Hey, remember the ’90s? You know, 20-odd years ago when life was just a little simpler? Or at least we all think it was now because that’s the curse of nostalgia? RuPaul certainly does. That’s when she got her big break and when she got to meet Frances Bean Cobain. Perhaps that’s why this week’s theme for RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race is “I Love the ’90s.” Or perhaps it’s just because every week has to have a theme and this seemed like a good one. Whatever.
As luck would have it, Ru’s secret celebrity drag queens also love the ’90s, and not just because some of them were at their most famous then. (Some others were just buying their first CDs around the turn of the century, a fact that makes me feel as old as dust.) Each queen this week is tasked with picking a ’90s banger and — you guessed it — performing a choreographed lip sync to that number. Honestly, I think I’m starting to hate lip syncs, and it’s because of this show. I’ve seen so many aggressively fine, perfectly polished ones. I miss the messy ones, the fun ones, the weird ones. Will someone please give me Manila Luzon’s “MacArthur Park”? What about Brooke Lynn Hytes and Yvie Oddly’s “Sorry Not Sorry”? Or literally any of Silky Nutmeg Ganache’s assassin-worthy cuts? I miss thinking lip syncs are charming representations of the actual drag performers rather than just indications that actors and singers are good at taking direction.
I’ll admit there’s a teensy bit of personality in some of these lip syncs, but honestly I’m just bored. Great drag queens become great drag queens because they’re charismatic and spontaneous and they just have that something. These performers are great at their given professions, but does that mean they’re good at drag? There’s literally only one queen on this show that I think might even consider doing it after the fact — Donna Bellissima, for those wondering — even though I think some more of their careers could maybe benefit from a few fun club dates.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s trudge ahead with Secret Celebrity Drag Race, because if we don’t start, we won’t get to the end, when shit actually happens.
First up this week we’ve got Poppy Love, who has a love for the Spice Girls, a group he says is “the biggest girl group of the ’90s.” Life was crazy for Poppy in the ’90s, with girls everywhere and constant threats of being followed, but instead of somehow incorporating that into his performance, he’s decided to tackle being all five Spice Girls in one performance. I might be saying this because I would have loved a dragged-up Backstreet performance, but Poppy’s “Wannabe” was meh. While the reveals were a fun idea, the Mel B costume was literally just a leopard bathrobe, and the Posh Spice was some sort of flouncy sequined number with sleeves? Give these Girls some credit. Poppy’s Ginger was good, and that’s fortunate, because he had the wig on the whole time, but the reveals left me a little cold. Good thing he can dance.
Next up is Donna Bellissima, who tells us she’s upset that she’s the only contestant who still hasn’t won a challenge, thus sealing her fate as the winner of this week’s episode. (It’s how Drag Race works.) He sort of glazes over the fact that in 1999 he decided to leave conversion therapy, though it somehow plays into his choice of the Chicks’ “Sin Wagon.” Apparently the song came out around the time of the performer’s coming out and it made him want to live his life? Regardless, Donna’s living her best life in a red leotard and mesh robe, and she two-steps all over the stage with her cowboy hat–clad dancers. I like her take on “Sin Wagon,” and so do the judges.
Chakra 7 wants to “come with a little bit of foolishness,” which apparently means painting herself blue like Juno Birch and wearing a Dee-Lite dress. She tackles “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and there’s a story line where she’s some sort of lunch lady? I didn’t really get it, but there was a big gold spoon she could use for a mic and a smock reveal. I think if you’re going to go full lunch lady, you need a big gray wig or a hairnet like Chris Farley in “Lunch Lady Land,” but that wouldn’t be as cute, I guess, so whatever. Ru and the judges panel seem to think she was havin’ fun up there, but I wasn’t, really. I thought that Chakra delivered a well-acted, well-danced performance, and her actual lip-syncing was on point, but I’m not sure she’s a very funny person. Is that cruel? I mean, she came to fame on a very notable sitcom, but that could just mean she’s great at delivering lines and faces on cue. I haven’t seen evidence yet either onstage or in the backstage stuff that she’s much of a cutup, and I wish I could.
Chic-Li-Fay goes full sexy with her “Arabian Nights” performance of “Genie in a Bottle.” (For the record, I found nothing “Arabian Nights” about it, save maybe the actual lamp.) She says she’s going to be doing the choreo in super-high heels, and I think they flash to some spike Lucite things, but then when she actually comes out, she’s in some chunky black hoof jobbers. I thought they weighed the outfit down and I didn’t get the switch, but they never explained it, so now I think I’m crazy. The judges like Chic’s performance, just like they like all performances this week, because no one goes home.
Before we get to that, we’ve got Thirsty Von Trap and her take on Britney Spears’s “Crazy.” Ru didn’t get her story line last week with Katya, even though Thirsty thought they killed it. Because of that, she’s decided to lay the story on thick this week, which she does with a bound and gagged dude, some blood-splattered aprons, and a meat tenderizer. She calls her “Crazy” “pop princess meets Sweeney Todd,” and while it’s perfectly fine, the judges want more. They want her to be less adorable and more ridiculous, with Ru explaining she’s fallen into a common trap that hot young numbers can get caught up in. “It’s difficult when you look this hot,” Ru says. “You want to play to that angle, but the fool is who we want to see.” Thirsty concedes “there’s always room to go bigger” and leaves the stage.
After a brief recap, everyone reconvenes onstage and Ru tells Poppy, Chic, and Thirsty they’re safe. As for Donna and Chakra, Ru says, “This week you weren’t good … you were great.” Their frowns turn upside down, and Ru tells them they’re going to lip sync for the win. They do Cher’s “Believe,” and it’s fine. Donna goes sultry and she knows every word, and Chakra is doing the most. I prefer Donna’s brand of emoting in this case, probably because it’s truer to who Cher is, and Ru agrees, giving Donna her first win.
Just as it looks like Ru’s about to wrap things up, she calls everyone back to the stage with a shocking twist: She says it’s gotten too hard to judge their solo lip syncs, because they’ve “reached a level of drag excellence.” That’s why she’s decided (?) that from this moment on, there will be no more secrets. She asks each queen to reveal herself, and that’s when we go to credits. Everyone looks gooped and gagged, including the Queen Supremes. I have no idea why knowing who they are would help the judging panel critique their same old lip syncs any better, but I’m not against just getting all these damn reveals out of the way now, especially since anyone with Google and half a brain knows who they all are behind all that makeup. Then again, I wouldn’t put it past the Drag Race team to have this be some underwhelming misdirect. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out next week.
• It’s interesting the way the show airbrushes over (SPOILER ALERT!) AJ McLean’s tattoos. He’s got quite a few and you can never really see them, so props to the makeup team. Killing it as always.
• Is Chakra 7 wearing Snag Tights? Regardless, I wish they weren’t thigh-highs, because I feel like I could see non-blue skin up above them and it kind of took me out of the illusion.
• Juju says Chic-Li-Fay’s performance “smells like sex,” while Brooke Lynn says Juju “smells like poppers.”
• Three-fifths of this week’s songs came from 1999, which is barely the ’90s. Just saying.