This week’s “Pop Art Ball” episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 draws its inspiration from Studio 54, and puts the queens through their paces with a dual costume design and graphic design challenge.
The queens have some difficulty with both tasks, leading to a lumpy episode and a curious top two and eliminated queen.
It doesn’t help that Ru wore what might have been her worst wig of all time (not pictured, out of sympathy for Ru and my readers).
Andy Warhol’s famous 1962 soup can painting doesn’t give our queens too much to work with when it comes to designing their own signature soup cans. Warhol’s original run of soup can paintings were a super-literal recreation of the full line of Campbell’s line of soups at the time, with none of the colorful pop art flair for which he is remembered.
Yet, even in that same year he was also producing paintings of deconstructed cans with their labels shredded to reveal the silver beneath. In later revisitations he replaced the red and white with other colors.
As a result, I was expecting the queens to adhere to the spirit of Warhol, if not the letter – to create something on-brand but subversive and pop-art inspired. I was disappointed to see almost all of them miss the mark, with nary a shredded label amongst them.
Meanwhile, Studio 54 is late-stage, decadent disco, but none of the queens nailed the level of care free avant garde of its key players.
That left us with some major shake-ups compared to last week’s rankings! Are you ready to boogie?
Everyone on the show seems relieved to not be awarding BenDeLaCreme another victory this week, Ben included.
There’s no question that BenDeLa scored the biggest victory with her graphic soup can. It was colorful, kitschy, self-deprecating, and made terrific use of the iconographic design available for the queens for the challenge. It’s the only one amongst the cans that felt legitimately like a piece of pop art to me.
Her Studio 54 outfit wasn’t the best construction of the entire group nor the most eleganza, yet for me it seemed to get closer to the era’s effortless glam a little better than some of the other entries. I think the cut of the one-piece halter top look was right, but needed something more to sell the look to the judges. Maybe a gauzy cape?
Even with one week out of the top two it’s not like Ben has taken the target off her back. Plus, now she has the judges coming for her, saying they expect more and she seems a little bit tired. Truth be told, the first five weeks (and four straight lipstick deliberations) do seem to have taken a lot out of DeLa.
Yet, even with two other queens winning this episode, no one really seems poised to defeat her!
2. Trixie Mattel
Trixie Mattel finally runs out of other queens to get in her way and scoops up a top two placement that thrusts her into finals contention, even if it’s for one of her less-impressive turnouts of the season against the weakest efforts of the season from the other queens.
Trixie’s Pep/Abysmal soup can is an on-brand joke for her and her narration is hilarious, but the actual can is hideous. It uses her Season 7 promo photo with the eyes whited out, which not only doesn’t feel very pop art – it doesn’t feel very soup can! I think the judges mostly gave it to her on concept, but I was expecting something more cartoonish and more like BenDeLa’s.
(See, even when she wins, Trixie is getting held back by DeLa.)
On the runway there’s no denying Trixie’s almost-fugly pink pantsuit is one of the best late-disco looks, and perhaps the best constructed of them all (TOOT!). Even if we’ve already seen Trixie do the pantsuit thing as Dolly Parton in the second episode, to see her construct one on her own and for it to be so snatched to her body shape is pretty damn impressive.
That brings me to Trixie’s lip sync against Bebe. I feel with no hesitation in my body that Trixie slaughters Bebe’s second vague Diana Ross impersonation of the season. More on that below, in Bebe’s ranking.
Even if this performance isn’t as impressive as her stellar first three weeks, Trixie’s bounce back from self-defeat certainly is. With Shangela experiencing her customary moments of self-destruction on this episode and Bebe still playing it pretty safe, suddenly the case for Trixie as a foil to BenDeLaCreme seems pretty strong.
3. Bebe Zahara Benet
Bebe Zahara Benet continues to play it safe, only this week “safe” is good enough to put her on top where just coincidentally she draws a Diana Ross lip sync after impersonating her just three episodes ago.
That means Bebe is our winner and back in the race – and, suddenly, safe ain’t looking so bad.
Bebe’s soup can is the most anti-Warhol of this entire bunch, yet it also is the most understated and lovely graphic design. It’s not like the queens sat at a computer to make these themselves, but Bebe’s talent for art direction outside of drag really shows through in the limited palette of red tones on her label. It wasn’t very Warholian, but it was on brand and it looked great.
The same can be said for Bebe’s runway presentation, an immediate TOOT from me. While her shredded fringe dress was a bit vague in form, it read as something intricately detailed from the judging platform when most of these girls were giving cleaner looks. While it wasn’t a specific callback to a specific famous Studio 54 look, it definitely evoked late-70s disco realness.
That set Bebe apart from the crowd, as did her impeccable hair and make-up. She was clearly above and beyond all of the other queens in this runway presentation with no near neighbor.
Why, then, do I have runner-up Trixie placing higher than Bebe? For me, it’s about the lip sync. The judges might have been gagging on Bebe’s second turn as Diana Ross (just check out their eyelines to see how fixated they are on her), but I thought Bebe’s mostly stationary performance was more Charlie Hides than Latrice Royale.
How dare I? How dare I?! Well, you see, the secret is in the song: Diana Ross’s “The Boss.”
Like most disco, “The Boss” is secretly a somewhat boring mid-tempo song dressed up with percussion. It is made that way to give you time to execute intricate disco footwork on the dancefloor. Yet, Bebe’s mostly-stationary performance only emphasized how dull the song (and, that period of Ross in general) could be.
It’s also not a happy song, yet Bebe smiled and nodded through it. “The Boss” has a satisfying resolve for the narrator, but a lot of conflict before she gets there. She sings about being overconfident and wrong up until you find peace with love being in charge of your life. There were a few points where Bebe found the rue in the lyrics, but I think she widely missed the mark on the emotion of the song.
It was Trixie who had some desperation to her at those same points, which made her joyous little shimmy at the end hit more – it’s the point in the song where Ross actually sounds happy that love taught her a lesson, and Trixie nails it. She had more of an arc to her performance – not just because she took off her shawl, but because she told a story with the space.
Where does that leave us? With a triumphant Bebe who showed the chinks in her armor quite clearly. In the eighth year of her reign as Drag Race’s original queen she seems to only have one mode – regal. We’ve seen shades of it in every challenge (even as Grace Jones), and now in a lip sync as well. Chad and Alaska are the current occupants of the Hall of Fame, and both of them were great at getting messy – as are all of Bebe’s remaining competitors.
Can “safe” carry Bebe to the finals? Or, does Bebe have a reserve of messiness we just haven’t seen yet?
There’s no other way to say this: Shangela is back on her bullshit on this episode.
Shangela’s soup can was exactly what you’d expect: high energy “Halleloops.” There’s no denying it’s on brand for her, and her can’s colors were terrific, but the graphic design made no sense at all – it was by far the worst of the night.
Then there’s her runway… three gold records hanging over a curtain of gold tinsel fringe.
I don’t fault Shangela for her sewing fail here, as it was less about not knowing how to sew and more to do with misjudging the elasticity of her garment. It’s an intermediate sewing mistake we’ve seen fell many a queen before, from Adore to Chi Chi Devayne to Naysha Lopez.
Two of those three queens managed to pull out a safe performance with some strategically draped and belted fabric. Shangie really should have gone for that option here, where it was completely era-appropriate.
Instead, she went with a garment that just wasn’t a garmet. It has no shape, and it’s not avant garde enough to sell as Studio 54. (BOOT.) In reality, the era featured a lot of simple, even baggy looks that Shangela likely could have assembled in a hurry and sold with bold make-up.
Yet, Shangie loses her good taste when she gets inventive, as she reminded us here.
Does this one misstep really mean Shangela has lost her shot at being the next queen in the Hall of Fame? Halleloo, I hope not! Yet, I think it shows off her particular weakness perfectly – she is everything but a crafty queen, and now all of the other queens have been reminded of that.
As long as this is the only remaining design challenge, Shangela is probably safe, and she can easily win a bottom two tie-break against all of the remaining queens save for BenDeLa. Yet, there’s a sense that Shangela’s momentum has been temporarily arrested here with Bebe and Trixie finally surging. She’s going to have to decisively conquer next week’s episode in order to fight that pair of queens off from squeaking past her into the final three.
5. Kennedy Davenport
Kennedy Davenport didn’t turn out a bad performance by any stretch of the imagination here, but she’s getting left in the dust by the other four queens despite her having a challenge win under her belt.
I enjoyed Kennedy’s soup can. It was overly busy, but it was on-brand for her and actually sounded like soup! The judges took issue with Kennedy for going with simple “church lady” hair and make-up, but I think they missed the point. Kennedy’s entire schtick is about being a big-booty vixen who is simultaneously a curmudgeonly old lady. This can (and her look) nails that.
Similarly, I couldn’t understand the critique of her Studio 54 look. It might not have been the best construction of all time, but Kennedy was the only queen who could have been Photoshopped into a color photo of Studio 54 from 1979 and looked 100% in place. Maybe it wasn’t as majestic as Bebe’s look or as flattering as Trixie’s, but especially paired with her divine puff of tight curls it should have secured her a win. (TOOT)
Kennedy’s saving grace is Bebe’s weakness – she knows how to get messy when the moment calls for it. When it comes down to it in the next two weeks, Kennedy’s ability to go zany and ugly could easily put her in more direct competition with BenDeLaCreme and Shangela than with the nervous Trixie and the regal Bebe – and that’s all it would take to vault from last place into the finale in this tight field.
And, once she’s a lock for the final three, Kennedy’s case for being a quintessential Hall of Famers gets very, very strong. She might even be my vote, despite BenDeLaCreme being a particular favorite of mine. All she has to do is hang on for two more weeks.
Sashay Away: Aja
I’m torn on Aja’s elimination this week.
Aja not only gave the most consistently hilarious narration of the season, but she showed nary a weakness the entire time. Her taste level and gung ho performances made everything she did memorable – even her slight misfire in The Bitchelor.
At the same time, in this field of six queens, Aja feels like the only queen who probably isn’t the next member of RuPaul’s vaunted Hall of Fame. This return felt less like a run at landing in the Hall and more a reevaluation of where she should have landed in Season 9.
In that respect, Aja was a runaway success on All Stars. She went from a marginal queen with an entertaining lack of filter to an always-sexy look queen with stunning dance movies who delivers constant over-the-top comedy every time she opens her mouth.
It’s like she is Alyssa Edwards Version 2.0: The Fashion Forward Edition.
Even if it might have been Aja’s time to bow out of the show, it feels like she was done dirty by a needlessly vicious RuPaul. Aja slightly crossed her references on the runway, but she had references – as she always does! For being at least a full decade younger than most of these other queens, Aja referenced drag history as much or more than they did. This is a queen who might have a lot to learn, but she absolutely respects the queens and fashion that came before her.
That Ru was so disrespectful to read her for mispronouncing a name (which just proves that Aja reads to get her information rather than just watching YouTube) made me very upset. It might be the moment where the veil was lifted and I finally realized RuPaul just doesn’t care too much about this competition anymore. All she wants to do is laugh.