If there’s such a thing as a Drag Race premiere recap ritual, then part of it involves the required nod to the idea that the show returns for new seasons too rapidly and is in danger of flooding the culture with too much Drag Race, thereby making the fanbase tired and cranky. There. We just did it. Check that off the list.
Counterpoint, because we’re feeling all contrarian and oppositional: it’s always fun to see a new crop of queens sashay through that Werk Room doorway for the first time, size each other up, and get put through their paces.
Also, the Drag Race fandom has been cranky since Day One.
It is also de rigueur to note that the the show’s reliance on twists has, at best, a spotty record of results and is, at worst, a nasty and unpleasant way to treat your contestants, many of whom are realizing a life-(or at least decade-plus)long dream by getting their shot at Drag Race stardom.
Counterpoint: They also keep the series from becoming too stale and throw the cocky queens way off their game, which can only be good for the competition.
And our final checklist item before getting into the rest of it: one must acknowledge that Drag Race, while undoubtedly hugely successful both as a form of queer entertainment and a vessel for queer representation in the mainstream, is guilty of promoting a fairly narrow form of mainstream drag with a more-than-spotty history regarding trans and non-binary representation in its casting.
We won’t offer a true counterpoint to that argument because it’s true and because to use Ru’s phrasing, the time has come for RuPaul’s Drag Race to acknowledge that queer drag is an art form with a long history of trans and gender non-compliant artists and innovators (and there’s a very good argument that queer drag was initially created solely by trans women). The inclusion of Gottmik, the show’s first transmasculine drag queen, is a huge step in the right direction after Peppermint became the first openly trans contestant to enter the competition and the franchise later brought former trans contestants Sonique and Gia Gunn back for the Holi-Slay special and All-Stars respectively. What started out as babysteps (launched in no small part by Sonique’s coming out as trans in season two’s reunion episode) over way too long a period is finally starting to reach some payoff in the show’s 13th season. We’d rather focus on the positive reinforcement rather than linger too much on the “It took too long and besides, this is only a small step” point of view, however.
Now, with all that said and crossed off, let’s get down to what we thought of the queens, the episode, and the twist.
Honestly, we thought it was a great idea. Evidently, the show got some serious music-licensing dollars in the budget and decided to blow through them in the premiere. Regardless of the reasons for it, the results were entertaining. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Drag Race has always been at its best when it just puts on a drag show and mostly stays out of the queens’ way. Drag Race always promotes a fairly well-rounded form of drag that allows for acting, singing, dancing, hosting, modeling and even stand-up comedy, but in the end, so much of the show’s drama and entertainment value come down to those epic lip syncs.
Forcing every queen to immediately lip sync for her life was not only a great tool to put each of them through their paces and force them to deliver on the fly, but it gave the audience a little more time to meet and assess each one. Reality competitions always suffer from extremely uneven exposure and spotlight time for the individual contestants when there are more then ten of them jockeying for position and trying to establish themselves. While the editing could have been tighter and a bit less repetitive (with perhaps one or two fewer ad breaks, please), this format and twist gave every girl equal time and opportunity to shine. We can’t fault any of it. We reserve the right to change our minds if these bitches send home the queen who had cancer first.
So let’s get to it:
Kandy Muse walked through that door with a fully realized character on display. Girlfriend slung a lot of shade and smack talk, so she should be incredibly fun to watch for her tenure.
Joey Jay didn’t come in offering the strongest of drag looks or personae. If anything, this came off a bit like Katya cosplay. She seemed a bit unsure of herself for most of the episode (which is to be expected, we suppose).
We feel like she rallied quite a bit onstage, but when it came to the “Call Me Maybe” lip sync, the judges chose Kandy’s livelier, more comedic take.
Denali came in with a great shtick and face. We’re not sure how many opportunities she’ll have to highlight her figure-skating background going forward, so it was smart of her to take her shot where she could get it and make herself stand out.
LaLa Ri is funny and sassy, but this was an incredibly weak look for introductions.
Denali really gave it her all for the “When I Grow Up” lip sync, but some of her contortions felt a little forced and LaLa lived up to her name by projecting a breezy, sassy sort of ease with the song.
To be fair: it clearly doesn’t matter who was told to sashay in any of these matchups, which made some of the choices feel more arbitrary than usual.
Symone is serving you fashion and realness and she seems to have enough of a sense of humor that she might even be serving you comedy at some point. The dress is brilliantly funny and a great way for her to show she’s a body queen to boot.
Tamisha Iman walked through that door with thirty years of experience and a hell of a back story under her belt. Drag Race has not typically been kind to contestant queens who are more or less Ru’s contemporaries, so we’ll see how things shake out for her going forward, but the cancer story should give her some time to prove herself. We hope.
Ru sure didn’t have a problem sending her “packing” after she interpreted “The Pleasure Principle” possibly a bit too literally, mimicking too many of Janet’s moves without ever really hitting the mark on any of them. Symone brought some character and comedy to her version.
At the end of the day, we don’t see how anyone can look at Gottmik in that getup and not see a drag queen. Their off-the-chain makeup skills are going to serve them well during the competition, but Gottmik also seems to have a great, fun personality and a true competitive edge.
Utica Queen is adorably weird, but to our annoyance, Ru sometimes acts like she finds such queens incomprehensible; a reaction that tends to bug us, since she came up through the club kid scene and the New York underground of the ’80s herself. Still, in order to win this competition, you’ve really got to prove yourself as an all-around entertainer and total drag package in order for Ru to buy into your clownery.
Which is why it was perhaps not surprising that, though she tried her best to interpret Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors” to the best of her ability, Utica Queen really couldn’t match Gottmik’s more on-point performance.
Rosé came in shooting confidence and charisma in every direction. While the over-confident New York queen is something of a seasonal mainstay on Drag Race, she’s one queen who comes off like she can back it up with results.
Olivia Lux has a great aesthetic, but we could feel Michelle Visage wanting to rip her for adding an inexplicable handbag to a classic mid-century nightclub entertainer’s stagewear. And she really should have one pink shoe.
We have to say, even though these “eliminations” had no merit, Rosé’s felt like the show deliberately fucking with a cocky queen.
And finally, since apparently casting an even number of queens was too hard, a completely unfair (But then again, what is on this show?) three-way lip synch:
Tina Burner came in shady as hell and we have to say, reputation aside, this look was not setting us on fire. When Kahmore said she looked a little like a hot dog, she wasn’t wrong. It took us way too long to realize she was supposed to be a drag firefighter.
Kahmora REALLY wanted someone to ask her about her Bob Mackie gown, which Carson finally did, thanks to whoever was whispering in his earpiece. She looks great, but we thought her wig line was terrible.
Elliot With 2 Ts wins the prize for the most annoying drag name of all time, but we absolutely loved his ’80s Power Bitch drag.
Enh. Who knows? They gave the “win” to Tina, but that honestly felt like a pretty obvious attempt to keep her and Rosé separated long enough for each of them to shade the other one behind their back. We’ll have to wait until next week to see how all of this manipulation shakes out and sure, we can understand why some fans might not love how dragged out this opening format is, but we can’t say we weren’t entertained. These queens feel like they have some potential.
But again: we reserve the right to completely reverse our stance if they send the queen who beat cancer home first.
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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