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On Saturday, February 8, an icon graced the Saturday Night Live stage. RuPaul, arguably the most nationally recognized figure in drag culture and an indisputable modern-day LGBTQ+ leader, hosted SNL for his first time. The titular host and creator of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which will return for its eagerly anticipated 12th season on February 28, began the episode with a monologue relatively sparse on jokes and then appeared in sketches about, among other things, old-time talk shows, difficult dinners, and, of course, drag queens.
Before RuPaul brought drag competitions to mainstream audiences, he brought LGBTQ+ dance music to the masses with his 1992 hit “Supermodel (You Better Work),” but he wasn’t the night’s musical guest. That role went to Justin Bieber, the ever-controversial pop star whom SNL alumni Bill Hader and Jay Pharoah described as the worst guest in SNL’s history following his double duty as host and musical guest in 2013. Bieber and RuPaul are strikingly different performers – the former is a straightforward pop star who has been accused of emotional abuse by at least one woman; the latter is known for liberating marginalized groups through art forms that expand far beyond music – so did they make a good SNL pair? Decide for yourself with this brief episode recap.
The pre-episode promos
Often, in SNL tradition, the upcoming episode’s host and musical guest appear together in a pre-episode promo. These promos have historically ranged from delightful to awkward. The one featuring RuPaul and Justin Bieber managed to achieve both. RuPaul, long known for his flamboyant, upbeat personality, managed to come off graceful and excited even as Justin Bieber appeared slightly uncomfortable delivering lines written for him by someone else.
The host usually appears in additional promos, too, as was the case with RuPaul. In these promos, RuPaul’s flair shined brightly. While sissying that walk with Cecily Strong, RuPaul’s effortlessness provided a laugh-out-loud contrast to Strong’s deliberate lack of technique (though a boorish Beck Bennett appearance at the end somewhat deflated the promo’s highs).
In a promo with fellow LGBTQ+ icon and SNL cast member Kate McKinnon, RuPaul appeared in full drag and let her clever, sassy personality fly in full force. This promo, if any of the three, hinted at the potential RuPaul had to deliver endless memorable moments as an SNL host.
The episode’s highs and lows
SNL’s writers proved acutely aware that Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and RuPaul would inevitably prove a magical trio. In the night’s “Old New York Show” skit, Bryant and McKinnon played two haughty, old-fashioned talk show hosts completely in sync with one another, a couple that proved entertaining even before RuPaul appeared as both hosts’ shared ex-husband. In character as an older straight man – the opposite of the drag queens as whom he usually dresses – RuPaul retained his signature shade and stole the show from two of SNL’s best featured players even as they too gave top-notch comedic performances. And while in full drag for a funny, charming digital short, RuPaul gave Pete Davidson’s recurring character, the weirdly lovable bozo Chad, a drag makeover.
A low point featuring RuPaul came in the form of the night’s “Check-Splitting” skit. Despite this skit featuring many of SNL’s most talented comedians – Cecily Strong, Heidi Gardner, Chloe Fineman, Aidy Bryant – the sketch lacked truly memorable jokes beyond Strong’s ridiculous pronunciation of the word “woman.” Even RuPaul’s often magnetic charm failed to elevate this sketch to the level of “Old New York Show” and “Chad & RuPaul,” but the host proved so compelling through most of his sketch appearances that this misstep can be forgiven. Plus, he always managed to look glamorous as compared to Justin Bieber, whose appearance became the focus of an entirely different, possibly concerned subsect of SNL viewers.
What did you think of the RuPaul and Justin Bieber episode of SNL? Sound off in the comments!