Y’all know music is my happy place, especially a good vocal harmony, and nobody gives harmony like an R&B girl group.
I was listening to The Three Degrees the other day, and for some reason I had never listened to any of their albums straight through. If you’re the mood for an intense shot of Philly Soul from the 70s, go put on The Three Degrees immediately.
Anyway, I was on that kick because there was a clip making the rounds on Twitter from their live Scandinavian concert and the DRAMA they put into their delivery on “If & When” sent me into a spiral of girl group ballads.
Full Disclosure: my first professional calling was to be a pastor and my second was to be a paleontologist, but my third was to be The Second Lead Singer of a Girl Group. I would still love to be the Kelly in someone’s Destiny’s Child, so if you know anybody who’s looking…
I say that to let you know I am very passionate and specific about girl group categories, so some of your favorites are not gonna make this list of R&B ballads. If there’s not a Black woman singing lead, it’s probably not making the cut. If the song is outstanding but it’s too fast and I can do a two-step to it, it’s probably not making the cut. If a group has a whole mess of excellent ballads, I’m only picking the one I like the best. And because I’m a child of the 90s, it’s very heavy on that decade, but I’m open to suggestions.
So here we go!
The Shirelles “Soldier Boy” (1962)
Signing to Decca Records in 1958, The Shirelles are credited with launching the girl group boom of the 1960s. Primarily a doo-wop group at the start, “Soldier Boy” was their second number one and fifth top ten single. They were later overshadowed by Motown acts, but these ladies set down the first planks of that bridge between pop doo-wop and Black soul.
The Marvelettes “Forever” (1962)
The Marvelettes continued to hit it big for Black girl groups and were the first act on Motown with a #1 single (“Please Mr. Postman” in 1961). They eventually took a backseat to the Supremes and Motown stopped promoting them, so the group fizzled and broke up, but their legacy still holds.
Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles “Who Can I Turn To” (1966)
Patricia Holt has been hollering at us for 60 years y’all and nobody can milk a slow jam like Patti. That’s all there is to say about that.
The Three Degrees “If And When” (1973)
This is one of my all-time favorite ballads of any genre. The Three Degrees gets lost in the shuffle of great soul acts of yesteryear, probably because they’ve had like 17 members over the years, but this lineup of Fayette, Sheila, and Valerie is the most iconic. Watch how much drama they sing with! Sheila is just so emotive and they had their own particular vibe of sensual elegance that was all their own. If you want a special treat, watch this full concert (complete with an interview where all three of them sound like Tina Turner when they speak!).
The Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” (1977)
Originally a family of gospel singers, the Hutchinson sisters transitioned to an R&B group and brought those church harmonies with them. “Best of My Love” is their most widely known single, but this ballad is the superior track.
The Jones Girls “Who Can I Run To” (1979)
The Jones sisters got their start singing backup for Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Ross among others. Their only big hit was “You’re Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else” (#38 Hot 100) and this ballad was the B-side. Two decades later, Xscape decided to cover it and it became a top 10 smash, giving The Jones Girls a minor resurgence of interest in the 90s.
A Taste of Honey “Sukiyaki” (1980)
With Janice on bass and Perry on keyboards, A Taste of Honey was one of those unique girl groups where the members were singers as well as instrumentalists. They’re best known for the disco classic “Boogie Oogie” but everyone has actually heard “Sukiyaki” in some form or another. Originally a hit in 1963, this Japanese classic is one of the most successful songs of all time (and most sampled), and Janice learned the song phonetically when she was 9, even though she knew not one word of Japanese. She and her sister used to sing it at talent competitions, and this English cover reached #3 on the charts.
Mary Jane Girls “On The Inside” (1983)
Rick James wanted his backup singer JoJo McDuffie signed to Motown as a solo artist, but some wires got crossed and Motown signed an all-female group…that didn’t exist yet. Rick filled the rest of the spaces with pretty background imagery, but JoJo did most of the heavy lifting alongside James’ other background singers who weren’t even in the Mary Jane Girls. So, in the traditional sense, this isn’t an act where the group sings harmony — it’s a solo artist singing with someone else’s background singers, but still. The songs hold up.
Klymaxx “I Miss You” (1985)
Look y’all! We’re hitting the Music Video Era!
Is it just me, or is “Meeting in the Ladies Room” the song most associated with Klymaxx these days? I can’t tell you the last time I heard “I Miss You” somewhere, but that was actually a monster hit while “Meeting” never even cracked the top 50. Klymaxx is another girl group where the ladies all play instruments and “I Miss You” was one of the first songs my sister taught me to play on piano. And it very much sounds like a ballad from 1985.
Skyy “Real Love” (1989)
Okay…I know…Skyy isn’t actually a girl group. In the 1970s, funk bands were common. You’d have a wall of men playing instruments with one or a few female vocalists up front singing the lyrics. They fell out of popularity toward the end of disco, and women who previously would’ve been in a band like that were just solo artists or groups who recorded albums with session musicians and then had a backing or touring band for live performances. The Dunning sisters and Skyy stayed together and made an unlikely comeback in the late 1980s with this quiet storm classic that should be on everyone’s R&B playlist.
Zhané “La, La, La” (1994)
Renee Neufville and Jean Norris were students at Temple University collaborating with each other on songs when they met DJ Jazzy Jeff and sang on his and the Fresh Prince’s “Ring My Bell” (the followup single to “Summertime”). Benny Medina suggested they link up as a group, and “Hey Mr. DJ” became a surprise smash in 1993. The duo hastily recorded their debut album, commuting on the weekends to NYC to finish it up, and it’s still one of the best R&B debuts of all time. They split after two albums, but both members are still active in music (Jean was even nominated for two Grammys with her husband in 2017 under The Baylor Project).
TLC “Red Light Special” (1995)
TLC aren’t known as balladeers because, even though T-Boz and Chilli definitely have a vibe, they’re not the most gifted vocalists. Y’all know they used that vibe to the fullest on this grown-ass song from back in middle school though. As with most of TLC’s ballads, Left Eye isn’t on the track, but the B-side “My Secret Enemy” is a slow jam about her relationship with Andre Rison.
Pure Soul “We Must Be In Love” (1995)
Let me tell you all the things I want to do with this song:
–I want to sing it on the subway with three guys who know what they’re doing.
–I want a girl group to perform it when I walk down the aisle at my wedding.
–I want it to be my song for Waltz Week when I’m a D-List celebrity on Dancing With The Stars.
It’s a perfect song with excellent harmonies and a powerful lead vocal by four women from DC who disappeared after one album. I don’t know anything about them and they’re not even on Spotify (so this song isn’t on the playlist) but they really gave me one of my favorite ballads of all time.
Brownstone “Half of You” (1995)
It was really hard to choose between this song and “Grapevyne” but I do like to give a little shine to lesser-known album cuts of excellence. Nicci Gilbert rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but she is one of the most underrated vocalists in the girl group pantheon, and she sang the stuffing out of this damn song. She cowrote it with Gordon Chambers (singing with her) and the group recorded it in one take with just a piano. This is real musicality.
MoKenStef “He’s Mine” (1995)
Monica, Kenya, and Stefanie blessed us with the ultimate girl group jam to bust out on your man’s side hoe and we are still thankful for it. And that’s all they blessed us with. The 90s was truly a decade of girl groups with one iconic moment. It was also a decade of excellent remixes and honestly, the remix of “He’s Mine” might be a smidge better than the original.
Kut Klose “I Like” (1995)
Keith Sweat discovered Kut Klose in Atlanta and produced their first album. They had one big hit (“Twisted”) with Keith, and that’s all I know about them.
The Braxtons “Never Say Goodbye” (1996)
This is the rare track where you get to hear Towanda solo (she opens the song and trades off with Tamar) because she’s more comfortable in the background. Yay Wumba!! I love her.
Anyway. Some of y’all already know Braxton Family Christmas is one of my favorite girl group albums for the simple fact that the five Braxton sisters together are my favorite vocal harmony group, but they’ve just never done a full album with all of them — the Xmas album is the closest we’re going to get. When Toni was pulled from the group by LA Reid and Babyface as a solo artist (because they had just signed TLC and didn’t want another girl group), The Braxtons became a foursome. When Traci got pregnant just before recording their first album, they became a threesome. It’s a solid album with some definite highlights, but I think “Never Say Goodbye” is a well-crafted song that not enough people have heard, so here it is.
En Vogue “Don’t Let Go” (1996)
Y’all know this song and En Vogue, on their last single as the original four, sang it to smithereens. Dawn left the group during the recording of their third album (so her voice is on some of the EV3 tracks) and she really went out on a high. I personally like the current lineup of Cindy, Terri, and Rhona and I think some of their recent singles are excellent (check out “Rocket”) but the magic of the original four just can’t be recaptured.
For Real “Love Will Be Waiting At Home” (1997)
For Real should’ve been much bigger. They got signed by accident because they were greeting their manager at the gate with a little acapella number and someone from A&M Records happened to hear them sing. Brian McKnight produced their first album, Rolling Stone gave it a rare 4 stars, they performed with Stevie Wonder, appeared in Italian Vogue, and did a couple of movies. Their music just never took off so we’re left with a handful of jams like this ballad from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack.
Shades “Eventually” (1997)
Shades was the original Destiny’s Child. No really — watch the video for “Tell Me” and see if you don’t get Beyonce & Kelly & Nem vibes. They formed in Boston at Northeastern University and really never made much of an impact on the charts, but this album has sentimental value to me because it’s the first one I ever bought at a gas station with my own money.
702 “Get It Together” (1997)
Upon further reflection (and watching her on R&B Divas), I’ve decided Kameelah is a much more gifted singer than I gave her credit for back in the day. 702 never impressed me much in the vocal department, but they have bops upon bops (both their first and third albums are No Skips!) and I think they made music for all the girls to sing along to, not just the ones who audition for the Apollo in their car. Donnell Jones wrote this excellent slow jam for them and it went all the way to #10 in the spring of 97.
Xscape “The Arms Of The One Who Loves You” (1998)
Some songs are immediately identifiable as Diane Warren Tracks even if you didn’t know she wrote it, and this is one of those. This is such a pop song, brought to life by four girls who grew up singing in the hood, and I have always loved it.
Xscape were tomboys on their first album with a very urban sound. For their second album, they sexed it up a little bit and put away the baggy jeans, leaning further from hip-hop. This song was the lead single for their third album and they went full Pop Songstress with shiny gowns and everything. It went to #7 and the quartet had yet another successful album cycle on their hands.
Short story: Travis (my roommate) and I went on a road trip to North Carolina to get out of the city and we had this tiny little cabin outside of Asheville. We got drunk one night and the next day I woke up on top of him with my fist balled up in front of my face. Why? Because I was dreaming that I was in Xscape singing this song into my imaginary microphone, and I woke my ownself up in my head when Tamika started going “never never never never…” My poor roommate got shaken awake by me giving The Apollo the performance of my life.
Allure “When the Shades Go Down” (1999)
Allure (who is still together and trying to make a comeback) formed at the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in NYC and Mariah Carey signed them to her record label a few years later. After a few minor hits (and Carey’s label collapsing) the girls struggled to find a footing and we haven’t heard much from them since their debut album.
This is a little-known track from The Best Man soundtrack and I’m sure most of y’all wanted “All Cried Out” from this group instead — but there is just way too much going on in that song for me with all those people! I prefer the original Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam version. Besides, if you’ve never heard this song, add it to your Late Night rotation because it’s excellent.
Destiny’s Child “Stay” (1999)
At the risk of invoking the wrath of the Beyhive, I was not a huge fan of Beyonce’s voice until 4 (and truly became a stan on Beyonce) once her voice matured and she started using more of her lower register. So, there aren’t a ton of Destiny’s child ballads that I love because it’s a lot of Beyonce doing technically impressive ad libs with a timbre I didn’t love, but I have been singing this song with my whole chest since I was in middle school like my man was literally walking out on me every day.
Blaque “Mind of a King” (1999)
Blaque was the Baby TLC nurtured by Left Eye, but they never reached the same level of success. Still there are some hidden gems there, like this one, and sometimes a slow jam is so good it doesn’t even need an impressive vocal. This song is a complete vibe that is mostly sung/spoken by Natina who also wrote the lyrics.
(And now that gives The Real Housewives of Atlanta two appearances on this list, with Kandi from Xscape and Shamari from Blaque.)
Cherish “Moment in Time” (2006)
The King sisters grew up singing together and Cherish made a huge splash with “Do It To It” which didn’t really show off all those years of training. “Moment in Time” is basically an acapella track with some instrumental flourishes and they have that blend that only sisters achieve. Listening to them sing it in the video above is actually better than the album version, because they sound better live than in the studio.
KING “Red Eye” (2016)
KING (sometimes We Are KING) are a trio based out of LA and I would group them with a subset of current R&B I call “Red Wine & Weed R&B” because it’s all very dreamy and lo-key with whispery vocals. Generally, this isn’t my genre, because I like a stronger vocal, but KING does so much with their harmonies and layering and their production is always so interesting. There’s a reason why their debut album ended up on so many Best Of lists and nabbed a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album — the first independent artists to be nominated in that category.
SWV “When Love Didn’t Hurt” (2016)
We all the way down here and haven’t seen SWV yet! I know some of y’all are hoppin mad because “Weak” isn’t on here, but honest to god, I have heard that song so many times I don’t even have it saved on my phone anymore. I haven’t listened to it in years. That’s one reason I chose this song instead.
The other reason is this is my favorite girl group song of the past ten years. I hesitated to put this one in chronological order because it messes up the flow of the playlist — it sounds like a 60s ballad, but it’s definitely in the post-Whitney vocal style of melisma everywhere, because y’all know Coko does not hold a note without throwing in 17 others. This is a perfect ballad, to me. The harmonies are excellent. The lead vocalists are distinct from one another. And they are putting so much emotion into it. If I was a SINGER singer, this would be my audition song.
Of all the artists who were big in the 90s and attempted a comeback the past few years, SWV is the one who actually put out a consistent album (not one, but two!) and they’re the only one with a Grammy nomination to show for it too. If y’all haven’t listened to their recent music, rectify that ASAP.
Good Girl “Misery” (2019)
Pause: Can we just stop and acknowledge that Good Girl is the sexiest girl group the industry has ever seen? Just effortlessly stunning and fly.
Another group I’ve been waiting to pop off, Good Girl first crossed my radar back in 2015 when they put out an excellent mixtape that isn’t available on streaming or for download anywhere (but I have it!). Two of them are singers who can dance and two of them are dancers who can sing, but they all perform at such a high level. All four of them trade leads and Bunny (my favorite!) is the rapper of the group. (Check out some of their Youtube covers to see what I mean.) They popped up on America’s Got Talent, but didn’t do so well, so I’m honestly a little (pleasantly) surprised they’re still together. They just put out their first album a few weeks ago, and while I’m not sure it’s the best showcase for their vocals, every song is a vibe for the kids, and my oldhead ass almost put “Good To You” on this playlist instead due to its throwback feel, but then decided against it because I certainly have the 90s represented well enough already.
June’s Diary “Way Off” (2020)
I’m still waiting on June’s Diary to actually crack into Hit Song territory because there is so much talent in this group, and the fact that they’re still working at it without much success means they must be getting along and they truly enjoy what they’re doing — since they’re definitely not staying together for the money and fame. They came together in 2016 during Kelly Rowland’s competition show Chasing Destiny which was supposedly finding the next great girl group. They’re a girl group, and they’re great, but I’m still waiting on that knock-out punch. They’re excellent vocalists and this song fits right in with the current vibe of R&B ballads, which means I would smoke weed to it.
Chloe x Halle “Wonder What She Thinks Of Me” (2020)
Chloe x Halle are the best way to close out this playlist for a couple of reasons. One, they’re the most high-profile R&B girl group we have right now. Two, they’re being guided by Beyonce — and who would know more about being in an R&B girl group? Three, listen to Halle open this song — her voice gives such clear, pop timbre, the same way Diana Ross’s did back in the day. I don’t know if the Bailey sisters will ever reach the same commercial heights as some of the other greats on this list because their creativity is just a smidge left of mainstream, but they’ll probably keep giving us this level of excellence for as long as they enjoy it. And they’re having a lot of fun.
So that’s it!…..for now.
There are some notable omissions on this list, The Supremes, The Pointer Sisters, and Sister Sledge among others. This playlist is made up of songs that I know, and I just don’t know any really ballads from any of them. If you have some suggestions (by them or anybody else, especially current R&B) let me know and I’ll give it a listen!
I use Spotify, so here’s the playlist. If you use something else…you’ll have to make that yourself.
Hot Takes: Queens
Queens is giving us the music *and* the drama.
*** Mild spoilers, because it’s a TV series, and you can’t really review apilot episode without giving a little info about what it’s about and what’s happening.
1. They had me at girl group. I will watch anything about a girl group, from Popstars to Cheetah Girls to whatever BET was trying to do with Miss Promithes Promithes producing a group of washed up stars from yesteryear. (Sidenote: That show was bonkers, but two of the songs are good: “Skeletons” & “Birds Eye View”)
2. Who is this Nadine lady playing Butter Pecan? I assume she must have smashed the audition process, because she’s been cast alongside three music stars with successful acting careers. Eve, Naturi, and Brandy have all made hits and proven themselves on the small screen, and Nadine/Valeria sticks out to me just a touch. She doesn’t really have the performing stage presence of the other three, so I hope she settles into that a bit better. I guess J.Lo thought she was too big for the role so they got a substitute?
3. Speaking of J.Lo, they really did Nadine dirty with this knock off dress.
4. “Nasty Girl” is not a good song. I do enjoy Swizz Beatz and his bag of tricks so I’m looking forward to the music they roll out, but I really don’t need to hear “Nasty Girl” ever again. Happy that Brandy/B-Rocka is getting her moment as an emcee again though! She stole the whole song from Eve if we’re being honest.
5. Eve has great comedic timing. I’ve missed her doing this. Also a pleasant surprise seeing RonReaco Lee pop up playing her husband, since he wasn’t listed in the cast. We don’t see enough of him these days.
6. The pacing and the cuts for commercial give me Ugly Betty, but the tone and the acting give me Empire, and that’s high praise. Hopefully they can keep the show on the rails.
7. It’s not exactly the series I predicted! I thought we were going to watch a season of episodes where they get ready for a performance, to see if they can do it. Well they did it in one episode, so I guess the show is mostly about their interpersonal relationships and not their ability to perform, which is great! We get the music and the drama.
8. “Hear Me” is a great song. Brandy does not make bad songs.
9. That cypher was hot fire! Everybody’s bars were on point. I assumed Lauren didn’t have the talent to back up her viral fame, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with that character too!
10. Queens had a solid debut. The pilot put in motion enough plotlines to fill a few seasons, not just one, and the cast (save for maybe Nadine) feels organic, like they would all exist in a group together. Some of the acting is a little stilted (I honestly don’t really believe Naturi as a lesbian church lady quite yet…) but they have time to let it gel and really come together. I think they will.
Album Review: Candiace “Deep Space”
A no-skips album from a Real Housewife? I couldn’t believe it either.
Unpopular Disclaimer: I don’t need to like someone as a person to enjoy their presence in the ensemble of a reality TV show. Candiace Dillard is not one of my favorite people, but I think she works very well on The Real Housewives of Potomac. In the pantheon of badly behaved Housewives, she’s not a completely vile human being like Kelly Dodd, but plenty of what she says is wholly indefensible. She’s not a widely liked person the way Kandi Burruss is or a very sympathetic character along the lines of Sonja Morgan, so this project has an uphill battle, but we’ll come back to that.
The long and short of it is, Candiace has a better voice than any Real Housewife who has ever put out a project. I hesitate to call her a better singer than Kandi, because Kandi has more range and better ears (both of which make you a better vocalist), but her voice is more naturally soulful without trying and her timbre isn’t nearly as polarizing as Kandi’s. Being a better singer than the Housewives isn’t a high bar to clear, but Candiace’s voice can stand in the same lane with any of the R&B singers of the past five years or so.
But are the songs good? You can have all the vocal talent in the world, but if the song is bad, you’d need to be Whitney Houston to pull it off. Deep Space is a cohesive, polished, high-quality selection of very short songs. The average length of a track is about two and a half minutes because Candiace and her team have hardly written any bridges. The instrumental is excellent, the verse is excellent, the chorus is excellent, and then it’s over. As a student of 90s R&B, a school of which Candiace has also clearly matriculated, I need the bridge. It not only lengthens the song and prolongs my enjoyment, but it also gives me that extra level where you can transition to show out on the last chorus.
Candiace also doesn’t need interludes. They may serve to reach out to her fans from the show, but for those of us who love the music but not the Reality TV Character, hearing a clip of her fighting with her husband tarnishes the project. Countess Luann makes music for her fans. Candiace has made an album for the public at large, so I hope she keeps that in mind going forward — your fans will come along with the general public when the music is good, but the general public is not as keen to support a reality TV star when we are being reminded that this album is indeed the offering of a reality TV star.
My other criticism may be a strength depending on your point of view: It’s not solidly current or solidly throwback. I’m not sure what the market is for this sound. R&B isn’t popular right now and I can’t tell if this is going to appeal to fans of both Tamia and Chloe.
Criticisms aside, Deep Space really is a no-skips album (aside from the Interludes, which I don’t count as tracks). Openers “Cause a Scene” and “Hands In The Air” are the hoodbrat sides of Candiace with just enough 808 to drop it low. “Is It Enough” is the most immediately stage-ready song — you can imagine the live band and Candiace on a small stage with two backup singers. It’s very much giving mid-90s Chucky Thompson, slinky and sensual without being overtly sexual. The background vocal here, as well as “Benefits” and “Situationship,” take a couple of notes from Janet and Brandy to great effect. Janet’s DNA is baked into the feel of “Do It (Nostalgia)” which could’ve been a bonus track on 20 Y.O. sung by Monica. The Queen of the DMV Ms. Traci Braxton Herself makes a surprise appearance on “Stay With Me,” and Candiace could be a Braxton cousin with her delivery (I didn’t initially realize Traci was on the track when I was listening in the shower — their voices were so similar). Deep Space closes with “Win,” a retro-soul gospel track that hit my atheist spirit just right. It’s going on my Sunday Cleaning playlist immediately.
Candiace has an exceptional product with all the makings of a successful career, but it won’t be easy. Other than Cardi B. and Bethenny, reality TV stars don’t transition into other areas of the entertainment business successfully. Bethenny was polarizing, as Candiace is, but Bethenny launched an entire brand that struck at the lucrative diet/weight-control market. Candiace is every bit as talented as Cardi B., but Cardi had two great advantages before launching Invasion of Privacy: she was popular and her genre was popular. Cardi B. was a personality hundreds of thousands of people had rallied behind before she was ever cast on Love & Hip-Hop for two seasons. Her appearance on the show only grew her fanbase, so there were a lot more people rooting for her to win when “Bodak Yellow” came out and became an instant classic. And the reason her single took off so quickly was, aside from the fact that it’s insanely and immediately catchy, the market was ready to make space for a female rapper to give Nicki Minaj competition. “Bodak Yellow” wouldn’t have been as successful if it was released by a man, released by an unnattractive woman, released by someone who was less likeable, or released in 2002.
You have to hit at the right time with the right product by the right artist. A slightly retro R&B album in 2021 from a largely unknown and highly polarizing personality is a challenge I wouldn’t take on, but I’m glad Candiace has. Deep Space is an R&B album that I was looking for this year when most of the girls are whispering or leaning too hard into trap music. I’m here for it Ms. Dillard, but let’s get some bridges on the sophomore effort and leave any references to Bravo back in Potomac.
Score: 7.5 / 10
Songs to get into:
Is It Enough
Do It (Nostalgia)
Drag Race Music!
Some of the Drag Race girls have been delivering bops recently!
If you are new here and you don’t know me, let me put a little disclaimer right at the top: my favorite genres of music (in order) are R&B (from 1988ish to 2002ish especially), country (from bluegrass to pop country to stadium bro country), and indie rock (specifically of the PBR and checkered Vans variety).
Additionally, if the music isn’t interesting, I don’t care how good the lyrics are — I won’t like it.
If the production is bad, I don’t care how talented the voice is — I won’t like it.
And if you’re “rapping” because you can’t actually sing, I’m already bored.
I say this because all art is subjective and it depends on your taste. If you already know your favorite genres of music are diva pop and thumpa-thumpa circuit, this isn’t the list for you. Meaning, I don’t read movie reviews from The Independent because they don’t like what I like so that’s not gonna help me figure out what to go see at the cinema.
Anyway, I have recently become obsessed with the EP from #1 on this list, so I decided to see if any of the other Drag Race queens were making any bops I might like. As a whole, I avoid their I Just Got Eliminated Here’s My Single To Cash In On My Temporary Notoriety offerings because they’re almost always bad. With the exception of Trixie Mattel and Blair St. Clair, most of them aren’t giving me recording artist so much as a drag queen giving their fanbase something to spend money on.
But there are some bops! And some flops. So let’s go from worst to best of the 20 most recent Drag Race songs I’ve come across these past few months.
20. Yvie Oddly, US Season 11 (Winner)
Sick Bitch (ft. Willow Pill)
This is drag music at its worst. It’s mixed badly so you can’t actually hear what they’re saying, but I don’t really care, because I couldn’t finish it anyway.
(You’ll see me type “drag music” a lot and by that I mean, most drag queens cannot sing. They also cannot rap. So they speak their lyrics, which have very basic rhyme schemes, over a boring club beat that your local queen would perform well to with sound effects and little breaks for short monologues from campy movies and viral video clips. All drag music isn’t terrible…but most of it is very boring and repetitive.)
19. Eureka!, All Stars Season 6 (Runner-Up)
Eureka! is not a vocalist and this would not be a good ballad even if she sang it like Whitney Houston. The message is nice but, again, I could not finish.
18. Love Masisi, Holland Season 2 (8th Place)
I’m crushed y’all. When she performed this on the show, it was my favorite song from the talent show episode. It’s still one of my favorites on the list from a production standpoint but WOW what a disappointing lack of Autotune. I’m actually against the industry’s reliance on pitch correction these days, but this could have been a bop if she knew what key she was supposed to be in.
17. Karen From Finance, Down Under Season 1 (Runner-Up)
Out of Office
This is a very cute video, which I expect from Karen because it’s such a fully realized character. Bonus points for recycling her Drag Race outfits, because they’re really expensive and any Finance girl should be getting her money’s worth with multiple wears. Other than the instrumental going on during the verse, this is wholly forgettable. Listenable, but barely enjoyable.
16. Priyanka, Canada Season 1 (Winner)
Come Through (feat. Lemon)
Very boring drag music. I didn’t finish because I was very very bored and I wanted to move on to something else.
15. Brooke Lynn Hytes, US Season 11 (Runner-Up)
Queen of the North (feat. Priyanka)
Also very boring drag music, but marginally more interesting than “Come Through.” The production is excellent though and very expensive looking.
14. Kita Mean, Down Under Season 1 (Winner)
Kita actually has a pretty good singing voice for a recording studio. It’s definitely a notch above anyone on the list so far, but I wish the final production was mixed to highlight it better. Alas, the song is completely uninteresting and there’s some far better 80s/New Wave to come later on the list.
13. Ginger Minj, All Stars Season 6 (Runner-Up)
We’re finally getting into songs that I enjoy, or at least don’t mind listening to. This is obviously drag music, but Ginger has a decent singing voice, and there’s some variety in the production that keeps it interesting and listenable. I personally do not find Ginger amusing in any way so these lyrics do nothing for me on a comedic level, but as a song it’s very Meghan Trainer by way of RuPaul and that’s not the most offensive way to describe a pop song.
12. Alaska Thunderfuck, All Stars Season 2 (Winner)
When did Alaska go mainstream? I don’t think I’ve paid attention to her since her speaksing breathmonotone industrialpop offerings, but this is all the way late 90s/early 00s pop. She’s not a vocalist and it’s not quite radio-ready, but it’s a song. Shoutout to the icon Jazell Barbie Royale in the video! I don’t know why she’s there, but I like it.
11. Jan, All Stars Season 6 (7th Place)
(Put Your) Gay Hands Up feat. Alaska and Peppermint
The individual parts of this song are fine, but none of them go together. It’s finished, it’s polished, it’s disco, it should be great, but it feels like a Maxi Challenge with Alaska’s breathy whisper and Peppermint’s last-minute appearance. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish it was just Jan from start to finish.
10. Kylie Sonique Love, All Stars Season 6 (Winner)
Do It Like Dolly
It’s impossible to make a terrible song from the “9 to 5” beat, so this is automatically fun. Musically it’s a lot more interesting (though less moving) than her ballad she put out around the same time, but it’s a solid offering. Getting Miss Shalae to lead the diamond in the choreo is an extra special bonus. All in all, it feels like something Shannon Bex would’ve done if she’d stuck with it.
9. Rosé, US Season 13 (3rd/4th Place)
The Devil In The Details
It’s giving Adam Lambert. It’s giving glam pop. It’s giving vocalist who isn’t overdoing it. But it’s giving a little boring. All the ingredients are there, but it’s not a song I need to hear on repeat because there’s no chorus that grabs you. This is a natural showman who studied music, so that just goes to show you that writing solid hooks is harder than it looks.
8. LaLa Ri, US Season 13 (10th Place)
Bad Bitch Tip (feat. Ocean Kelly)
This is just fun. And it’s a step above drag music because LaLa is a passable emcee who isn’t just talking over a beat. If Big Freedia and City Girls had a baby on the track, it would be this song.
7. Violet Chachki, US Season 7 (Winner)
Mistress Violet (with Allie X)
Okay….honestly, this isn’t really my taste. A couple of my friends have this song on repeat, but this sound is not for me personally. The whole thing (especially the aesthetic of the video) is very Bushwick Artsy Left of Mainstream in that space where Souxsie Soux meets the early B-52s meets DIY mixed with Couture. I put it so high because I love how finished and interesting it is compared to repeats of the same thing over and over that most of the Drag Race girls tend to put out.
6. Monét X Change, All Stars Season 4 (Winner)
Love Like This
Monét has the best voice on this list and this song is radio-ready! It’s not a song to capitalize on a Drag Race fanbase at all. It’s just music. A Caribbean lilt with an actual chorus and horns on the track all add up to an excellent summertime moment.
5. Trixie Mattel, All Stars Season 3 (Winner)
Jackson (feat. Orville Peck)
I debated whether or not a cover should make it onto this list, but I couldn’t not have Trixie on a countdown about Drag Race music. She makes my favorite albums from across the franchise (RuPaul included) because we have the same taste in country and Trixie can write a hook (which is a skill so sorely missing from most of the Drag Race arena). She and Orville make a fine pair on this old cover because Trixie might not be the best singer, but she always delivers and she stays in her lane. This is toe-tapping excellence.
4. Sederginne, Holland Season 1 (6th Place)
Fuck Me (1.5M Away)
I’m surprised this is on the list because:
Sederginne can’t sing.
I don’t like “funny” songs.
I genuinely and unironically love this track though. You could actually write a very standard pop song with this instrumental — it’s straight from the early 00s teen pop playbook. That makes it enjoyable in the way that Doja Cat’s “Mooo!” was a few years ago, because it’s a solid composition, with ridiculous lyrics. Sederginne as a horny old lady trying to get laid during COVID is camp and she delivered every line perfectly.
3. Bimini, UK Season 2 (Runner-Up)
God Save This Queen
The tiniest supermodel in the world (seriously, how is she always so booked?!) is doing drag music of the highest caliber. If you’re not the greatest singer and you’re not the greatest emcee, how do you avoid making another boring dance track? Don’t make a dance track at all! Give us new wave 80s punk with clever lyrics about gender and do it with a snarling East London delivery.
2. Shea Coulee, All Stars Season 5 (Winner)
Collide (with GESS feat. Mykki Blanco)
This is music. This is current R&B. This is Quiet Storm for Gen Z. Shea’s vocals are so silky smooth and the production is as polished as anything from Ari Lennox or Summer Walker or HER. It does fall into the Normani “Wild Side” trap of featuring a rapper where none was needed, but it’s a forgivable misstep for such an excellent song. Without the feature, it would probably squeak into my top 20 R&B songs of the year. It’s that good.
1. Tia Kofi, UK Season 2 (7th Place)
Part 1: The Damage
Obsessed with this EP. OBSESSED! Tia Kofi is one of my favorite Drag Queens in the history of Drag Race. Is she fashionable? No. Is her makeup great? No. Does she have fabulous wigs? No. Is she confident? Also no. Is she a great performer? Sometimes. Does she have undeniable star quality? Ehhhh…..debateable. Is she funny? Absolutely. Tia Kofi is the most naturally funny drag queen to ever compete for the crown. I rarely laugh at people who are trying to be funny, because it’s so forced and I don’t love comedy. Tia had me howling every episode. She’s the only queen where I’ve said, “I really want to see that clip again where she….” and looked it up on Youtube. This will probably be my favorite runway forever.
So imagine my surprise that Comedy Legend (er Comedic Person) Tia Kofi would come out with the most excellent 80s synthpop EP! I don’t even have to put a “drag queen” disclaimer when I recommend it to someone. It’s not “oh listen to this! This is really good for Drag Race!” It’s just “oh listen to this, it’s so good!” It’s pure pop. She doesn’t have the biggest voice in the world, but it’s perfect for what she’s doing. I hope she’s soaking in all the good reviews of her music and taking it to heart, because she’s not really giving what needs to be given in some of her videos, but with a little extra confidence, I think there’s a star in there.
Look What You’ve Done (with Cahill)
Loving Me Like That
So that’s it! That’s all I’ve heard recently. If y’all have some bops that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll add them. But don’t send me anything boring!
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