‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: I Spy A Stunning Season Ahead
Fatigue? I don't know her.
To be blessed on the same weekend with a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lady Gaga’s previously never-ever before heard ‘Stupid Love’ and a stunning protest against the Liberal Party at Mardi Gras? That’s not just gay rights: that’s gay liberation.
And while the protest was cut from SBS’s coverage of the parade, the libeRUtion will be televised. 2020 holds in store at least eight different iterations of RuPaul’s Drag Race — the OG, Canada, UK, Thailand, Germany, All Stars, Australia, Celebrity — which means most queers will only be talking about this show for most of the year. To paraphrase S4 wig destroyer Milan, ‘there are new girls in town, let’s get to business!’.
New and shiny, Season 12 of Drag Race is looking smoother than ever. While the show’s budget blew up with S9’s move to VH1, the tiny production and editing changes throughout made the premiere probably the cleanest the show’s ever been.
For those who love Drag Race‘s jagged edges (the terrible mini-challenges, bizarre segues, odd editing, awful challenge writing), the premiere might be a little jarring at first — especially off the back of the UK version, which was made on a BBC budget, and was not by coincidence one of the funnest seasons in recent history. Thankfully, that fun seems to have survived the Atlantic trip, with Ru actually making jokes and seemingly enjoying herself.
And, perhaps after reading my S11 recaps (right), RuPaul smartly decided to revisit the split-premiere format of Drag Race S6 and allow the queens breathing space. Where S11 had 14 queens vying for attention, this episode had just seven ‘candidates’, as the show’s somewhat naff but allowable politics motif labelled them.
These queens, too! If the second batch can hold up to the high standard shown on E1, we’re in for a fantastic season. I fell in love with (almost) all these queens in large part because of their kindness to one another, with seemingly all but one looking out for each other.
Come On Drag Race Season 12, Lets Get RuPaul Another Emmy
Back in S3, queens entered the workroom for the first time through a door they opened themselves, and Stacey Layne Matthews’ opening line was a meek ‘hi’? To quote Drag scholar and protagonist of Lost Jack Shephard, “we need to go back”, because these extended intro moments have gotten increasingly cringe over the past few years.
It doesn’t really have an impact on the season ever (who could forget that Violet Chachki’s was “ooh la la la la la laaaa”, and she very deservedly ended up winning) but still, the multiple minutes standing there posing seem a bit ridiculous, and not in a fun faggot-y way.
Of the entrances, I absolutely loved both Gigi Goode’s simple ‘Ahoy!’ and Crystal Methyd’s ‘Anyone want to Party & Play?’ line. The editing really breezed past the latter, which was a reminder this show is edited for a broad (straight) appeal — (fyi, it’s a reference to PNP, a meth-sex combo on Grindr). Not a bad thing, but noticeable.
Between the entrance looks and the small premiere cast, this episode really established who the queens were — to the point a few familiar plot-lines surfaced. Jackie Cox made the potential mistake as self-identifying as a “comedy queen”, a title which time and time again backfires, as they’re graded on a higher level than the competition. We’ll see if that shapes out into a Miss Cracker storyline.
The amount of times I’ve already mentioned previous queens and seasons is a little frustrating, but it’s hard for the show to not feel like one big Miss Ouroboros at times — this episode up-cycled both S6’s split premiere and S7’s runway mini-challenge. As for the queens: it’s not that they are copies of previous contestants, but more that the show might treat or present them in a similar manner.
But on with the new — all the queens really got a moment to show themselves off this episode, though the one who won our collective hearts has to be Heidi’N’Closet, a name which is utterly unforgivable. But as someone who regularly also mixes up sayings and phrases, I find her completely endearing and naturally witty, which is far more appealing than a carefully calculated catchphrase queen, honey girl.
With her somewhat, uh, questionable style choices and small town storyline, we’re sure there will be a couple of hurdles — hopefully, the show discusses more transparently how big-city queens often have much more budget.
Which brings us to Gigi Goode, the 21-year-old star who absolutely killed this episode. Beyond her absolutely mesmerising face (both in and out of drag), this queen is already a front-runner for the crown.
Her looks are stunning and there’s a personality and quick-wit to match — and in case you need reminder, just re-wind the bit where Nicki Minaj explains the double-meaning of one of Gigi’s rap lyrics back to her. But between her mum being a super supportive costume designer and her general air of wealth, there’s something a little… clean about her.
Personally, I like my queers to be a little rough around the edges, but only out of resentment as I grew up on shame and self-loathing. To quote Trinity The Tuck, “Where is the trauma?”.
But the fashion show — nothing was quite a ‘tartan reveal’ moment, but pretty much everyone looked great. Particular shout out to Nicki Doll’s JPG look, which was divine, and Crystal’s Freddy Krueger illusion, a perfect reminder that horror, queerness and camp go hand in hand.
Absolutely no one is announced as the winner of the runway mini-challenge, because they were all showed up by Mayhem Miller and Kimora Blac in Kim and Kanye drag. Spring and fall in one, baby.
This week’s main challenge is hard-core; a rap sequence with a dance on the main-stage. ‘I’m That Bitch’ is one of Drag Race‘s better tracks, and it’s impressive how these queens, for the most part, pull off something so complicated early in. Then again, a rap/singing challenge is more or less a given by now, and perhaps most queens come prepared with a snappy verse?
Before we get to that, the queens have to choreograph the number, and both Heidi and Widow Von’Du step forward. Things get heated as both queens struggle to lead the pack here, with Heidi ending up taking over after Widow bows out from frustration. Add in her general bravado throughout the episode, and Widow doesn’t come off great, as she refuses to take anyone’s suggestions or cater to their capabilities as dancers. Given her win, we’re sure she’ll reign it in later down the line (ala Violet and as the producers probably hoped Silky would last season).
Meanwhile, Gigi braves her dancing difficulties, but Brita is pretty nervous. It shows. Like, really shows:
Fortunately, she pulls things together (even if her lip-sync was a bit off) in the performance. Hoping to see her shake off the nerves, as she seems like a potential strong competitor.
As does Nicky Doll, who probably would’ve ended up bottom two alongside Heidi this week if they didn’t flip the switch to let no queens go home. In Untucked, she expands a bit more on her inner saboteur (how do you spell that en Français?), explaining the difficulties of translating your personality and wit from language to language.
It’s something the show’s seen before with some queens from Puerto Rico (Kenya Michaels and Jessica Wild barely understood the challenge prompts some weeks), but not really given much time to. As someone who just moved countries and can’t speak a lick of the language, I really felt for Nicky — getting frustrated over not articulating yourself quite right is quite a hurdle. Hopefully she gets there.
All That Sparkles Is Yung Money
Nicki Minaj was, somewhat surprisingly, an excellent guest judge. Funny, kind, sweet, constructive: this was her best PR in years, since Cardi B (allegedly) threw her heel at her. Plus, she shut down Michelle Visage multiple times, which was, to be completely honest, a little nice to see.
While I totally respect and understand the role she plays in the show, it feels increasingly outdated — lecturing Jackie about her beard poking through felt super off. As Michelle herself says, Jackie is part-Persian, and as revealed in Untucked, shaves twice a day. Sure, there’s probably some make-up magic that would hide her 5 o’clock shadow, but does it matter?
It’s this arbitrary gender line that simply doesn’t affect Jackie’s performance as a queen: it’ll be disappointing if it becomes a plot-line.
As the show expands, it feels weirder and weirder that Michelle continues to judge Drag Race. While she knows a shit load about drag, perhaps someone who once got into a now-deleted Twitter argument about the A in LGBTIQA standing for Ally (and not the A Star Is Born one, either) could step down into a part-time spot to elevate a queer person who isn’t Carson Kressley?
Gigi and Widow are placed in the top two for the week, and get to lip-sync for a $5000 tip: it’s only, assumedly, for the first two weeks, while we’re still introducing all the queens.
The lip-sync is really long, but it wouldn’t be fair to cut down Arca’s ‘@@@@@’. All 62 minutes are needed to tell the story. Both queens put up a fight, but Widow’s all-out dancing and body contortion sees her take home the cash.
Next week, we meet 6 more queens. Unfortunately none are trans this season, which is a bit of a joke — trans drag queens are everywhere, and it’s hard to believe not even one made the cut.
Despite the many ‘jokes’ in RuPaul’s Netflix show where his character repeatedly establishes that ‘trans is beautiful’, the show’s complicated relationship with its trans contestants (and UK winner The Vivienne’s ongoing transphobia) continues to be a blight on the show.
Maybe one of the other seven Drag Race seasons in 2020 will make things right. For a start, Robyn is on next week as a guest judge, which, as any queer knows, goes a long way to fixing a broken heart.
RuPaul’s Drag Race streams on Stan, with new episodes available 3pm Saturdays AEDT.
Jared Richards is Junkee’s Night Editor, and lives in Berlin, lol. Follow him on Twitter.