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This Was the Best Lip-Sync Season of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by RuPaul’s Drag Race/YouTube

Performing a great Drag Race lip sync is about making do with what you’re given. Sometimes, that means tackling a Madonna classic that any great drag queen worth her salt would be ready to perform; on other days, it’s bodying the theme song to Disney Channel’s Shake It Up. For the past few years, Drag Race has given us a number of head-turning lip-sync song choices, from preteen hits to RuPaul songs that will never become hits to Meghan Trainor songs that shouldn’t have been hits.

But this season, when viewers were starved of opportunities to watch live lip syncs in gay clubs, something nevertheless clicked inside the Drag Race studios. Not only did we get the most lip-sync songs, thanks to the opening lip-sync battle royale and generally stretched-out season, we got some of the best lip-sync songs in recent memory. In the middle of the pandemic, there was no RuPaul project to promote, no C-list guest judges, no sponsored runways that give way to sponsored lip syncs — just bop after bop. But a bunch of bops alone does not a good season of Drag Race lip syncs make. No, for a season to really werk, it takes a mix of old, new, expected, surprising, and otherwise fun songs, a mix that the season 13 lip-sync songs struck. Let’s dig into the best choices of season 13, split into nine essential categories for Drag Race lip-sync songs.

The Gay Classic: “100% Pure Love,” Crystal Waters

A good Drag Race season always throws in a lip-sync song that feels truly classic, like walking into a club and stepping back decades in time. Like RuPaul during the disco documentary challenge, these song choices are queer-history lessons on their own, from disco classics like Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” to gay anthems like Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.” The song that filled that role this season, Crystal Waters’s house-pop banger “100% Pure Love,” only reached back to 1994, but had all the classic hallmarks of gay-club music, from a delicious four-on-the-floor beat to those luscious string flourishes. Rightfully, it gave us the best lip-sync performance of the entire season, a star-making moment for Denali.

The Diva Moment: “The Pleasure Principle,” Janet Jackson

Not to be confused with a “Gay Classic,” a “Diva Moment” comes courtesy of Drag Race’s go-to girls, like Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, and of course, Janet Jackson. They’re the sort of songs that don’t just have the queens lip-syncing, but competing to embody the diva at hand — as Symone and Tamisha both do in their first-episode face-off to “The Pleasure Principle.”

See also: “If You Seek Amy,” by Britney Spears; “I Learned From the Best,” by Whitney Houston

The New Gay Anthem: “No Tears Left to Cry,” Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande came up during Drag Race, getting her first lip-sync song placement as a guest judge on season seven (and absolutely living for Jaidynn Diore Fierce and Kandy Ho’s performance to “Break Free”). Since then, she’s soundtracked some of Drag Race’s most iconic lip-sync moments, from Valentina’s masked attempt to perform “Greedy” on season nine to Valentina’s redemptive performance of “Into You” on All Stars 4 — a budding new gay classic, if you will. Along with Symone and Utica’s lip sync to another Grande standout, “No Tears Left to Cry,” this season had something for all sorts of stans: Dua Lipa, Carly Rae Jepsen, Fifth Harmony, even … Iggy Azalea?

See also: “Call Me Maybe,” by Carly Rae Jepsen; “Break My Heart,” by Dua Lipa; “Fancy,” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX; “Bo$$,” by Fifth Harmony

The Emotional Moment: “Strong Enough,” Cher

Some of Drag Race’s most iconic lip-sync moments haven’t involved death drops or reveals — they’ve been emotional, soul-baring performances to ballads and torch songs. Think Jujubee’s “Black Velvet” in season two, Latrice Royale’s “A Natural Woman” in season four, or Chi Chi DeVayne’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in season eight. A song like that can bring a moment of vulnerability or a late-season comeback for a queen that desperately needs it, and it shows off a different set of skills to lip-sync than your typical electropop banger. Cher’s “Strong Enough” isn’t as slow as some of those other songs, but it still gave Kandy Muse the moment she needed to fully prove she belonged in the top four.

The Song We’ve Been Waiting to Hear: “Rumors,” Lindsay Lohan

Remember the rush of hearing those opening drumbeats to “Emotions” during the first Lip Sync for Your Legacy of All Stars 4 and realizing Drag Race had finally gotten a Mariah Carey song? Season 13 gave us that moment of euphoria all over again, when it slipped in “Rumors,” the franchise’s long-overdue first Lindsay Lohan song, for Gottmik and Utica’s opening lip sync. Just imagine the shrieks you would’ve heard if the gay bars had been open.

See also: “Lady Marmalade,” by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, P!nk, and Mya

The Song We Never Knew We Needed to Hear: “Whole Lotta Woman,” Kelly Clarkson

Let’s face the facts: Kelly Clarkson is a bona fide gay icon. Yet her music had made a Drag Race lip sync just one time before this season: when Darienne Lake and BenDeLaCreme performed “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” on season six. Season 13 rectified that — and not with another hit like “Miss Independent” or a club-ready bop like “People Like Us,” but a bit of a deeper cut, “Whole Lotta Woman.” And it werked. The song was the perfect canvas for all of LaLa Ri and Elliott’s shaking, dropping, and gyrating (even if LaLa should’ve won the lip sync).

See also: “Ex’s and Oh’s,” by Elle King

The Perfect Pairing: “Fascinated,” Company B

Do they give Pulitzers for lip-sync choices? Nobel Peace Prizes? Whatever the highest honor is, give it to the producer who suggested Company B’s “Fascinated” for the fascinators runway. Just genius! In the absence of musician guest judges to do for lip syncs, Drag Race did the next best thing and got creative here. It almost makes up for last season’s equally terrible use of “Let It Go,” from Frozen on Broadway (not even the Idina Menzel version!) for the runway sponsored by … Frozen on Broadway.

The Song So Nice, They Used It Twice: “Shackles (Praise You),” Mary Mary

This season went back into the Drag Race vaults to pull out a few past lip-sync songs: the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up,” first performed by Coco Montrese and Monica Beverly Hillz on season five, and Mary Mary’s “Shackles (Praise You),” first performed by Rebecca Glasscock and Shannel on season one. Bringing back “Shackles” was a great move for two reasons: 1. There are probably baby-gay viewers who weren’t alive during season one, and 2. It’s kind of a bop! The only mistake here is that it was wasted on a lip sync that didn’t involve season 13’s resident Christian girl, Utica Queen.

See also: “When I Grow Up,” by the Pussycat Dolls

The One That’s Just Fun: “Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops),” Blu Cantrell

Is “Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops)” a “Song We Needed to Hear”? A “Song We Never Knew We Needed to Hear”? It’s both. It’s neither. It’s just a plain, old-fashioned riot of a choice — the sort of song that’d have you tossing tip money at the bar before the queen even started performing. (To say nothing of the narrative synchronicity between the song and Kandy and Tamisha’s fight, the sort of scenario TV writers’ rooms wish they came up with.) After all these years, isn’t it nice to still be surprised by Drag Race?

See also: “My Humps,” by the Black Eyed Peas

Was This the Best Lip-Sync Song Season of Drag Race?