Friday, February 25, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - A Strong Maxi Challenge Clashes With a Lackluster Runway and Lip Sync in '60s Girl Groups'

VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 14.08 "'60s Girl Groups"

The queens sing and dance in '60s girl groups The Rupremes, The Runettes and The Shangrulas. Comedian Alec Mapa guest judges.

When the cast for this season was announced, the first reaction was how young they were overall. DeJa Skye and Lady Camden are the oldest at 31. Everyone else is competing in their twenties. That means they have all grown up watching this show. They've learned from it. It's part of gay history for them. That's what has made it so fascinating to see the last two episodes pay homage to long ago decades that this cast has only heard about. Last week, it was all about overacting in an '80s soap opera parody with fart jokes added on top. This week the girl group challenge honors the trailblazers who paved the way for this genre back in the 1960s. The episode is even in honor of Ronnie Spector, who passed away just a few weeks ago. So many legends who influenced pop culture are still with us. But it's also important to remember the history that led the way to Drag Race becoming such a phenomenon. Every action has meaning behind it. Sure, it can all be trivialized by saying Angeria, Lady Camden and Kerri have the most pressure as their group honors The Supremes, RuPaul's favorite girl group of all time. That does inform the judging at the end of the episode. However, it's important to look at the collective effort of this challenge. Yes, it's about writing lyrics. It's the first change for the queens to do that. But it's also about embodying the vibe of the era. They must know their history and apply it to their drag style. Sometimes a change in posture is all it takes to present with more confidence and effervescence. Those little details are judged. It's still remarkable to see another successful mini and maxi challenge. That actually proves that these queens know how to play the game. They've calibrated their careers to doing well on this show. That's not enough for them to win. It is certainly notable.

Reading is fundamental. That's the reaction everyone must embrace when it comes to the iconic mini challenge. It's a part of drag culture too. It extends from the ball scene and the iconic documentary Paris Is Burning. It's a challenge that all of the queens should know is coming at some point. As such, they should be writing jokes about their fellow queens as soon as they meet. It's something they can plan for. In a stunning turn of events, they are all decent. Yes, some stand out more than others. No one fails because they struggle to tell a joke. Sure, reading is more than just a punchline that makes fun of someone's personality or style. It's morphed over the years because the queens have become more afraid of how the fans will react online. Being able to take and deliver the jokes is vital for success in this business. Bosco talks a big game. She delivers too. Sure, her final joke about the girls letting RuPaul down on the runway one more time was easily written before she even arrived at the competition. It's not specifically informed by any of her fellow queens. It's still a solid joke. Plus, she is strong through her entire time at the helm. "You put the bottom in lobotomy" is a great read. It's directed at Jasmine. That too proved that Bosco is quick on her feet and willing to tell these girls exactly what she thinks in a colorful way. However, the read of the night belongs to Lady Camden directed at Jorgeous. "She is the tiniest little waist.... of time." That's pure gold. The judges are harsh on Camden later on. However, this episode does cement Bosco, Lady Camden and Daya Betty as stepping in to fill the void following Kornbread's departure. It's deserved in all cases too.

In the main challenge, The Shangrulas are easily the most cohesive group. "Bad Boy Baby" was the song that so many queens wanted in this challenge. All three essentially blurred together. However, that first one did allow things to go in a campier direction. Bosco, Willow and Daya all had fun with it. The choreography they came up with was cute too. They all knew how to perfectly execute it without it feeling like a group of drag queens doing the same two steps over and over again. That repetition was felt elsewhere. It's funny how each group had a queen who calls themselves a choreographer. In only one case though did that turn into a positive. That comes from Willow keeping things to herself. She allows others to be pleasantly surprised about what she can do. She has been subverting expectations ever since she walked in with "Angle" on her shirt. That's how she has chosen to approach this competition. It's smart even though she is only called safe this week. Meanwhile, The Runettes are the worst group overall. It can't solely be blamed on none of them being singers. Deja surprises everyone with her ability to carry a tune. It's then shocking to see Jorgeous trip up over rhythm. It's so bad that her verse has to be spoken in the end. It's a creative solution Michelle offers. It leads to her being safe as well. The show somewhat feels like it needs to coddle Jorgeous a little bit. That's not exactly fair. But she doesn't truly stand out as bad in the challenge either. The Runettes suffer from having the worst look as a group. It doesn't really come across as '60s or all that flattering on all of them. Some queens thought Deja was infantilizing Jorgeous and Jasmine with the choreography. But she was the one the judges liked even when she was in a group with two dancing divas. And finally, The Rupremes were a mixed bunch. It's easy to understand the criticism of Kerri not matching the energy for this specific format. She wanted to take everyone to church which isn't what these groups were about. Listening to her heartbreaking story about not being able to sing to popular music growing up may actually be telling in how she struggles to connect with the more rhythmic elements of this profession.

The runway theme is "Heart On." It features a lot of disappointments. This seems like the runway the queens thought they could phone it in. It's tough when packing for this show. Not everything can be stunning. Most drag queens don't have those resources even though the expectations of runway looks has gotten insane. Daya thought out of the box by not embracing the usual color scheme of red. The heart design can be featured in many different ways. Her look was punk and techno while proudly representing her style. DeJa's look fails in comparison because she goes for anime without committing to the idea beyond the shoulders, hair and glasses. Meanwhile, several queens rely on their bodies to add a statement to their looks. That works for Bosco. It's less successful for Willow, Jorgeous and Kerri. And then, Angeria and Jasmine had gorgeous looks that they simply stuck hearts onto in order to fit the category. Lady Camden basically did the same thing though the heart on her sleeve was too large and overshadowed her clever idea of Cupid being shot by an arrow herself. Daya, DeJa and Angeria are in the top, with Jasmine, Kerri and Camden in the bottom. It's clear the judges wanted to talk to everyone in The Rupremes. They don't all deserve that attention. Camden could be safe so that either Willow or Bosco could hear from the judges how well they did. DeJa's top placement is a little curious. Daya wins. It's deserving. It had to be someone from the outlandish group. They went first but they had the most impact. Jasmine and Kerri are the bottom two. That feels right. It's questionable why the show chose a dance remix to Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" for the lip sync song. It's a left turn from what the challenge and its importance was about. It wanted to be upbeat even though Braxton is an iconic diva as well. It's clear both Jasmine and Kerri are desperate to show off. It's not great. These queens may be polished in some ways. However, they keep losing their shoes in lip syncs. That's strange. Jasmine wins. Kerri leaves after not having the golden chocolate bar. That seems right too. Kerri was destined for a middle placement. She even notes that she learned so much about herself in this competition. She can apply that and emerge even greater should she return for All Stars. That seems like the place where she can shine outside of being a pretty face.