Ralph on Her “Canada’s Drag Race” Debut and Covering a God-Tier ’90s Bop

"I honestly don’t know any performers who work as hard as drag queens."

Canadian songstress Ralph has been consistently releasing bops since 2015, with her club track “Gravity” becoming a dance playlist fave last year. Ralph sashayed onto the mainstage on this week’s episode of Canada’s Drag Race, helping the queens record their rap battle lyrics.

The singer-songwriter spoke with NewNowNext about her Drag Race dreams coming true, her LGBTQ fanbase, covering Jennifer Paige’s “Crush,” and what it was like opening for fellow Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen.
 

Last summer, when I was out on Fire Island, the guys at the house next to me were sitting around the pool listening to “Gravity,” and I was like, “Oh my God, Ralph has made it, they’re listening to her on Fire Island. I’m so proud.”

That’s all I ever wanted.

Have you noticed that you’ve been especially welcomed into the queer community?

Yeah, of course. Every show anywhere I go, it could be the weird small town in Alberta, honestly the front row is always, usually… I don’t want to say just queer men, but I would say for the most part it is. I know that there are really lovely lesbian fans out there, but I would say my biggest fan base is queer men. And it’s amazing because that is the most supportive fan base. That community is like, if they feel supported by you, then they will be there. They’ll come to your shows, they’ll wear the outfits, they’ll tell you all the nice things, instead of straight dudes who are yelling, “Yeah, you look hot.” I much prefer having a bunch of queer men being like, “Oh my God, I love your hair. Your shoes are amazing.”

And where does that come from? Did you grow up hanging out with queer people?

I guess my entire life. I’m lucky because I come from Toronto, a big city, and from a liberal family. One of my uncles is gay, and one of my best friends is gay, and a lot of young friends of mine, even friends that I had when I was in Grade Seven were confidently queer. And then I went to an arts high school, which was like—40%, if not 50% of the male population at my arts high school were gay. I’ve had a lot of queer friends within the arts, and I guess I never really looked around and went, “Wow, that’s my gay friend, and that’s my gay friend,” but, I guess, looking back on it, I do feel very grateful to have a pretty diverse group of friends, all with different sexual orientations.

So I want to talk about Drag Race. What’s your history with the show? Have you been watching, are you a fan?

My history with Drag Race is, I love RuPaul. I used to really like the Brady Bunch movies. There’s this scene [in A Very Brady Sequel] where Jan is talking to her guidance counselor at the pool. Jan’s like, “Why don’t boys like me?” And then the guidance counselor, who is RuPaul, this beautiful, cool goddess—goes, “You know, Jan, life can be a real drag.” I was too young to pick up on the fact that this woman talking was RuPaul, and that it was also a little joke. I got it years later, but I was always obsessed with the guidance counselor. Anyways, I think with Drag Race… I just love the show. Anyone watching, I think, starts to understand what a challenging and complex job it is to do drag. I’m just so in awe of how insanely talented, in so many elements, you have to be, to be the number one drag queen. They have to create… You have to be witty, you have to be good at performing, you have to be good in heels, and on stage, and dance. It reminds me of the actual hustle in real life, drag… I’ve known Tynomi since I was 19.

Wait, how?!

I’m trying to think. I don’t know if Tynomi actually worked at American Apparel. I think her best friends did. I met her so long ago, but I’ve been watching her since then—watching her hustle, her career. And I honestly don’t know any performers who work as hard as drag queens. I don’t think that many people are privy to it. I don’t think they see the drag queens working Church Street in Toronto, with their roll-y bag, literally running from gig to gig. When Tynomi danced at my show in Toronto, in December… she came from another show, did my show with me, danced the fuck out of that stage, and then left to do another show. And I was like, “That’s crazy.” And she was like, “That’s what it is.”

And so I know you can’t tell me too much, but what was it like on set?

Yes. I have a very scary NDA. Turns out that I can keep a secret if I’m threatened with a lot of scary things. [Laughs] It was great. It was such an amazing experience, but also the people who are working on the show—the whole crew—were so lovely, and it was such a professional, welcoming, and kind atmosphere. You could tell that everyone who is working on the show is so happy to be there. It’s obviously long hours, long days, but everyone was just really excited. And I think that that is going to probably be evident in the final product. I keep in touch with a lot of the people who work on the show, including the director, Jen, and I’m just so happy for them. I only saw a little bit, but God, I can’t imagine. It just looks so good. Canada doesn’t always nail the American spinoff, but…

Have you been to drag shows?

I’ve been to drag brunches. I remember, actually, the first brunch that I went to. I think I was probably 17. I used a fake ID. My best friend’s sister’s engagement party. There’s a place in Toronto called El Convento Rico, and it is a Latin drag bar, and I didn’t really know what to expect, and it was so amazing. I remember leaving and being like, “Ooh, that was so cool.”

Have you ever seen, either in person or online, a queen do a Ralph song?

Yes, I have! I don’t know if you know this, but Kim Chi, who is one of my favorite queens from Drag Race, because I have a weird thing for, like… I don’t even want to say “underdog,” because I feel like that’s almost offensive, but you know how Kim Chi, like, there was an episode when she like to dance and she couldn’t and you were just like, “Oh.” And Heidi N Closet. I just loved Heidi, because Heidi, at first, she didn’t know how good she was. We didn’t know how good she was. And then she just like—

Blossomed.

Exactly! She blossomed. Anyways—Kim Chi. How did I find out about this? Someone DMs me. A fan had gone to see the Werq the World performance in Las Vegas. And they were like, “Oh my God, Kim Chi is dancing to ’Gravity.'” So I DM’d her, and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m a huge fan. Are you by chance doing ’Gravity’ on the world tour?” And she was like, “I am.” And so I got to see some really good videos that fans sent me of Kim Chi doing this whole performance on stage. And I was like, “This is wild.” … I love seeing how people interpret my music. What does it make you feel? What’s the vision that you see when you want to perform it? I love dress-up.

Let’s talk “Crush.” One of the best songs ever. Why’d you choose to cover it? How can you improve on perfection?

I always find covers challenging just because I wouldn’t personally want to do a cover of a song that people would expect of me, like a Stevie Nicks song. I love doing karaoke, but I don’t have that many covers out, because I just find it really hard to, like what you said, re-imagine something that’s so good. And we were thinking about the ’90s, because there were so many prominent, badass female musicians in the ’90s. And I think that my roommate, Matt—who’s a stunning, beautiful queer man who now lives in Berlin—used to listen to “Crush” all the time. He loved Mandy Moore and really good, danceable oldies. So that had been kicking around as a song, but I was like, “Wait, everyone knows this song, but I really don’t think that has been overly covered.” … My goal was basically like, I originally wanted to release it in June for Pride. I wanted to make a low-fi, clubby banger, where it’s not like “Gravity,” where you’re jumping around with your arms in the air. It’s more of a cool, kind of subdued club dance.
 

What was it like opening for Carly Rae Jepsen? I just have to ask.

I know this sounds like such a contrived answer. I know really what you want is drama, but, I cannot say anything bad. When we got booked on that tour, we didn’t have too much time to prepare, so my biggest stress was, “Oh, my God, what the fuck am I going to wear?” It was big venues. Carly’s going out in great outfits every night. I also have to wow. We prepared ourselves because we knew this was a bigger tour, she’s a really big artist. She’s got a big team, and she’s been touring for a year straight. When we got there, her whole crew was so nice. And I think that’s partly because she puts a lot of effort into creating a really comfortable family dynamic with her group because they’re together so often. They play Settlers of Catan every night before the show; they go for dinner all together. And every night they were like, “Come hang out with us after to the show. Let’s go have drinks.” Carly came out once with us, but I think, she’s a singer, she really takes her voice and her health seriously. So she’d go to bed, but every day, she told me, “Oh, my God, I love your outfit. Wow, your makeup looks great.” She hasn’t got an ego. I think she’s such a professional.

The “Crush” cover was such a nice surprise. Is there anything else that us Ralph fans can look forward to that you’re working on?

I’m working on a new album. I’ve been working on it for the last two months. So I’ve been doing Zoom sessions, and once I was allowed to do studio sessions, I started biking the 45-minute bike ride… I think in the last two albums, I love all of them, and I’m really happy with all the bodies of work that I’ve put out, but I think that I wouldn’t mind almost going back a little bit to more of the first EP route. Our inspiration is Cher meets Abba, meets The Weeknd and…

You’ve sold me already.

I love what The Weeknd did with his most recent album, where it was very ’80s-inspired, and obviously Dua Lipa, her last album. The baselines on her last album were just so funky and fun. And then Robyn, the Honey album, because to me that was a silent killer. I don’t think it got that much press because it was a bit weirder, but I loved Honey so much. A bit of more contemporary, like Jessie Ware. Jessie Ware just released an album that is so good.

So good.

It’s all I’m running to right now. I love Jessie Ware. So yeah, that’s kind of the inspo for the new album.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer