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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race channels the ’80s for a surprisingly strong singing challenge

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race channels the ’80s for a surprisingly strong singing challenge

Judges on reality TV competitions are supposed to help the contestants improve their game, but the last two episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race have featured critiques and suggestions from the judges that aren’t especially useful. Last week’s Empire challenge had RuPaul and Faith Evans directing the acting-impaired queens by giving them stereotypical behaviors to repeat, which resulted in hollow performances that didn’t have any real character behind them. That wasn’t as bad as what goes down this week with Lucian Piane and Michelle Visage, who offer critiques that don’t make much sense in Lucian’s case, or are just plain wrong in Michelle’s.

“New Wave Queens” is the dreaded singing challenge, breaking the queens up into groups of three that write lyrics for original retro tracks inspired by the party, synth, and punk music of the ’80s. The contestants get to pick their own teams and tracks, and they have a rehearsal with Lucian before they perform in front of a live audience. Lucian has some solid stuff to say to Dragometry (Chi Chi, Derrick, Naysha) and Les Chicken Wings (Kim, Naomi, and Robert), but his notes for Street Meatz (Betty, Bob, and Thorgy) are very confusing, and while the episode milks a lot of drama from Bob and Lucian butting heads, I fully understand why Bob is having trouble understanding Lucian’s direction.

Lucian says that their performance is too character-y and theatrical, and that they’re losing the cool B-52s vibe in the cheesiness. Bob counters by arguing that she believes the B-52s are cheesy, but then Lucian responds by clarifying that he wants them to bring their own style to it, citing Lorde as an example. Lucian is trying to move the group away from B-52s mimicry, but what does Lorde have anything to do with ’80s party music? The queens are performing in a style that fits the track they’ve been given pretty well, and Lorde is a bad example of someone they should be looking to for inspiration on this song. Bob makes a mistake in choosing to argue further with Lucian instead of just shutting up and following Lucian’s direction for the rehearsal, which is just unprofessional, but I can’t fault her for being confused by what he’s being asked to do, especially when the Street Meatz end up giving a strong performance by being character-y and theatrical and cheesy.

Part of me wonders how much of this drama is manufactured on Bob’s part, and considering how well she knows Drag Race, I wouldn’t be surprised if the tension Bob causes in this episode is part of her game strategy. It’s smart for Bob to reveal some of her character flaws after winning last week’s challenge, which gives her something to improve on as the season continues. Apologizing immediately on the runway also shows that she recognizes her mistakes and owns up to them, and gives her some extra screen time in the process. For someone that isn’t the winner or loser of the challenge, Bob gets a lot of attention this week, proving that she knows how to play the reality TV game.

Much of that attention is focused on the degradation of Bob and Thorgy’s friendship as Bob becomes increasingly frustrated with Thorgy’s dismissive behavior during the lyric writing process, but there’s a performative quality to this beef that makes it feel premeditated. Considering Bob and Thorgy’s history together, and how chummy they’ve been in Untucked specifically, I wouldn’t put it past them to conspire to create some extra drama that they control. Of course, this could also be genuine frustration and tension, which is amplified in the high-stakes environment of the Drag Race workroom.

While the personal drama is an essential aspect of this series, this episode could have done with a little less because it takes time away from the runway looks, which are especially rushed this week. This is typically the case when the queens perform on the runway before showing off their wardrobes, but there are some very cool fashions that don’t get very much attention (specifically Kim Chi’s surreal look, which has one of the strangest makeup jobs ever attempted on this series). That said, the most impressive look of the evening gets plenty of attention from the judges panel (which includes Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of Blondie), and they all gag over Acid Betty’s ensemble, which Stein accurately describes as “Nosferatu goes to Fiorucci.” The hair and makeup is especially impressive, combining alien weirdness with pretty glamour to create a distinctive character on stage.


Michelle criticizes Betty’s look for her performance as being too ’50s-inspired, but if The B-52s are the guiding influence for the party track, then ’50s inspiration comes with the territory. It does feel like Michelle is trying extra hard to critique Acid Betty, and every week she’s had something to criticize despite Betty’s consistently strong showings on the runway. This is probably intended to force Betty to stay on her toes and give her something to work toward, but it feels like a stretch this week.

“New Age Queens” is actually one of Drag Race’s stronger singing episodes, and the two meat-themed groups do very well, showing wit in their writing and confidence in their performances. Thorgy steals the show in Street Meatz performance, largely because she has a giant pyramid on her head that draws all eyes to her, but also because she’s having such a good time on stage. The sense that Thorgy has fun with everything she does is what makes her such an engaging queen this season, and her enthusiasm on stage is contagious.


In general, Street Meatz has strong energy and each queen has a distinct personality (Betty is just a little less aggressive than Thorgy and Bob), but they’re not quite as bold as Les Chicken Wings, who take Lucian’s direction to heart and really push themselves to bring raw punk passion to their performance. Robbie redeems herself after last week’s lackluster acting challenge by taking charge of the group, but Kim and Naomi are the real surprises, showing that they have some solid performance skills to go with their more fashion-centric drag. They’re not at Robbie’s level yet (she clearly has musical theater experience), but they’re still impressive, bringing plenty of attitude and style to the stage. Les Chicken Wings are the winning team with Robbie as the heavily telegraphed big winner, and it’s a deserved win considering how well they take direction and how successful they are at turning their chicken wing gimmick into an innuendo-laden punk jam.

Dragometry delivers the kind of sad performance I expect from these singing challenges, and their nonsensical tune about “rectangle girls of the world” isn’t clever or catchy. Derrick gets credit from the judges, particularly Debbie Harry, for her singing ability, but the rest of her performance doesn’t grab the judges like Chi Chi’s “mysterious, magnetic quality.” Derrick has a rough episode this week, and she doesn’t understand that the judges want her to show them her real self when they ask her for “soul.” She thinks “soul” means more twerking and more melisma in her singing, which doesn’t do anything to reveal the person underneath Derrick’s Britney-focused drag. And while she doesn’t do Britney for the Dragometry performance, she’s back in that mode for her neon runway look, a foolish decision that just gets the judges more irritated.


Derrick is safe tonight, likely because the Snatch Game is next week and Ru wants to see what Derrick can do in her celebrity-impersonating element. Her other two teammates aren’t as lucky, and while Naysha looks stunning in her skin-tight airbrushed bodysuit, her poor costume choice and low energy in the performance lands her in the bottom again. Chi Chi has that extra spark that makes her character come to life on stage and she’s easily the most entertaining queen in Dragometry, but the judges have a problem with her attitude and the fact that she wasn’t much of a team player because she was more concerned with her runway outfit, which she needed to make because she used her neon look for the roller-skating runway last week.

When Chi Chi uses her lack of funds as the reason for why she walked onto the runway in a bathing suit and a belt with no corset, Michelle puts her finger up and claims, “You don’t need money, girl. That’s never an excuse.” Except it totally is. As Kim says earlier in the episode, drag is not a cheap profession, and money plays a huge part in the quality of a queen’s drag. Chi Chi’s financial situation has come up in Untucked, but it’s a big part of this week’s episode, which explores her insecurity and anxiety regarding her cheaper drag in comparison to what the other queens have with them. The intent of Michelle’s critique may be to get Chi Chi to stop thinking about the financial aspect of the competition, but saying that money isn’t needed for drag is a lie.


Hair, make-up, clothing, padding, these all require money to acquire, and queens with lots of cash have the means to get the highest quality products, which elevates their drag. Considering the queens are told in advance what the runway challenges are, Chi Chi should have two separate looks for the roller-skating and neon runways, and Chris Stein rightly calls her out for wearing the same shoes for the performance and the runway, but Chi Chi still sells her look on the runway. The fullness of her spirit on stage is something money can’t buy, and she proves that she deserves to stay in this competition with her outstanding lip sync.

It’s bad news for Naysha from the moment she kicks off her heels at the top of the lip sync, and while she throws down all the tricks she has, Naysha is messy and chaotic while Chi Chi is focused and knows how to build momentum without going too far too quickly. Chi Chi is smiling at the start of the performance because she knows she’s about to slay a bitch, and it’s a massacre on the runway as Chi Chi high-kicks, dead-drops, backflips, and hair twirls while always keeping a strong connection to the song: Blondie’s “Call Me.” Once Naysha loses her wig it’s clear that she’s going home, but at least she puts more of her heart into this lip-sync than the one that sent her home in the first episode. More importantly, the lip-sync cements Chi Chi as a truly formidable queen when it comes to lip-syncing, and it’s going to take a lot to send her home if she ends up in the bottom again.


Stray observations

  • I love RuPaul’s punk look this week, with the pink-highlighted blonde Mohawk and the glistening blue pantsuit (I’m assuming the top and bottom are separate pieces). #BlueMondayRealness.
  • I caught up on Untucked in the last week, and it confirmed that this season’s queens are much more charismatic than last season. Chi Chi is my Untucked MVP at the moment, although Bob is also proving very entertaining.
  • Bob is really trying to make “Purse first” a thing. Maybe it’s the name of her first single?
  • Kim and Derrick are both wearing Trixie Mattel merchandise with Chad Sell artwork. Derrick’s tank-up is particularly awesome.
    Thorgy’s runway look would have been so much better if she just got rid of the big black lines she painted on. I get that she’s trying to transfer the design of her dress to her flesh, but as RuPaul says, she would have benefited from some editing.
  • Les Chicken Wings calling their characters Honey Dijon, Honey Habanero, and Honey Mustard is inspired. They deserve that win.
  • What does Robbie yell at the end of their performance? “Buy your vinyl in the back?” Also: what does Kim’s shirt say? “I hate _____.”
  • “Michelle said you don’t have soul. She didn’t say you don’t have a soul.”
  • “Team Best Friend Race”
  • “You’re a punk group and you’re going to sing about chicken wings and dipping sauces.” And they make it work!
  • “It might be fun for you guys to maybe talk-sing some of it, because you’re not, like, incredible vocalists.”
  • “Right down the block / We’re serving big black…beans!”
  • “Hey bone collectors! We’re the Chicken Wings! And we’ve got a bone to pick with you!”
  • “I’m a drag queen / You’re a piece of tra-ash / I don’t need you / Just leave some ca-ash”
  • “You can say goodbye / Leave my to cry-y / Suck my balls dry / Nibble on my thi-igh”
  • “I love cabbage.”
  • “Bring back my gills.”
  • RuPaul: “Bob, how’s your head?” Bob: “No complaints.”
  • “You mean I was a beard?”
  • “Does your daddy deal in medical grade silicon?”
  • “I watch this show all the time, and you cannot wear the same shoes for the challenge and the runway!”
  • “I’m Jewish, but I’m praying to all the gods. Thank you.” Ru: “Mishpucha, you may join the other girls.”
  • “Your runway ouchfit didn’t dominate.”