Any musician that would open their debut album with a song inspired by a RuPaul quote has my vote, but Ralph’s appeal is more than the sum of her references.
On the track “For Yourself,” the Toronto-based singer (given name: Raffaela Weyman), takes the drag icon’s words—”If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”—and unspools them into an ode to self-acceptance so catchy you can’t help but take its message to heart.
Confidence and vulnerability work in tandem throughout the album, titled A Good Girl, which was released in September following a handful of summer festival appearances, including one alongside label-mate Carly Rae Jepsen, and a trio of singles that traversed her signature brand of synth-pop-disco-soul.
If you asked her back in high school where she thought she’d be now, though, music wouldn’t necessarily be the first answer. “I always thought I wanted to be an actor,” she says. “I mean, I still kind of do. But I wanted to do acting primarily.” She studied musical theater at her performing-arts school, and while she found the genre to be a little too “shiny, happy jazz hands,” she credits it for teaching her how to turn it on for an audience.
“It helped me understand how important it is to have an element of performance on stage,” she notes. “You’re really giving the whole show—you’re not just singing songs, but you’re also giving energy and kind of being this character in a way.”
Clothing also plays an important role in this—and thankfully, Ralph likes playing dress up. Brazen with her fashion choices, she might step on stage in glittery stiletto boots paired with the kind of baggy denim shorts you might have seen on TLC in the ’90s, or a cutout bodysuit topped with an oversized hoodie, much of it sourced from her friend’s secondhand luxury boutique, VSP Consignment. It’s a look that’s garnered her plenty of fans, but also—like most anything worthwhile in 2019—a handful of online haters.
After a recent show in Montréal, for which she wore gray athletic sweatpants with a pair of heels, she spotted some French girls joking around in her Instagram comments. “I sent it to my manager, who’s French Canadian, and I was like, ‘What are they saying?’ And she was like, ‘Oh….well, they’re kind of making fun of your outfit,'” she recalls.
She took it in stride, though. “I was like, what are you going to do, right? I totally understand that not everyone is going to look at the things that I put together and go, ‘Cool!’ There are going to be some people who are like, ‘What the fuck are you wearing?'” she laughs. “But that’s okay because it makes you memorable. And I have fun with it, so I’m okay with not everyone loving it.” (She also cites Rihanna as a fashion icon, in part because “she just doesn’t really give a fuck, truly.”)
When we spoke, she was on the way to one of the final stops on her tour supporting fellow Canadian artist Ria Mae, and said the months on the road—which for many artists can be physically, emotionally, and creatively draining—have actually been some of her most productive.
“Maybe it’s because I’m constantly surrounded by musicians and we’re talking about music and listening to podcasts about music, but I have just been cranking out song ideas,” she says. “Literally, right before I called you—I have GarageBand on my phone, and I just make beats and then [my band helps] me come up with song ideas in the car. So I don’t know, I kind of feel like I’ve been my most creative self for the last five weeks.”
Her self-titled E.P., released in March 2017, placed her solidly in the camp of ’80s-inspired pop (“unintentionally so,” she says, “it’s just kind of where I was at with the songs and where the producers wanted to go”), but her album delves further into sounds drawn from R&B, soul, and ’90s girl-power pop. Among contemporary artists, she counts Ariana Grande and Robyn as major musical influences.
In terms of experimenting, she says, “I used to be way more stubborn. I was like, ‘I don’t do that, I don’t do this.’ And that was protection too because I was developing my identity as an artist and I didn’t want producers to think they could shape me. I was very much like, ‘No, no, no, no, I’m in charge.'”
Today, though, her work is more malleable and self-assured, and she’s open to collaborating with a wide array of artists and producers. “I think I’m just more down to try things out, and then if I don’t like them, go, ‘You know what? Yeah, that doesn’t feel like me. I don’t love that.’ Because sometimes l think I don’t like something, and then if it’s done well, I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s cool. I actually do like that.'”
Topping the list of dream collaborators? Robyn, for one—”I would die to do a song with her”—along with Maggie Rogers (“I love that she produces a lot of her own stuff”) and Empress Of (“she’s a wicked lyricist”).
She’s not afraid to slide into some DMs to make it happen, either. “Instagram’s a funny place because you can literally DM anyone, you know? It doesn’t mean they’ll respond, but it’s an opportunity to reach out to artists that you admire and don’t know, and just be like, ‘Hey, I like your stuff. Here’s a link to my music. If you’re down, I’d love to do a track with you or try writing with you.'”
So, @robynkonichiwa, keep an eye on that inbox.