Unlike most of his pop star contemporaries, singer-songwriter Jake Hagood, better known by the stage name Who Is Fancy, kept his identity a secret from the public for the first few months of his career. While most industry insiders would consider that move an unusual and experimental one, the gay crooner let his voice do all the talking (or singing, rather) and showed the world that you don't always have to be front and center to be a star.
"Goodbye," the lead single off of his forthcoming debut album, became an Internet hit and sparked a quest for listeners to figure out just exactly who the man behind the beautiful, soulful vocals was. Three separate music videos were created for "Goodbye," tackling different issues such as body positivity to gender identity, and proved that not only is Fancy an amazing singer and a creative person, he cares about more than just music. He cares about what his fans, whether or not they are LGBT, are going through.
In preparation for some tour dates with popular "All About That Bass" singer Meghan Trainor, Fancy sat down with The Advocate to talk about musicians he loves, what it means to be Fancy, and why identity is so important.
The Advocate: An unrevealed and secret identity is almost unheard of, especially for a new artist. What was the reasoning for keeping your identity a secret in the beginning stages of your career?
Who Is Fancy: I think in the industry these days, everything is about vanity and what you look like. I know I was hesitant because I wanted people to hear my music and I wanted it to be about my music and not about my sexuality or who I am as a person, so I think the secrecy kind of really helped elevate people in hearing my story and hearing what I had to say, versus "Oh, that guy’s crazy!" or "He’s gay!" or this or that. It was more about the song and the message I had to sing.
Because of keeping your identity a secret, do you find your experience was different than other artists' when they were first starting out?
Yeah, for sure. I have a ton of friends who are in this industry, and when you first come out with your first single, I think the norm is to go on a very aggressive radio tou and promotion tour and all of this stuff. I didn’t do that. I was pretty much just chilling in L.A. the whole time my song was going to radio and being played. I didn’t really do much radio promotion until the reveal, so it definitely was a different journey. I was kind of going crazy. I watched a lot of Netflix. When you’re an up-and-coming artist, I don’t think that having downtime is something that you usually have, but that’s all I had.
How has your life changed since the big reveal?
My life has changed in a lot of different ways. I have a lot of young people emailing me, telling me their stories and sharing with me who they are and how my song and who I am has helped them, and I think my life has changed in the sense that realizing I have a responsibility to a lot of people, and I am able to lend my voice to a cause.
I’m able to be the voice for a lot of people right now that might not have a voice, so I think that’s been a lot of responsibility for me. I’m thankful for it. My life has changed a great deal in the sense that I’ve never really had to like worry about my behavior or how I’m acting or how I’m living. It’s definitely something I think about these days. I’m super intentional about the way I do my life. I have people watching me all of the sudden that I’ve never had watching me before.
How would you describe your music? Name some artists who have influenced you and made you want to become a singer-songwriter.
My music taste varies all over the place. I love music. I grew up in Arkansas, so country music and Christian music is kind of what I listened to growing up. Little Big Town, Keith Urban are definitely big influences on me, but I love Beyoncé. I love Ryan Tedder. I love Adele. I really just love songs. That’s really what it comes down to for me. Really good songs. I think Ryan Tedder, for me, is pretty much just the man. He writes some of the most iconic, epic songs ever. And I just love how fierce Beyoncé is and how she makes me feel so empowered to be myself and to do my own thing. I think Adele is another one. All of these people, for me, everything just starts with a song. So people who are just talented writers and able to convey their emotions via lyric and song, that’s what inspires me. And that’s also the natural in me.
What are some of the craziest things or people have thought you were before you revealed yourself? Did people think you were someone else super famous?
I had a lot of people thinking I was Justin Bieber. I think that was just because of my management situation. We’re managed by the same person, so I think a lot of people were hoping that this was his great comeback. I got compared to Ne-Yo a lot. If people don’t know me, I think when people first hear "Oh, my name is Fancy" and just hear my singing voice, I think they always assume I’m a strong black woman. I’m just a strong, white gay male. They thought I was Ne-Yo and Justin Bieber for the most part. I really wanted people to think I was Beyoncé, but it didn’t really happen.
Do you think that idea to keep your identity a secret played out well and contributed to the success of the three music videos for your first single, “Goodbye?”
When we shot those videos, I definitely wanted people to get a sense of who I was without knowing exactly who I was. With those people in the video, you see three different people with three different struggles, and all three of those struggles are something I relate to, and I think that a lot of people relate to them as well. The whole point is that everyone is being asked to change, everyone is being told that they are not OK the way they are, and that’s kind of the environment I grew up in, so regardless of sexuality or race or gender, it’s like the whole point of those videos is to show that we all go through the same things and have the same pressure on us. It doesn’t really matter what walk of life you come from.
Speaking of the music videos, they’ve been praised by fans for promoting very good messages of body positivity and inclusion of LGBT people, people of color, and people of different gender identities. Were these themes and messages important to you?
Like I said, those music videos are straight from the things I go through. Weight has always been an issue for me; sexuality has always been a topic around me. Because I grew up in the South, where I’m from, being gay isn’t condoned, and also it’s not talked about. It’s not a conversation.
I wanted these videos and this whole Fancy movement to be the start of a conversation. I wanted people to know that, regardless of size, gender, color ... I want to be able to help people, young people especially, start those dialogues and have those conversations.
How do you feel about possibly becoming a voice and an icon for the LGBT community?
I consider it an honor. It’s one of those things where I grew up feeling like I didn’t have a voice, and I didn’t have someone who I could really look up to. I was stretching to find songs that helped tell my story and my life because there wasn’t someone telling my story or my life. This album that I’m working on, I’m really excited that there are going to be boys like me, living the way I grew up, and they’re going to have someone telling their story. I’m singing these songs for them to relate to, so I’m excited to be a voice for people who might not have one. I think for anyone that’s also put in that situation, it’s an honor. I don’t take it lightly.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews before that Fancy is more than just your name, it is your identity. What do you mean by that?
For me, my whole life has been a culmination of feeling like I couldn’t be myself, or feeling like I had to hide something, or there was something wrong with me.
When I first started identifying as Fancy and going by Fancy, it was the first time in my life I felt confident being myself, and to walk out every morning with my head held high. Even though I wanted to wear makeup or I wanted my nails done or I wanted to be a certain way or talk about being gay when I’ve never been able to talk about that before, becoming Fancy gave me that confidence, and I became a stronger person and a stronger individual when I became Fancy.
What would you have to say to your younger LGBT fans who are still struggling to find themselves?
It sounds cliche to say "It gets better," but I think about where I was when I was in high school. I went to high school in Arkansas and I was bullied and I never felt like I had a place, but looking back now, all of these things that I went through have made me exactly the person I am right now, and all the experiences that I am beginning to go through right now are directly from going through what I went through then. I am able to handle so much more, and I am stronger because of my story and where I come from.
I get emails all the time from kids talking about how they can’t come out or they’re scared and all these things, and I think the only thing I ever really tell anyone is to be brave. Be yourself. Love yourself, and that’s all that matters.
Now that the big reveal is past you, what do you have planned for your music and your career?
I’ve been writing my ass off the past year getting this record together, and I know everyone says this, but I can’t wait for everyone to hear what I’ve been working on. Honestly, this record is becoming so much of my heart and exactly who I am, and I just cannot wait to get it out and for people to hear what’s next.
Catch Who Is Fancy on the road with Meghan Trainor this month, and watch the videos for his latest single, "Goodbye," below.