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Queen Priyanka is Booked and Busy, And There’s More to Come

What’s her name? Queen Priyanka. For those who follow the world of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this call and response is the signature of the drag star and multi-hyphenate performer. And she’s making sure you know her name. Queen Priyanka has had one of her busiest years yet. Her career has skyrocketed since winning season one of Canada’s Drag Race in 2020.

From starring in the latest season of the Peabody-Award-winning HBO show We’re Here, to releasing her song of the summer “Shut It Down,” her star is truly on the rise. She’s about to film a new reality show Drag Brunch Saved My Life and if all that wasn’t enough, she’s embarking on her first world tour.

If you didn’t know the name of this drag icon—and goddess, according to Charlize Theron—you will soon. We sat down to chat about her many projects, the concerning rise in homophobia and drag bans in North America, her life-long passion for music and performing, and how she honours her inner child.

RB: How are you? You’ve had a busy year!

P: “I know, my song “Bitch I’m Busy” is coming to fruition at this time. But I’ve always been busy. It’s become the new normal. But because I get to perform, it doesn’t feel as crazy. If I wasn’t performing, if I was just an events girl—just like, event after event after appearance, I think I would cry. But when you get to dance and things, it’s like whatever.”

You’re one of the most successful queens to come out of any of the Drag Race franchises, with so many projects on the go—is this what you pictured your career was going to be like when you first started doing drag?

“When I started doing drag, I absolutely pictured this. Because there was this moment of, ‘I would never do drag’ and there was the moment of like ‘wait, I’m into this.’ Because when you’re new to the community, and you have so much built-up internalized homophobia that you don’t even know you have—you would, like, never do drag. Dressing as a girl is like the worst thing you could ever do, because already you were bullied growing up, and you didn’t feel like you belonged. I remember when I was at my birthday party, and I saw my drag mom and she was like ‘would you do drag?’ I was like no, I work a kids TV job, like there’s no way. But then something just flipped. It was just kind of like, oh wait, just kidding. And then it was like 125 percent, balls to the wall, ready to party.”

“So I do think that like, with or without Drag Race, I was gonna go as hard as I am now.  Drag Race is the platform, period. I love Drag Race, love the universe of Drag Race and how iconic it is. But I think that even before I was on Drag Race I released two songs, right? I was already going to do something. When I started drag, it was like, ‘okay wait, this is it.’ This is something that is special to me and it’s reaching all kinds of people. It makes sense to me and society, I love this freedom.”

Who were some of your inspirations when you first started figuring out your drag persona?

“It was always about pop stardom for me. I’m such a big super fan of all things pop culture. I would call into radio stations to win concert tickets, skip school to buy Spice Girl tickets, and wait outside to meet Lady Gaga. And now that I’m in it, it’s even more fascinating. So I would say that my inspiration was the Beyonce’s, other drag queens, and Drag Race. But honestly, the main inspiration was what dream can I live out? This is the ultimate form of escapism, that’s not drugs and alcohol. So you can just live out your dream and dress up like it’s Halloween every single day. So the inspiration was what did I try to suppress as a kid and what can I do on stage right now?”

A big part of your drag is showcasing your South Asian heritage, was that an important aspect to include from the beginning?

“It was something that I knew I wanted to do from the beginning. Because it’s so normal to suppress who you are in society, to fall in line and ‘wear the uniform’ as I call it sometimes. And when I named myself Priyanka, the reason why I did that was because I was thinking ‘who is the most well-known brown person right now in society?’ And it was Priyanka Chopra. So I was like ‘oh, this is important to me,’ because I didn’t see any Bollywood or Dancehall in the clubs. And it was so exciting. Even in the first month of drag, I was performing Bollywood music, which is crazy. And I would do songs I liked as a child, so I think it was a very healing therapeutic process when I first started trying to understand, what I wanted to bring to [drag] for other people. In the beginning, it was all about the other people. But ultimately, it was truly about my healing journey, as well.”

One of your biggest projects this year was joining the cast of We’re Here, alongside Jaida Essence Hall, Sasha Velour, and Latrice Royale. The season saw all of you spend prolonged periods in U.S. states that are trying to ban drag and there were some very intense—and scary—scenes that you had to navigate. What was it like to be in these ultra-conservative places, especially as the only non-American queen?

“I mean, I’m quite fearless. So I was like, “let’s go, who cares?” But when I got there, I quickly realized it was quite dangerous. There is something that they want to erase—gay people, trans people, all kinds of people. What I used to see on TikTok and Instagram is now in front of me, and even worse. It’s physically scary, you might die. It’s mentally scary because you have to go back to the closet and suppress yourself.”

With all of this hate happening at a legislative level in the U.S., has this set a different tone for Pride than what it was like 5-10 years ago?

“I think 2022 Pride was fine. It was last year when everything shifted, like when Dylan Mulvaney did the Bud Light TikTok—it was bad, and then it got worse. To the point where sponsors were not working with queer people, and brand deals were going away for a lot of my friends. But for me and everybody, this year feels like a more welcoming year in terms of brands kind of coming around again—there seems to be more work for people this year. But it doesn’t mean it’s louder and prouder. Because it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world, we’re going to be just as loud because there’s always something to protest. So it feels different, but it also feels like it’s always been important. Every single year that passes just keeps getting more and more important, because Pride is a protest. It’s always been a protest. But it’s exciting because it’s also a party!”

Being a Canadian queen, what is your experience going into smaller towns in Canada and travelling in the country? Especially having grown up in Whitby, Ontario, which you’ve described as leaning more conservative. How do you find Canada’s treatment of queer people in comparison to the U.S.? 

“I went to Youth Pride last year in Whitby to visit and see what was going on. And there were protesters there, protesters [saying] ‘you should not be doing this. God’s gonna send you to hell’. And this was a month before I was going to go shoot We’re Here. So I was like, ‘oh shit.’ I’m in Canada, in my hometown and the things that I thought I was gonna see in a month, I’m seeing right here.”

On a happier note, you released a new single last month, “Shut It Down”. Is music something you always wanted to do with your career?

“I released two singles before Drag Race, so I knew in my heart that I always wanted to make music. And I didn’t, you know, need my career to take off to release it. In 2018 I released my first song. It’s in my blood, it’s in my bones. It’s who I am. My dad was a DJ, my brothers are DJs, and my uncles were DJs. My grandparents were singers. So I grew up around it, but I was too shy to do anything. Music is the most beautiful thing ever—it’s the universal language of love.”

The music video for “Shut it Down” is going to be released soon—in the trailer that you shared, it featured the youngest drag queen, Lulu LovelyTwirls, a six-year-old queen. What led to this collaboration? 

“You know, it’s hard to understand if kids in the limelight love the things that they’re doing. But when I met Asa [Lulu], there was such a natural interest in the finer details, like the makeup and ‘oh where did you get this wig from?’. It was important for me to show young queer kids that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if not now in their lives, it could be something that can happen later in their lives.”

As if that wasn’t enough, you’re embarking on your first world tour—what can fans expect at your show?

“It’s huge. It’s like this anxiety of ‘oh my god, are people going to buy tickets?’ It’s a whole new world. I’ve toured my music before, but I’ve never done it on this grand of a level before. The show is like an hour or two, with three acts and quick changes. It’s just my music and creating a good environment for my fans to just feel free and not judged. It’s going to be amazing. Like, the album’s great, so I’m excited to bring that music to people. But also, dancing and performing for people is my favourite thing to do. That’s what I’m the best at. I want to keep performing for people because I remember watching my favourite drag queens on stage and being like, ‘oh my god, like everything in my life is solved.’ So I want to just keep creating what I felt in those drag bars for other people.”

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