RuPaul’s Drag Race: The Bag Ball

Posted on January 30, 2021

So… we guess it would be kind of lazy of us to just ask you to go read yesterday’s recap of this week’s Drag Race UK and just change some of the names rather than rewrite the whole thing? We’re asking? Because, whether by design or happenstance, this week’s Drag Race OG offered up roughly the same kind of episode, resulting in roughly the same kind of responses in both the queens and the audience. In other words, like this week’s Drag Race UK, with its limbo contest and fashion challenge, this episode was a classic “Give the queens some room and just let them be queens” episode.

 

The mini-challenge was silly and seemingly pointless, but all it really asked of the queens was to go for it and entertain Ru to the best of their abilities. It’s why LaLa won, even though she served up a fairly uninteresting baby drag look. She got a lot of chances to talk about “the LaLa Ri experience” (to Ru’s delight), but it’s clear that, even when her drag is rough, the girl will deliver you a show. She got more than one chance to prove it this episode – which is, in its own way, a testament to how well Drag Race constructs its episodes and builds storylines with conclusions to them.

 

It was also… shall we say, somewhat illuminating to see the various levels of effort and commitment on display in this deceptively “pointless” challenge. No lie, when Joey Jay stepped out in that “I’m too cute to make a fool of myself” low-effort attempt, we were both thinking “This one’s going soon.” In fact, we half-wished Ru would’ve called the challenge to a halt and read her for filth right there. Pointless these mini-challenges may seem, but you’ve gotta know by now that Ru expects every girl to give everything she’s got every time she asks them to. That’s the competition. You should never treat any part of it half-assedly. We don’t think it was much of a coincidence that Joey went home this week after such a poor showing in the mini-challenge. Ru notices this stuff. It gets added to the tally.

 

Anyway, a ball challenge is essentially one of those, “Okay, show us what you can do” challenges that gets to the very heart of what drag is. Every queen on Drag Race is expected to answer the call with an array of sickening and on-point looks. It’s as basic a drag challenge as you could put before them. Adding a DIY component pays further homage to the roots and the broad reach of drag. There’s artistry in the form and even if you can’t sew (like a good deal of working queens), you’re expected to pay homage to all of those hard-working make-do queens who spin their art out of nothing but hard work.

 

Because the challenge isn’t particularly complicated and asks the queens to get in touch with their most essential selves as drag performers, like the DIY fashion challenge in Drag Race UK this week, it spawned the kinds of scenes that set the Drag Race franchise apart from so many other reality show competitions. Just as DRUK opened up the floor to a revealing conversation about non-binary identity and self expression, the Black queens opened up about anti-Black police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Drag Race’s fandom has unfortunately managed to distinguish itself with some racist online behavior directed at many of its Black alums; a problem that has been referenced countless times over the years and has sometimes spilled onto the show itself. It was good to see the Drag Race turn the conversation entirely over to the Black queens and their feelings, which to no surprise immediately turned toward their concerns for Black trans women in the current social landscape. We’ll always cop to the charge that we have a vested interest in seeing Drag Race as something more than just a reality competition, but as long as the franchise produces moments like these, we don’t feel like we have to work all that hard to make our case. The show does it quite well on its own.

In other news, Kandy is a messy bitch who loves drama and Tamisha, God love her, needs to know not everyone there wants to be read by Mother when Mother’s in the same competition as they are – and in the bottom, at that. She’s gonna need to dial back on the whole lecturing thing, even if she has the bona fides for it. If you can’t see your competition as your peers, they’re gonna walk all over you.

 

Anyway, there’s no way we’re going to screencap 36 looks in three categories ( Mixed Bag, Money Bags, and a DIY look made out of bags)  so we’ll just run through our impressions and talk about their final looks, which clearly had the most impact on the judges.

 

 

Denali’s Day of the Dead look deserved a little more love from the judges (although we admit we can’t even remember her other two looks). Elliott has fantastic sewing skills, but every look ages him 25 years and we have yet to see him unveil something that feels of the moment. It’s all very “stylish maven, circa 1995.” Symone’s two-piece was adorable, proving that she’s best when she leans into her natural model’s body, but her Diana Ross homage was HIGH DRAG and we feel bad it didn’t get more love from the judges. Olivia Lux is … not standing out. Step that pussy up, girl. We hate to say it, but we’re not feeling much of Tina Burner’s work either. It always feel strong, but not fabulous or particularly funny. We just don’t get much joy from her drag, which would be fine if she was serving up something dark or challenging, but it never quite gets there for us. And the McDonald’s thing is not working for us.

 

At first glance, we didn’t think Joey’s DIY look was too bad, although we were extremely under-impressed with other two looks, especially the Money Bags, which looked extremely “Sales Rack.” She should have known her lack of wig work was going to weigh against her, no matter what Michelle says.

 

LaLa Ri’s final look was a disaster, but her Money Bags look was super-charming and she really does know how to deliver an experience when called upon to do so. It’s a miracle she saved her ass on this one because as Ru implied, it’s one of the worst to ever walk that runway.

We felt a weensy bit uncomfortable listening to the judges complain that Tamisha’s other looks were a little too “lady” and not enough drag, just because “realness,” as Tamisha well knows, is a classic criteria in ball culture and she was simply doing what an old school queen would do in that situation. Having said that, her final look is over-designed. We suppose she didn’t deserve to be on the bottom, but we didn’t think any of Kandy’s looks were anything to write home about.

As a transmasculine drag queen, Gottmik is making a hell of a statement by serving a body look. Take a moment to recall how much this week’s Drag Race UK judging session talked about serving “illusion,” which is a reference to the kinds of drag techniques classically utilized by cis men to give the illusion that they have the bodies of cis women. Drag Race has always placed importance on these techniques and their long history in drag, which is why Ru has had such a rocky history when talking about trans contestants on the show. This isn’t meant to defend Ru, who really needed a wakeup call about her responsibility to allow wider forms of drag to take their place at the table, but Ru believed for the longest time that gender illusion body-shaping is essential to drag, which denies the work of drag queens who aren’t cis men playing at being cis women.

To our great relief, the judges fell in love with Gottmik’s work this week (her executive look had them literally gasping and gagging)  and rewarded her for it. To be accurate about it, we’re pretty sure Gottmik used some body-shaping technique here on her lower half, but as a look, it’s still a powerful statement about what kind of drag she’s capable of performing and how fearless she can be about it.

 

Rosé continues to wow the judges but not secure the top prize. Her Scottish look was amazing and her final look was creative and fun. The constant spinning on the runway really sold the look. She’s very savvy and knows how to deliver what the judges are looking for. Ru really nailed the big problem with Utica: she thinks she’s doing camp but she’s actually serving some drop-dead couture looks and seemingly not realizing it. We don’t think she’s capable of turning herself into some sort of fierce fashion queen – and she’d lose everything real about herself if she tried. But Ru’s not wrong when she says that Utica’s mugging doesn’t always sell what she’s serving as well as she thinks. She’s really talented at the art of drag, to the point that her “I’m just a big ol’ weirdo” belies what she’s capable of. Will the lesson be learned? Stay tuned!

 

The lip sync was entertaining enough, but everything about it was expected, from who was competing in it to who was clearly going to win it before the first note even dropped. Joey gave it some effort, but LaLa overwhelmed the stage with the full LaLa Ri experience.

 

He’s cute and sweet and super-gay. He’s not a bad queen, but it was pretty clear by this episode that he wasn’t going to be giving much more than he already gave.

 

 

Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!

 

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]

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