I know, this isn’t the first new album I wanted to talk about this year either. By all means the smart thing to do would be to talk about the newest album from The Weeknd, and don’t worry, I’m giving that record a mental rough draft right now. But I just needed to get this album out of the way and clear my head of it, because I have some fucking thoughts.
That’s weird to say, because by all means I should not have thoughts about a RuPaul album. And I’m sure most people reading this don’t have any thoughts about his albums either, let alone care what I think about it. Nobody gives a fuck about what music he is making, least of all RuPaul. Just like everything else the face of the Drag Race franchise has done in recent years, music is just a vehicle for RuPaul Charles to expand his brand and put more money in his pocket. There is a reason why even the most casual of Drag Race fans know of the “now available on iTunes” meme. He does not care about his music, and it shows. The man hasn’t made a song that he even seems to enjoy in years, and while his music has always lacked originality (even going as far as to rip off other artists), he’s now fallen into a trap of constantly ripping himself off with every new song or album being indistinguishable from the last. If this were any other RuPaul album, I likely wouldn’t have even given it a No Nuance Review, let alone a full length one. But I gave “MAMARU” a listen - I had thirty minutes of time I needed to pass by and the newest season of Drag Race began yesterday - and I knew by the end of the fourth song that this was getting a full treatment, because I hated this thing.
Let me get the more typical songs on “MAMARU” that people expect from RuPaul out of the way. If I really wanted to, I could just copy and paste my thoughts from Todrick Hall’s latest album here because they’re virtually the same - feel free to read that one if you’re curious - but to summarize, these songs are just pandering stereotypical house music with all of the edge and personality sucked out of it. And no, it’s not pandering to queer people like you might expect, RuPaul makes sanitized and sterilized club music to be easily accessible for heteronormative audiences. When the music isn’t being tacky, Ru is basically checking off every popular catchphrase or quote beaten to death on Drag Race back in 2015 - serving looks, giving life, I’m that bitch, what’s the tea, I’m fish, step on the runway, serving realness, bitches bow down, slay. With all of the outdated slang being constantly thrown repeatedly combined with stock sounding house beats, reminiscent of music played at gay clubs but edgeless enough to not put off the people who think Lady Gaga is too weird, the formulaic RuPaul songs that do appear on “MAMARU” come across as a corporation adding a rainbow to their profile pic in June. It’s performative rainbow capitalism meant to play to the comfortability of cis heteronormative people as a means to further grow his omnipresent brand.
But this is all what I expect from RuPaul’s music. That’s what his music normally sounds like. “RuPaul makes cheap, tacky, and pandering music” ain’t new. If that’s all that this album was, I wouldn’t have have decided to have written about it. But, unfortunately, that’s just the formulaic songs on “MAMARU”. No, the curveball on “MAMARU” that inspired me to write this review…
…was the hyperpop songs.
Yes, RuPaul, always one to copy trends as they become “in” and can easily make a profit from them, is making hyperpop. There are clearly Charli XCX style melodies, AG Cook style synth leads and pads, SOPHIE-esque snares, latex squelches, and saw screeches, umru percs, Dylan Brady 808’s, Laura Les hard style autotune (minus the pitch shifting). There’s even a blatant attempt of copying the bass sound from Charli XCX’s “Anthems”. There isn’t any other way to see it, RuPaul is trying his hand at hyperpop. And it’s not just one or two songs, it’s many tracks on “MAMARU”, even some of the more typical house songs carry over elements from hyperpop. Now, some of you might be saying, “Baddie, hyperpop is one of your favorite genres. ‘Pop 2’ and ‘Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides’ are in your top ten albums of all time. Your profile pic for a whole year was Charli XCX. Clearly, you love the hyperpop songs on ‘MAMARU’”. And to that, I say, “Fuck no”. I knew the second I heard these sounds on a RuPaul album that I didn’t like what he was doing, and the more I’ve thought about it the more it frankly upset me.
I should make clear that my problem with RuPaul making hyperpop is not of the execution of the music. To get that out of the way, however, it’s not very good. I’d say it’s a serviceable interpretation, it sounds like Ru’s producer has a decent understanding of the movement and some of its characteristics, but it’s clear they’re either not familiar with the genre enough or just lack the ability to pull it off. Most of the best artists in the movement incorporate maximalist style sound design, and many of the sounds here are clearly stock plugins or presets and royalty free loops and samples that haven’t been altered whatsoever. On top of that, one of the most exciting things about hyperpop is how subversive it can be, and, just like the house songs, this is clearly trying to be as accessible and easily digestible to a basic audience as possible. At best, I’d say it’s a Walmart brand take of the genre. It’s not the worst interpretation I’ve ever heard, but even among hyperpop super fans this would be a vibe killer. But my real problem with RuPaul jumping in on this style is more of a contextual one than anything to do with the music. This is going to need some explanation, and I’m sorry for how long this review already is and how much longer it will be, but trust me, I’ve got a point.
Alright, let’s talk about transgender people.
“Baddie, I don’t understand. RuPaul is just a drag queen, he isn’t trans”. That’s correct, but you know who he has to thank for pioneering the art of drag that gave RuPaul a platform in the first place? Transgender people. Trans people have been a fundamental part of the drag scene and its growth from the very beginning of the art form. In fact, it was a black, drag performing, transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson, that threw the first brick at Stonewall - the riot that started the modern queer liberation movement and what queer people celebrate every year during pride month. The art form that RuPaul has become the face of was literally pioneered by trans people. You know what else was pioneered by trans people? Hyperpop. Trans and gender non-conforming people have been important forces to the evolution and popularization of the now cultishly popular sound from the very beginning, in front of and behind the curtain. Arguably patient zero of hyperpop is SOPHIE, one of the most forward thinking artists of our time, and she’s just one of many examples of trans and non-binary artists that have been influential to the movement - Laura Les, Ayesha Erotica, Dorian Electra, P4rkr, and Kim Petras are just a few notable examples. Trans and gender non-conforming people are baked into the DNA of hyperpop in a way that can’t be ignored. What does any of what I just said about trans people, drag, and hyperpop have to do with RuPaul though?
RuPaul has a famously lengthy history of transphobia.
Maybe famously is the wrong word - ask a random person or even a casual drag race fan if they know this and the answer would likely be no. But it’s at least an open secret, and anyone who has spent a decent amount of time following RuPaul or the drag scene in general knows of RuPaul’s history of transphobia. That history begins at least as early as the first season of Drag Race where RuPaul announced a slur for trans women at the beginning of practically every episode. This continued up until season six of the show where criticism of use of the slur reached a fever pitch after a mini challenge the contestants participated in with the slur in the title, said challenge involving the contestants looking at extreme closeups of celebrities and guessing whether or not they were a cis female.
Ru has also notoriously struggled with including trans contestants on the show, not allowing an out of the closet trans person on the show until season 9 and barely any others since. The few transgender contestants who were on the show before season 9 were basically forced back into the closet to be able to participate. Many people criticized Ru’s use of transphobic language and barring of trans people from being allowed onto a show based on an art form they pioneered since the show’s inception, as well as questioning whether or not all of it was intentional. In 2018 he made his intentions very clear by confirming that he didn’t want any trans people on hormone replacement therapy or who had experienced body modification surgery on Drag Race, claiming that medically transitioning trans people would essentially be cheating, have an unfair advantage, claimed it would lose the “punk rock” spirit of the show, and compared trans people receiving gender confirming and life saving healthcare to athletes using steroids for sport competitions. Just so we’re clear, he has enthusiastically allowed cis men who have received multiple surgeries to have a more feminine appearance specifically to better perform drag on the show, but didn’t want to allow trans people who needed hormone therapy or surgery for the perseverance of their lives on the show. I don’t think I need to explain why that is transphobic.
RuPaul has only publicly changed his stance and very slowly change how the show operates whenever it poses a significant risk to his profit, only just now allowing a trans woman on HRT and who has undergone surgery on his show THIS SEASON. It’s because of attitudes like this, from one of the most famous queer celebrities in the world right now with practically a monopoly on drag, that lead to trans women being barred from spaces that they helped create and shape, with a transphobic attitude that plagues the Drag Race fandom and queers spaces in general. RuPaul’s history of transphobia is as clear as day and has promoted gatekeeping trans people from spaces that they’re supposed to be safe in.
With all of that in mind, RuPaul eagerly trying to cash in and profit on hyperpop, a genre that was pioneered by trans people, while promoting transphobic attitudes for over a decade, is, in my opinion, a little fucking scummy.
I don’t think I need to explain this, but if someone engages with discriminatory and/or harmful attitudes or ideas about a certain group, then turns around and jumps in on a trend or movement that was originated or popularized by the same group, that person is ignorant at best and outright offensively tasteless at worst, especially if they’re trying to make a profit from it. Bad hyperpop is one thing, but bad hyperpop done by someone who has a long history of discriminating towards trans people rubs me the wrong way to say the least. And let’s be clear, Ru is not making hyperpop because of a misguided love or respect for the genre. I 100% do not believe he enjoys hyperpop, I don’t think he even knew of the genre before working on this album, I think his publicist told him it was in and good for the brand and he sung whatever his ghostwriter handed to him. Ru barely knows any media past the 90’s, let alone enjoys it, he hops on trends and copies ideas whenever they’re trending and can make him a profit, he’s done the same thing with EDM and trap before, I cannot imagine this is any different - especially considering he doesn’t even sound like he enjoys what he’s singing. Ru is all for profiting from trans people and the work they’ve done and then turning around to bar them from the space they’ve created, essentially erasing them from their own narrative, and that attitude continues into his music. If you want an easy and more common comparison, what RuPaul is doing on “MAMARU” is like someone who regularly engages with racist rhetoric trying to start a career in hip-hop. Knowing his history of transphobia, RuPaul poorly copying the work of trans artists is not only not enjoyable to listen to but is fucking gross.
I don’t want to get it twisted, this isn’t a call to get RuPaul cancelled, or get him removed from Spotify, or get people to stop watching Drag Race. Regardless of my problems with him, I’m not trying to cancel anyone’s livelihood. Drag Race, despite everything problematic about it that goes way beyond what I’ve briefly mentioned in this already long review, is a fun show that is unfortunately one of the few platforms that queer artists have. This isn’t a call for deplatforming, that’s not what I do. What I do is talk about what albums I like or dislike and why. I don’t like “MAMARU”, and RuPaul profiting off of a trans pioneered art form while having a history of transphobia is the main reason why. And even if you disregarded everything he’s done, he still has no business making hyperpop. He doesn’t like it, he performs it badly, his production and writing is not up to par, he takes an intentionally subversive art form and tries to make it accessible to audiences with basic taste, and he spends its runtime sloganeering the same catchphrases he’s done a million times before to make a quick buck. But more importantly, I just want him to do better. RuPaul has a huge platform, he can be a positive force if he wants to be, and he’s frequently used his platform in a way that hurts trans people despite many people vocally criticizing him for it. He got called out for his comments on not allowing trans people that were medically transitioning on the show back in 2018, never properly apologized for it, and didn’t actually allow any medically transitioning transgender contestants on the show until 2022, four years later - I can’t help but be cynical about him profiting off of trans artists again. If RuPaul showed genuine change I wouldn’t have such a problem with it, but Ru hasn’t given me any reason to believe he’s changed at all. I love hyperpop, I directly connect my journey as a transwoman with the genre, many of my first queer and transgender idols came from my dive into hyperpop music. I don’t want a transphobic sellout with bad taste in music to be trying to make a quick money grab off of people and artists like me anymore. “MAMARU” gets a boot from me, hun.
Anyways, stream “mememe” by 100 gecs for clear skin.