Is country music ready for its first openly gay megastar?

A record label rep friend of mine said this:
“Sad to say but I’m not sure. I’d like to think we’ve progressed as a
format and then you hear about the tweet that Darius got and you think
we haven’t come that far at all.”

Fellow bloggers had this to say: “I know the show
Nashville touched upon that with the character Will Lexington coming on
to Gunnar Scott and that was a very suprising moment in the series. As
far as the general public being ready for an gay artist, I think society
is, depending on the content of the artist’s lyrics.

You look
at how the NBA player, Jason Collins, was accepted by his fellow players
and the sports community and I think the initial reaction would be
similar. The only thing that holds me back from saying it would be fully
supported, is the themes of country music. The reason I love country
music is the stories, whether they be about love, family, heartbreak, or
happiness. To be accepted as an artist and to be authentic, I would
think if an artist comes out as openly gay, they would have to sing
songs about their personal beliefs and experiences. Each person
experiences life differently. Is the overall public ready to hear 10-12
tracks on album with lyrics about those experiences? I am not quite
sure. It worked for the R&B singer, Frank Ocean. Can it work for a
country singer? Chely Wright is openly gay and is a country singer;
however, not one with huge star power. But for the country community to
be ready for a gay megastar, I think it would depends on what content
the artist sings about after he or she would come out.” –@ryankentm

“The question you ask is a complicated one and a tough one to discuss because of all the stereotypes that’ll get thrown around. The topic somewhat reared its head when Carrie Underwood stated her support for gay marriage in June 2012, and again when Kacey Musgraves debuted ‘Follow Your Arrow,’ a song that cheekily encourages people to “kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you’re into” at Universal Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar showcase at the Ryman in 2013. Neither woman is gay (Carrie Underwood is married to Mike Fisher of the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators and Kacey Musgraves recently told Broadway that she has a boyfriend). Carrie Underwood’s statement, which she framed in the context of her Christian beliefs, provoked a lot of online commentary, some of it negative, but her concert attendance is up from her previous tour and her album/download sales/airplay have remained strong. Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle she didn’t think it would be a single because she didn’t think “radio could handle it.”

Carrie and Kacey’s signal a generational shift – they are both younger country artists with strong appeal to younger fans who are more likely to be part of the growing percentage of people who support equality regardless of sexual orientation. CMA research (like this report) points to demographic shifts in the country audience, with an increase in country music’s presence in the most populated cities, including New York City (which recently got its 1st country station in more than a decade, as noted here).

But do these demographic shifts among country fans necessarily mean anything as far as fans’ likeliness to accept an openly gay country megastar? Though the number of people who openly characterize homosexuality as wrong and/or more sinful than heterosexuality may be on the decline, the number that remains continues to be very vocal and active. Much like the fringe groups that organized anti-Dixie Chicks campaigns aimed at country radio in 2003, they are capable of driving up the negatives on an act and making that act seem polarizing, which is likely to make programmers more gunshy about airplay for that act. So it’s not necessarily a question of whether the majority of country fans would accept an openly gay act, it’s more a question of will programmers support an act who may get a negative response from a vocal minority of radio listeners just because of his or her sexuality.

Is “acceptance” the right word, anyway? Some of the reaction to the coming out of NBA player Jason Collins (from the likes of Asante Samuel of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons among others) took the form of wondering why a gay guy felt the need to announce his sexuality to the world. I’d bet a similar sentiment would emerge in the country world if any star were to announce they were gay – people would feel as if the person were flaunting their sexuality and maybe say that not wanting to hear about a person’s sexuality doesn’t make them homophobic. But a country star announcing that he or she was gay would be significant because of the stereotypes and images most commonly associated with the world where they were stating their sexuality: the NBA and the country world both promote certain ideas of masculinity and male sexuality (summed up by songs like Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” and Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still A Guy”), and the country world has, up until songs like “Follow Your Arrow” and to some extent Miranda Lambert’s “All Kinds Of Kinds,” assumed female heterosexuality. The popularity of songs like “Boys Round Here” and most Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Florida-Georgia Line tunes shows how strong a hold songs about guys who try to hook up with the ladies while they drink their beer and drive their trucks have on country radio programmers and listeners. Anything that challenges that image may have a harder time gaining mass support because it is simply less likely that the masses will openly and passionately support something that is different from what they’re used to, even if they don’t openly reject it.

So if somebody who’s already big in country were to come out as gay, here’s what I think would happen: I think radio would dial back or reallocate that act’s airplay immediately but to a small degree, then run tests for the next month or couple months to see where fans stood on that act and then adjust their playlists accordingly. As far as how fans would react, I think the negatives on that act would temporarily shoot up in research. I also think the positives on that act would drift down (but not plummet) from people disappointed that their fantasies about that person are even less likely to happen now or just not feeling like they can identify with that person as much now. How much would depend on how much the person had presented himself or herself as a romantic ideal – somebody more known for story songs who hasn’t really played up the romantic/heterosexual aspect may not be affected by coming out, and somebody who’s in a group may not be as affected by coming out as a solo act. I don’t think album sales would be affected short term even though radio play might be. Long term, how things would stabilize as far as sales and radio play would depend on too many things for me to make a general prediction but obviously things like music and marketing would make a big difference.” –@WindmillsMusic

What do I think? I think as long as their not ‘too gay’ they’d
be fine. Let’s take Neil Patrick Harris for example, he plays
television’s biggest womanizer on “How I Met Your Mother.” Convincingly,
might I add! But it goes beyond that, he’s not flamboyant, and he’s
extremely conservative with his public affections. As harsh as this
sounds, our core audience is arguably old-fashioned. The core is
shifting, but hypothetically we’re talk about today.


This Post Has One Comment

    Dave Hanson

    Today’s so called “country ” music is gay anyhow. Thank God for Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius XM….

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