While many formats have come and gone throughout the storied history of RuPaul’s Drag Race, one fundamental tradition on the show has remained since the very beginning — the lip sync.
Whether it’s a lip sync for your life, a lip sync for your legacy, a lip sync for the crown or another variation, the lip sync has become the most inextricable cornerstone of the reality show’s brand. Watching two (or occasionally more) queens battling it out while dancing and mouthing the words to some of our favorite songs is part of the reason why Drag Race has essentially become the unofficial sporting league of the LGBTQ community.
Debates have long been held in the Drag Race fan community as to what constitutes a great lip sync; is it the high-octane dance moves, death drops, duck walks and various other stunts that boost performances to success? Is it the number of reveals — either in costumes or wigs — that a queen can successfully pull off? Is it as simple as how well a queen can convey the spirit of a song?
As valid as all these points are, there is one factor to a successful lip sync that doesn’t often get its due — song choice. Picking the right track for staging a no-holds-barred battle is crucial to the ultimate success of a lip sync. So, the question remains: which recording artist’s songs have soundtracked the most lip syncs on Drag Race?
Below, Billboard breaks down the artists whose songs have been featured the most times in lip syncs on RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and why their music has become an essential part of the Drag Race experience.
The Numbers: 5 lip-syncs (S5:E2, S11:E14, S12:E4, All Stars S2:E5, All Stars S5:E4)
The Impact: While there are five other superstars who have received the lip sync treatment 5 times (En Vogue, Cher, Nicki Minaj, Lizzo and Jennifer Lopez) Rihanna gets just a slight bump ahead if only because queens have a tendency to pop off when her music comes on. The Bad Girl herself didn’t become a regular lip sync occurrence on the franchise until later in its run, after the producers likely realized that Rihanna is a stellar choice for some stunning performances. Between her hyped-up pop stylings and her edgier endeavors, Rihanna’s music is the exact kind of wild that makes for some of Drag Race’s most memorable lip syncs.
The Best One: Alyssa Edwards vs. Tatianna to “Shut Up and Drive,” All Stars Season 2, Episode 5 — Widely considered to be one of the best lip-syncs in the Drag Race extended universe, Alyssa Edwards and Tatianna earned their double win for this unhinged, no-holds-barred lip sync. There are kicks, splits, drops, stunts and two stunning performances that would surely make even Rihanna stand up and scream “you better work!”
The Numbers: 6 lip-syncs (S10:E14 [twice], S13:E1, All Stars S1:E3, All Stars S4:E9, All Stars S6:E2)
The Impact: The sultry stylings of Ms. Jackson bring a much-needed air of desire to the lip syncs of Drag Race — tasking the queens with translating Janet’s smooth, sensual songs into keyed-up performances can be a difficult task for some. But when the queens manage to walk the line, their lip syncs to these songs quickly become some of the best in the show’s history, proving once again why Janet Jackson is as iconic as she is.
The Best One: Ra’Jah O’Hara vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes to “Miss You Much,” All Stars Season 6, Episode 2 — When Ra’Jah and Brooke Lynn faced off to the sounds of “Miss You Much” in All Stars 6, it was immediately one for the history books. Both queens brought the pure sex needed for the song while embodying Janet’s energy — it’s no wonder why they both won. And as an added bonus, no butterflies were harmed in the making of this lip-sync.
The Numbers: 6 lip-syncs (S4:E5, S6:E1, S8:E5, S9:E6, S12:E7, All Stars S5:E5)
The Impact: B—-, she’s Madonna. There’s simply nothing more to it — when you think of phenomenal songs to get your life to, the Material Girl is one of the first artists to pop into your mind. She’s made a career creating music for the LGBTQ community to celebrate to, so when Madonna’s songs show up in a Drag Race lip sync, you just know that you’re about to watch two queens destroy the runway.
The Best One: Peppermint vs. Cynthia Lee Fontaine to “Music,” Season 9, Episode 6 — While there are multiple incredible entries of Madonna’s music on Drag Race, perhaps none was as impactful as this fateful lip-sync where Peppermint assassinated Cynthia Lee Fontaine on national television. Bringing camp, perfectly timed dance moves and an imaginary shotgun to the stage, Peppermint knocked it out of the park, all while doing Madge proud.
The Numbers: 7 lip-syncs (Solo: S14:E6, S14:E11, S14:E14, S15:E10, All Stars S7:E3, With Destiny’s Child: S11:E14, S12:E14)
The Impact: Up until season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Beyoncé’s music had only appeared twice on the show, and both times were from her Destiny’s Child days. But when it rains, it pours — scoring three lip syncs in a single main season, Bey came back in a big way, showing just how vital her songs are to the art of lip syncing.
The Best One: Jorgeous vs. Lady Camden vs. Angeria Paris VanMicheals to “Radio,” Season 14, Episode 11 — Having more than two queens perform in a lip-sync proved to be problematic in past seasons. But there is something about this LaLaPaRuza lip sync from season 14 that just works. Maybe it’s the fact that an often underappreciated Beyoncé gem was getting its shine; maybe it’s the fact that all three queens are using every ounce of the stage and their talent to shine; or maybe it’s the simple fact that by the end, it was hard to say who won in one of the best lip syncs of the entire season. All we know for sure is that the “Radio” lip sync was one for the books.
The Numbers: 7 lip-syncs (S3:E3, S4:E:6, S8:E1, S11:E14, S14:E14, All Stars S2:E5, All Stars S6:E12, All Stars S7:E12)
The Impact: Along with being one of the greatest guest judges to grace the stage of Drag Race, Mother Monster has made her presence known through some of her fiercest songs showing up on the reality series. Gaga’s emotive voice, mixed with her music’s chameleonic quality, creates the dramatic, intense atmosphere that queens everywhere need to pull out a sickening performance. After all, she’s Lady Gaga — of course her songs are going to soundtrack some fabulous lip sync battles.
The Best One: Yvie Oddly vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes to “The Edge of Glory,” Season 11, Episode 14 — Talk about doing what the other girls can’t. In this finale lip sync for the crown, lip sync assassins Brooke Lynn Hytes and Yvie Oddly gave a nail-biting battle to Gaga’s Born This Way hit – but it was the moment when Yvie turned around to reveal a second face before bending over backwards into a flip that we all knew it would go down as an iconic final lip sync.
The Numbers: 7 lip-syncs (S2:E9, S4:E10, S6:E10, S11:E12, S14:E11 All Stars S4:E5, All Stars S7:E12)
The Impact: When you need emotion, tears, and a voice that could bring a building down, who else are you going to turn to except the Queen of Soul? The late, great Aretha Franklin may not be the first person you think of when it comes to high-energy, dance-the-house-down lip syncs. But the raw passion of her music makes for some of the most moving performances on Drag Race, proving once again that lip-syncing isn’t always about stunts — it’s about embodying the artist.
The Best One: Latrice Royale vs. Kenya Michaels to “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Season 4, Episode 10 — Lip-syncing while wearing pregnancy bellies is not an easy thing to do, as Kenya Michaels found out in this iconic season 4 moment. While the dancing queen tried to split and kick and flip her way to a win, Latrice Royale stood in place and paid simple, beautiful homage to Franklin, proving once and for all that she was a force to be reckoned with.
The Numbers: 8 lip-syncs (S1:E3, S9:E13 [twice], S11:E5, S11:E12, S13:E14, All Stars S4:E3, All Stars S7:E4)
The Impact: Who better than The Voice to bring a lip-sync to life? Whitney Houston’s music perfectly encapsulates what makes the lip-syncs of Drag Race so fun to watch; they’re easy to dance to, her breathtaking vocals bring the drama, and everyone knows the words to a classic Whitney tune. Frankly, it’s a wonder that she’s only been performed to seven times on the show — but we’re certain that this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Whitney on Drag Race
The Best One: Sasha Velour vs. Shea Couleé to “So Emotional,” Season 9, Episode 13 — Who could ever forget perhaps the most well-loved reveal in the show’s history? When Sasha Velour lifted her wig and shook approximately a gallon of rose petals onto her head, fans everywhere lost it — not only did the fashion queen manage to beat out the favorite for the crown Shea Couleé, but it was a perfect send-up of Houston’s iconic track. We still get emotional thinking about what an excellent performance this was.
The Numbers: 9 lip-syncs (S7:E6, S9:E9, S10:E14, S12:E3, S13:E12, S15:E1, All Stars S4:E2, All Stars S5:E6, All Stars S6:E10)
The Impact: While Ariana Grande’s songs didn’t appear on Drag Race until her appearance as a guest judge in season 7, they have now practically become a staple of the show itself. Almost every season, two queens end up lip syncing to an Ariana banger, and it’s easy to see why — the pop superstar has a penchant for making hook-focused, instantly catchy tracks that almost beg you to lip-sync along to them.
The Best One: Nina Bo’nina Brown vs. Valentina to “Greedy,” Season 9, Episode 9 — Yes, this lip-sync to “Greedy” is universally considered to be one of the all-time worst lip syncs on Drag Race. And that’s why it is the best — to this day, fans still talk about Valentina’s mask, RuPaul’s angry lecture mid-song, Shea Couleé’s off-screen commentary of “She. Doesn’t. Know. The Words.” and much more. But not enough people talk about what a fabulous job Nina Bo’nina Brown did encapsulating the vibe of Ariana Grande while dressed as a skeleton in a tutu.
The Numbers: 11 lip-syncs (S1:E5, S4:E1, S5:E4, S9:E4, S9:E14, S11:E2, S13:E3, S13:E16 [three times] All Stars S6:E4)
The Impact: When you think of a drag queen performing a lip sync, what song comes to mind? “Womanizer?” Perhaps it’s “Work Bitch?” Maybe even “…Baby One More Time?” Either way, Britney Spears is one of the best performers to deliver a dragged-out lip-sync to, and there is no exception when it comes to Drag Race — the pop princess’ vocals lend themselves to mimicry, her discography offers everything from pure campy pop to lonesome ballads, and her music is some of the most instantly recognizable around the world. I mean, it’s Britney, b—-!
The Best One: Peppermint vs. Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor to “Stronger,” Season 9, Episode 14 — While there are nearly a dozen lip syncs to choose from here, none compares to the battle royale between Peppermint and Trinity at the season 9 finale. From the moment the song began, both queens gave their all to this performance, actively manifesting Spears’ inspirational lyrics. But when Peppermint offered a wig and outfit reveal in one fell swoop, it became clear she was the one true winner.
The Numbers: 23 lip-syncs (I don’t know why you’re all gagging, she brings it to you every season).
The Impact: I mean, duh. Her name is literally in the title. There is no RuPaul’s Drag Race without RuPaul, so of course she’s going to be the one who gets the most lip-syncs on the show. Because of the very nature of Drag Race, RuPaul’s songs are the ideal lip-sync songs — because they are quite literally built to be lip-synced to. Frankly, if it had been anyone else topping this list, that would have been the real gag of the century.
The Best One: Naomi Smalls vs. Gia Gunn to “Adrenaline,” All Stars Season 4, Episode 6 — There are quite literally a mountain of lip-syncs to choose from, but the one that still stands out to this day came during All Stars 4’s infamous “LaLaPaRuZa” episode, when Naomi Smalls and Gia Gunn delivered show-stopping performances to RuPaul’s “Adrenaline.” There are so many noteworthy moments in this one lip sync — Gia’s Gogo Yubari-esque reveal, Naomi’s gravity-defying backbend, both of them voguing for their lives — that we still don’t understand why they both weren’t permitted to stay in the competition for doing Ru proud.