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The Diva House Series: RuPaul

April 6, 2012

“We are all born into the world naked. The rest of it is just drag”

Gentlemen, start your engines! [Side note: Let me see how many RuPaul-isms I can get into this post before I sashay away.] If we’re being honest I don’t think anyone deserves the ‘diva’ title in this series more than RuPaul – I mean her first album is called Supermodel of the World. Not supermodel of the USA, or New York, or the West Village, or Betsy’s Shoe Salon round the corner – the whole wide WORLD. Only ‘the universe’ could’ve elevated the level of diva-ness!

It is also worth noting that Ru is sitting on top of a career that’s lasted at least 25 years and counting, making her the most successful diva in this series [she obviously wasn’t just messing about when she sang ‘You Better Work’]. I should also take this opportunity to pledge my allegiance to the extravaganza that is RuPaul’s Drag Race, I actually love that show [the dresses are so sparkly…]. We’re also looking at five studio albums, one Christmas album [wonderfully titled Ho Ho Ho], two remix albums and a bunch of one-off singles, so this post could turn serious but, don’t worry, I’m gonna keep it focused.

Her first album, released through Tommy Boy records, is packed with jams. Aside from her hits ‘You Better Work’, ‘Back To My Roots’ and ‘A Shade Shady [Now Prance]’, there’s ‘Miss Lady DJ’, ‘Free Your Mind‘, ‘House of Love‘ and ‘Stinky Dinky‘ [with an insane sample of ‘Love Rollercoaster’] – the album just relentlessly throws diva extravaganza at you, it’s almost painful.

Even though Supermodel of The World not only cemented RuPaul firmly in diva house territory but also created her ‘celebrity’ and ultimately a place in mainstream pop culture, the 6ft glamazon didn’t just appear out of nowhere. I’m not an expert on the underground club scene of the eighties but there are some seriously fascinating films of RuPaul’s early days here, including her first music video for ‘Ping Ting Ting’.

The 90s then went on to see RuPaul steal the show in Wigstock, a documentary about the annual drag festival in New York,  host her own show on VH1 and release her second studio album Foxy LadyIn between there was a hostile on-air stand-off at the MTV Awards with Milton Berle and a dodgy dance remake of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ with Elton John – both moments as cringe-inducing as they are genius.

Foxy Lady didn’t enjoy the same success as Supermodel… but who the hell can argue with a hi-energy cover version of Diana Ross’ ‘Work That Body’? It makes me very sad that I can’t find any embed-enabled audio for the opening track Happy [editor’s note: YOU CAN NOW!] on that album but you can throw some major shapes to ‘Snatched For The Gods’ instead.

After 1997, RuPaul’s output has some serious ups and downs including a rather large gap for the first part of the noughties. With the aim of keeping my promises and staying focused I’m going to choose the best of her tracks from the last 15 years but first a moment of brilliant insanity from the aforementioned Christmas album – tell it like it is!

RuPaul returned in 2004 with Red Hot Cher’s vocoder shows up on a lot of the tracks and it’s generally a big G-A-Y love-in – ‘Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous’ is the clear winner on this album. The rest need to lip sync for their life. Then sometime in 2007, Ru revisited her genderfuck years of the eighties and reprised a series of low-budget films with the blaxploitation-esque Starrbooty. In amongst a plot that John Waters requests as a bedtime story every night [undercover prostitutes, incest, clitorises being stolen and sold on the black market] there was time for a soundtrack. It’s special times.

But as we enter the era of Drag Race and 2009’s Champion album, there’s no way we can’t put the bass in our walk with ‘Cover Girl’ and the album’s finale track ‘Throw Ya Hands Up’ also has a mean strut to compete with. I hate to admit it but I have little love for Ru’s recent album Glamazon but the rest, chanté, can stay!

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