8 Music Videos That Pay Homage To “Paris Is Burning”
It’s been more than 20 years since the documentary debuted and pop culture is still referencing “Paris Is Burning.” Diddy decided to make a short film about a recent trip to Paris and named it… well, you know. When designer Rick Owens decided to use “Ima Read” by Zebra Katz as the soundtrack for his Paris Fashion Week Show last year, the set’s background was all fire. (Get it?) And remember when Steven Tyler showed up in drag on American Idol and said his drag name was Pepper LaBeija? Yep. And, of course, if you’ve been watching or talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race lately, you can thank Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey and the rest of the film’s cast for your newfound vocabulary.
Oh, and if you need to brush on your ball scene realness, you can view the documentary in its entirety here.
For now though, let’s focus on the music videos that take their cues from the ball scene’s legendary children.
1. “Vogue” by Madonna
Willi Ninja, one of the documentary’s stars, took voguing from Harlem’s ball scene to the club scene and then Madonna caught wind of the trend and invited him to choreograph her now-iconic music video. The rest is pop culture history.
Ninja died of AIDS-related heart failure in 2006.
2. “Supermodel (You Better Work)” by RuPaul
In addition to his brilliant use of the word “werk,” RuPaul’s breakthrough music video depicts the dream that “Paris Is Burning” stars like Octavia St. Laurent and Venus Xtravaganza aspired to achieve.
(Bonus points to RuPaul for the Sunset Boulevard at the video’s conclusion.)
3. “Get Me Bodied” by Beyoncé
This video isn’t just Sasha Fierce’s homage to Bob Fosse and Sweet Charity. The dance refrain “snap for the kids” is subtle nod to young queer kids on the Ball Scene. (RuPaul also uses the phrase “legendary children” on Drag Race for the same reason.)
4. “Work” by Ciara
Rachel over at Autostraddle did a great post on “Five Ciara Videos that Made Me Queer” that’s definitely worth checking out. Ciara’s “Work” makes the list here because, in addition to that oh-so-popular word, the lyrics are full of references to the Ball scene.
“The dance train is coming back again
Extravaganza, you should run and tell a friend
Kings and queens are posted at the bar
Buckin’ down, it’s time to take it all”
She’s a sneaky one, that Ciara. Aside from the more obvious “extravaganza” and “kings and queens,” my favorite reference is “it’s time to take it all.” Balls are, among other things, competitions. You vogue, runway walk, and work to win trophies.
5. “Ima Read” by Zebra Katz (Ft. Njena Reddd Foxxx)
If “Paris Is Burning” taught us anything, it’s how to read. Zebra Katz’s haunting music video is a master class in reading for filth.
(Also, the boys serving school girl realness are definitely referencing vogue competitions.)
6. “Fierce” by Azealia Banks (Ft. Frankie Fuentes)
Though Banks’s popularity has plummeted since her gay slur-laden spat with Perez Hilton, “Fierce” deserves credit for actually featuring “Paris Is Burning” in the song and video.
7. “Let’s Have a Kiki” by The Scissor Sisters
I love The Scissor Sisters for making this fun video and for bringing “kiki” back into vogue. (See what I did there?) Never forget though that Dorian Cory, the documentary’s drag-queen-in-residence, first taught us how to “laugh and kiki.”
8. “Cómo puedes vivir contigo mismo?” by Alex Anwandter
After watching the documentary and being moved by how Livingston’s documentary gives voice to marginalized queer voices, Alex Anwandter decided to pay homage with his own version. WERK!