As a country artist in 1992, K.D. Lang announced she was a gay woman – she later left the genre. In 2009, after clearing years of speculation about his sexuality stemming from his divorce from actress Renee Zellwegger, Kenny Chesney declared he was straight and doubted openly gay artists would ever being accepted in country music. In 2010 Chely Wright came out to the world in People Magazine about her sexuality – immediately following her disclosure she saw a 50% decrease in sales of her albums, received hate mail and death threats. And in 2011, Josey Greenwell wanted to proudly become the first successful openly gay male in country music, even gaining nationwide exposure by being featured on the Dr. Phil show in 2012. Then unexpectedly, in 2013, Josey disappeared from social media. Springing forward to mid-2014 and emerges fast rising country stud Nate Green, who’s stealing women’s hearts and was even voted one of the “10 Hottest Guys You’ve Ever Seen in Country Music” by Teen.com with his handsomely rugged heterosexual charm. Lo and behold, a cover up is unveiled and (looking at the comparative pictures it’s obvious) the straight Nate Green is actually the once open and proud Josey Greenwell. Perhaps Chesney was right, they would never be accepted.
But then something miraculous happened. On November 5th, 2014, “Follow Your Arrow” won one of country music’s most coveted awards, the CMA Song of the Year. The Kacey Musgrave‘s hit from her 2013 album “Same Trailer, Different Park” preaches acceptance with yourself and to live your life the way you want. Touching various hypocrisies in life, this tune has been adopted as an anthem in the gay community for its infectious and quite blunt lyrics:
So make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow gets a little to straight
Roll up a joint
Just follow your arrow wherever it points
Say what you think
Love who you love
‘Cuz you just get so many trips ’round the sun
Yeah you only
Only live once.
“Follow Your Arrow” did not fare as well at radio as other nominees in the category, perhaps making the victory a surprise to those whom only refer to radio play as the distinction of what is ‘good music’ or not. This victory came on the votes of over 5,000 Country Music Association members, consisting of artists, publicists, managers, media, and numerous other occupations associated with the industry – the industry itself voted this song the best of the year. And at the ACM Honors held this past September one of the co-writers of that song, Shane McAnally, was awarded Songwriter of the Year for his slew of major hits.
On November 20, 2014, history in country music was made once again: not one but two known male country artists came out about their sexuality. Ty Herndon, whom had a slew of hits in the 1990’s, and Billy Gilman, whom became the youngest country artist in history (at only 11 years old) to hit the Top 20 with his 2000 single “One Voice“. Herndon embraced his reveal to People Magazine:
“I realized I had an incredible story that could possibly help someone’s son or daughter or grandchild’s life not be as difficult as mine has been,” he said. “Maybe they wouldn’t have to go through as much pain and suffering. It’s time to tell my truth.”
A few hours later, Gilman made his reveal in a five and a half minute video on his YouTube channel – he wanted the reveal to come from him instead of outside sources but held a more somber outlook on his reveal.
“I threw a showcase in Nashville, and no major label showed,” Gilman said in regards to trying to revamp his career. “It’s difficult for me to make this video, not because I’m ashamed of being a gay male artist, or a gay artist or a gay person,” he continues, “but it’s pretty silly to know that I’m ashamed of doing this knowing that I’m in a genre and an industry that’s ashamed of me for being me.” He later adds, “I can honestly say I’m scared to death.”
So does the emergence of more openly gay individuals, both behind and in the scenes, and the success of ‘Follow Your Arrow‘, a song that has become a song of praise for gays, and it’s co-writers (two of whom are gay themselves) mean that Chesney was wrong? Is country music finally coming of age? With the popularization of the genre worldwide it would only be appropriate for the market to accept ALL of its listeners, including those whom may not follow what society considers the ‘traditional’ ideas of love. It seems only a matter of time, considering 35 states in the US now allow gay marriage.
It won’t be an easy road – there will still be a great deal of criticism towards those whom remain in and out of the closet. But in light of recent developments it appears that Nashville is finally catching up to the rest of the music world. In an industry, let alone a world, that holds such high standards on what is acceptable and what is not, it is refreshing to see so many embracing who they are, holding their heads high and staying true to themselves. To Ty, Billy, Chely, and the numerous individuals both inside and outside of the industry who are not afraid to be who they are, we at GCO salute you. You are who you are, regardless of sexual preference, and perhaps one day the gender of the one you love will not matter.