Amidst the intoxicated undergrads and costumed barhoppers that filled the streets on Halloweekend in D.C., there was one show that inspired more shock and awe than any ghost or ghoul could. Older queens, 20-somethings in cliched getups, teenage fans of Drag Race—a kaleidoscopic crew gathered at The Howard Theatre for this one-of-a-kind performance. As I waited on the open floor of the theater, sneakers sticking on spilled booze and camera in hand, I could not have possibly predicted what tricks and treats Alaska had in store for me. I knew I was in for a wild ride.
Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 is no newcomer to the drag scene; she has been performing as the Alaska character since the late 2000s and garnered national fame and adoration with her two runs on the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise. Neither is she a newcomer to the music industry, as she has released four albums prior to Red 4 Filth (2022). Despite a variety of artistic endeavors, the key ingredients in any Alaska performance have always been constant: a unique, if unhinged, sense of humor, quick wit, and impressive versatility. This show was no exception. Alaska bent time and space to bring her audience right where she wanted, knocked their socks off, and did it all while looking exquisite.
As the lights went out and the onstage screen lit up, it became clear that this was more than just an exhibition of music—it was an immersive drag experience. Throughout the performance, Alaska stitched together a plethora of genres in an amalgamation of music, outfits, and visuals, and somehow it all worked together perfectly.
The show started in the far reaches of the galaxy, where the high energy electronic pop song “beautiful (night 4 a) breakdown” provided the soundtrack to a space-opera drama on the fictional planet of Glamtron. Accompanied by synthetic drum beats and a subtle Latin pop edge, Alaska effortlessly floated across the stage in her metallic silver gown, flanked by eye-candy backup dancers. Rather than continue the show in this sci-fi genre, Alaska instead switched things up and pulled the audience back to the year 2000. Here she joined a group of stereotypical valley girls (à la the Plastics in Mean Girls (2004)) to explore the wonders of a mall in the Y2K era, all set to the fun period piece “XOXOY2K.” Cheeky pop culture references in the lyrics combined with intricate choreography to produce an enticing and nostalgic scene (even if I may be a little young to truly appreciate it). The abrupt genre shifts did not end here, though. Throughout the night, the crowd was treated to a Hollywood love story, a political intrigue, a Super Bowl halftime performance, and a melancholy ballad.
If this structure seems outlandish, nonsensical, and hard to follow, then you would be right. Most artists would never attempt to integrate a science-fiction action movie or a cheesy Y2K tribute video into their shows, let alone both at the same time. But that is where the genius of Alaska lies: she does not let realism get in the way of entertainment. Sure, drawn-out vocal runs may be more impressive, but a dancing troop of science fiction minions with red bob wigs is way more fun to look at. Alaska was not only able to skillfully belt out her new singles but also stun the crowd with outfit reveals and dramatics, and then seamlessly get the crowd laughing as well. That is what you call versatility.
Although Alaska had created a captivating and ambitious story for the audience to enjoy, the true villain of the show were the technical difficulties, constantly menacing the performers from start to finish. As early as the opening number, microphones were malfunctioning, background videos were playing out of sync, and music began blaring off-cue. For some performers, these kinds of issues could have cascaded into catastrophe and ruined a well-rehearsed show. Alaska, however, is not just any performer. She handled these hiccups with professionalism and class while keeping the audience engaged and laughing. Addressing a broken headset, Alaska quipped, “I’m not lip syncing!” eliciting laughter from the crowd. Around the midway point and after a flurry of complications, Alaska dropped to the floor and began rolling around in defeat, later joking that this was the “final dress rehearsal.”
While some critics may have written the show off right there, to me, this messiness in no way sullied the performance as a whole. Alaska gracefully handled every challenge thrown her way and often used them to her advantage, getting the crowd to laugh with her rather than at her. I would also argue that Alaska’s drag style is not what one would consider “polished and pristine,” and so the technical issues worked more to her advantage than against her. If Alaska’s messy hair and out-of-pocket humor was something that I praised her for, then I could forgive a broken microphone or two.
Alongside all of Alaska’s new music, there was also plenty of fan service for those familiar with her brand. Longtime listeners were ecstatic to see the Super Bowl-inspired episode that came halfway through the show. At this point in the night, Alaska donned a cropped football jersey and sang the most well-known hits in her discography. Fans joined in to shout out the iconic lines of “Your Makeup is Terrible,” “Nails,” and Alaska’s verse on the legendary Drag Race single, “Read U Wrote U.” This was certainly a high point in the night—a moment where the diverse fans in the theater could join together to chant the bars that first drew us into the cult of Alaska Thunderfuck.
Perhaps the most hyped song of the night, though, was “Girlz Night,” a single off her latest album featuring the drag queen pop trio Stephanie’s Child. For this number, Alaska brought out Lagoona Bloo, a member of the group, to perform alongside her. This was not the first time the audience had seen Lagoona that night—she had opened Alaska’s show with a mix of covers and original music and executed it all with flawless precision. As the crowd vibed to Alaska and Lagoona’s dual vocals on the energetic track, Alaska ushered in her secret weapon: Jan, another popular drag queen from Drag Race and fellow member of Stephanie’s Child. The crowd burst into uproar as Jan, clad in pastel purple feathers and rhinestones, belted out high notes that shook the floorboards beneath our feet. It was a touching moment seeing these three talented drag queens and friends perform this absolute bop together.
While the show had its share of rowdiness and off-the-rails moments, towards the end Alaska put aside the antics and transitioned to a laid-back performance of her more bare-bones singles. In a sleeved sparkling white gown and fake Spirit Halloween chains, Alaska solemnly sang “22,” a stripped down ballad about the pains of being young and repressing your identity. A musical memorial to Alaska’s own struggles growing up as a queer person, the lyrics felt particularly pointed towards younger members of the audience who may be going through similar situations. Arms went up and phone flashlights waved as Alaska smoothly sang, “I promise it’s going to get better,” and “22’s around the corner.” Following that bitterness and grief, Alaska harnesses all of that for “wow,” a pop rock song about the anger from past romantic mistakes. Shedding her white gown to reveal a red leather punk outfit underneath, Alaska thrashed her head and flailed her body as the crowd joined in to passionately scream the key lines of the chorus, “I never should’ve fucked with you!”
Energetic, raunchy, hilarious, messy, innovative, heartfelt—there are so many ways that you could describe Alaska and her Red 4 Filth show. However, there is one word that has no place in that description: boring. Whatever fictional genre or musical style Alaska endeavored to perform, she did so successfully while maintaining her spontaneous personality—a true testament to her versatility as an artist. While it may have seemed like a car crash to the uninitiated, to fans, Red 4 Filth was a masterful culmination of seven years of work in an industry hostile to non-traditional artists. The outrageous Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 is a performer like no other, and you’ll just have to see her in person to get a taste of what she brings to the pop scene.