“I’m the hardest-working queen on the planet”: A Q&A with Priyanka, Canada’s first lady of drag

“I’m the hardest-working queen on the planet”: A Q&A with Priyanka, Canada’s first lady of drag

The inaugural champion of Canada’s Drag Race has a new show, a new movie and a new single. World domination is hard work. She’s up for it

Priyanka, Canada's first lady of drag

You look great. Tell me about the ’fit.
I’m going for superhero chic. It’s for We’re Here, my new HBO series.

You’ve also got a new single, an upcoming album and a Netflix movie slated for the end of 2024. Are you the hardest-working queen in Canada?
I’m the hardest-working queen on the planet! I don’t wait for things to happen. People love the idea of a supermodel being discovered in a grocery store—but that shit ain’t happening to little brown boys from Whitby! I remember driving downtown with my parents and seeing the MuchMusic building. It was like seeing God. I needed to be there even though, at the time, I had no ambitions to be a pop star or to dress as a woman.

Your fans mostly know you for drag. Was music always the goal?
Drag is the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s just that I don’t want to be limited to any one thing. Some people still think of drag as being clownish, whereas my music is mainstream. My single, “No New Friends,” could follow Drake on the radio, and it would fit.

A bold statement.
I’ve poured my blood, sweat, tears and money into this. My music career is not a job someone gave me—it’s self-funded. When I released my debut EP, Taste Test, in 2021, I was still shy. Now, I’m a star.

Did this attitude inspire your new single, “No New Friends”?
Yes, but it’s more than that. I went into the studio wanting to write a happy, positive song. Then Josh Cumbee, my producer, suggested the title. At first I said, “Ugh, enough with this hater shit.” But then we talked about how much I enjoy being a homebody. I used to want to go out every night. Now? I’m good. So this song is like a self-love anthem—but badass.

Taste Test has been streamed over 15 million times. How has success changed you? I presume the weaves are better.
Yes, honey, they are. But, when you start winning, people start to turn on you. I like to say, “Someone else’s success is not your failure, and you need to be able to cheer them on without ­making it about yourself. Bitch.”

Why do you say drag is the most beautiful thing in the world?
It has helped me understand myself—in and out of costume. Drag is radical and political. It says, “I’m going to be who I want to be in whatever form that takes.” Back in 2016, I was still confused, living at Fort York and Spadina: Straight White People–ville. I moved to the Village because it was cheaper, not to be closer to gays. Being a single-and-ready-to-mingle boy in Toronto back then meant being masculine; otherwise you weren’t datable. I used to go on dates wearing plaid shirts because I was brainwashed. Then I started going out in the Village. I was at Crews and Tangos every Sunday, and I ended up meeting my mentor, Xtacy Love, who asked if I had ever considered drag.

Has the city’s drag scene changed much since then?
It’s been politicized, and now people are worried for their safety. That sense of fear has really sucked the life out of the Village.

Some of the old-guard gays also say that the Village has become a tourist attraction for straight people.
Yes, definitely. Bachelorette parties have taken over, so it’s less a space by queer people, for queer people. I get the frustration. But our community needs to welcome outsiders so that we can unite. I guess I’m on both sides.

There’s been an explosion of hate crimes related to drag. What’s it been like to have your career take off during this period?
It’s hard to see so much progress met with so much ignorance. The career implications are major. I had a bunch of contracts axed last year. People with whom I had professional relationships weren’t returning my emails. In Toronto, working with big corporations during Pride is how many queens pay rent for the rest of the year.

Have any of your events been targeted by protesters?
Oh, definitely. People in the US tell me, “You don’t get it—you’re from Canada.” And I’m like, “Girl, it’s the same shit up here!” It’s just that Americans are louder, but Canadians pay attention to American news. It’s funny, though. I was at Youth Pride in Whitby last year, and there were a bunch of protesters. I started to ask them what exactly they were against, and they told me they were being paid to stand there and hold signs. That was interesting.

What did it mean to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear on Canada’s Drag Race in 2022?
Trudeau was the first-ever world leader on Drag Race. A big deal. Maybe his visit was performative, but everything in politics is performative. Still, I would love to see all of our politicians show a more substantial commitment to LGBTQ+ issues rather than just showing up at Pride parades.

How do you respond to people who say that drag queen story hours at libraries are inappropriate for children because of drag’s sexuality?
There is drag that is sexual and there is drag that is not. Consider how we evaluate movies: there’s a G rating and an R rating. It’s not complicated. Certain people think that, if a child sees drag, they’ll end up gay—a sad assumption. And young people who are gay need to feel accepted and supported, especially by their parents.

In a typical week, how much time do you spend in drag?
Much less since winning Drag Race. I used to be out performing at bars every night. Now I’m spending more time at my laptop, writing emails, scheming for world domination.

For day-to-day activities, are you your out-of-drag self, Mark Suknanan?
Well, you’d never see me at the dog park in drag. But people still recognize me. They’ll be like, “Hey, Priyanka!” And then they’ll just want to talk about my miniature long-haired dachshunds, Daisy and Daffodil. I got them both in the last couple of years, and it’s been just the best.

So no new friends but yes new dogs?
I love that I’m responsible for them. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in yourself and live in this world where everything is about you. But when you have to pick up your dogs’ shit? That’s grounding.

You’re up for a Canadian Screen Award for your work as a host on Etalk. Seems fitting considering you got your start as a host on YTV.
It’s especially full circle since I once applied to be an intern at Etalk and got rejected. So to be nominated with the whole cast just feels crazy in a good way.

Speaking of full circle, in the “No New Friends” video, you, Priyanka, give a lap dance to your out-of-drag self.
Yes, at Zanzibar, which was one of the first Toronto strip clubs I ever went to. I love the idea of my younger, closeted self finding identity in the dark corners of this club, fantasizing about being a stripper. It’s very personal. I’ve been through a lot since I was that boy. I love paying homage—to me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.