Country music isn’t the first genre your mind leaps to when you think of same-sex marriage advocates. The industry has a long history of praising conservative artists and courting a conservative fan base. But many country artists’ reactions Friday gave a clear indication as to where Nashville might be headed.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think this is anything new, I just think people are more apt to talk about it these days. And it’s not like country music has been devoid of LGBTQ artists.
Chely Wright led the coming out parade back in 2010, when the 90s star came out as lesbian. Wright, who enjoyed success from hits like “Single White Female” and “Shut Up and Drive,” said she felt accepted by many on Music Row, but her fanbase “is a different thing.”
“People in the industry – studios, labels, radio programmers – are generally open and understanding,” she told The Guardian last year. “I wouldn’t call the industry homophobic, but they’re afraid of the fear lots of fans have about gay people. So they package us as straight, and we let them.”
Ty Herndon, who also had a lot of success in the 90s, came out as gay on November 20, 2014. His decision to come out prompted Billy Gilman, another 90s star, to come out just hours later. He posted an off-the-cuff video to YouTube soon after hearing the news about Herndon.
Gilman has been a fixture on the country charts since he was 11 years old, when his first album “One Voice” reached #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Yet despite his success, he said rumors about his sexuality plagued him for years and ultimately resulted in him not getting a record deal for some of his new music.
“Being a gay male country artist is not the best thing,” he said in the video.
A recent trend in songwriting is looking to make it easier to be gay in country music.
Kacey Musgraves (who is heterosexual), frequently writes songs with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who are gay. The three co-wrote Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” which includes the line “Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into.”
Clark and McAnally, who have also penned hits for Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney, among others, tend to keep their songs more gender-neutral, however. But there’s no doubt it’s easier to be gay in country music now than it ever was before.
But is country music ready for songs that are actually about being gay? Take “All-American Boy,” a YouTube sensation from Steve Grand, the first country artist to use being gay as part of his platform. The semi-autobiographical song revolves around two guys (one straight, one gay) and a girl during a summer day, where the straight guy’s mixed signals confuse the gay guy.
Clearly, there is a market for these songs, because Grand’s niche fanbase helped pay for his entire album through Kickstarter. But what about the country fanbase at large?
Country music is known for its songs about lying and cheating, one night stands, bitter divorces and jilted lovers. It’s also known for its songs about lifelong romance and commitment, as cheesy as any of the above songs may be. These songs resonate with fans because they’ve been through those events and lived those relationships.
As the genre’s fanbase becomes more diverse and the nation becomes more accepting, it’s not too difficult to foresee songs about being gay, sung by gay artists, becoming more mainstream.
The only question is, will the genre’s fanbase support them?