Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Janet Jackson Performance Joins the Lip Sync Battle Hall of Fame

Manic pixie dream boyfriend/human Animal Joseph Gordon-Levitt arrived on Lip Sync Battle with a mission. It’s been over two years since his epic battle on The Tonight Show where he set the gold standard for celebrities mouthing words, and a lot has changed since then. The bit grew into a full-fledged show on Spike, and became grander, more spectacular, and the network’s biggest hit. In a very special holiday edition, he goes up against The Night Before co-star Anthony Mackie while Seth Rogen watches from the sidelines like a perverted uncle. How will the newbie fare against the veteran? 

Battle 1: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Yeah” vs. Anthony Mackie’s “I Kissed a Girl”

It’s a shame that Spike hasn’t put up the full clip for JGL’s lip-sync of Usher’s “Yeah,” because it well encapsulates a truth about him: He works hard. Even in this casual number, he’s leaping, jumping, grinding, and whacking away at the floor. The dance moves never get repetitive, and he brings his entire Don Jon sexuality to bear on the performance. And, as with his performance of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” his lip-sync of Ludacris’s rap verse is airtight. Meanwhile, Anthony Mackie introduces his lip-sync of of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” by saying, “College was a great time for me because of this song,” which immediately tries to jettison the very queer nature of having a straight man sing this song. That aside, it’s just a messy performance, with Mackie getting the timing off. Back to training camp for you, Falcon.

Winner: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, by a floor hump.

Battle 2: Anthony Mackie’s “2 Legit 2 Quit” vs. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Rhythm Nation”

Mackie does a perfectly serviceable rendition of MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.” On another episode, it might have even been good. But if he’s going to come for the king, he better bring it hard. So ultimately, his performance is just a warm-up for the one we’ve all been waiting for, JGL doing Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” — a monumental, ambitious choice. It’s all there: the inspirational words about racial equality at the beginning, the costumes, and the choreography. But what’s great about Levitt’s performance — and his drag — is that it doesn’t feel demeaning, like when college football players dress up as cheerleaders. All you get is a sense of pure, unbridled respect for a pop masterpiece, and a willingness to do the work necessary to pull it off. Try as they might, Mackie, LL Cool J, and Seth Rogen can’t do anything but acknowledge that he was a fucking beast — lipstick, ponytail, and all.


Winner: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, by a ponytail.

Overall winner: Was there ever a question? Joseph Gordon-Levitt slayed. Long live the king.

See Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Janet Jackson on LSB