camp challenges conventional notions of what is “tasteful” and “beautiful.” some proclaim that camp celebrates the “tacky” by subverting social norms. and yes, that’s why we live for it! i think camp requires an unabashed courage to be theatrical and humorous in an approach to fashion, art, and culture. and one performer who employed all this and so, so much more is the legendary puerto rican icon that is iris chacón.
lovingly regarded as “la bomba de puerto rico,” iris chacon rose to fame as a singer, dancer, and television personality in the 1970s and 1980s. her extravagant stage outfits, elaborate headdresses, and provocative choreography propelled her to stardom across latin america and captured the imagination of LGBTQ+ fans.
as the host of her top-rated variety show “el show de iris chacón,” which aired for 15 years until 1985, chacón challenged traditional gender expectations that loomed large within the social climate of the 1970s with her boundary-pushing stage presence. her performances were often tongue-in-cheek and punctuated by male backup dancers who exuded queer sensibilities.
before “breaking the internet” and “going viral” was a thing, iris chacón accomplished the 1982 equivalent when her feature in a 30-second television commercial for amalie coolant, a heavy-duty motor oil, made waves with its play on words (coolant sounded similar to “culo,” the spanish world for ass). the ad was so impactful it landed chacón on the front page of the wall street journal and remains a hallmark of 80s pop culture in puerto rico.
chacón was able to parlay her international notoriety into sold-out concerts at radio city music hall in new york, one of the first latino artists to do so. she also broke ground stateside and helped introduce puerto rican culture to the mainstream with memorable guest spots on the merv griffin show, the joan rivers show and several appearances on the david letterman show.
in 1989, the latin-freestyle music movement was at its zenith. chacón not only had a prominent role in the campy-as-hell freestyle music movie “an eastside story,” which starred a marc anthony, but chacón also released the cooing sergio george-produced freestyle track “am i a tease.”
as the 1980s ended, so iris chacón’s bid for mainstream success. after starring in movies, hosting her variety TV show, and playing to sold-out crowds worldwide, chacón stepped out of the public eye in the late 1990s. she has re-emerged for the occasional performance at gay pride parade in puerto rico.
in june 2023, puerto rican drag icon jessica wild impersonated iris chacón during the “snatch game of love” challenge on the fifth episode of the eighth season of “rupaul’s drag race all stars.
iris chacón’s legacy remains strong and is remembered as a symbol of empowerment and authenticity. throughout her career, chacón has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights. she has used her platform to speak out against discrimination and injustic. her impact on LGBTQ+ culture and latin american entertainment continues to be celebrated, with new generations recognizing her as a trailblazer who fearlessly embraced her identity, her camp genius, and shared it with the world.