Following months of speculation and several controversies, the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under has finally begun, with episode one giving us a closer look at the competing Australian and New Zealand queens - and a hint of the production levels to expect. (It also featured Taika Waititi, with some blatantly pre-recorded reactions).
I will leave the analysis to our friends at The Spinoff (Sam Brooks is doing weekly power rankings, and comedians Chris Parker and Eli Matthewson are doing a weekly ‘pop-up’ podcast) - I’m here to talk about the music.
For our first Down Under lip-sync for your life - which was actually very good, to the surprise of many including me - Kiwi Elektra Shock went up against Indigenous queen Jojo Zaho with an appropriately selected song from token Aussies, the Bee Gees (the Gibbs grew up in Queensland). A sign of what’s to come? Season one of Drag Race UK featured songs from English acts, so here’s hoping for some Down Under Australian and New Zealand musical inclusions.
What makes a good lip-sync track? Really it’s the queen, not the song. But there are some common themes: drama, emotion, humour, a build up and climax. Surprise is key, too - like Steps’ Last Thing on my Mind on Drag Race UK recently. Gagatrondra!
Full disclosure: while ‘researching’ this, I ended up in a deep click hole of Australian music trivia and nostalgia, reading about Ben Lee selling essential oils and remembering that Natalie Imbruglia was married to Daniel Johns. I also realised how much Australian music I listened to in my tween and teen years (my first ever concert was the Living End at the Powerstation in 1998 and I loved Killing Heidi and Jebediah's Slightly Oddway), and how many bands actually are Australian.
So, I’m sorry if it feels like there are more Aussie than NZ songs on this list. I’m open to suggestions! Some of these are classics and some are pretty niche, their inclusion on the show extremely unlikely - but the songs had to have some level of recognition to a global Drag Race audience.
(Briefly on the runway looks: Karen from Finance’s Melbourne Cup day ensemble was hilarious and genius - as was her Jane Fonda in 9 to 5 inspired entrance look - and I loved Kita Mean’s All Blacks gown, a smart twist and commentary on New Zealand’s toxic masculinity and rugby culture.)
The lip-sync songs we want to see on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under:
Literally anything and everything by Kylie Minogue
They could make every single lip-sync a Kylie song, but a more realistic option? A Rusical dedicated to her outrageously good - and I think outrageously underrated - discography. She has been announced as a guest judge, so this could actually happen.
I’m not a fan of the Rusical challenge but Kylie: The Ruscial (choreographed by New Zealand icon Parris Goebel) might make me a believer. Cute Kylie, indie Kylie, sexy Kylie, showgirl Kylie, dance Kylie, hot pants Kylie, pandemic disco Kylie: it’s basically written itself at this point.
What songs to choose?! That’s too hard, so I included 10 - including two of her campest songs (Your Disco Needs You and Slow) and Kylie’s Nick Cave moment which, let’s be honest, is extremely unlikely.
I Touch Myself by Divinyls
A song about self-pleasure with the very Drag Race opening declaration, “I LOVE MYSELF”. Why hasn’t this been a lip-sync song yet?! (Yes it’s always to do with clearance) It has all the elements for an iconic moment: a classic, danceable song with suggestive lyrics and a rousing chorus.
Team by Lorde
I’m torn on which song to choose from our Kiwi Lorde and saviour, but convinced there will be at least one this season. Green Light is a banger but already been done (All Stars season 3; Kennedy Davenport vs. BenDeLaCreme), and while iconic, Royals is probably a little too minimal for the main stage (Symone would have nailed it though). Liability would be one of those emotional, slow-build lip-syncs, and it does have hints of wrestling with your inner saboteur gravitas that would speak to Ru’s soul.
But Team is one of my favourites, has been a single so is well-known enough for a global audience, and has this charming/relevant opening line: “Call all the ladies out, they’re in the finery. A hundred jewels on throats. A hundred jewels between teeth”.
And it’s partly about how ugly Auckland is! “We live in cities / you’ll never seen on screen / not very pretty but we sure know how to run things.” I MEAN… that hits a little different now, especially when the Drag Race production reportedly had to move from Australia to little old Aotearoa because we were one of the only places the world with the freedoms to film because of our response to the pandemic…
(Also: Ella is in town and there are rumours of new music. She better be a guest judge...)
Scar by Missy Higgins
“A triangle trying to squeeze through a circle; he tried to cut me so I’d fit.” In 2004, lots of people read into this as being about Missy’s bisexuality; she’s since, sort of, debunked that, instead saying that it was written about the pressures of the music industry and staying true to yourself when others try to put you in a box. In other words: if you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
How Bizarre by OMC
Poly urban funk on the main stage? WE WOULD LOVE TO SEE IT. This iconic track has all the elements to make a brilliant and unexpected lip-sync: “90s pop deliciousness, featuring acoustic guitars fused with hip-hop loops, mariachi-style horns, conversational rapping, and an indelible, upbeat chorus”. It’s camp! It also recently had a resurgence with the youth thanks to TikTok.
Untouched by The Veronicas
All rise for the gay national anthem.
Don’t Call Me Baby by Madison Avenue
A generic, campy late ‘90s dance hit aka a perfect early-in-the-season song to say ‘see ya mate’ to a filler queen.
Hurt Feelings by Flight of the Conchords
Would Bret and Jermaine’s extremely dry, deadpan humour translate into a drag space where the jokes tend to be loud, the pace is quick and the barbs are shady and sharp? No, I don’t think it would. But damn I would love to watch that awkwardness. A Flight of the Conchords lip-sync would be weird, in a good way, and their goofy, narrative-driven lyrics would be particularly great for a comedy queen. “Have you ever been asked if your hair was a wig?”
Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap
For most Kiwis and Australians of a certain age this song conjures memories of summer 09/10 but globally, it’s better known for its appearance in 500 Days of Summer - a film that epitomises straight cis white awkward indie romance. Queer anthem this is not! But it’s Australian, was a global hit, is almost self-consciously theatrical and builds to a crescendo chorus. Tick, tick, tick and tick.
Easy by Troye Sivan and Kacey Musgraves
Already part of the Drag Race family (appearing as a guest judge on season 11), Troye is both a gay icon and a modern day Australian icon. And bloody hell his Melbourne home is divine. His track Bloom is maybe too obvious choice, so let’s go with one of his latest, Easy, a high-energy hit with fellow queer fave, Kacey Musgraves.
Supalonely by Benee (but without the Gus Dapperton part)
The lyrics and ad-libs in sweet Stella’s song would make for one of those cute ’n’ quirky lip-syncs. Just imagine it from a kooky queen like Crystal Method or Utica or Manila.
Physical by Olivia Newton-John
Of course. Olivia was a guest judge on season 7, with Katya and Sasha Belle lip-syncing to Twist of Fate. That involved lots of split action, and we'd expect no less from a Physical battle too.
Absolutely Everybody by Vanessa Amorosi
Do yourself a favour: go watch her performance at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a fever dream of millennium futurism with an on-stage arrival in a geometric cage, a head-to-toe silver ensemble and people dressed up as robots with rotary clotheslines coming out of their heads (?!). It’s cooked! And tbh, could be something you’d see on a Drag Race runway. Vanessa’s lethargic performance would definitely see her sashay away, but the moment put her high-energy song on the map as an early noughties Australian anthem.
Mysterious Girl by Peter Andre
Aussie Peter’s oiled abs in the video for this monster hit awakened the sexuality of an entire generation of girls, gays and theys in 1995. A camp contender.
Young Blood by The Naked and Famous
This synth-heavy joy of a song really captures the feeling of being young and dumb. It’s been featured heavily in overseas shows and ads (including Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy), so not entirely obscure for a global audience. And it's a great song!
Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet
Remember when Pitchfork reviewed their album and it was literally just a video of a monkey peeing in its own mouth? That’s camp! So this track, which also appeared in an Apple ad, gets automatic entry on this list.
Torn by Natalie Imbruglia
Emotional pull, a musical interlude, expressive lyrics, a chorus within one minute: this is a song that’s great for karaoke, and for lip-syncing. You know who’d nail the Imbruglia spin? Rosé.
Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra
A huge hit! A down under musical marriage between Australia and NZ! It’s far too slow and down-beat for a Drag Race lip-sync, but the over-the-top emotion is definitely there. With the right type of weird, arty, cerebral queens, it could be a lip-sync to remember.
I Am Woman by Helen Reddy
An empowerment anthem with a similar spirit to I Will Survive and I’m Every Woman, both of which have been lip-sync songs in previous seasons. This is a tad folkier than those disco-tinged hits, but the lyrics hit just as hard. Released in 1972, it quickly became a feminist call to action - that is, white feminism. The sight of two drag queens singing along passionately to the lyrics, “I am strong I am invincible I am woman” would be an intersectional moment we’d love to see.
Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil
Drag is and always has been political, and there have been various political moments on the show; Symone’s ‘Say Their Names’ BLM look being one of the most recent and powerful. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any on this season so I was excited to see the political commentary from Jojo Zaho in episode one, with her ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ message of Indigenous sovereignty (stink that the season’s only out First Nations contestant went home first).
This 1987 protest song from Aussie rockers Midnight Oil rightly brought the issue of Aboriginal land rights to the mainstream, and while Australia still has a long way to go, conversations around indigenous rights are just as pertinent today across the world. In the right, respectful hands, this could be pretty damn special.
Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House
Would this classic singalong make a good lip-sync? Probably not. But I am contractually obliged to include something from Crowded House on this list.
Waterloo by ABBA
ABBA are basically honorary Australians, with the band’s songs key elements of two cult, camp classics that define Australian culture: Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. There has never been an ABBA song on Drag Race before, and look, it’s unlikely the rights will be paid and cleared for the first season of Drag Race Down Under - but let’s manifest this moment!