Queer · TV & Movies

What’s Up with Gender on Lip Sync Battle? (#queerpop)

Lip Sync Battle is a comedy/singing-competition show based on a Tonight Show segment. It shouldn’t work as its own show, but it does — two celebrities face off against each other in two lip-sync rounds, one no-frills song each in the first round, followed by a round of all-out costumes-and-backup-dancers productions. The audience decides the winner, based on a super-scientific poll of “who’s cheering the loudest.”

It’s super fun to watch and as a half-hour show, it doesn’t get boring by the time it’s over. Of course they always make a huge deal about how hard the competitors have trained, how viciously they’re going to compete, how WINNING THE TITLE IS EVERYTHING. It’s a refreshing change from the other competition shows out there, inevitably trying to convince you their game show really is a life-altering experience that promises career domination in the future. It’s casual and fun — and it knows how to be those things for a modern audience. All the performances are available on Youtube.

What interests me here, though, is gender and how it’s treated on the show. From the very first performance, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson syncing his heart out to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” it’s been totally fine for male contestants to do female singers’ songs and vice versa, playing it up rather than playing it down. A selected list:

  • Anna Kendrick’s rendition of “Steal My Girl” by One Direction, making it all about Emily Blunt (because she was up against John Krasinski, Blunt’s husband).
  • John Krasinski doing Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” complete with sparkly skirted costume.
  • Terry Crews shouting “SOMETIMES YOU GOTTA GET IT DONE WITH YOUR FEMININE SIDE” after “A Thousand Miles.”
  • Julianne Hough’s version of “I Just Had Sex,” which is entirely about the singer’s penis.

And that really is a shortened list. Cross-gender songs are about as common as same-gender choices, whether the performers make a big production out of it or not.

Here’s my question though. Why is it funny? Is it only funny because we know The Rock isn’t actually “girly,” and Emily Blunt is married to the opponent? Most of the songs are chosen for humor value, either because of the juxtaposition of two different artists or because the song itself is controversial or both, as with Anne Hathaway doing “Wrecking Ball.”

For me, it’s funny because it’s unexpected. Because on the show, nobody cares. You can sing whatever song you want, and it reflects the way the rest of us listen to and appreciate music. I’m gonna sing along with Taylor Swift and with Def Leppard. Because I can, and I want to, and because they both express emotions I am capable of feeling. Because even if it’s not my actual experience, I can still appreciate someone else’s. The Lip Sync Battle songs are classics or well-known popular songs, and I think that’s part of the show’s appeal — it takes celebrities we know and lets us feel like we’re hanging out with them, singing along with the music we all know, the way we do with all the rest of our friends.

What do you think?

#queerpop (6)

Next week kicks off GLBT Book Month, which uncoincidentally is also Pride Month. I’ll have a list of book and media recommendations, so drop by and add to the list! 

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19 thoughts on “What’s Up with Gender on Lip Sync Battle? (#queerpop)

  1. I can only watch the first show (region-locked on the rest), but I found it funny because of the unexpected nature of the lipsync. You see the Rock with his towering muscles, used to being an intimidation on the screen and in the ring, suddenly belting out a fun, light-hearted tune. Not because it’s “girly” but because he’s just having fun. 🙂

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  2. I love the videos and at the same time I feel like it is a completely commercial guilty pleasure. It looks like they are having a lot of fun with it, though 🙂 Is it bad to want to see a Lip Sync battle between one of these celebrities and some of the Drag Race contestants?… 😀

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    1. It’s totally commercial. It would never work if these weren’t celebrities, I wouldn’t care in the slightest. Doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about the pleasure. 😉 And I’d totally watch that!

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  3. I have seen the commercials but haven’t watched the show yet. (I’ve seen the bit on The Tonight Show though). This makes me want to watch it. I think the more gender lines are crossed and done in a smart and/or witty way, the better. And I know from seeing it on The Tonight Show that it is a fierce battle and taken very seriously, which as you said, makes it clear it’s not a cheap silly joke.

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    1. I’ve only seen a few of the Tonight Show clips, but it seems very similar, just more high-budget.

      I think the seriousness almost serves to emphasize that it IS a joke, if that makes sense… but not a cheap and silly one. They may joke about how important the competition is (emphasizing that actually winning Lip Sync Battle means NOTHING in the grand scheme of things) but they really do give those performances a lot of effort, prep, and feeling. They may tease, but it’s a different kind of teasing that doesn’t downplay the real effort.

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  4. I haven’t watched the show yet, but I saw a commerical for it just the other day and instantly thought, “I *HAVE* to watch this! They’re f***ing with gender roles and have NO SHAME… and I… *LOVE*… it!” I genuinely think this could become a guilty pleasure of me.

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  5. I haven’t watched this show, but I did see Anne Hathaway’s performance that was being passed around on social media. I thought it was great! I think when the song is different from the person lip syncing it, or if the performance is way out there, the funnier it is.

    Visiting from the A to Z Road Trip.

    Write with Fey

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    1. The season finale is this Thursday, featuring Queen Latifah and Marlon Wayans. 😀 The second season will be twice as many episodes though, and as mentioned, you can watch on Youtube (just without as much banter between performances).

      I’m a car singer. 😉

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  6. All of us house-singers do this all the time. We just sing along to whatever song comes on our players, whether it’s by men or women . I love it on the show, because it’s not different from what people do in their own house. I also think of it as a chance for the celebrities to express a side of themselves that’s not normally encouraged in Hollywood. How often does Terry Crews or Dwayne Johnson get to express themselves that way in a movie?

    In my house, I’ve been known to segue from Thinking Out Loud to Pleasure Principle to You Shook me All Night Long, on a good day. Who hasn’t?!

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    1. Exactly! I think the love and energy the celebrities puts into the songs makes it more than a joke. Actors tend to be slotted into narrow roles, especially action stars like that, and it’s cool to illustrate how they’re people, not mega-gender-role examples.

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