Every week, one of the most tension-fueled moments on Drag Race is the gap between RuPaul saying “Good luck, and don’t fu*ck it up” and the start of the Lip Sync For Your Life. Sure we’re all eagerly anticipating the show-stopping smackdown, but there are those few, unspoken seconds where we’re also waiting to hear what song the two queens will be lip-syncing to.
Of course, the show has a good track record on that front, frequently delivering bop after bop that will have the fans gagging after just the first few bars. Over 14 regular seasons, 7 All Stars, and countless international spin-offs, the series has made a habit of finding the perfect music to soundtrack these climactic moments. There are gay anthems, new party-ready favorites, remixes on classics, and even some left-field picks.
Can I get a “quack quack” here?
But how does the show decide which songs to use? In a new interview with The WOW Report, Drag Race executive producer Tom Campbell reveals all.
Each season, the music supervision and production teams—which Campbell says is a super-group of “queer people who are obsessed with pop music and pop culture”—debate and assemble a list of songs they’d like to feature on the show. (Which, frankly, is something we’re doing in our spare time anyway—can we get paid for that, too?)
From there, the list is sent to Mama Ru herself, who, of course has ultimate veto power over what tracks do and don’t get used on the show.
“He will reject songs because they’re the wrong tempo, they don’t build, there’s all of these factors he’s thinking about,’ Campbell reveals. It seems the show has unending trust that Ru will pick numbers that are best for the show—and rightfully so.
“He is truly a PhD in pop culture, especially when it comes to music.,” says Campbell. “Back in the iPod days, when RuPaul gave you an iPod that he had loaded with music, it was a gift from god.”
Dida Ritz in season four still ranks as one of the best lip syncs on RuPaul’s Drag Race. pic.twitter.com/SDO3IpJakY
— Religion Is The Cancer (@naijagayman) November 21, 2020
But even with the almighty power of Ru behind them, the Drag Race team hasn’t always had an easy time getting the songs from their wish list. As Campbell recalls, in the early days, when they were “this little show that nobody knew,” it was a challenge to get clearances, especially because the budget wasn’t there to cover some pricey licensing agreements.
However, as the franchise’s popularity has exploded—especially after the regular seasons made the move from Logo to VH1—that’s only made the team’s job easier. On one hand, yes, the budget is much, much bigger. But there’s also the fact that artists and labels now actively pursue the show to have their songs featured. After all, you can listen to a song and think it’s good, but it’s not until you’ve seen a few queens shablam along to the beat that you know it’s legendary.
And the proof is in the charts. According to data from chart analyzers at Luminate, many of the tracks and artists featured in the show’s lip syncs experience massive streaming bumps after they air.
One of the earliest examples of the Drag Race-to-chart-success pipeline was in Season 9’s finale, when Shea Couleé and Sasha Velour went head-to-head over Whitney Houston’s 1987 cut “So Emotional”—we bet you’re already picturing those rose petals, aren’t you? That explosive performance saw the song’s streaming numbers spike by 510% afterwards.
Another jaw-dropping example of Drag Race‘s power came early in season 13, when Denali danced circles around her Chicago sister Kahmora Hall set to Crystal Waters’ ’90s house hit, “100% Pure Love.” With the song’s placement on the show, Watersa achieved her highest-ever placement on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales chart.
And most recently, “Swept Away” from Diana Ross—an otherwise underrated track—saw a 2,809% streaming bump after Bosco and Jasmine Kennedie’s sexy tribute to the song. It was Ru’s special way of giving back to his idol by helping Miss Ross sweep the charts once again.
While Drag Race is all fun and gags, Campbell sees what they do as an essential part of queer herstory: “I don’t have children, and I’m not going to have children, but that’s part of what this show does; it’s passing down these generational moments. The queens come together in this safe, queer space to teach us, and then we take that and try to teach the children.”