Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for GLAAD
VINCINT, Brandon Stansell, Linda Perry & More LGBTQ+ Artists Share Their Journeys To Self-Acceptance
They came from many different backgrounds. But together, they formed an unshakable alliance on the Clive Davis Theater stage at the GRAMMY Museum.
On Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in the run-up to the 61st GRAMMY Awards, the Museum, in conjunction with Recording Academy, Ally Coalition, GLAAD and Out Magazine, hosted an hour-long panel titled Empowered: LGBTQ + Voices in Music. Moderated by the Recording Academy Editor In Chief, Digital Content & Strategy Justin Joseph and Out Magazine's Entertainment and Culture Editor Tre’vell Anderson, the hour featured seven panelists, most of whom identified as LGBTQ+ and ranged in age from 16 to 53, sharing their varied experiences breaking through in the music industry, and even striking out on their own.
One of those artists was up-and-coming pop performer VINCINT, whom many might recall from his breakthrough as a contestant on Fox's "The Four." While some might assume that such a level of visibility would bring almost certain success, VINCINT set the record straight: Yes, he was lucky to have been on TV. But, he alleged, because of the color of his skin, the show's producers were eager for him to put on a suit and "sing gospel songs." "I wanted to sing Bjork," he said.
And the racial profiling didn't stop with the end of the show—once VINCINT got into the studio, some male producers would walk out, refuse to work with him, or push him back in the direction of R&B and gospel. But the singer held strong. “I’m unabashedly myself," he told the audience, firm in his stance.
Steadfast self-acceptance was a constant theme in the hour, with trans soul singer Shea Diamond, fully clad in camo ("because we've always been in a war"), demanding that the goal of every single artist who falls outside of a record label's idea of "normal" should strive to make people "uncomfortable." If she can challenge the industry and proudly, consistently push back against the status quo, Diamond argued, then she'll help tomorrow's trans artists face fewer obstacles.
"If you have great music and talent, people will respond."
GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Linda Perry, too, was completely unapologetic about her status as a lesbian. "I’ve always been gay," she said. "It’s just who I was. I never ever let it be a problem. There are people like me who have never allowed people to look at me differently. I walked right through those barriers. ... when someone pushes you, they’re testing you. Just don’t let people push. You have to stay strong.”
One performer likely reaping the benefits of the older panelists' hard work was 16-year-old Nhandi Craig, who performs under the name DJ Young 1. As a member of Gen Z, who are said to be the most inclusive age group, Craig talked about starting her middle school's first LGBTQ club, and asserted that it was "[her] job to bring the message of acceptance to people."
"I have a lot of family members who are part of the LGBTQ community," she said. "It was the norm to be accepted. It was the norm to be different.”
Meanwhile, songwriter and performer Asiahn, who has written songs for GRAMMY-nominated artists Jennifer Lopez ("Booty") and Miley Cyrus ("Hands In The Air"), spoke passionately about her ongoing mission to diversify the look of pop stars. When she was 15, Asiahn sang for a major label head, who praised her voice but said she was "too dark and too thick to do pop music." Undeterred, Asiahn dismissed them, saying, "I don’t need the exec’s opinion. If you have great music and talent, people will respond."
Asiahn is one of the many LGBTQ+ artists who utilize social media to express themselves to the fullest extent, rather than let a label market and package you. That's certainly something country singer/songwriter Brandon Stansell could relate to as well, as his genre is one of the most conservative and homogenous in the business. He is making inroads, though: Back in August 2018, Stansell, who identifies as gay, released his music video for "Hometown" on CMT. The song, about his coming out, was the first LGBTQ-friendly music video to ever air on the cabel country network.
"We need allies. Check your reservations at the door. Be educated, but do not be indifferent.”
Finally, in a brilliant display of allyship, Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds sat on the panel to speak about his LOVELOUD foundation, which seeks to "ignite the vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love, understand, accept and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family."
Reynolds, as the only straight, white male on the panel, spoke openly and honestly about leading a "privileged" life, and wanting to dedicate his time to both being an ally and teaching other men how to be allies. "Put the insecurities aside," he said, speaking to other straight, white men. "We need allies. Check your reservations at the door. Be educated, but do not be indifferent.”
As much progress as we've made, however, there still remains a long way to go, especially for members of the trans community.
"The fight looks different for different people," said Diamond, who spoke valiantly about the many hardships she's faced in her life and career. "I would love to slide over to the lesbian or gay experience. But you can’t mask the [the trans experience]."
So, who can we count on to change the future? "I try to focus on the youth," continued Diamond. "Nothing can ever get done focusing on older generations. I try to focus my energies on the new minds. The youth spread (the message) faster than anyone else."