Rupaul's Drag Race has finally looked kindly on San Francisco by casting only the second local drag queen in the show's 12 seasons, and it's Rock M. Sakura. In real life, Rock lives in a self-described "art commune" in the Haight, and she's excited to show the world beyond SF her drag when the new season premieres on Friday (February 28) on VH1.
SFist spoke to Rock while she was at home last week, and for those who haven't seen her performing at Oasis or Bootie SF, I can say she's a queen with wit and smarts to spare. In her official intro interview for Drag Race, she cited influences like anime, Utada Hikaru, Perfume, and fashion runways. And some of her visual appeal may derive from non-drag, on-the-job training. "Before I started doing drag I was an illustrator and animator," she says. And that helps explain her talents in the painting of her face.
But this is a multi-talented queen who will hopefully go far on the show. Below, the text of our brief interview.
SFist: How are you doing today?
Rock M. Sakura: I just slipped in the shower just now because I was dancing. That about sums me up.
Were you born and raised in San Francisco?
I was actually born and raised in San Jose, and I moved to San Francisco about two years ago. I first did drag about five years ago. I was working in fast food before doing this full time, and I would work like four days, sometimes 14- or 16-hour shifts. And then I'd come to the city for like two days and do drag.
It was intense. Fast food sucks so much, I would do literally anything to not do it.
Where did you first perform in drag? And do you have a drag mother?
The first time was in 2015. I performed at a club called the Camp Club in Mountain View — right outside of NASA. We only had two or three people in the audience at a time when I performed there — I would literally leave sometimes with like one or two dollars in tips. It was truly sad.
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Maybe the biggest influence your drag, which you've already said, is K-pop and Japanese anime. But which SF queens, if any, had a significant influence on your drag?
I wouldn't say any of the queens have influenced my makeup — but they definitely have influenced how I perform. This city has always been a staple of good, narrative, storytelling drag. Not top 40 lip syncs, but always something with a new performative or political twist. Performing here has definitely made me stronger as a performer.
How do you think you fit in with the Rupaul's Drag Race pantheon? Like did you feel like the show pushed you into a certain style of drag, or do you consider yourself pretty vers?
Just getting onto the show pushes you to do different things. Especially because I always aimed to get on Drag Race, I was always thinking about the audience and the show helps you sort of realize yourself as a product to sell to people, as well as helping you become a more well-rounded performer. It helps you think more about business, I guess, and it helps girls create careers for themselves. Because just performing in SF it would be hard to make an actual living.
Why is that?
San Francisco booking fees can range from like $80 to $120 at big clubs for local queens, but smaller venues will be $30 to $50 sometimes. But in New York, or once you make a name for yourself, it can be a lot more just for one night — especially if you're headlining — and it helps the girls support their art.
I mean, what you make in San Francisco in one night barely covers half a shoe. But I don't care. I'll go barefoot. As long as your bar floor's sticky I'll perform.
Are you excited or scared to have your family see you on TV? I'm assuming they've seen you perform?
The first time that my mom ever saw me in drag was recently. She was an assistant to one of my photo shoots, and she said she loved seeing me in drag because it was the happiest she'd ever seen me. I'm excited to have my family see me doing what I love — I'm not scared at all.
What aspects of SF drag would you say that you bring to the show?
Here in SF we have a knack for empathy and caring. A lot of girls on the show kind of gravitate toward like strength through assertiveness — a lot of sass and drama — and I would say a strong point in my drag is kindness and fun, and that's something I've learned here.
What queens from the show do you consider idols of yours?
When I first got into drag it was around Season 6, so I was really inspired by Milk. She embodies a lot of the things that I do — crazy cuckoo out there. I don't think I would have started doing drag if it wasn't for that type of representation on the show. Out of the box, really creative stuff. I also really like Katya. She's a good comedic inspiration for me, and she has a really poignant backstory about herself and drug abuse — and I've had experience with my family and drug abuse, so that's a relatable point for me.
Tell me about TrishTV.
Oh, TrishTV. It was actually something that helped me elevate my drag quite a bit. It's run by my friends Cash Monet and Mama Celeste. It started out as a drag magazine. We used to sell zines, and I used to draw comics for it. TrishTV then evolved into a YouTube channel after we decided to do a muckbang (an eating show format popularized in South Korea), and it gave our drag a new venue.
I pretty much was raised on a diet of YouTube videos and internet memes. So it was really exciting when TrishTV basically gave me my own show. The Tuckbang is basically a talk show where I eat food in drag, my three favorite things. I wanted to do the Tuckbang because as I was telling Cash, as drag queens with full-time jobs we never had any time to see our friends unless we're doing drag — so doing the show was also just a way for us to hang out.
People might assume from your drag name that you're Japanese-American, so set the record straight.
I'm Filipino-, Korean-, Chinese-, and Japanese-American. I'm a lot of Asians. I've got a lot of different Asian people supporting me and reaching out on Instagram, which is great. People are like, "Are you Filipino?" and I can say "Yes!" Asian people are just so happy to see any representation because we don't get it in media — or at least we didn't until recently.
When can we see you perform next in SF?
I'll be headlining at PopTart at Oasis on Feb. 29, right after the show airs — tickets are available online. Mother has always been my home stage so I'm really happy that my first headlining gig will be at Oasis, even though Mother has ended.
And you've performed at Seoul Train with Soju, right?
Yes! I do K-pop numbers, and I kind of want to travel with a J-pop party. I'm going to be performing J-pop on Saturday — if people are going to see me, look out for subtitles! But one thing with my drag is that I'm able to perform songs that are in a lot of different languages and it kind of doesn't matter what they're saying. It's more about the energy and performance — this music is like the universal language of fun.