By James Duke Mason
Originally published on Advocate.com July 23 2013 6:00 AM ET
Earlier this month, something happened that changed pop music in America forever. The music video for a new song called “All-American Boy” was released on YouTube, and within 10 days has reached more than 1,000,000 views and made a permanent shift in our culture. The most amazing part is that it’s just the beginning… for the change that this song has created, and just the beginning for what will be an incredibly successful career for the young musician who wrote and sang the song: Steve Grand.
Now in order to explain why the video and song mean so much for me personally, I have to reach back to the summer of 2009. I was a gay teenager, just sitting on my couch at home watching Kris Allen perform Keith Urban's "I Wanna Kiss A Girl" on American Idol.
I remember being so depressed watching Kris's performance. While Kris was on stage proudly singing to the girls of America, there was no gay equivalent to him, no idol or role model I could look up to. Why wasn't there a gay singer out there who was willing to do the same; who sang about wanting to “kiss a boy”?
It seemed blatantly clear to me that there was a double standard, and ever since then I’ve been waiting for that gay idol to come along. This month, he finally came. Steve has not only become an idol for gay youth, but I have no doubt that he will become a role model for all people who believe in real talent and artistry in a time where music has become so superficial and shallow.
As Steve put it himself in the description of his YouTube video, “I feel like most music industry people wouldn't like the idea of me ‘pigeonholing’ myself by telling this story as I have. But I don't believe the world sees change until it sees honesty.”
Steve is the real deal, and here's why:
With Steve, there's no watering down or ambiguity. He's gay, he's proud, he's up-front and honest about it, and there's no shame or hesitation about expressing it whatsoever. There is zero filter; there is zero differentiation between the way that he sings to a guy in his song and the way Kris Allen (or Keith Urban) sang "I Wanna Kiss A Girl."
If straight men can talk about girls and how much they love them, then why shouldn't gay men have that same ability as well? It seems to me that even among our youth today, there is a certain hesitation, and in some cases shame, that a lot of gay men have when it comes to talking about men.
Apparently straight men can talk freely about their attraction to women, but if a gay man talks too honestly about their sexual attraction to men, there’s something “uncool” or “gross” about it. This also applies a population of the young, supposedly out, progressive, gay men who live in Los Angeles and New York but still can't feel proud of their identities or feel like they can express it. It's as though being exclusively attracted to men isn’t good or cool enough.
Steve's song and music video have challenged the status quo. He is a young, cool, incredibly good looking guy who isn’t in the least bit hesitant to be who he is. He came out at age 13, and he doesn't need to validate himself by talking down his gayness or saying that he's slept with women to appease straight audiences. His strength and confidence are a testament to the kind of role model young gay people need.
His genuine courage is already paying off, and no doubt he will continue to serve as a role model for others. Isn’t it possible that the reason this video has gone viral is because he embodies a confidence and courage that we as a community wish we had? And we’re attracted to that? The fact is that the courage he has already exists within each of us. The sooner that we all realize that, the sooner we will become free and equal—not just in the eyes of the straight world, but in our own eyes as well.
Steve's hit song has already had an incredibly successful impact. If he’s been able to reach more than a million people in just a few weeks, imagine what he’ll achieve in the next few months or years. What he has done is something nobody has ever done—he’s defied the status quo not just in the straight world but in the gay community, too.
JAMES DUKE MASON is an actor. He lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDukeMason