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Lola Blades contemplates her rap.
Lola Blades contemplates her rap.

Pop CultureDecember 13, 2018

House of Drag power rankings: The all-white rap challenge

Lola Blades contemplates her rap.
Lola Blades contemplates her rap.

House of Drag breaks out of the Drag Race mould with an all rap-challenge, with mixed results.

Look. It’s not racist to do a rap challenge with an all-white cast, but it’s something that I might give a little pause to before continuing on with it, just for the sake of optics. I would also give a little bit more pause before doing a rap challenge with four contestants who haven’t necessarily shown themselves to be great rappers. Much like stand-up, it’s a form you really want to be sure you have a handle on before doing it in front of anybody, much less on camera.

Alas, we soldier on through.

The most interesting part of this week’s episode was not the rap challenge – which was better than expected, while still being a fair bit below the quality of any rap battle you’ve seen in your life – but one of the conversations that began the episode.

Bunny Holiday, not a mean girl.

During a pool game – the House of Drag has a room with a pool table in it, apparently – Hugo Grrrl tells Bunny Holiday that before the show he believed Holiday to be the character she is portraying, the mean girl. Bunny goes on the defensive, saying that the character is emblematic and representative of the girls she admired when she was growing up, bringing up Sharpay from High School Musical as an example.

It’s an argument that brushes against an uncomfortable truth – there is an aspect of drag, or at least drag queens, that can be seen as inherently misogynistic or transmisogynistic. When you’re messing around with gender, parodying aspects of femininity, there’s the chance that you in fact reinforce prejudice against the very things you’re making fun of.

It’s like the Tarantino thing – are his depictions of African-Americans breaking or reinforcing old stereotypes? Are they empowering or exploitative? I’m not the person to answer that, and I’m also not the person to answer if drag is inherently misogynistic. But to see House of Drag come close to brushing up to that conversation is refreshing.

And, like House of Drag, I’ma skip right over that and get to the ‘fun’ stuff – the power rankings.

Bunny Holiday, giving us some Bird Gehrl realness.

ELIMINATED: Bunny Holiday

Despite her confidence in her rapping abilities, Bunny fell short in the challenge. And I quote: “You’re just a girl, I want to smother you with a duvet.”

The designated villain of a reality show rarely lasts until the end, and this appears to be the case with Bunny Hoiday. The frontrunners and the underdogs get the crown, and the villain is left holding the bouquet and waiting for the inevitable spinoff.

Top four is nothing to sniff at though!

Leidy Lei, giving us Mad Max realness.

3. Leidy Lei

Despite a professed lack of taste in the reading culture in drag – although I’d posit that the reading in House of Drag is less reading and more slapping you with a magazine – Leidy Lei kind of kills her second rap battle. It’s the closest the show has come to letting the contestants fight for their lives, and it pays dividends for Lei. She really wants to be here, and although she’s struggled through the earlier episodes, she’s fought for her place in the top three.

I can’t see her winning, but a top three placement is definitely victory enough for this young queen, and it can’t hurt those booking fees.

Hugo Grrrl, bringing you Angel in America realness.

2. Hugo Grrrl

This is the first episode where we see a darker, meaner side of Hugo, and it’s a little bit shocking. There have been some pretty savage things said on this show but I don’t think there’s a single comment that is as much of a horizontal slash as “I don’t think drag’s your thing any more.” It comes from a place of honest, direct assessment and it’s pretty goddamned real.

The Hugo we’ve seen up until this point is still here – other than a stumble in his second battle that definitely costs him the win. It’s the first blemish in his time here so far. He’s been on point with fashion, performance and most importantly his brand. You know who Hugo is from the first time you see him onstage, and it’s that clever branding which could give him the win.

Lola Blades, bringing… I don’t know, purple wig realness?

1. Lola Blades

It’s really a Lola or Hugo competition at this point. Neither have done badly, and Lola has gotten her first win at a key point in the competition.

The episode is very clearly, and unsubtly edited to engineer doubt in a Lola Blades victory. Which brings me, sort of awkwardly, to an issue with the show’s length and editing in general. Twenty-two minutes is nowhere near long enough to generate the kind of narrative that reality shows really need to keep people interested – we’re interested in story. So when we get an episode that opens with two contestants casting doubt on another contestant, in this case, Hugo Grrrl saying point-blank about Lola Blades, “I don’t think drag’s your thing any more”, we know that the contestant is either going home or staying.

It’s a classic move in reality shows, but when you’ve got a forty-six minute hour you can tease it out; you’ve got room to play around with the narrative. With twenty-two minutes? You’ve got no room to let things breathe, you have to zoom past introductions to the challenge, and wind up the elimination. It feels both fast and long at the same time. Which is a comment that would probably lead to a Kita and Anita joke.

Anyway, Lola mostly nails the rap challenge. Her performance is on-point, she looks lovely, and she holds it together like a pro. At this stage, that’s all you need to be a winner and if it’s not either her or Hugo, well. I’ll be shocked.

You can watch House of Drag on TVNZ on Demand right here.

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