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Brandi Carlile Wins Big at Grammys, Talks About Being a 'Misfit'

Brandi Carlile

The performer, who's been out as a lesbian since before her career kicked into high gear, won several awards and spoke about coming out in high school. 

It's been more than a decade in the making, but Brandi Carlile, the singer-songwriter from Seattle who has been out as a lesbian well before her career began to kick into high gear in 2007, was finally recognized on the national stage for her music. The 37-year-old not only picked up three Grammy awards on Sunday, but she set social media abuzz with her with her soaring performance of her Grammy-winning song "The Joke." While accepting one of her Grammys, she spoke openly about coming out in high school and feeling like an outsider.

"Americana music is the island of the misfit toys. I am such a misfit. It is this music that has shaped my life and made me who I am and even given me my family," Carlile said while accepting the award for American Roots Song. Her longtime collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth (affectionately referred to as 'the twins') were at her side.

"I came out of the closet at 15 years old when I was in high school. And I can assure you that I was never invited to any parties and never got to attend a dance," Carlile continued. "To be embraced by this enduring and loving community has been the dance of a lifetime."

At a Grammy Awards ceremony that honored more than a dozen queer women including Carlile, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae, and St. Vincent (Annie Clark) with nominations, Carlile had racked up the most nominations going into the evening. She was nominated across six categories, some mainstream and some niche, for her album By the Way, I Forgive You and for the song "The Joke." In addition to winning for American Roots Song, she won for Americana Album and for American Roots Performance.

Speaking backstage following her rehearsal for "The Joke," Carlile explained why she chose the emotional song.

"I chose 'The Joke"' because I just feel like it's an important song at this time and in this country. I think that that song's success says more about our nation's willingness to receive it than it does actually what I'm saying and what I'm doing," Carlile said, according to Taste of Country.

"It's music with a message, and it's a harsh message; you know, it's a message about needing to do better and about the plight of the displaced peoples in this world," Carlile added. "Refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, and also about gender dysphoria and its place in our country and our need for understanding and acceptance."

Earlier in the day, Carlile posed on the red carpet kissing her wife, Catherine Shepard (they've been married since 2012 and have two young daughters).

By the time Carlile exited the stage late in the Grammys broadcast after performing "The Joke," social media had blown up with users praising her performance. Longtime fans tweeted bragging rights for having been there since before 2007's breakthrough album The Story. And Carlile had a sweet back-and-forth exchange with actress and singer Anna Kendrick, who wrote of Carlile's performance, "I am changed."

The Grammy Awards topped off a big year for Carlile since By the Way, I Forgive You dropped in February of 2018. Last fall she appeared in the blockbuster A Star Is Born in a Roy Orbison tribute during the Grammys scene. And in November, Carlile performed at Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday celebration; Mitchell is one of her musical heroes.

Watch part of Carlile's performance of "The Joke" below.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist