March Random Round Up

March was Women’s History Month, a concept I find kind of reductive because women are a part of and make history twelve months a year but moving on from that…here’s a list of groundbreaking female authors you should bookmark for your next book shop visit.

Zadie Smith’s beautiful story about Billie Holiday in the New Yorker is seriously worth reading.

This month I watched Season 2 of Love on Netflix and had mixed feelings about it. Gillian Jacobs’ performance is one of the highlights. One of the not-so-great things about the series is this.

Royal Blood are releasing their second album later this year and they’re teasing us with this studio clip. Bring. It. On.

The upcoming documentary Kiki looks amazing, a new take drag ball culture which first reached mainstream popularity in Paris Is Burning.

Speaking of drag, Netflix has struck a deal whereby new episodes of Rupaul’s Drag Race are streamable the day after they’re broadcast in the US. Season 9 is two episodes in and Valentina’s my early favourite.


The Best Lipsynch in the Herstory of Drag Race

One of the great things about not having a TV is that you don’t get sucked into brain-drain channel surfing and so the only reality show I have ever been fanatical about is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I first discovered it in 2013, reviewed it here, then recommended it to everyone I thought would appreciate it, creating a few new fans in the process.

Drag is an art form, a unique expression of a personal creative vision, and the show has given me a look into a world I knew nothing about before. I am often blown away by the queens’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (for an explanation of this phrase and a general resource for newbies, this is a comprehensive guide).

The Lipsynch For Your Life is the great leveller of Drag Race, the last chance to prove the queen deserves to stay in the competition. Stellar performances have come out of left-field to save the day, and seasoned queens have unexpectedly been sent home.

Having watched all eight seasons of Drag Race more than once, my favourite lipsynch is from season four: Dida Ritz doing ‘This Will Be’ by Natalie Cole. Cole is on the panel and her reaction sums up what the viewer is feeling. Dida lives the joy and energy of the song, and she’s so on point it’s jaw-dropping. As legendary queen Latrice Royale says, ‘that is what a lipsynch for your life is…that is high-drag at its finest.’


The Reality Show Drinking Game

Rupaul’s Drag Race is now available on Netflix and over the last few weeks I have re-watched every season. Sad I know, but regular readers know how much I was obsessed the first time I saw it so a re-watch was inevitable. While listening to the contestants’ interviews it occurred to me that there must be a drinking game that viewers could play which is applicable to all reality shows. When you think about it it makes perfect sense; contestants invariably repeat the same hackneyed sound-bites and if you’ve watched a couple of series you can usually predict what people are going to say.

I put forward this idea on Facebook and many of the responses highlighted phrases I hadn’t even clocked. So as a result of this crowdsourcing I’m hereby creating the Reality Show Drinking Game. And it’s my gift to you, not just for Christmas, forever!

The Rules of the Reality Show Drinking Game

As many players as you like. As many bottles as you like, but they must be spirits/hard liquor – none of your beer bullshit. Last person standing wins.

(Terms and Conditions apply. Alex Donald will not be responsible for hospitalisations as a result of playing.)

  • One shot every time someone says “This is my time to shine.”
  • One shot every time someone says “I need to step up my game.”
  • One shot every time someone says “I have to be true to myself.”
  • One shot every time someone says “I AM [America’s Next Top Model/The Biggest Loser/insert title here].”
  • One shot every time someone says “I’m not here to make friends.” Seriously, there’s a whole video devoted to this one. 
  • Two shots if you spot something over the top and concocted solely for drama and subsequent ratings surge: Tyra’s “I was rooting for you” tiradeWillam being disqualified from Rupaul’s Drag Race.
  • Two shots every time someone says something so ridiculous it reduces viewers to head-scratching incomprehension, e.g. “I need to take a swim in Lake Me.”
  • Two shots every time someone says something so moronic you wonder and worry about their IQ level. For example, years ago I was watching America’s Next Top Model and one of the contestants, when watching Tyra Banks on the runway, said “It’s just amazing to see someone who’s been walking that long.” And then there was Jessica Simpson’s inability to distinguish between chicken and tuna. You get the picture.

And then there’s this guy. This is THE BEST exit from a reality show, especially his monkey impression. Werd.

RuPaul’s Drag Race

When I come home from a gig at 4am and won’t be sleeping for a couple of hours, or when I’ve just woken up and I need to be eased into the day, I’ll watch some trash TV. Previously that has taken the form of an obsession with the early seasons of Dallas, various interiors programmes, and now a new series has joined my trash list. Welcome to RuPaul’s Drag Race: think America’s Next Top Model crossed with Project Runway for drag queens. Premiering in 2009, the show is now in its fifth season on Logo in the US.

The show largely follows the ANTM format. Between nine and fourteen queens are chosen at the start of the season. They are given mini-challenges and an overall challenge in each episode. Some challenges are repeated across seasons like Snatch Game which is a challenge where the contestants re-enact Blankety Blank: the drag queens impersonate celebrities of their own choosing, RuPaul hosts, and two celebrity guests stand in as contestants. The bottom two queens in each episode are up for elimination and in a final bid to impress the judges they must lipsynch for their lives.

When I started watching Drag Race I considered it TV bubblegum. However in the fifth episode of season one, the queens were tasked with making over women into their little sisters. The twist was that the women were MMA fighters and boxers, women competing in traditionally male sports. It made for one of the most interesting pieces of TV I’ve seen for a long time, a fascinating study in exploding gender stereotypes. While not every episode gives as much food for thought, I am particularly fascinated with the genderfuck aspects of drag culture that the show has introduced me to.

My favourite part of the show is watching the queens prepare for the catwalk, sewing costumes and doing their own hair and make-up. The make-up is true artistry and what these ladies don’t know about shading, highlighting and blending isn’t worth knowing. The transformations are astonishing: in season one a butch tattooed man became an edgy arresting beauty in the form of Nina Flowers, in season two a pierced attractive guy became a pouting glamorous knockout named Raven. Many of the men, especially Raja in season three, walk the runway better than most working models, and I’ve always thought that men have an unfair advantage in that they nearly all have great legs in heels.

The show is more provocative than most other reality shows, as befits the drag culture, and double entendres, profanity and trash talking are all on the menu. Whoever does the bleep censoring on Drag Race is very busy. For example, RuPaul frequently tells the contestants “don’t fuck it up”, and the checklist for the perfect Queen is “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent” (you can put the acronym together yourself). RuPaul is a funny, gracious and charismatic host perfectly suited to this TV format. She is famously stunning as her drag incarnation but when you see the man, Rupaul Andre Charles, he cuts a very stylish figure in bespoke Klein Epstein & Parker suits.

Drag Race features a varied array of guest judges including Dita Von Teese, Juliet Lewis, Jackie Collins, Sharon Osbourne, Henry Rollins, Debbie Reynolds and Lily Tomlin, and is produced by World of Wonder, the same team that did 90s club-kid classic Party Monster.

If you haven’t seen the show I suggest doing a hungover Sunday marathon of the first season. By bedtime you’ll be hooked.

(And, in case you’re wondering, my drag name would be Glenda Lock.)