Sometimes, we struggle to write about the things we love the most.
I’ve started and stopped this post a million times.
(Okay, not a million. Definitely at least a dozen though.)
And I could never get it quite right.
So you’re not getting an article today.
You’re getting a lyric essay.
Coda #2. Snatch Game.
anything that serves as a concluding part.1
RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 9. Episode 1.
The sixth queen to walk into the werk room is dressed all in black. Beaded detailing sparkles on her dress and drips from the (deliberately) jagged hems.
The black crown on her head (made from the same material as the dress) is perched at a jaunty angle. Fun enough to look like it might fall enough. Deliberate enough to be a fashion choice.
The black feathers around her neck and the dark, black, painted-on unibrow are strange and weird — a direct contrast to every contestant who has come before her so far.
(And to every contestant who will come after her.)
She pauses in the doorway, hitting her mark for the entrance shot, before she lets out a guttural scream that goes on and on and on.
My name is Sasha Velour. I am a bald, fashion-y, artistic, weird queen.
And I am committed to being uniquely Sasha, all the time.
RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 2. Episode 4.
The Snatch Game.
“The dolls compete in a star-studded TV game show where they must pull out their best celebrity impersonations.”2
This challenge was so iconic, it has been featured on every season of Drag Race since.
How do you win?
Make us laugh.
“I am a very serious and intense person. But I do crack jokes, in my own way.”
Watch this clip.
Now watch it again.
Listen to everything Sasha says.
And listen to everything RuPaul doesn’t say.
When Trixie broke on All Stars 3, it was during Snatch Game.
It wasn’t funny.
She later said “It doesn’t matter what you’re good at. It matters what you do today.”3
It matters what you do today.
“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”
It’s famous in marketing circles, used as the ultimate argument against listening to your audience by…well, anyone who doesn’t want to listen.
Because if the man who revolutionized the automobile and invented the modern assembly line didn’t have to listen to his audience, neither do we.
Except if you think people actually want faster horses you’re missing the point.
They’re not asking for faster horses.
They’re asking to get from point A to point B faster than a horse can take them.
So, actually, Ford did listen.
Because he gave something faster than a horse.
Watch this clip again.
Listen to what RuPaul says:
“Well, I’m glad you’re doing Marlene Dietrich.”
Not: “That wasn’t funny.”
Not: “You’re going to lose.”
Not: “Honey, you’re in hot water. I’m the judge and I ain’t laughing.”
Not: “Judith Butler is obscure and inaccessible and you’re the only person here who knows who she is. You’re the only person here who’s going to find her funny. She’s completely unfunny to us so you need to pick someone I can actually laugh at. That’s the point of Snatch Game, honey.”
Just: “I’m glad you’re doing Marlene Dietrich.”
I’m glad you’re doing Marlene Dietrich.
“Listen to your audience”
“Ask your customers”
“Do market research and figure out what people want.”
“Find a market need and fill it.”
This is foundational business stuff.
Every business 101 article on Google will tell you this.
All of the $2000 “how to build a business” courses will tell you this.
This is their first step.
And that first step is always annoyingly vague and frustrating. Because they’ve sold you information, not access.
The problem is that when we listen to what other people want, we too often lose ourselves.
We go out, we listen. We find the holes. We see what the market wants.
And then we re-shape ourselves to fill those holes.
We lose ourselves in the listening.
There is a place where who you are meets what your market needs.
A place where your skills, your gifts, your experiences, and your unique set of abilities meets what people want.
A place where your zone of genius is a thing that people will pay for.
The trick is not listening to your audience.
Anyone can listen.
The trick is finding that intersection.
To find that intersection, you need to hear what they’re actually saying.
Because they’re not talking about faster horses.
And they’re not talking about Marlene Dietrich.
Six drag queens stand on the runway, as the camera cuts over to RuPaul’s face.
Today she’s sporting pink hair and a sparkly purple lipstick.
The shine of it matches her dress — dark grey tassels glimmering and swaying as she shifts ever so slightly while speaking.
“Thank you, ladies. It is time for the judges’ critiques,” she says. Elegant and formal, the way it always is.
The third critique belongs to Sasha Velour.
Denis O’Hare: “In the Snatch Game…I thought it was just extraordinary. Brava.”
Michelle Visage: “It is not easy to deliver Marlene Dietrich and have it be interesting to this time and place.”
RuPaul: “Sasha Velour, your Marlene Dietrich was a ray of light.”
Who would have thought that the quirky, weird, bald queen — the one who is deep and philosophical both on and off camera — would be in the top two of the week?
She’s not a comedy queen, or even really a funny one.
She’s bold and strange and conceptual.
And she found that intersection.
And it worked.
Ross Matthews: “What I love about Sasha is she knows her lane and she never lets me down.”
In third year university I took a class on the works of Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.
This class was my first real introduction to literary theory.
Because you can’t really understand subversive, post-modern feminist literature until you understand the conversations it’s having.
The society that built it.
The ideas it’s dialoguing with.
The way it wants to deconstruct and break things down.
The weird, strange, arcane terms it uses.
This was the first class where I encountered Judith Butler: she decoded Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve for me.
Introducing me, in her uniquely circular, oblique way, to the idea of gender as a performance.
Giving me the non-marketing context to understand what I saw when I watched my first ever episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Where Sasha Velour walked into the werk room with scream.