There was a time in the not-too-distant past when RuPaul’s recording career felt like it existed in a different world. RuPaul the singer and RuPaul the reality show host did occasionally collide, near the end of a Drag Race season when contestants are routinely challenged to come up with a music video to one of his singles, or when he would cheekily nod towards the show in a track.
But mostly, his records were their own thing. They were always some level of kitschy and schlocky, but this was never necessarily a bad thing, and even when it was, Ru felt like he was in on the joke and having fun with it as he turned out guilty pleasure bangers.
Ever since American, arguably his musical high-water mark, the distinction between those two RuPauls has increasingly collapsed as his records have become more self-referential and Drag Race comes up with more and more reasons to work his music into the format of his show.
As things chug along faster and faster, RuPaul seems to be forgetting the things that made his music fun in the first place. Black Butta (★★☆☆☆) is the latest victim of that unfortunate side effect of the reality fame machine.
It’s not even that RuPaul’s music has gotten worse, necessarily. The elements featured in his better work are mostly still there, and if anything, his return to a pretty basic brand of dance music is an improvement over his ill-advised foray into hyperpop on MAMARU.
What’s missing, though, is the sense that RuPaul is having any fun here at all. On the dead-eyed “Suga Daddy,” he somehow fails to breathe life into a song about being a materialistic brat. His “I made it” song, “Pink Limousine,” should be more fun than it is, but comes off as both pandering and overly self-serious at the same time.
Calling attention to the shallowness of a RuPaul record might sound like missing the point, but in the absence of a sense of fun or purpose, the lack of depth suddenly feels galling in a way it might not have in the past.
The album’s shallow content farm ethos might have been more forgivable if its references weren’t so lukewarm, but it constantly feels two steps behind the pop culture churn. The opening track “A.S.M.R. Boyfriend” comes across like a throwback to a trend that got beaten to death years ago.
The most brazen example might be the inclusion of the holiday-themed “Show Me That You Festive.” The track begins, “I’m a November baby/but I prefer December, baby,” and goes downhill from there along similar lines as Ru rattles off a laundry list of festive clichés. It would have stood out as a forgettable clunker even on a holiday album, but its inclusion on an album released almost two weeks after Christmas feels oddly sloppy. It is late, sure, but less in a Christmas-in-July sort of way and more like a holiday card sent with a January 3rd postmark.
A handful of redeeming moments save Black Butta from being an outright mess. The rousing pop anthem “Courage To Love” has Ru put on the self-help-y therapist hat that will be more than familiar to Drag Race viewers. Sure, the beats are repetitive and the song drags on longer than it needs to, but achieving a track catchy and inoffensive that you can dance to feels like coming up for air.
It may be that RuPaul’s recording has become a victim of his own success. As his pet franchise has expanded and spawned ever more local and global spin-offs, the adjacent ecosystems of music, podcasts, and merch has had to keep up with that pace to its own detriment. It is hard to say who Black Butta is for if not to pad the challenges of Drag Race seasons to come, but whether or not you ever enjoyed RuPaul’s music, it will make you yearn for a past version of the Supermodel of the World who took himself less seriously.
Black Butta is available to stream and purchase.
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