Welcome to my review and power rankings of the fifth episode of Drag Race France Season 1 – Popstars, the Drag Race France girl group challenge accompanied by a “Night of 1000 Mylène Farmers” runway celebrating one of France’s biggest pop stars.
Often, the biggest challenges of a pop music theme on Drag Race aren’t for the queens but for production. It’s not easy to effectively parody pop music without seeming too silly, and harder still to fabricate a credible pop song on demand for a reality show.
The American Drag Race franchise often absolves itself of this duty altogether by repurposing RuPaul songs for its many musical challenges. Ru produces a slew of charming dance music, but it doesn’t often line up with trends in pop.
I feel as though the success of “Break Up (Bye Bye)” for Drag Race UK in 2019 finally shook up this habit, showing that producing real, current pop music for the show could pay off in increased attention in other media. That worked in part because the UK has a voracious music market that celebrates TV pop stars more than America does, but it didn’t hurt that the song was damn good.
Since then, Drag Race has stepped up its musical game for its so-called “girl group” challenges – and, I’d say the two versions of “Boom Boom” on this episode are near the top of that staircase. This song songs exactly like the sort of high-tempo disco-influenced pop delivered by European girl groups (and even some K-pop).
Not only was the song good, but Drag Race France completely avoided the trope of having any artist singled out for her intense struggle as a newfound singer/songwriter and dancing queen. Even though Paloma did poorly in the challenge, at no point did the edit lean into a “I can’t sing at all” self-confidence spiral or a “I think I can sing, but I can’t” fit of delusion. While the queens had different levels of success in the challenge, none of them were an abject failure. The same is true for the “Night of 1000 Mylène Farmers” runway.
The strong performance from the queens this episode exposed that this season’s single weakness may be in its mercurial judging. We are now at the point of the season where all six of the queens are well-round professionals with an eye for detail. Yet, the judges are still finding minor – and often invisible – elements about them to critique. Nicky Doll seems to be giving the most practical and even-handed advice, but her companions Daphné Bürki and Kiddy Smile often seem to be critiquing a different competition entirely.
It can be hard to understand the nuance of Drag Race judging in a different language. Imagine trying to understand Michelle Visage’s pop culture references and promiscuity jokes in translation! Would we still understand that there is a layer of motherly warmth beneath her bitchy exterior if we were relying only on subtitles?
That’s the question I have about Daphné Bürki and Kiddy Smile. Daphné has given incisive critiques, but sometimes it feels as though she is expecting fashion modeling instead of drag. And, it is hard to tell if Kiddy Smile is naturally laconic or if he is holding back to make up for the extreme conflict of interest of La Grande Dame being his own drag daughter.
The inconsistent judging would be dragging this season down more if there wasn’t such a clear divide in the field of queens between the Top 3 and everyone else that has been evident since week one. Elips’ deep run into the competition might be the only true surprise of the season if things continue to play out as they have, which somewhat forgives the judges since the outcome will be the same regardless of what they say.
If you want to watch Drag Race France you can sign up for WowPresentsPlus to watch the many worldwide Drag Race franchises for $4.99 a month or $50 a year. (Note that if you’re in the US you will need to use a VPN to “visit” another country to see the US Franchise.)
Now it’s time to rank the queens, dissect their performances, and discuss their runways! This results in a shuffle of the top three from last week’s Episode 4 power rankings, as well as a continued joust for 4th place.
Lecteurs, start your engines. Et, que la meilleure Drag Queen gagne!
Reminders: I consistently refer to Drag Race artists with their drag names and with she/her pronouns even when they are not in drag, which is the convention of the show. Some performers may have different personal pronouns. Drag is inherently brave, political, and artistic, and all drag is valid. It’s also hard to do. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it comes across on this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I celebrate all drag!
Drag Race France Season 1 – Episode 5: Popstars & Night of 1,000 Mylène Farmers Power Rankings
This episode’s runway was “Night of 1000 Mylène Farmers,” which requires a brief explanation from my extensive single hour of research and YouTube watching 😂
Myléne Farmer is France’s equivalent to Madonna – an enduring pop star and eternal fashionista who transformed from youthful chart-topper in the 8os to an enduring artist with a distinct vision. Her music is a bit less obviously pop than Madonna’s. Her high crystalline vocals and penchant for ethereal balladry evokes shades of Kate Bush. Essentially, if you picture Madonna doing Hounds of Love or Kate Bush doing Ray of Light, you’ve got the right idea of her vibe, both in music and in fashion.
And, she is no stranger to a reveal – which explains why four of these six looks included a reveal!
But, first, let’s enjoy Nicky Doll’s gauzy runway look!
1. La Grande Dame – 1 win (3 avg. rank – was #1, 3, 6, 4, Pre-Season #2)
La Grande Dame (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter / YouTube) received a minor warning about adhering to the runway theme this episode, but that seemed to do little to slow her narrative momentum towards the finale.
I was slightly surprised at how well La Grande Dame’s typically icy runway character translated into a coquettish pop star in her group, “Les Soeurs Jacquettes.” While she wasn’t the most fluid dancer, she was clearly hitting her marks throughout the song.
La Grande Dame struggled with the timing of her verse in recording, but it turns out that it wasn’t a typical Drag Race edit of a making a queen look bad. The cue was really difficult because the time signature of the song changes down the near-silent breakdown! La Grande Dame’s verse started from a silent break after the chorus, and the count-in was absolutely odd. I think any singer would have stumbled without the sheet music in front of them.
(For the more musically inclined: If you continue counting measures of 4/4 from the ending of the chorus into her bridge it doesn’t work at all! I’m not the strongest rhythm notator, but I think there is a measure of 4/4 and then a measure of 2/4, and she starts on the quarter note of the 2/4 as a pick-up to the next full measure.)
If La Grande Dame’s musical performance was surprisingly confident, her runway was slightly puzzling. Neither of her looks evoked Mylène farmer very much, from what I’ve been able to research. Yes, Mylène has worn Jean Paul Gaultier black lace to a red carpet, but I don’t think La Grande Dame’s look evokes Myléne in specific.
That helps to explain the judges’ warning to her in their critiques about paying attention to the runway prompt rather than simply serving the fashion of her own choosing. Also, I think her slow, awkward reveal from coat to dress would have been criticized if it had been from any other queen.
Even with a slightly off-theme runway, it feels like La Grande Dame continued her dominant run this episode. It still feels like she has a slight edge over Soa de Muse in how she is being received by the judges. Also, I’d say it’s starting to look as though she may make it to the finale without a lip sync unless she is sent to dispatch the fourth-place queen as Jinkx Monsoon was on Season 5.
The question remains for me if La Grande Dame has the singular vision to be a Drag Race champion. All of the franchises around the world have done a good job of crowning queens who feel the most singular of their casts. I feel like we still need to see more of La Grande Dame’s inner life and thought processes beyond her approach to fashion. I’m hoping that breakthrough comes in the next two episodes, or her crowning over Soa and Paloma will feel unsatisfying for me.
2. Soa de Muse – 2 wins, 2 lip syncs (3 avg. rank – was #3, 6, 3, 1, Pre-Season #3)
Soa de Muse (Facebook / Instagram / TikTok) seems to have fully recovered from early stumbles, with a resounding win in this performance challenge and a runway that elicited only positive comments from the judges.
Soa de Muse’s verse wasn’t the best, or even the best in her group. However, she is the queen who has the most force of personality in this cast, and that immediately shined when she hit her mark in the center of the stage. She didn’t need big dance moves to sell her presence. She found a perfect line between “pop star” and “rocker” throughout the song in a way that Lolita could not figure out. Watch her at the edges of the other queens’s verses to see how smooth and in place she looks the entire time.
Soa de Muse’s runway is instantly recognizable as Myléne’s Farmer’s tour look for “Avant que l’ombre.” By comparison, Myléne’s look is actually more drag than Soa’s. The original dress is more substantial, with bigger layers and more embellishment. Soa wisely took it in a slightly different direction with the draping princess-y sleeves to give it a regal suggestion without as much substance.
Myléne’s look was a reveal, as you can see at the 6:00 mark in that video. He reveal was to a barely-there glittering bikini. I think Soa was wise not to copy the exact reveal look. Her version of the robe was near enough to get away with something different beneath.
For me, the question comes down to if Soa has really improved on what the judges disliked about her in Week 2 and Week 3… or, has she simply been favorited by the challenge order of the past two weeks? That’s hard for me to say, since I never fully understood the problem the judges had with her to begin with. It was something like, “don’t be yourself,” but I could never articulate it nor did I think it was especially fair.
If the judges reverse their comments and are hard on Soa de Muse again next week for intangible reasons, I think their mercurial nature means she is out of contention for the crown. However, if Soa really did change in their eyes, then I doubt she can be derailed by two more weeks of challenges. Even if La Grande Dame and Paloma score the two wins, Soa will head into the finale on equal footing and with a similar growth arc to La Grande Dame.
3. Paloma – 1 win, 1 lip sync (1.8 avg. rank – was #2, 1, 1, 2, Pre-Season #1)
Paloma (Instagram / Twitter) had her first major stumble of the competition, and it was enough to send her straight to the bottom. While she was likely never in real danger of being eliminated in favor of Elips, at this point I question if the judges are as fascinated with her as I am.
There’s no doubt that Paloma struggled with this pop star challenge.
On first viewing her performance seemed enjoyable enough, although her verse was hard to hear. As I rewatched, I caught many tentative moments where you could almost see her wincing while dancing. Drag Race can forgive many flaws from non-dancers in dancing challenges, but to receive that forgiveness you have to commit to the dancing. Paloma would have fared better if she had gone full out and simply made slightly goofy, flailing dancing part of her character. She struggled to make her moves look sleek and natural, but the struggle made it worse.
To be fair, I believe both her first verse and Elips’s were given a disadvantage through the choice of a crackly phone-filter on the vocals, which did nothing to help their diction problems. Even if it had been perfectly crisp, Paloma’s verse was probably the weakest of the six. She leaned into her “I’m an actor” identity with some clever references, but she struggled to fit it all into the rhythm of the song.
It’s clear from Paloma’s runway presentation that she is the biggest and most-reverent fan of Mylène Farmer of this group. She is giving a full-on Mylène impersonation at the same level as The Vivienne’s Dolly Parton runway on All Stars Season 7.
Paloma’s initial look isn’t an exact copy of a Mylène look – instead, it is meant to evoke the feel of the entire cycle of her 1999 record, Innamoramento. From another queen, that would come off as poor excuse for an inexact runway. From Paloma, I believe it – especially because her flowing black robe then reveals to a perfect drag version of the opening look from “L’Amour Naissant” from her 2020 tour.
I wouldn’t count Paloma out from winning the crown just yet, but it’s critical she scores one of the next two wins if she wants to be serioulsy considered over the favored La Grande Dame and the surging Soa. There’s almost a sense that Paloma is the sort of quirky total package queen with a vision who would win on a Drag Race in the US or Canada, but in France they’re looking for something either more glossy or more aggressive. Paloma’s good-at-everything lovable weirdo doesn’t seem to hold their attention in the same way.
4. La Big Bertha – 1 lip sync (4.4 avg. rank – was #5, 5, 4, 3, Pre-Season #4)
La Big Bertha (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter) had another must-win challenge this week with a big stage performance with a built-in message. It felt like she was on the verge of clinching it, but her runway was too simply for the judges.
It is undeniable that La Big Bertha was in her element as a pop star. Any moments of hesitation we have seen from her in other challenges did not exist. Her verse was crisp and to the point, and her octave-spanning delivery showed an awareness and natural ease with her singing range that many queens on the show have to be coached through.
La Big Bertha says her runway is embodying Mylène Farmer from her 2013 “Timeless” concert tour. Mylène did wear a coral pink pants look on the tour that this resembles. I think the problem is not necessarily with the resemblance, but the proportions. Mylène is strikingly slender, and even a slight ruffle at her waistline comes off like a hip peplum. I think Bertha needed that extra proportion on her hips to sell her intergalactic fantasy, to make the dress explode out from her gauzy half-wrap, and to separate the mini-dress from the same-colored tights.
The more I look at her runway, the more I like it – it is one of the better-constructed and most-fully-realized looks she has presented. I just think there was something she could have done to make it pop more on her figure since the entire thing is the same color.
I think if La Big Bertha had a more impressive runway she could have clinched this win from Soa. It felt like the first time she has really blown the judges away in a performance. I think that puts her on slightly more solid ground than Lolita Banana at this point, because she is showing tangible growth each week.
Unfortunately, even if she outlasts Lolita next week, it seems impossible that she could pick off one of the top three unless she picks up a win while Paloma continues a precipitous decline. And, if she winds up in the bottom next week, I’m not sure she can defeat Lolita in a lip sync.
5. Lolita Banana (3.6 avg. rank – was #4, 2, 2, 5, Pre-Season #5)
For me, Lolita Banana’s performance of her verse may have been the worst of the six. Her lyrics were basically, “I’m Mexican, I dance,” but she didn’t dance at all! It felt like the song ground to a halt for her verse and then started up again afterward.
I blame some of that on Lolita focusing on teamwork. She incorporated the other two queens into her verse more than anyone else did. That’s the sign of a professional performer outside of the show, but in the world of Drag Race this was meant to be HER MOMENT! It almost felt like Lolita was afraid that her showgirl moves would be too incongruent with a rock track.
Lolita had more success on the runway. I suspect it is what kept her out of the lip sync. I don’t know a think about Mylène Farmer, but it was easy to find her iconic video for “Je te rends ton amour,” which is like a horror take on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” (from the Innamoramento album). I cannot imagine how provocative it must have been at the time in 1999!
Mylène doesn’t wear this literal look in the video – she alternates being covered in blood and appearing totally nude. I think Lolita found solid interpretation of that, though I think there was a better way to execute a “bloody” dress than what was essentially a connected bikini top and bottom. Rendering this in a clear dress with opaque bloody portions more like La Grande Dame’s condom look from last week could have been more successful and fashionable.
Even if the fashion was slightly lacking, I think Lolita made up for it in her steely presentation – and, but connecting her bloody look to an “Undetectable = Untransmissable” message about living with HIV.
(As always, Lolita bears a striking resemblance to Lady Gaga, so her look could not help but evoke her legendary blood-soaked “Paparazzi” performance on the VMAs.)
The judges are clearly still favoring Lolita Banana over La Big Bertha in general, but it feels like La Big Bertha is slowly growing in confidence while Lolita Banana is shrinking. Plus, it felt as though between last episode and this one Lolita has completed all of her story arcs by discussing her insecurity as an immigrant and her HIV-positive status. Even after several weeks as an obvious “runner up,” Lolita feels like a very far distance from our top three queens. She will need to do something revolutionary next week if she wants to hang on for the finale.
Eliminated: Elips (5.75 avg. rank – was #5, 7, 5, 6, Pre-Season #10)
Elips (Instagram / TikTok) had a strong run on the show with no true point of failure. She was never the best at any single challenge, and in a field of only 10 queens there wasn’t enough time for her to the kind of growth arc the judges would have liked to see.
I thought Elips looked the best for the challenge out of all six queens – she was absolutely giving me “pop girl having her rock moment” in the performance. I also liked her verse, which was simple but fit the song and was delivered with an appropriate amount of snarl.
Also, she delivered a detail-perfect look from Mylène Farmer’s 1987 appearance on “The Jacky Show”! However, I think she went slightly too obscure with her reference and stayed too pure in her reverence. The look needed to be dragged up, especially the plain black turtleneck beneath the wide-shouldered checkered jacket.
I had Elips ranked last in my pre-season rankings, but she was one of the queens who fascinated me the most and that is still true. I think there is a certain level of focus and pureness of vision that she brought to all of her runways and performances. She has an undeniable eye for balance and detail in her fashion.
Ultimately, Drag Race is looking for a queen who can show off a bit more, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Elips is not at that place in her life as a performer. She definitely proved herself as someone I will want to keep watching to see what she does next.