There’s no denying that RuPaul is a powerful force in modern popular culture. It’s thanks to the likes of her hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race that drag queens have faced a resurgence in popularity, above the niche in gay culture they reside in and permeating the music, acting and fashion industries. There’s also no point in denying that RuPaul has a bevy of influences herself, one of the strongest being the ballroom scene, covered in detail in the also oft referenced 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. Rather than following the straight electronic pop and house references she’s worked with for her past few albums, RuPaul dives head first back into the ballroom scene with the fittingly titled Butch Queen.
In practice, there’s a decent amount of ground covered on Butch Queen: Half of the songs take full influence from ballroom culture with their straightforward beats perfected for use in voguing and working the ballroom, and the other half is made up of familiar dance songs and some classic house in true RuPaul style. Unlike The Realness, Butch Queen is mostly made up of new tracks rather than a mixture of new and remixed ones; the main exception is Cha Cha Bitch, a reworking of AB Soto’s 2015 track of the same name with less Latin influence and an ample amount of RuPaul quotes and mannerisms thrown over a more modern house beat. While stemming from an originally catchy song, RuPaul’s inclusion does give it new life, and which you think is better stands for personal interpretation.
The other new songs, largely produced by Ellis Miah, feel closer to what RuPaul offered on The Realness with a heavier throwback twist. U Wear It Well, the album’s main promotional track, focuses less on its lyrics and captures your attention with its piano-backed house beats—a style later revisited on the likes of Be Someone and Legends—that feel classic and retro but feature the modern production values of today, with How I Wanna Hold U being a seriously impressive throwback to the heyday of house music rather than treading the line between retro and modern.
In truth, these shimmering and well produced tracks clash against the more visceral ballroom tracks produced by Vjuan Allure, which often feature no beats and recycle vocal samples between them, promoting the chopped up style of these tracks. That’s not to say they’re inferior to the rest of the album: High Fashion Labels and Drag Queen Honey feature especially intricate, infectious beats and the much simpler Category Is relies much more on its vocal sampling to capture your interest, and they obviously capture the style and energy of a ballroom perfectly, given the credits of their producer. The occasional guest appearances from the likes of Michelle Visage or various Drag Race queens also gives fans of the show something to look out for.
Given its choppy disjointed style, Butch Queen probably won’t capture the hearts of RuPaul fans as quickly as his usual albums. Rather than being a straight-up pop album, it’s easier to view Butch Queen as a history lesson in gay culture or insight into the influences of one of pop culture’s biggest icons. The two facets of the album don’t always match up, but the different parts of the album truly stand out on their own merits. It’s definitely not for everyone, but old school queens and curious newcomers alike will surely get something out of what Butch Queen is serving.