A Grand Debut

Steve Grand – star of the above music video, of unrequited gay love – is having a sensational month:

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter doesn’t have a label, manager, agent or publicist to back him, which makes amassing more than 1.2 million views in 10 days (he uploaded the video on July 2) an impressive feat. “This is all very grass-roots. All I did was upload the song on YouTube and share it on Facebook. It got around pretty quickly,” Grand said by phone from Chicago, apologizing for sounding tired due to lack of sleep after a whirlwind of press interviews.

While many people have dubbed Grand “the first openly gay country singer,” Zach Schonfeld isn’t so sure:

Grand’s story is indeed inspiring. Hailing from a Catholic family in the Midwest, the singer was sent to “straight therapy” for several years shortly after discovering his sexuality at 13. He self-financed his music video with $7,000, and according to a feature in the Chicago Sun-Times, his job experience “has run the gamut from modeling to supplying music for Catholic church events.” Only a week into Internet stardom, he has developed a flair for the dramatic. “I would die a happy man today,” he told the Sun-Times. “And it’s the first time in my entire life I can say that.”

But is rushing to call Grand the “first openly gay male country star” not a little, err, reductive, or even inaccurate? As is often the case with these sorts of bold media proclamations, the label brushes aside a bit of history in its eagerness. Most notably, it ignores Drake Jensen, a Canadian country singer who came out in February, 2012, and whose latest video, “Scars,” details the pain of being bullied as an LGBT teen. Of course, you could argue that Jensen isn’t exactly a star, and his video won’t likely have the same viral appeal; as Salon’s Daniel D’Addario notes, “his bearish physique isn’t winning him any fans among the BuzzFeed set.”

Grand himself questions the label:

“I actually didn’t set out to write a country song,” he said. “I’m not really concerned with labels, honestly. I was really surprised when I saw I was being labeled as a a ‘gay country star’ and people saying I was the first.” “There have been people that have done it before, and I certainly don’t want to take anything away from them. It’s not important to me whether I’m the first or not,” he continued. “I just wanted to create something really beautiful that resonated with people all over the world. The song has done all I could ask for.”

He got emotional on Good Morning America talking about how his family reacted to the music video. And coming out as a country singer hasn’t had a great track record so far:

In 2010, the industry was buzzing with the rumors that a gay singer was ready to come out.  It ended up being Chely Wright, a country singer who had a #1 country hit in 1999 with “Single White Female.” Wright capitalized on her buzz to release new music and introduce herself to a new generation of fans via pride parades and gay media, and also released a documentary called Wish Me Away that showcased her career and struggles with being gay in country music.

However, by early 2011 she was singing a different tune.  In an interview with the website Autostraddle, she was blunt and honest about the negative effects that coming out had on her career.  “It didn’t help my career,” she said. “My record sales went directly in half. If it appears from the outside in that it’s helped my career, it could be because I haven’t talked about the negative.”

But Eric Sasson wonders whether Grand should even worry about such measures of success:

Steve Grand is already finding his audience among the thousands of viewers who have seen the video and have been touched by his story. So many artists are eschewing the traditional route of labels and releasing their own music, and finding an audience on their own—look no further than Macklemore to see how record labels may not matter as much as they used to. Grand’s audience may not end up being the traditional consumers of country music, but he is further proof that many artists would prefer to do things on their own terms than compromise who they are in order to win the hearts of executives and focus groups.

Lester Brathwaite has more for Grand fans:

Before baring his soul with “All-American Boy,” Grand bared a little more as Steve Chatham and the fast/furious moniker Finn Diesel, modeling underwear for DNA magazine, photographers Tom Cullis and Wander Aguiar, among others. But hey, girl’s gotta make that dough and that viral video didn’t pay for itself. Oh, and let’s not forget his previous musical incarnation as Steve Starchild, which gave us this cover of Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night.” Sadly that video’s no longer available, but there’s also this other Gaga cover, “You and I“– we were never really into that song to begin with anyway.

Go here to watch him cover Lil’ Wayne’s “How to Love”.