RuPaul’s Drag Race
Well! That was certainly an episode of television. Kinda. Except it mostly wasn’t, actually. Watching this episode felt more like a night where my roommate and I got high and decided to watch a collection of lip-sync videos. No continuing narrative, no runway, no laughs, no learning more about the queens’ histories. Just lip syncs. At times, this episode feels like a middle finger to the audience. The weaknesses of the season (little to no fleshed-out narrative threads due to time constraints, the overwhelming meh-ness of Spice, the judges’ weird dislike of Jax, and even the inevitability of Sasha’s impending win) are compounded tenfold.
We’ve established by now that this season was very likely not planned to have 42-minute episodes, and there is perhaps no greater indicator than this episode. We get, in total, six minutes of Werk Room content before the challenge kicks into gear. I was genuinely shocked upon hearing those first notes that indicate the runway starting. But I’m not convinced that Werk Room content could have made this challenge much better, because it ultimately feels like the wrong time for this challenge altogether.
The idea of a lip-sync Lalaparuza debuted in All Stars 4 as that season’s comeback challenge, before coming back in the form of a “punishment” for last season’s queens after a bad Snatch Game. The only other time we’ve had something close to this challenge was in All Stars 6’s Silky Nutmeg Ganache featurette episode. All those episodes have inherent stakes. Comeback episodes have the combined desperation of both the eliminated queens and the still-in-the-running queens who don’t want more competition. In season 14, Ru’s disappointment made each queen desperate to prove herself, and personal relationships like the rivalry between Daya Betty and Jasmine Kennedie gave energy to even the episode’s weaker lip syncs.
This week doesn’t really have stakes. The only rivalry of the season, between Mistress and Malaysia, has already simmered down. There’s not a lot of desperation in the queens either; it’s just another week to them. In the pre-runway segment, Mistress lays down the only information we really need heading into the performances: “Spice, Marcia, and Loosey are the three targets, bitch. They are the bull’s-eyes to be safe in everyone’s eyes.” Am I surprised that the targets are the three white girls? I am not. “The girls people are scared of would definitely have to be Sasha and Anetra,” she adds. And that’s all the setup we get! (One thing to note here is that, given both the Mistress-Jax matchup and the final lip-sync matchup, it would be better for the story line if Mistress included Jax in that group of top contenders, which would be reasonable. Producers! Splice some words or something!) So those are our stakes. People think the white girls will suck at lip syncing, which ends up being mostly true, and people think Sasha and Anetra will be really good, which ends up being completely true. It’s just not enough to hang an episode of TV on.
Instead, what we get is a demonstration the lip-sync abilities of every queen left. And I’m not super into that? Part of the fun of the season, as we get down to fewer and fewer queens, is being surprised by a queen’s lip sync abilities when she screws up a challenge. Marcia x3, for example, pulls out some tricks that were previously unknown on the show. I’d rather have seen them in a LSFYL than here. I’m also now aware, to my surprise, that Malaysia isn’t the lip-sync diva I’d expected. Suddenly, the lip syncs for the rest of the season feel less climactic. Rather than giving us the queens’ personalities or narrative arcs, we get an episode that info-dumps pure talent without stakes. It’s bland. At this point in the season, I want to know why I should care about these queens. This episode relies on the assumption that I do.
But what of the lip syncs themselves? They’re a really mixed bag. By my count we get: two flat-out bad lip syncs, one that’s chaotic to the point of incoherence, four solid outings, and one that is legitimately legendary. That’s an all right showing, but, by my estimation, not worth sacrificing an entire episode to in the middle of the season. Let’s run them down.
Malaysia vs. Marcia x3: Marcia gets a little hot about Malaysia picking her first, but Malaysia later says it wasn’t sabotage. I’d guess it’s somewhere in the middle. If Malaysia really wanted an easy go of it, she’d have gone with Spice, but I also assume she thought she could beat Marcia. Instead, Marcia eats Malaysia up. The song is Anitta’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” which puts Marcia (by her own design, since she picked the song) right on home turf. It’s as straightforward a girly pop song as you can get, and Marcia, in her orange swimwear, is in the exact position to directly interpret the Brazilian pop star’s work. Is it shade that she throws a perfectly extended leg up in the air following Malaysia’s slightly crunchy kicks? Who can say. Marcia wins handily.
Loosey vs. Spice: When Loosey gets to pick her opponent, she goes in for the easy prey that is Spice, saying “This is a game of survival.” Spice, given her flaming outfit, opts for Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me.” This lip sync is not good. Loosey and Spice are the two stiffest performers of the season and neither manages to capture the rocker in Jett’s delivery. This highlights a problem with Spice’s drag: She’s only “spicy” in comparison to her sister. She’s a Janis Ian–inspired queen who can’t deliver when it comes to the music that Janis Ian would actually listen to. Loosey does moderately better because she’s more natural onstage, so she wins, but it’s also true that she gets out-lip-synced by most of the losing performances left in this round. But fair is fair: It’s a game of survival. She chose the right opponent, and so Loosey will live to fight another day.
Luxx vs. Salina: Luxx gets her ball picked next, and she chooses to go against Salina, which turns out to be a poor choice. Salina has not exactly been kicking ass in the competition so far (though she hasn’t been flopping either), but she is a drag queen’s drag queen. So when she gets the opportunity to go against a younger queen to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” she takes it. Luxx does a solid enough job selling the song’s emotion, but her limbs are a bit all over the place and she doesn’t ever feel like a confident interpreter of Dion’s campily over-the-top vocals. Salina knows how to do this. She mines the song for comedy and knows the big moments to home in on emotionally. She’s never once frantic. It’s not a revelatory performance, but it’s a tried-and-true classic. Salina is rightfully safe.
Mistress vs. Jax: Mistress gets her name pulled next, so she gets her pick of the girls with crazy tricks, opting for Jax, which is a wise choice (given the options) for a few reasons. The first is that the judges don’t like Jax anyway. The second is that she’s already shown a lot of her tricks. And the third is that Mistress seems to know that Jax is going to go for the late-’80s dance-pop jam “Tell It to My Heart.” This is the first of three songs this episode that have been used on Drag Race before (the first time around it went to Detox and Alyssa on All Stars 2). Both queens are good, and the queens backstage seem to think Jax wins, but I agree with the judges that Mistress takes it. Mistress just has a pure, unadulterated star quality that is difficult to compete with, and the flips don’t fit the song as well as they did “Sweetest Pie.”
Anetra vs. Sasha: We end the round on the inevitable. Nobody wants to pick Anetra or Sasha, and their names are obviously not going to be drawn out of the bingo drum because the producers (rightly) want a showgirl face-off. It works out. The song, which ends being Anetra’s to pick, is “I’m in Love With a Monster” by Fifth Harmony — the perfect kind of basic pop song that gives two high-energy performers a chance to show their worth. Both of these queens are expert lip-syncers who don’t rely on tricks, even though they have plenty. They interpret. Sasha gives a ton of hair flips, while Anetra gives full choreo. Both are great, but Sasha clinches it for me with the applying-makeup move. It’s pure CharismaUniquenessNerveTalent. This is the high point of the episode, and I plan to watch this lip sync while high with my roommate many times over.
Malaysia vs. Spice: From the highest point of the episode to the lowest. Sobered by her Marcia lip sync, when Malaysia’s ball is picked again, she now goes with the safest bet: Spice. Spice tries to respond with another strategic move by picking a song Malaysia doesn’t know the words to, Camilla Cabello’s “Don’t Go Yet.” But Spice doesn’t know the words either. So we are treated to a minute and a half of queens flopping around onstage without a grasp of what they’re lip-syncing to. It’s bad. Real bad. Malaysia is deemed slightly better, which … sure. As much as I like her, Malaysia making it through based on this lip sync, and Anetra still being up for elimination is a travesty.
Luxx vs. Anetra vs. Jax: I’m not a fan of three-queen lip syncs. They’re too chaotic, and it’s impossible to get a handle on who’s actually winning. The last song left is “The Right Stuff” by Vanessa Williams, which, of the three previously used lip-sync songs that the episode gives us, is by far the one most in need of a rehabilitation. While this version is better than the original Venus D Lite vs. Shangela lip sync, it’s too frantic for my taste. All these queens pull out a ton of stunts and it’s just too much. Jax misses the lyrics on the fast part, so she’s not winning this one, but between Anetra and Luxx, I think Anetra had it. Ru goes with Luxx. Okay!
Anetra vs. Jax: Our final lip sync of the night is between the top two of week one. Who would have thought we’d end up here, then! Who’d have thought we’d end up here even two minutes prior. The final, random twist of the episode is that, instead of getting a three-person lip sync, the queen whose ball is pulled from the bingo drum gets to save one queen. Anetra gets pulled and she picks Spice to be safe — essentially because she thinks it would be lame to lip-sync against her. True, but also I am so bored of Spice being safe again after weeks of being mediocre. Jax isn’t winner material, that’s been made clear, but she’d been putting up a better showing than Spice both this episode and, in my opinion if not the judges’, for most of the season. Still, I’m glad to see Anetra showing some real nerve — she’s a fighter, that one.
The lip sync is to “Finally” by CeCe Peniston, the redo song that needed a redo the least of the three. Nina’s performance is one of those famously underrated lip syncs in the fandom, but I also really love this song, so I’m not mad at it. The lip sync is okay, with both girls clearly tired out from the pressure and the tricks. The best moment is Anetra peeking out behind either side of her legs. Jax holds her own, but Anetra is a better interpreter of the song.
So Jax goes home on a lip-sync episode, which just feels wrong, doesn’t it? It felt more climactic when Jasmine was sent home as a strong lip-syncer on this episode last year. Probably because I got to know her.
Also on Untucked …
• For transparency: The Sasha vs. Anetra lip sync earned this episode a full extra star.
• Loosey is still thinking about her safe position in the fallout. I hope this mania sticks around for a while
• This episode really sold me on Anetra as a character for the first time. Her intensity prior to each lip sync, especially the last one, made the “street fighter” reference that got brought up in the first episode (and not mentioned since) come together with her personality. I remain interested to see how she’ll do when something like a branding challenge comes up, because I still don’t have a read on her persona, as a queen or visually. But I like her a lot now.
• Marcia x3 Makeup Watch: The judges don’t give any critiques this episode, so it’s not a focus. Seeing it up close in her backstage shots, I wanted some more vibrancy in the colors. The makeup is there, but it’s just not bright enough.
• Trauma Makeup Corner: We had six minutes of non-runway time. Even trauma must be excised sometimes.
• Ross is back in a sequined bomber this week.
• Songs they actually need to redo if they do another LaLaPaRuza: “No Scrubs” by TLC, “Oops! I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Duh!
• Predicted top four: Sasha, Luxx, Mistress, and this week I’ll go with Anetra for the first time.