was misunderstood!
The tetherball hair is immediately iconic and alone should’ve been enough to save you.
The whole ball thing threw me off, especially with basketball wives. One of my main downfalls was I didn’t design the outfit from the neck down for my tetherball look and I didn’t design the outfit from the neck down for my basketball wives outfit, because I wanted some up-and-coming San Francisco designers to have their talents shown. If I had the opportunity to redesign it in my own extravagant, big way, then yes, I'd redo it again. I thought of the hair.... I knew everyone was going to do baseball or soccer or basketball, so I was like, what’s a fun ball sport I could turn into something stupid or memorable? I almost did ping-pong as a reference to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But I was like, if I do ping-pong, that’s too stereotypically Asian!
Are you a classically trained break-dancer or is the grace with which you moved during the lip-sync just natural?
That’s natural! I live in a house with [a lot] of people and one of them happens to be a break-dancer, so, before the show, he helped me with a couple of moves. That’s usually how I get up from a split. It’s just easy. Every other way you get up from a split, it looks like you’re going to drop a deuce on the floor.
Let's be honest: that lip-sync should’ve been between Aiden and Brita. Did you see Aiden taking a nap in the Werk Room, like Brita said, while you guys were working?
Yes! She stopped early. She finished before everyone and took a nap. I get that you’re tired, girl, but all of us are! She and I are from different avenues of drag. She’s about simple silhouettes with a focus on letting the simplicity of her storytelling create the atmosphere. For me, everything is bigger, bolder, louder, and graphic. I think that’s why the judges wanted to save her from this lip-sync. You know if they put me and her in the bottom, I was going to do a split right on her neck. She would’ve been gone. I think she probably had a wig reveal and it was probably —
The same short wig!
That damn small wig! Can you imagine if she did a reveal for that? I want to see her do a wig reveal from that small wig and underneath it is a double-stacked, huge wig. That’s the only way she can wear that wig again!
Maybe she’ll dye it for future use! Who were you going to do for Snatch Game if you’d made it?
I had a couple options: Helen Kane. She was the influence for Betty Boop. She did steal her gig from a black woman, so I was going to address that in the character. I also had Aubrey Plaza and Marie Kondo!
Which one were you leaning toward?
My humor leans toward Aubrey because she has deadpan delivery and her whole comedic bit is that she’s also weird and is very abrasive. She’s a good character to play off other people. I also wanted to do a fun Asian person, so I was thinking, like, Scarlett Johansson?
I didn’t even think about that. Representation matters!
Exactly, yeah! [Laughs]
You're a superstar. I can’t wait to see what you do when this whole quarantine mess is over.
You know what everyone's doing? Getting some d---!
We did have the ball challenge, now we just need d--- to go with it.
[Screams in Rock M. Sakura].
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.