Hungry’s Distortion of Drag
FAUX, FISH, GOTH, GENDERFUCK – HUNGRY EMBODIES NO EXISTING DRAG GENRE.
We arrive for our interview at a coworking space for bloggers in Kreuzberg. Hungry is already there, quietly applying his makeup. Today he’s opted for more subdued, natural makeup in lieu of his signature praying-mantis-like mask. It’s a change-up he calls his “boy look.”
With one peek at the pierced and bejeweled images of him on Instagram, or at one of his YouTube live performances, it’s easy to expect Hungry in the flesh to radiate the same life force as his images do on a smartphone screen.
But as he takes a seat, flashing a polite, closed-mouth smile, it seems that he could be a textbook introvert when the camera flash is off. He’d rather not answer questions about his makeup work for Björk, which in 2017 catapulted him to international fame.
Then-20-year-old Berlin fashion student Johannes first tried drag when friends convinced him to attend a weekly drag show in 2014 hosted by Pansy, oft referred to as the mother of Berlin’s alt-drag scene.
Johannes put on a wig and a pal painted his face. After a few months of trying out new looks and meandering amid audience members, Pansy took notice and offered him a chance to perform. At that point, his aesthetic hadn’t yet been realized. “I was really mostly concerned about being the beautiful one, the natural one,” he explains.
Hungry emerged a year later when Johannes moved to London to intern with Aitor Throup and Vivienne Westwood. Within the polished, apolitical drag world of London – a far cry from the radical kitsch of Berlin – boredom quickly took hold.
“I realized there's enough [commercial drag] already. So, I thought, I might as well try to … play around a bit,” he says, choosing his words with care.
Back in Berlin, “playing around” begot a new style: “distorted drag.” Looks inspired by insects, sea creatures and religious iconography met the application of prosthetics, strong contouring, beady contact lenses and, of course, the artist’s deft skill with cosmetic brushes and a sewing machine.
Johannes’ alias, Hungry, resulted from hours spent too consumed with stitching together garments to remember to eat.
“Drag can be whatever you want it to be,” he says. “Berlin gave me a stage to perform right away without having any background … the scene is young. It’s more chaotic, but it’s more fun. It’s more punk.”
Today, the artist’s aesthetic is constantly evolving – from the pastel tones of his styling work for Björk, to looks inspired by 19th-century English fox hunts, paired with YSL boots.
Closer inspection, however, reveals an homage to Johannes himself: Striking deity headdresses dripping with gold evoke the garb of temple dancers, harking back to his half-Thai heritage; and furred throws and horns evoke his upbringing in rural Bavaria.
There’s a misconception that true drag is fake eyelashes, big hair and an even bigger mouth; an unapologetic vision of hyper-femininity, glamour and sass perpetuated by RuPaul’s Drag Race and more traditional pageantry.
Hungry smashes such classifications, choosing androgynous avant-garde over sky-high heels. In that respect, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree – one of his drag foremothers was Berlin’s ever-political and mustachioed Gloria Viagra.
Even so, Hungry is conscious of disassociating himself from Berlin’s old guard. He’s instead embraced untraditional drag artists like Sasha Velour, the bald-headed winner of Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, whose shows mashup lip-syncs of Whitney Houston classics with homage to Marlene Dietrich and Betty Davis. The duo toured together in 2018.
“My work is visual, not political,” he says of where he fits in among the sirens of Berlin’s drag scene. “It’s only political because I’m outside the norm.”
“I can’t save the world and I do not want to,” he insists. “I am no pioneer.”
Hungary’s lightning strike of fame would say otherwise: His Instagram followers top 387,000. Even so, at one point his Instagram bio read: “90% sure I’ve peaked.”
But dark humor and vulnerability, whipped together with a bubblegum-pink eye or animal body-mods, are this disrupter’s recipe for reinvention.