Steve Grand is billed (by some) as the first openly gay male country musician to attract mainstream attention in the United States. While he himself doesn’t 100% identify with this label, I personally would say that although it’s a nice tag line we could easily drop the ‘country musician’ bit (albeit the distinctive country lilt and video for his first single All American Boy does add weight to this tag). Furthermore he is not the first, there are already a decent number of mainstream or at least well known gay country artists out there. What I will give him though is that he is brave and driven too.
His first single and video required a budget of $7000 which he financed himself through savings and credit cards. What is unquestionably impressive is that he is releasing his debut album titled All American Boy financed by a ‘Kickstarter’ funding campaign under his own label. He smashed his original public fundraising goal of $81.000 almost overnight and subsequently went on to secure $326, 593 which had been pledged by 4,905 backers.
Where Steve is leading the way here is that he is not an established artist that has ‘decided to come out’. He is positioning himself as an openly out artist trying to get INTO the business. A very risky strategy. As flawed, clinical and void of emotional attachment as most big labels are… they do know how to do one thing right. They know how to balance their books and in order to do so they are ruthlessly shrewd in determining your financial viability within each given demographic. While the pink pound might be a strong one, the tween pound is the home run, the instant return and longevity buck. And as it’s always the female tween pound that is aimed for, which as a gay male pop star Steve is less (if at all) appealing to. This leaves him with an unfamiliar and uncharted pop career blueprint.
What is unusual to see in Steve’s case is a member of a minority group representing and becoming an activist and championing that given minorities own cause. To clarify, if we look at pop culture it is always a member of another community or tribe accomplishing fame and influence and then lending their weight to a cause that they connect with personally or that they feel compelled to campaign for. Madonna, a straight white woman pioneered the movement for gay people and the fight against AIDS in the early 90’s. Annie Lennox fighting against AIDS in Africa. Bono pushing forward in an attempt to end world poverty and hunger. And so you get the slightly simplified and generalised idea. It will be interesting to see where he goes with this, it’s a tricky role to play. When making bold public and culturally divisive moves like Steve is and will be doing, he is not just creating awareness but he is also representing and making a statement – whether he intends to do so or not and with this will come criticism. In fact he has attracted some already and from within his own community. To quote a few…One stated that the message of the All American Boy video is that “Gay men drink too much, feel sorry for themselves and come on to straight dudes when their girlfriends aren’t around” another critiques it as “woefully out-of-tune with the times. It’s like something out of a homo smut story from before Stonewall…. this particular narrative of the tantalizing straight guy and lovesick queen is so hackneyed in gay culture as to be laughable”. Personally, I like the video, gasped at the kiss and prayed for a palatable resolve at the end. He did good with this video. Having watched the other three video releases that he has posted on Youtube, his areas for improvement started to become obvious – the art direction and in fact the shots are all very samey with a touch too much emphasis on the narrative with less focus on edgy or thought provoking concepts. His style and calibre of songwriting is kind of adolescent in its genesis and borderline high school pop. If Taylor Swift was a gay man and happy circa 2010 – you get the idea.
I would love to see Steve remove the gender specific from his new writing – not because gay subject matter is not valid or perceived as inappropriate merely because as a songwriter, I think that he would benefit from stripping off a few layers and digging deeper down to the core of himself and exploring a real, raw, gritty path which is universal, if he truly taps into this vein of the human psyche he will benefit his cause no end. If he can strike a chord from a place of emotional truth that touches people – all people, he’ll transcend what some might see as the gimmicky “1st mainstream gay country star” title. As a point of reference think how Katy Perry totally transformed the perception of her as an artist, she hit big with the gimmicky I Kissed A Girl and subsequent bubble gum pop hits but then dug deep and connected to her own truth. Drawing on the painful break up of her marriage to Russell Brand and her personal break down and thoughts of suicide. She went on to release Prism in October 2013 (after stating that she changed the direction of the album in favour of a darker vibe). Which came straight in at No1 on the American Billboard Chart. Dark Horse was YouTube’s most watched video of 2014 and we recently saw Miss Perry at the Super Bowl Half Time show where her performance drew in more viewers than the actual game itself with 114.4 million viewers – the highest rating show in the Super Bowl’s history.
Mr Grand has a long way to go before he starts notching up these kinds of stats. I wish him well. He has set up his own record label Grand Nation which is releasing his debut album All American Boy on March 24th 2015. I hope he has secured the guidance of a strong willed mentor who is less attached to his material than Steve is himself and is able to encourage him and push him outside of his comfort zone in the quest for the great artist that I suspect is hidden underneath the social media and YouTube hype.
Good luck Mr Grand.