Priyanka, Canada's Drag Race winner, wants you to take drag queens' music seriously
The inaugural winner of the Canadian reality TV series is dropping her debut EP, Taste Test.
Long before he began performing in drag, Mark Suknanan knew he wanted to be a pop star.
The Toronto entertainer, better known as Canada's Drag Race's inaugural winner, Priyanka (the only Desi queen in Drag Race's 12-year history to win), grew up singing into a fake microphone in his bedroom as a kid, his love of music stemming from a family of DJs and music lovers.
"Music is just so beautiful," Priyanka tells me over Zoom, sporting a wavy blonde wig and a half patent leather, half houndstooth print blazer. "Growing up, there was nothing like Bollywood music — all the instrumentation, the way that they sing, the way they sound."
Suknanan's musical taste has since been dominated by girl groups, primarily acts like Fifth Harmony, Little Mix and K-pop stars Blackpink. While he has been writing his own music for years, it wasn't until four years ago that he merged that with the art form of drag to create Priyanka, a larger-than-life queen who can sing, rap, dance and perform comedy. Of drag's relationship with music, Priyanka explains, "It's everything because that's what we get hired to do. We get hired to lip-sync other people's songs [...] Music is an escape and doing drag is an escape, so put the two together and you really get this euphoric experience that money can't buy."
'What's my name?'
That quadruple threat of tricks helped her slay the competition on Canada's Drag Race, which premiered last year on Crave TV in the midst of the pandemic, becoming a shining beacon of bright, playful escapist entertainment. Being the first person to enter the Canadian werk room, Priyanka christened the space with her now iconic catchphrase, "What's my name?" (On the season finale, head judge Brooke Lynn Hytes announced the winner by saying, "What's her name? Priyanka!")
On the show, Priyanka had her ups and downs, occasionally having to battle her way out of the bottom by lip-syncing for her life, a Drag Race tradition. It was there, and in other music-related challenges, that she was able to show off her musicianship, whether she was landing splits to the beat of an Allie X song or getting the opportunity to pen a new verse for a RuPaul hit.
Winners or not, many contestants from the Drag Race franchises pursue music after their appearances on the show. With a heightened profile — Drag Race holds the record for most Emmy Award wins by a reality competition show — queens are quick to capitalize on the attention by touring, releasing merchandise and, yes, releasing singles and EPs.
We're amazing and beautiful and creative, and there's so much pizzazz about us, but it's time for people to take drag music seriously.- Priyanka
In the past, Priyanka has vocally defended her fellow queens and their original music, suggesting that while the mainstream has learned to embrace drag queens (appearing in A-list music videos, dancing onstage with pop stars or, in Priyanka's case, gracing the cover of fashion magazines like Elle Canada), their music is rarely embraced with the same enthusiasm.
"There was a time when people looked at drag queens to kind of just be like clowns," she says. "But music is the next chapter where drag artists are charting on iTunes and drag artists are selling out stadiums, or opening for artists like Ariana Grande and Little Mix.... I think it's time for that because people don't take it seriously because we're kind of looked at like circus freaks. And we are, and that's why we're amazing and beautiful and creative, and there's so much pizzazz about us, but it's time for people to take drag music seriously."
In that vein, Priyanka hopes to add to the list of successful Drag Race alumni-turned-artists (like Trixie Mattel, Adore Delano and Alaska Thunderf--k) with her debut EP, Taste Test (out now, and currently sitting at no. 33 on Canada's iTunes top albums chart). A five-song collection of club-inspired pop anthems, Taste Test leans into the fun and camp, but tracks like "Bitch I'm Busy" and "Come Through" (the latter featuring fellow Canada's Drag Race queen Lemon) are also incredibly infectious tracks that, in a just world, would belong on the charts next to pop stars who have been inspired by drag culture like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
It's Priyanka's hope that, in a decade, her name won't only be synonymous with drag but also music. "Hopefully, when another artist is listing queer icons in music, they can say my name."
Hit play on the video above to hear Priyanka's personal list of Canadian queer music icons.