The Truth About RuPaul's Drag Race Iconic Lip Sync Battle

"RuPaul's Drag Race" began life as a niche reality show with a considerable queer following on the fledgling channel LogoTV. Nowadays, it's an Emmy-winning juggernaut that pulls in millions of viewers and boasts successful spin-offs all over the world. As Vanity Fair argues, the show has a unique selling point that marks it out among the increasingly overcrowded reality TV slate. 

Moreover, "Drag Race" has introduced millions of people to a previously underground, punk rock art form while also redefining what it means to even do drag nowadays. The show is also feel-good comfort food, with a considerable re-watch factor, especially thanks to it now streaming on Netflix. Viewers tune in knowing what to expect — drama, meltdowns, stunning looks, comedy, and a defiantly queer slant.

One of the key tenets of "Drag Race" is the lip sync battle that takes place at the end of each episode, which is either a fight to stay in the competition or to earn a massive tip after emerging top that week, as with the "All Stars" edition. Unsurprisingly, a lot goes into making these lip sync battles what they are. 

RuPaul reckons Lip Sync Battle stole the concept from Drag Race

Lip syncs have been a "Drag Race" stalwart since the very beginning when the show debuted in 2009. So if you're wondering how RuPaul really feels about "Lip Sync Battle," which began airing in 2015, suffice to say he's not too impressed with it. In an interview with Vulture, the drag icon was asked about his thoughts on the hit, celebrity-fronted contest and reasoned simply, "Oh, I don't think of it. It's a poor ripoff of our show." 

The "Drag Race" host went on to explain that "Lip Sync Battle" (allegedly) stealing the concept and putting a straight slant on it is demonstrative of how queer culture is frequently pilfered from. Fellow judge, and longtime BFF, Michelle Visage shared Ru's irritation. While sharing a news story on Twitter about how popular "Lip Sync Battle" has become, Visage wrote simply, "Because it ripped it off from @RuPaulsDragRace." 

As Collider notes, at the end of each episode, Ru asks the bottom two queens (or top, in the case of "All Stars") to lip sync against each other for the chance to shantay, i.e. remain in the competition, or sashay away, i.e. leave. Thus far, there have been more than 100 battles on the show and fan debate over the best and worst continues apace. It's a consistently exciting and dramatic concept, so it's no wonder "Lip Sync Battle" (may have) ripped it off. 

How do Drag Race producers choose the lip sync songs?

According to Pitchfork, lip sync songs are typically chosen by RuPaul herself and the show's producers. It's usually an eclectic mixture of mainstream pop hits and stone-cold classics, with the occasional curveball thrown in here and there. Suffice to say though, RuPaul is 100% in control of her show, hence why the artist who has had the most songs covered on "Drag Race" thus far shouldn't really surprise you. 

As it moves further towards mainstream acceptance, there's a concern that the edges are being sanded off the show — as a post on Reddit wondered, for instance, why have our beloved pit crew all but disappeared in recent years? In the past, lip syncs were performed almost exclusively to LGBTQ+ anthems, alongside club songs that did the rounds in gay bars and were immediately recognizable to queer viewers. 

However, in recent years, Ru's influence is more keenly felt in the choice of songs, particularly following the show's move to VH1. Take a look at any list rounding up tracks we need to see on future seasons, such as this one from Gay Times, and it's immediately clear fans are clamoring for a mix of old and new, rather than the most obvious, or brand-safe, choices on "Drag Race." 

Lip sync battles are among the most hotly debated elements of Drag Race

The best and worst lip sync battles in "Drag Race" herstory are hotly contested, even by the queens themselves. In a joint interview with Decider, the stars of Season 13 discussed some of their favorite lip sync moments thus far, with Yvie Oddly vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes, in Season 11, coming up thanks to its well-earned double shantay, alongside Latrice Royale's stunning take on Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." 

However, Tina Burner made an interesting point about the gaggiest lip sync moments often having nothing to do with stunts or even ability. "Mine personally, is when Monét X Change went to do a fake split, and she jumped up in the air, but she didn't do it. Because that's epic to me. She was like, 'I'ma split — no I ain't!' Stuff like that, when you keep me on my toes like that. Stupid s*** really turns me up," she shared. 

Indeed, one of the most infamous "Drag Race" moments came when Valentina refused to remove her mask to lip sync. As Buzzfeed notes, RuPaul explained that the panel needed to see her lips in order to properly judge the battle, leading to an instantly iconic plea from the fan favorite: "I'd like to keep it on, please." Valentina didn't survive the lip sync, but her position in the pop culture pantheon was solidified forever. 

This is how long queens have to prepare for their lip sync performances

The "Lip Sync for Your Life/Legacy" is nearly always a dramatic showdown but, although we're used to seeing the queens using mini iPods in the "Werk Room" while frantically practicing their best moves, in reality they know what to expect. At least, to a certain extent anyway. Contestants are given a list of possible songs at the beginning of the season, as Season 7's Jaidynn Diore Fierce revealed (via YouTube). 

Although contestants have no idea what order they're going to be in, they can begin preparing well in advance. Producers typically confirm the lip sync song for the week a couple days ahead of it, meaning the rushed backstage preparations are purely for our entertainment. The iPods, meanwhile, are pre-loaded with all the songs for the season, so the queens really are listening to them backstage. 

As a Reddit user pointed out, however, smart participants should be able to figure out the song of the week judging by the guest stars. For instance, if Ariana Grande is on set that week, then it's likely to be one of her songs. But considering how much time queens have to get ready on "Drag Race," and how many challenges they have to contend with while filming each episode, we should probably cut them some slack on this front.

Drag Race frequently changes the lip sync format to create drama

Season 14 of "RuPaul's Drag Race" introduced a devilish new twist involving a golden chocolate bar. As ET reported at the time, each competitor received a bar and, at the end of each episode's lip sync, the losing queen unwrapped hers to reveal whether it was chocolate (meaning she had to go) or gold (she could stay). Bosco, whom it transpired actually had the golden ticket, admitted, "Everybody goes into 'Drag Race' with a certain amount of strategy and a certain amount of idea of this is how this is going to play out, and this twist threw a wrench in everything that we had planned." 

That very same season, RuPaul instituted a "LaLaPaRuZa" lip sync battle, in response to how bad everybody did during "Snatch Game" — to be fair, Season 14's Snatch Game didn't sit right with fans either — during which queens had to fight repeatedly throughout the episode to stay in the show. Bosco won that too, per Screen Rant.

"Drag Race" producers clearly enjoy playing with the formula, to keep competitors on their toes. "All Stars 5" introduced the idea of a mysterious lip sync assassin battling the top queen for the win each week. Although, the twist didn't really pay off until the following season when Laganja Estranja showed up. All things considered, lip sync battles are an imperative part of the "Drag Race" experience, and we wouldn't have it any other way.