By Chris Azzopardi | Photos by Broderick Baumann
Seven years before Greyson Chance came out in 2017 in an open-hearted and emotional Instagram post, he became a viral sensation thanks to Ellen DeGeneres. The year was 2010 when Chance’s profile rocketed after appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where the Oklahoma native was invited to perform Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” after producers came across his video performance of the song at his middle school talent show on YouTube.
That video blew up, going from a million page views to 30 million after the show. It has since ballooned to nearly 70 million views. Chance, the first artist signed to DeGeneres’s now-defunct record label (and who had Madonna and Lady Gaga’s managers representing him), was just 12 years old then.
Chance, now 23, has a new eight-song EP, “Trophies.” It’s a followup to his second studio release, “Portraits,” which dropped in 2019. With titillating lines like “If you don’t know how to touch it, let me educate you,” “Trophies” is the perfect soundtrack for your slutty Pride summer.
He’s even touring for the album. Called the “Trophies World Tour,” Chance hits the road on June 25 for a North American tour that runs through August before he heads to Europe and South America. In anticipation of COVID-era demand for live music after more than a year without it, a second round of North American dates is already set for January 2022.
From his plant-overrun home in Oklahoma City (“I live basically in a greenhouse”), Chance chatted about how finding pandemic-era love inspired “Trophies,” how uncouth it is to be a homophobe in 2021, and foreseeing an emotional return to the stage.
This tour is gonna give you a real opportunity to break loose.
(Laughs.) Very much so.
And this era feels a bit like a sexual awakening, at least musically.
Full disclosure: I write all of my own music, and this record covers a lot of different topics, that definitely being one of them. I wanted to show this other side of myself to the world and to just have fun with it, right? “Hellboy” is a record that, for me, is a lot about just unleashing your inner beast and that badass side of yourself. And so, after a year of the pandemic, it was a record that really helped me find my confidence again.
What has it been like to live out your sexuality in your music and really tap into your openness and authenticity?
It just finally felt like such a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now being able to walk freely around in the industry and as an artist — to be known for who I truly (am) — was so important to me. But what’s funny is everyone asks, “How did the songwriting change after you came out?” And to be completely honest, it really didn’t. I sort of grew up and learned from songwriters that were always so open about this message of, “Hey, the best music is honest, it’s authentic.” So whether or not I was using certain pronouns in my music when I was writing, I think I was always channeling that vulnerability.
What was something unexpected that happened to you during the pandemic?
Falling in love. I actually met my boyfriend during the pandemic, and a lot of that I talk about on “Trophies.” Remembering these first touches of romance and how you can feel in those first relationships. Another thing that I talked about on the record was having that fear of losing love. That was something that I think was really pertinent in my mind as our relationship was deepening and growing. And I wrote a lot (about) that.
But in the pandemic I think the one thing that surprised me the most was just how much I needed… I’d like to think that I’m a bit of an introvert. I like a quiet night by myself. But after not having any ability to go out and be around people, you start to realize that we need that as human beings. And especially in the queer community where most of our interactions with our peers happen in those venues, and they happen in those clubs and in those bars. And so not being able to tap into that was hard. It was so challenging. It was very demanding on my mental health, as it was for so many people. So I think that was a surprise to me that I realized, oh, actually I do love going out to the club probably a little bit more than I thought.
You recently clapped back at a homophobe who commented on an Instagram pic of you and your boyfriend, Ben. You wrote: “shut up. if someone is in any way homophobic or not for queer rights, please don’t stream my songs and please don’t come to my show.” Based on that, you don’t seem to be standing for any homophobia on your social media pages these days.
It’s past the time that we just put our tail between our legs and say, “Oh yeah, we’ll just accept this and some people are who they are.” I don’t like that messaging. I think hate is hate, no matter how you cut it. And discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you cut it. And so for me, I just want to show people that, no, I’m not gonna stand for that anymore. I’m not gonna stand for sitting back and saying, “Well, they just have a difference of opinion; it’s OK.” No. We’re past that moment in time. And I mean, my god, can you imagine being homophobic in 2021? What a sad life. It lacks so much color. I’m guessing these people aren’t listening to “Chromatica.”
I was looking at the photos of you when you sang Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at 12 years old. How do you reflect on your big breakout moment?
When I look back at that period of my life, it’s so blurry because it all happened so quickly. I had never even flown on a plane before — my first plane ride was flying from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles to be on the show. And to now think about where I’ve come, 11 years later, it invokes a lot of emotions. Being an artist in this industry is tough. There were many moments, post that big breakout, where I wanted to give up, and there were some moments where I did and said, “I’m done with music for a minute.” It’s such a tough journey to be an artist, especially in 2021. But when I look back at that kid, I just wish he could see me now.
I’ve heard you say that you are still questioning the fashion choices you made when you went on “Ellen.” If you could dress yourself now, retroactively, what would you dress that kid in?
More black, less stripes. It’s the same thing when my mom looks back at pictures of her in the ’80s. I look back at it and I’m like, “How was I wearing Hollister on national TV?”
That hair. You could call it a mane.
It was a mane, yes, very much so.
I guess we’re never going back to that again, are we?
And thank god that we aren’t. (Laughs.)
What songs on “Trophies” did Ben inspire?
“O Violet” is probably one of my favorite songs from the record. (It’s) about settling into love. It’s not just the great moments — it’s the bad ones too. And everything in between. It’s a very romantic song.
Do you have a rulebook for navigating your relationship in public?
We’re writing our rulebook as we go. I have to remind myself because I’m like, “OK, don’t be too cringe-y online.” When I was single, I would see some of my friends or other artists post pictures with their partners and I remember just being like, “Oh my god, I’m gonna unfollow these people. They’re so happy all the time; it’s just disgusting.”
So I think about that sometimes. But I like to stay as private as possible. I like to show parts of my life that I think are fun, but most of the time I’m just secluded in my house cooking pasta, watching true crime documentaries and writing music.
How excited are you to hit the road after being sequestered for the last year?
It’s a mixed emotion, if I’m being honest. I’m particularly very nervous. It’s like getting back on a bike again, but I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’m like, “Do I even know how to perform? It’s been so long.” I feel like the first few shows back will be just so emotional to celebrate being back in venues and playing again. But I also want to let anybody know coming to my show that we are still operating in a safe manner. I’m encouraging my fans to wear masks at the show if they would like, and also please get vaccinated. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a safe thing to do. I got my two (doses).
Have you stepped on a stage yet?
I have not, and I think that will be a tearful afternoon where it will just feel like a lot of joy.
You’re from Oklahoma, and so I assume opening the tour at Oklahoma City’s Pride Festival will be really special for you. Why was it important for you to launch this tour there?
I was born and raised here, as a gay person, as a person in the queer community. And Oklahoma City for, really, the first time in its history is not only having a Pride, but having this big moment. This is something that the city is getting very behind and that they’re really pumping a lot of energy into. What I want to show to the people that are going to be at that show is to commend the progress this place has made and that this city has made. Because we didn’t have things like this when I was younger, (while I was) trying to navigate my sexuality. So it’s gonna be such a triumphant moment. Also, to return back to playing live in my hometown for Pride is gonna cover a whole range of emotions.
What was it like for you growing up in Oklahoma City when the city was less progressive?
It was difficult. It was hard. I don’t think it was any more or less difficult than what kids go through all across America and all across the world, but it was, “You’re an outsider, don’t be a part of that, stay in line, follow the rules.”
As we look to the next generation of queer youth, we wanna make a life that’s gonna be a lot better for them, and a world and a society that’s gonna be better for them. And so as an artist, what I think my role is, is to create a space at my concert where I know anyone who feels like an outsider can come and finally fit in and really express themself and be true to themselves. That’s what I think my job is as an artist, and especially as a queer artist.
What kind of messages do you hear from LGBTQ+ youth?
It’s crazy for me to hear sometimes because I have artists that I know who were so influential in helping me step out of the closet. And when I hear that I’m that person for somebody, it throws me for a loop. I don’t even know what to think about it. I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no, I’m not that important.” (Laughs.) I don’t put that on me. But I have to remind myself that I am for a lot of my fans. It makes all the other stuff that I have to deal with (during) my day-to-day, that’s maybe a little more annoying, worth it. Because if I know that I can at least have one positive influence over somebody to help them in their journey, then that’s why I’m here. It makes me feel very fulfilled when I hear that.
Did you write and record “Trophies” during the pandemic?
Yeah, all of it. And this body of work had many iterations. 2020 was a year in which I felt a significant amount of imposter syndrome, and I think a lot of that came from not being able to play live. I all of a sudden really didn’t know my purpose anymore. I felt such a lack of purpose.
And so, I kept on writing through it and, to be honest with you, a lot of the music (laughs) was really bad for a second. You have to let yourself be bad sometimes (laughs) and just kind of accept it. Once I let go of this pressure, the record really came about.
What constitutes a bad Greyson Chance song?
There are a lot of bad Greyson Chance songs out there, and thank goodness that there are a lot of them that are unreleased. There are also a lot of them that are on Spotify and Apple Music, and I have to live with that.
Take me back to the ones that you can’t stand to listen to or sing anymore.
I think it is incredibly amazing that “Unfriend You,” which is a song I did when I was 14, has had such a random resurgence and I do blame TikTok for that. I will never listen to that song. The only good thing about that song was Ariana Grande being in the music video and she was absolutely stunning and I love her so much. That’s about the only good thing I have to say about “Unfriend You.” (Laughs.)
What does Pride this year mean to you?
I think this one is gonna be extra special because, as I mentioned, the pandemic was not only hard for everybody, but I think it was especially hard for the queer community because our places of where we’re truly able to go and let our hair down and really be ourselves are in areas and in places where we weren’t allowed to go during the pandemic. So, I think this one is gonna be such a celebration of life, of progress, of knowing that, especially in America, we made it through four years of a very tough presidency. It shows you that the common good is still very, very strong and very alive. So it’s gonna be a monumental Pride this year. And, again, my job as an artist is to make sure I can put on a really good show for everybody in the audience for Pride.
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.