Gay Times Magazine

Taking back control never sounded so good.

- Photograph­y Morgan Hill-Murphy / / Fashion Umar Sarwar / / Words Lewis Corner Hair & Makeup Pricilla Pilling using Redken & Dior Makeup / / Set Design Kat Hawker Fashion Assistant Solly Warner

“Now looking back, I think I was really blessed that I was dropped when I did because that was right around the time that on a personal level, I was discoverin­g that I was gay,” says Greyson Chance during a sunny morning in Los Angeles. It’s a week after our shoot with him in London during a promo trip for his latest single Dancing Next To Me and we’ve linked back up over FaceTime to talk about the next era of his extraordin­ary music career to date.

This year marks a decade since a video clip of Greyson sat at the piano performing Lady Gaga’s eclectic hit Paparazzi went viral and launched him into the public consciousn­ess. His rise happened during a period when viral moments made their first overnight stars. Susan Boyle had become an internatio­nal internet sensation just a year prior, while a floppy-haired Canadian kid called Justin was laying down the foundation for the Bieber Fever to come. It was a time when the music industry started scouring the web for tomorrow’s stars, where everyday people achieved immediate fame, and the birth of streaming meant music moments could go stratosphe­rically viral faster than ever before.

At 12 years old, a young Greyson Chance was performing to millions on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, had scores of famous fans re-sharing his video, and had won himself a major label deal. A string of popular hits, music videos watched by millions and touring all over the United States followed. But years later he was left creatively exhausted and made the decision to move from Los Angeles back home to Oklahoma and enrolled in college. He was content with his decision and genuinely, at that moment, believed he’d never return to a career in show business. It was during this time away that Greyson was afforded the chance to live as any normal teen heading to college would. “Life relaxed for a second, allowed me to go back home, figure out what was going on, talk to my friends, talk to boys and realise all these things for the first time,” he says. “In many ways, I think my career trajectory has helped me in the long run. That was the thing that I hadn’t realised until this year, because for so long I’d look back on that time thinking ‘I got dropped, it was the worst time of my life’ and at that moment it was, but looking back it was my ability to become who I am. Having those two periods of my life, the big career and the nothing happening at all, those have now merged and helped me find a good connection between personal and work life. And that’s what I need right now as an artist, I know how to navigate them both.”

That newfound equilibriu­m resulted in a rebirth of sorts for Greyson. During a few years out of the spotlight, he was engaged to be married before the relationsh­ip fell apart. That experience informed a large part of his 2019 album Portraits; a consummate collection of songs that deals with the highs and lows of love. Shut Up is an earworm anthem that sticks with you for days, while tracks like Yours, Black On Black and White Roses gave his discograph­y new favourites for fans to sing back at him during his shows. Creating a record as an openly gay man without the interferen­ce of hit-chasing music executives resulted in his most authentic and accomplish­ed songwritin­g yet. Funny that, huh?

“When I got dropped when I was 15, I remember telling myself ‘You have to keep going, you have to keep working’ and there were so many false starts,” he says. “There was a time I went back to school and completely gave up. But for Portraits, that was an album that I needed to make for myself more than anybody else. I needed to prove to that kid that I could do it and I could make a record. The lesson to be learned from that album is it was me being completely myself, it was me making music that I really wanted to listen to and that’s what’s gotten us here now. I’m not going to break from that routine and that practice. I’m going to keep on being myself, keep on following my instincts and keep on doing this in the best way that I can.”

It’s a mantra Greyson is fully committed to as he starts rolling out the next phase of his career. While Portraits focused on his life and relationsh­ip throughout 2018, his next collection deals with what came after. Spoiler alert: despite the success, it wasn’t always rosy.

Greyson’s new single is the definition of an unfiltered sad-banger. The beats and soaring pop chorus conjure a sense of euphoria, but the story behind the lyrics is tinged with - yep, you guessed it - boy troubles.

“This story is something that happens to everybody - especially to young

people,” he says. “You’ve known this person a few times, you go out with them, you end up dating them, and you share this connection where you think ‘Wow, this is something special, this is something good’ and then they leave in the morning and don’t call you back, and don’t want to be around anymore.”

This was the very thing that happened to Greyson last summer. “I think, at the time, I brushed it off,” he continues, “and it wasn’t until a few weeks or months later where I began to realise how much it hurt me. In many ways, it felt like my relationsh­ip from 2018, but in the span of one night.” Greyson did what all great songwriter­s do: took the experience with him to the studio and presented it to his collaborat­or Teddy Geiger, who serves as executive producer on the new album.

“I’d been talking a lot to Teddy about this, and once we establishe­d the sense of betrayal I felt, she said ‘This is a song’ and we saw it through. It’s about a very relatable experience, but to me it was a true testament to how these quick things that happen can sometimes really affect you more than you want them to.”

Although the track deals with romantic turmoil, Greyson is cautious to label it a heartbreak anthem. “Portraits is a heartbreak record, it’s so true to form,” he adds. “I think heartbreak is like the stages of grief, you really take a long time to feel every moment and to get through and get over it. This song and this moment was more about a sense of betrayal, and this was the first time that I’d worked with this emotion before in songwritin­g. I just felt so left behind by this person and so betrayed.”

Aside from it generally being a brilliant pop song, Greyson wanted to introduce his new era with Dancing Next To Me as he sees it as the perfect transition moment between Portraits and what’s to come. He adds that the track “served as a beacon for the rest of the album” and helped him work with Teddy to understand where, musically, he wanted to head next. “This was our reference point, where we knew this was leaning a bit more pop, but it had everything we liked, it had the edge in it,” he says. “I think, for me, being able to share that with the fans first, and showing them how it’d piece along, I liked that as an artist and as a creative. But it is the start of the record, and I think what’s good about it. Lyrically, this album is different from Portraits, and I’m going to transition the fans into that. I think it’s a lot more introspect­ive, and it’s a lot more me talking to myself.”

The next album is still a few months away yet, with more singles scheduled to be released first. But Greyson did tease some of the themes that run through the music. The “betrayal” he speaks about in Dancing Next To Me is a main strand that plays throughout the record.

“From boys and relationsh­ips, and also truly being a year into that grieving process of getting out of an engagement,” he says. “I wrote a lot about that. I also wrote a lot about my physical health, this was a really tough year for me, and something that I didn’t talk a lot about. I was going through a lot physically as I was on the road, and it was killing me on the inside. I wrote about how I didn’t want to hurt myself anymore with all the hours of work, but how I was so addicted to it. I wrote about that addiction. I wrote about some of the things that are happening in my family right now. It truly is a snapshot of my year.”

With so much to write about, Greyson couldn’t have asked for a better executive producer than Teddy Geiger. Aside from co-writing some of Shawn Mendes’ bi˜est hits, she has worked on big anthems for the likes of One Direction, Maroon 5 and 5 Seconds Of Summer. When it comes to bringing together clever songwritin­g with a pop sensibilit­y, Teddy is your woman. “She’s the best fucking producer in the world,” Greyson smiles. “And you can quote me on that! That’s on the record, italicised and in bold. She’s really good at drawing out honesty from me, because we have a friendship and because she knows the way that I think. There have been multiple times when we’ve been writing where depending on the topic she’ll go ‘No, you don’t think that lyric. You want to put that line in because of x, y, z. But you don’t actually think that, you wouldn’t say that.’ And I’m like ‘you’re right!’ and I think that challenge in the studio was something so unique. I hadn’t experience­d that before, and I think that’s going to set this record apart.”

Another decision Greyson had to contend with going into the next phase of his career was the option of signing to a major label once again. Naturally, having been churned up by the machine as a young kid starting out in the industry, Greyson approached the offer with serious trepidatio­n. “I remember getting the email from my manager saying ‘Hey, Sony Music wants to sit down with you’ and I remember responding ‘That’s really great, I’m not going to take that meeting’ and he was like ‘Dude, come on, please!’ I didn’t want to go, but I ended up getting dra˜ed, and I was surprised by what I heard at the meeting,” he admits. “I was actually really hesitant to sign with a major again. I’d worked so hard to build myself back up. Making the decision was a really lengthy process. It lasted four months of us really talking, feeling like they understood my vision. When I came back with Portraits, the number one thing that I told myself was that I wasn’t going to compromise anymore on anything; on the

music, on the creative, on the way the show looked, on the way I wanted to dress. I’m wearing all white today, I look like a John Lennon, weird Jesus sort of thing. If someone were to tell me ‘Hey, we don’t think this is the right look’ I’d listen, but I’d say ‘You’re wrong because I like this outfit and I’m going to wear it’. I didn’t have that when I was younger, so I needed to make sure they understood that, and they were going to let me do what I wanted to do.”

As Greyson has proven over the past two years, having control over his vision, his storytelli­ng and his ability to connect with fans in an authentic way is paramount to his success. It goes without saying that being an openly gay recording artist means that will be present in his work, and you only have to watch the first 30 seconds of his Dancing Next To Me music video to see that his visible queerness is not up for negotiatio­n.

That mentality is applied across the full spectrum of Greyson’s music career. When he toured the world last year, he partnered with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours United, the Allyship Coalition, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation among many others to raise money and awareness of LGBTQ causes and issues. Before the current Coronaviru­s pandemic scuppered his European tour plans this April (dates are likely to be reschedule­d soon), Greyson was scheduled to play headline shows in Russia and Poland, where life is still incredibly challengin­g for LGBTQ people. It is something he is especially passionate about doing. “I think it’s really shameful when certain artists decide to not visit countries or places because they disagree with the way the government is working there, or the politics of the place,” he says. “For me, that’s the bi˜er incentive to go there, because that means the people in that room who are coming to the show, they need that concert so much more than anything else. They need the love in that room, and they need to feel a spirit and energy in it. If I could play anywhere, I would go. And you can talk to my team, because I can be a little too risky sometimes with making these decisions because I want to be a light and beacon of support for those people in Russia and Poland. They need it more than anything right now.”

Privilege and knowing how to use it is something Greyson is acutely aware of. Being gay, he knows he may come up against challengin­g situations. But he fully understand­s that there are others worse off who need greater support and representa­tion. “I think the parts of the queer community in music that are still completely mistreated would be people of colour within the queer community,” he says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done there, and there’s still a lot of work in terms of media representa­tion for those people. I was on a panel about a year ago, around Pride in LA and they were asking me a lot of questions about my difficulty of being gay in music, and I had to remind the moderator, ‘I do identify as a gay man, but I’m also a white male in America. That in of itself carries a whole ton of privilege in a whole lot of things.’ For me, it’s less about what I’m going through, it’s way more about other voices in the community right now, and I want to support those artists and get them fair treatment.”

He acknowledg­es that trans representa­tion on a mainstream level in pop music is severely underserve­d. “We need to remember there are a lot of letters in that little block, but sometimes there feels like there’s a lot of space in between, and it feels like we’re not united,” he adds. “I can’t stand that. We need to be supporting the trans community now more than ever.”

Over the past 10 years, Greyson Chance has gone from viral child star thrust into the spotlight to an eloquent young man creating music with purpose and using his platform for a greater good. It would be easy for someone like Greyson to hold resentment towards the music industry for chewing it up in the way it did, but he has taken control of his narrative and is thriving because of it. “It’s funny, I’ve gone through different stages of it,” he says when I ask him how he feels about the past decade of his life. “For a really long time in my career, I would look back to that point of time. I didn’t have regret, but I almost felt embarrasse­d about it. If I saw any videos surface online, or Unfriend You or the Paparazzi video, I wanted to turn it off because I wanted to show people that I was a true artist and a real musician and real songwriter. These things would pop up and it would take me away from that. And it wasn’t until this past year where I’ve learned to be so proud of that past and so proud of that kid.

“There were so many things that could’ve derailed me as a person, as an artist, as a son, as a brother, as a best friend, but they didn’t,” he adds. “There was a tenacity in that kid to keep going, to navigate the waters the best way that he could and try to figure it out. If people want to point back to that time in music and criticise it, and talk about how cringey it is, why don’t they try to make a fucking album when they’re 14 and see how it turns out. That would be my response to that. I look back now and I’m proud. I’m proud of that kid for getting here, for making this album last year, and continuing on, and I haven’t felt that in a long time. So it’s a new feeling for me, this overwhelmi­ng sense of accomplish­ment and pride.” It’s a feeling he should get used to, because things are only going to get bi˜er and better for Greyson Chance.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom