Stepping into RALPH’s bedroom feels like gaining access to her brain.
The pop musician’s space on the second story of an apartment in Toronto’s West End is organized chaos: endless racks of clothes, bags and shoes seem to grow from the walls like colour blocked vines; a long, icy blond wig sits on a mannequin-head perch next to books and artworks from friends; and an attic window cuts the light at sharp angles, creating a mirror ball effect across the wood floor.
Sitting on a bed made with hotel corners, RALPH looks perfectly at home. “When I’m in my room, I feel a sense of peace and joy,” she says. “It’s chaotic, but in my own way it’s organized.”
This comfort extends to RALPH’s unique live shows, where the artist seems to have found a second home. Positioned in front of an iconic neon sign of her name, she punctuates colourful costume changes with special guests like alt-rock girl band The Beaches and supermodel drag performer Tynomi Banks. RALPH’s shows are light, fun, and seemingly carefree. But “nothing happens without me creating it, or being a huge part of it,” she says. “I work fucking hard.”
Since the debut of her self-titled EP in 2017, RALPH has cultivated a loyal following hungry for more fresh, disco-infused synth-pop. She has honed her nostalgic pop sound on earworm tracks like the Electric Circus-inspired “Gravity” and 80s throwback “Tease”, while claiming her spot on charts, streaming playlists, and fashion “best” lists.
Now, following the release of her latest EP Flashbacks and Fantasties and fresh off a tour with Canadian pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen, RALPH is ready to try something new.
“The beauty of being an artist is that you get to evolve,” she says. Referencing Billie Eilish, Normani, Maggie Rogers, and Lizzo, she feels this moment in pop music should be viewed through a kaleidoscope—as a hybrid genre with endless possibilities. For RALPH, impact comes with taking risks and maintaining authenticity. “I think people appreciate me creating moments that are real and honest and interesting. I’d prefer to do that than just be someone contrived that people can’t access.”
RALPH showcased her vulnerable side and impressive vocal range at a Toronto headline show in November when she belted out heartbreaking piano ballad “Gasoline.” The unrecorded track left friends and family members in tears. “This song feels like you,” she remembers her brother saying.
“The beauty of that moment was that it was so honest and vulnerable,” she reflects. In it, she was “the less shiny, performative, glossy pop princess” her fans are used to.
She’s also opened up about her politics, speaking out about reproductive rights, gender imbalances in the music industry, and the American election while also encouraging fans to bring donations for Toronto women’s shelter Sistering to her shows.
“Headphone Season,” a Jepsen-esque banger off of Flashbacks and Fantasties, challenges the frustrating ubiquity of catcall culture. “That was a thing that had been bubbling up inside me for a long time,” she says, recalling moments when she was expected to just brush off unwanted advances from men. Backed by an infectious dance beat, there are blades when she sings “I’m not smiling for a stranger.”
A self-proclaimed drama queen, RALPH talks effusively when she’s passionate about a topic, engaging her head and hands as often as possible. When asked about the state of pop music in Canada, her whole body moves to underscore her point. “It feels like we’re working backwards,” she laments, referencing recent cuts to vital music funding and grants. “People have to get really creative with the funding that they have, which is sometimes the money you make at your part time job.”
Born into a large, tight-knit family of creatives, RALPH knows that swimming against the tide can sometimes feel futile, but has “learned there’s no harm in continuing to grab everything by the horns and building a community.” She admires artists like Orville Peck and Jessie Reyez who are carving out unique spaces for Canadian pop on their own terms.
RALPH’s own music community is built on specific values: “If each show is a place that I’ve created, then I want to make sure that everyone here feels safe and welcomed and loved and celebrated.” She makes space to be and love herself, too, often starting real conversations with the audience. “When I’m making awful jokes onstage,” she laughs, “those aren’t pre-rehearsed.”
Despite the care she puts into every detail, it’s clear that RALPH is not a traditional perfectionist. She has learned to let go and embrace the (organized) chaos: “You know when you’re baking cookies with someone? There are people whose icing tends to be perfect and stunning. My cookie is fine. It’s okay. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work fucking hard and put a lot of thought into things. But I also can accept when something isn’t perfect and I don’t beat myself up about it forever.”
She smiles: “I always just want to eat the fucking cookie.”