Ten years ago this week, Sara Bareilles released the song “Brave,” and my whole world changed. I was 18 years old at the time and struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. Hearing “say what you wanna say / and let the words fall out” was just the nudge I needed to finally admit to myself what I already knew: I was not straight, and soon after, the lyrics accompanied my own coming out post on Facebook.
My story is just one of the many impacts of “Brave.” In 2013, Bareilles embarked on her first-ever solo acoustic tour in an effort to live out her own bravery, and audience members filled out postcards with things they were “brave enough” to do.
“I’m remembering every kind of story on those cards,” Bareilles tells The Advocate. “Sometimes it was really big moves like coming out to your family or shifts in identity. And sometimes it was something very quiet and small like a shift in a relationship or telling a friend something that was hard to say.”
The Grammy-winning artist adds, “The things that made the most impact on me were anything where it feels like someone is coming closer to themselves.”
Bareilles wrote the song with famed producer Jack Antonoff for a friend who was struggling to come out.
“The stories about coming out meant a lot to me, especially given the genesis of the song,” she explains.
In the last decade, the reach of “Brave” has gone beyond the LGBTQ+ community. In 2013, cancer patients and staff at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital recorded a lip-sync video of “Brave” that went viral. In 2014, Bareilles joined Cyndi Lauper on The Today Show for a mash-up of “True Colors” and “Brave,” and the accompanying fundraiser yielded more than $300,000 dollars for pediatric cancer. In 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama walked out to “Brave” at the Democratic National Convention. And currently, Bareilles is partnering with a non-profit organization called Brave Gowns to bring colorful hospital gowns to children’s hospitals across the country.
In some ways, Bareilles credits the queer community with helping make “Brave” as popular as it has been. “‘Brave’ has had a really unique journey through the world, and it is in no small part due to the adoption of the queer community taking that song and making it theirs,” says Bareilles. “I just feel so lucky to be here, ten years later celebrating the life of this little love letter that has really grown into a beautiful movement in the world.”
Though “Brave” has made a tremendous impact on the LGBTQ+ community, writing the song was not Bareilles’ first foray into being a queer ally.
“One of the first communities where I felt like I was accepted and allowed to be my fully expressed self were my mom’s friends from theater who happened to be gay,” remembers Bareilles. “I’ve always had a large number of friends in the queer community. These are my people! So I wanted to lift them up and highlight their joy and make sure that they know how much they mean to me and my story, even though I’m a straight woman.”
Over the course of her career, Bareilles, who currently stars in the queer-inclusive musical comedy Girls5eva, has always made a point to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, no matter what creative medium she is working in. In 2014, she helped a lesbian couple get engaged in the music video for her song, “I Choose You.” When she made the move to television and created and executive produced Little Voice, she featured queer female characters of color on the show. And on her Amidst the Chaos tour, she sang “Bad Idea,” a steamy duet she wrote for the hit musical Waitress, with a female musician named Butterfly Boucher.
“Singing with Butterfly Boucher on my tour was one of my favorite moments of the entire night. It was fun to watch the delight wash over my queer fans, especially my queer lady fans,” Bareilles shares. “The stories we tell, we have to allow them to continue to evolve and include more people because the story only gets richer the more points of view it encompasses and the more perspectives it can hold.”
As Bareilles embarks on her next creative chapter, she is committed to continuing to include and celebrate the LGBTQ+ experiences. “My next big project is my next record,” reveals Bareilles. “As always, I’m looking for ways to include the queer community in that process, especially in terms of performing for people.”
Bareilles also remains committed to being a visible ally, especially given the upcoming election and all the “pushback and hatred, especially [against] trans kids.”
“It’s so clear to me that the negative legislation and all of this hatred is the wrong side of history, and that things will be able to move in the way that I believe they’re meant to,” says Bareilles. “For those of us who are standing in love, it just affirms our motivation to try to be available to amplify voices and continue to educate and lift up and show up where we can.”
“The [queer] community has been by my side since day 1,” says Bareilles. “Everything I can do to lift up and support and shower you back with love, I am here to do it.”