Gus Kenworthy
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Greyson Chance on New EP and Helping Queer Fans Through His Music

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After a brief, two-year pause from releasing any major projects, and during one of the most unprecedented global pandemics in history, out singer-songwriter Greyson Chance is back with the follow-up to his 2019 studio album Portraits — his latest, eight-track EP Trophies.

Though still in his early twenties, Greyson has been a part of the music industry for well over a decade already, first garnering national attention at the age of 12 with his super-viral cover of Lady Gaga's iconic 2009 track "Paparazzi." After publicly coming out as gay in 2017, Greyson has established himself as a staple and leading out and proud voice in a field that is slowly but surely becoming more and more inclusive, and it's his continued success as a recording artist that is helping inspire future generations of LGBTQ+ artists. Plus, to put it plainly, his music slaps! 

Sitting down for a conversation, the singer-songwriter talks about the release of Trophies, the inspirations behind some of his new songs, how he helped a queer fan come out to his family during one of his shows, why he continues to do what he does for his queer fans, and so much more! 

Take us behind the genesis of Trophies. How excited are you about releasing a new EP? It's been a minute since your last release,  so how excited are you to be bringing some new body of work into the world?
Greyson Chance: I'm truly very, very excited. This EP and getting this body of work was really, really difficult. It was probably one of the biggest challenges that I've faced as an artist throughout my career and I think the reason why was I felt such a feeling of imposter syndrome last year. In 2019 I played 118 shows around the world and then in 2020, I was isolated to one place and I didn't really know who I was anymore, I didn't know I had a lot of feelings of self-doubt, of not feeling the most confident as an artist. I had to wrestle through that. I was writing throughout the entire time of 2020, but what I discovered was it was the second that I let the pressure go from myself, where I said, 'You know what? Let's get back to the root and create something that you like, that you enjoy, that you respect as a listener. Get back to that.' And once I was able to channel that space, it all happened very, very quickly.

The eight songs came together probably within a month. In a way, for me, this body of work is not only kind of a reintroduction again to say, 'Here's a conceptual body of work from me,' but it's also just a reminder to myself that I can still do it, I can still be the trophy that a lot of people think I am and I'm really excited to see how it kind of lines up after Portraits.

I know a lot of young, queer people especially deal with imposter syndrome. How do you get to that place where you're you know you can do something and you're able to start writing and actually get work done? Because imposter syndrome can be debilitating.
I wish I had a better answer, but the pandemic, I think for everyone, was just so difficult, right? Queer people, we get our biggest sense of community and our biggest sense of sort of affirmation from all of the places that are shut down from COVID, right? We get that from the bars and from the clubs and from the drag brunches, etc, etc. For me, I feel like the only thing that got me through 2020 was actually really kind of talking about what I was feeling to my friends and to my family. I have a sort of general tendency to stay very private about my emotional life, about how I'm feeling, especially. I would never, before last year, tell anybody that I was feeling a certain way about my career, who I was as an artist. I would always be the most confident person in the room.

The only way that I got through these feelings of imposter syndrome, these feelings of just self-doubt, was really kind of just talking to my friends and leaning on them and it was through them looking me in the eye and saying, 'Hey, it's okay, it's all right. You're going to get through this. Look at what you've already accomplished, look at what you've done. Go out, making music, people are inspired by you, they like listening to your things.' I needed that affirmation.

What I encourage people to do and what I encourage my fans to do as well, is don't stand on the sidelines of your own life. If you're struggling, try to talk to the people that love you. They want to help out. When somebody asks you how you're doing, actually say how the fuck you are. Do not sugarcoat it and say, 'Oh, I'm good. I'm good. Everything's good, yeah, whatever.' No, tell people how you are, they want to hear that. I guess that's my advice. I don't think it's really great advice but hopefully, it's at least a good tipping point for how I was able to deal with it.

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Trophies is this cute, little mix of up-tempo, dance bops, and then these slower acoustic tracks. Can you talk about crafting these songs and why you grouped them together in the way you did?
I really wanted to show range with this body of work. I wanted to show people that I could do a little bit of everything but if I'm being honest, for me, when it comes down to really picking what goes on a record, it truly starts with what am I enjoying as a listener. It starts with that because for so long in my career, I started when I was 12 years old, I never had that choice. Records were put together for me, people would say, 'This is what's cool.' The label would say, 'No, no, it has to be these songs.' I really like writing a good chunk of music and then just kind of sitting with it all and, as a listener, thinking of what is the story I'm trying to tell. How am I going to phrase it down?

And so this EP, I think, is a little chaotic in a way that I really enjoy. It kind of does bounce around to a lot of different things but that's what I wanted to show my fans and I think what's going to be really fun too is because I wasn't able to play live, my whole process of when I was in the studio writing is I was thinking about these songs live and how I could do it if I were ever given the chance again. So I'm really excited for people to see this show because I think it's just going to even further cement the story behind the record.

I listened to the EP and I think one of my favorite song is "Hands," just because longing and wondering are two of my favorite themes in art and I think those themes are so queer.  You sing the line, 'I wonder if you'll ever understand what it's like to be loved by a man.' Can you tell me about the story of that song? What it was like crafting it and writing it? Are you singing to yourself or are you singing it to someone else?
I'm totally singing it as myself and, for me, as a writer too, I always say to people if they want to know what kind of happened in the past year of my life, I'm always saying like, 'Just put that shit on top to bottom.' It's all in there, right? "Hands" was, actually, inspired by a dream I had of an old high school crush way before I was ever out, probably when I was like 14 or 15, so I guess early high school. It was about this boy who I have no idea where he is now but it was about feeling this juvenile just kind of rush that I really hadn't had before and it was me kind of coming to feelings with my sexuality, realizing who I was. I remember waking up that morning from the dream and kind of writing some things down in my journal and how I kind of thought it was so random and how I hadn't thought about this person in a really long time and then "Hands" was kind of the song that was, if I were to see him now...'This ain't no high school love, you can show me what you want.' Things have changed, things are different.

That was kind of a little love letter to my closeted self back in the day and it's definitely one of my favorite songs on the EP, for sure.

What about "Nobody?" That's a bop too. You don't have to spill all the tea, but who's "Nobody" about or who did you write that song about, and what was it like crafting that one?
A lot of the record, too, is I am now a year into a relationship and what was interesting about falling in love again with this person and falling in love in a completely new way. I found myself, in the beginning months of it, actually really scared and really fearful that I was going to lose it. It was the first time where I was in a relationship where I was going, 'Oh, my gosh. No, I need to step up and be the best version of myself because I love this person so much.' And I'd been maybe a little apathetic sometimes in love settings before this person and before my boyfriend now.

"Nobody" is kind of a sister song to "Clothes," which is the last song on the EP, but they're about, essentially, this idea of what would happen if it were to end and I knew that I would be living a life where I would say nobody knows my body like you? I hate the fact that I call you but I want to. I'm seeing all the art in my bedroom and it's reminding me of you because you helped me pick out that poster. All those things that would inevitably happen after a breakup. I kind of wrote that kind of as a story of if it were ever to happen.

Would you say this is the freest you've felt in your career so far?
I'm working on it. I wish I felt a little more free. But I'm slowly, I think, as I'm going through feeling a bit more in tune with that sort of feeling. There have been so many times in my career where I have not been fortunate enough to make music and to feel good about anything I was doing so, for me, it's really the small blessings. I'm so glad that I actually like these eight songs that I'm putting out and that I enjoy them. At one point, I was chained up for so long as a kid, so with each record, I'm able to kind of unleash one more chain off and I'm working on feeling the most free as I can as an artist.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw yourself, someone like yourself, on stage or on screen, and do you remember how that made you feel?
Yeah, it's kind of funny, I don't necessarily remember when I first saw a culture figure and I had the conscious understanding of like, 'Okay, this person is gay.' But my story, as a queer person, I think would've been so different had I not been discovered at such an early age. I'm from Oklahoma and immediately I was flown out to LA and it was through the marketing people at the label, through some of the people at the management company and the PR team who I would meet and they'd say, 'Yeah, this is my husband,' or, "This is my girlfriend," etc., etc. I wasn't exposed to lot of queer culture in Oklahoma and it was through those early days in music where I think I had such a different outlook on my sexuality when I did come out, it felt so less like a burden that I think it does for a lot of people and I was so fortunate for that.

But it makes me think a lot of if I didn't have that, what would it have been like? It would've probably been really, really horrible and terrible and tough. I'm always thinking about that in my head, of kids in my hometown, of kids all across America, all across the world. But my first interactions with gay people, I think, and queer people, are what made my journey so much easier.

That kind of segways into my next question, especially since I wish I had songs like "Hands" and "Clothes" and "Nobody" and "Yours" back when I was a kid. What's it like knowing that you could be that for someone, an aspiring queer entertainer from the middle of the country looking up to you and discovering your music? What's it like knowing that you could be that for someone?
Honestly, that is probably the reason why Trophies exists and that's the reason why I'm here talking to you right now. I've taken big breaks from music before. I've gone on that journey and I've said, 'I just don't want to do this right now.' There were a lot of moments last year where that was the case but I felt as if I had to keep on going for those kids that come to my shows. I have a good story from 2019 where I was playing a show in Salt Lake City. At the meet and greet, a kid came up and I would probably say he was like 11-12 maybe, if I'm trying to guess. He came up with his family and we take a picture and his family kind of walks off and he kind of leans up to me and he goes, 'I'm going to come out to them tonight.' And I was like, 'Oh, my God.' And he said, 'You really inspired me and I didn't think that they would want to come to this show but I think after seeing your show, it's going to sort of bring us together.'

I got a message from him a week later saying that it went really well, that his family was so supportive, and he really did think the show helped sort of breeze that gap of saying, 'Here's what a queer show looks like,' right?

When I think about those moments, that's why I'm still here. That's why I'm still going to keep on doing this for a long time. I understand that I am a source for kids who look up to me and they say, 'Okay, I can have the path that he had as well.' That's what makes it worth it, so that's why we're here talking.

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Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think that you would accomplish what you have so far and you'd be doing what you do right now? I know there's still so much time left and you still have a lot you can accomplish, but were you thinking you would be in the position you are now?
Absolutely not. There's no way. Kids from where I'm from don't do this shit. It's very, very uncommon, so absolutely no way, and what my goal is now is, as an artist, to just really be able to make sure that when I look back at these chapters now in my 20s and my life, I want to appreciate the art a lot more than I'm able to do when I look back at my kids' stuff. That's what my main focus is. I really want to be a creative force to be reckoned with. I want people to look back at my stuff and know what I'm trying to do as a creative and as an artist.

Some more fun questions. Does "Paparazzi" haunt your dreams?
It used to for a long time. It doesn't anymore. I watched the video for the first time probably like six months ago and I was actually kind of fascinated by it. I thought it was so funny and I thought my 12-year-old ass pulled off that song really, really good. It used to haunt me, it doesn't haunt me anymore.

What does haunt me is the "Unfriend You" music video and I think if you had an interview with Ariana Grande, she would say the same thing. Different times.

Who or are you listening to right now? Can you put me onto some new, up-and-coming queer or non-queer artists that you think are underrated, that people should be listening to?
I'm such a fan of St. Vincent. She's incredible. I'm very, very inspired by her album. It's called Daddy's Home. Another artist who I really love right now is Carlie Hanson. She's incredibly talented, a force to be reckoned with. And then I would also say Léon is one of my other favorite artists right now. She's brilliant, I love her songwriting so much. But for me, it's just a constant rotation of depending on what mood I'm in, what I'm kind of trying to listen to, but I like to absorb all different types of music.

Are there people who you still want to work with and collaborate with soon? Producers or any other artists that you're dying to get in a room with and create?
Yeah, very much so. Brandi Carlile would probably be the first on that list. She's probably, for me as a songwriter, she's someone that I look to and I'm just so inspired by her writing so she's somebody that I would really, really love to work with. And, of course, I'm going to bug Gaga until the very last day. Every time I see her, it's, 'Write with me, come on, come on.' I'll do that until the end.

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The world just keeps getting queerer and queerer so the music industry also gets more queer and diverse and inclusive. What do you hope the future of music looks like going into the rest of 2021 and beyond?
Personally, I just hope it's honest. What my fear is for artists and what my fear has been is that it's not trying to be capitalized on by big industry, by people saying, 'This is the new hit, this is the new cool thing, we need to do all this.' I really hope it's honest but I trust, more than ever, queer artists to weed through the bullshit. I hope it's honest, I hope it's authentic and I hope that this next generation of artists coming up is not so focused on trying to have a smash, trying to have a viral moment on Tik Tok. People still really love albums, people still really want to hear a story, they want a narrative, so sometimes it's not always about the 10-second splash online.

You're going on the road for so many tour dates this year, both in the U.S. and abroad too. You don't have to spill everything, but what can fans expect from the show and how excited are you to just be able to reach out and be in a room with people again?
From the first show cancellation that we had due to COVID, I have been dreaming and envisioning what this show would look like so I can promise you that this has been a year and a half in the making. This show that I'm bringing out for Trophies is going to be like nothing my fans have ever seen from me before and I am genuinely just so excited, so ready to be back out on the road and to share that connection with people. I think that's the most important thing. You can get ready for one hell of a time. I'm really excited.

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Let's say I have a magic mirror and it lets you look back in time. If you could look back at the past 10-12 years of your career and you could give little Greyson a piece of advice and talk to him for five minutes, what would you tell him?
I would say keep on going no matter what and I would just tell him to keep his head up. I had to go through a lot of shit as a kid and it was really, really tough. I'm stronger now because of it but I would just tell him to keep on fighting, keep on going on and I would tell him that, 'Hey, you are going to be 23 years old, still doing this.' And at the time, he'd probably say, 'Yeah, fuck off. There's no way.' But I would tell him to just keep on fighting.

It's Pride Month and your EP comes out towards the end of Pride Month. What do you have to say to the LGBTQ+ fans that have been loyal and so supportive of you over the years and what's it like getting to have the support from your own community?
First and foremost, thank you to anybody who's still listening. It's been, like you said, 11 years now, 10 years, whatever it's been, and to people who are still interested and still want to hear what I have to say, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for opening your arms to me. You always have kind of this nervousness when you're coming out about, 'Will I actually be accepted? Will they like me? Will they throw me away?' I feel so loved by the queer community and just thank you for letting me go on stages across America and sing and dance for you and I have no intentions of stopping.

Trophies is available wherever you stream music!

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