If Melissa Etheridge, Kacey Musgraves, and Hayley Kiyoko had a love child, she’d sound a little something like Lucy Spraggan.
While the British-born lesbian singer-songwriter is already a household name across the pond, she has yet to make waves in the U.S. But it’s only a matter of time, as she has all the trappings of a soon-to-be indie-pop sensation: an offbeat look, complete with colorful tattoos; a penchant for sharp, sound-bitey quips; and accessible, folksy melodies to bolster candid lyrics that cut straight to the heart of her current emotional landscape.
Spraggan can thank her impressive 2012 run on The X Factor U.K. for her fame overseas. Though she didn’t win the competition, the musician, who was 20 years old at the time, charmed viewers with a spirited performance of “Last Night,” an infectious track about a night out gone wrong that she wrote herself.
“Nobody had ever done that in the U.K. on The X Factor,” Spraggan says. “And they didn’t want me to. But I wasn’t going to [audition] if I couldn’t sing my own song—like, there’s no point. Because I’ve got a message to put out there, and if I were to sing somebody else’s song, that would be somebody else’s message.” (“Last Night” remains one of her most popular tracks.)
That headstrong, DIY attitude has carried Spraggan, now 27, through her career. She remembers her pre-X Factor days clearly, before unconventional acts like Dodie or Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry topped the U.K. charts on the regular.
“It was quite different, even then,” she says. “I’d been touring for a long time, and I was talking to, like, Island Records and a few other people. They wanted me to change my name. They wanted me to lose 30 pounds. They were quite open about it.”
Spraggan pushed back, refusing to sign with a label and auditioning for X Factor only on the condition that she could perform original songs. She luckily had a few things working in her favor, including a thick skin rarely seen in 20-somethings. She was unfazed after her mother, a writer, outed her as a lesbian in a first-person essay for the U.K. paper The Guardian when Spraggan was still a teenager. “I didn’t really care,” she says, laughing off the memory with a shrug. “I was kind of impressed that my mum had gotten an article in The Guardian! I was like, Wow, that’s cool.”
She was also remarkably confident in her vision and her abilities. She knew—and still knows—what she wants. “I don’t know if the roadblocks in my career have actually been roadblocks,” she says. “If there’s ever a roadblock in my way, I’m just going to go ahead and find a different way. I’m not going to sit there and dwell on it. If someone was gonna put something in my way because I’m gay, then I don’t want to work with them anyway.”
Spraggan recalls her X Factor cover of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” When producers introduced the possibility of backup dancers, she was on board—as long as they were women. She got her wish. Having that performance broadcasted on national television is a moment she looks back on fondly.
Seven years later, Spraggan is hitting her stride. She released her fifth studio album, Today Was a Good Day, on May 3 with Cooking Vinyl Records. She’s touring across the U.S. and Canada to promote her new material and build her following stateside. And, in one of her biggest career highlights to date, she kicked off #20BiTeen as an opening act for the one and only Melissa Etheridge, one of her idols.
Spraggan says she doesn’t often get starstruck, but Etheridge—a Grammy-winning musician and LGBTQ pioneer—made her nervous. “And there was absolutely no reason to be,” she says, “because [Melissa’s] just really taken me under her wing and been so supportive.”
She cites a pivotal moment on the road in early 2019: “I was in the shower while on tour with [Melissa] listening to a playlist of powerful folk music and rock music on Spotify. And, like, Joni Mitchell comes on, and then Melissa just pops on. And I’m in the shower like, Oh, my god. I’m doing these shows with her. This is weird.”
In the month since its release, Today Was a Good Day has been well received by fans, Spraggan says. But if the record is more upbeat and positive than her previous work, she felt more anxious than usual about putting it out into the world. It’s not an unfounded fear. Spraggan has evolved since her X Factor days, as has her sound. Gone are the bops about romantic misadventures. In songs like “Lucky Stars” and “Love Is the Best Revenge,” which are laced with earnest, image-heavy lyrics, she channels the joy and comfort she’s found in her personal life. Her music has always been a reflection of her emotional status—and Spraggan, who’s been married to her wife for three years this month, is in a genuinely good place.
“This album has been the one I’ve probably worried the most about,” she says, “but I think a lot of the fans are just like, ’You sound really happy.’ And that’s a really nice thing for people to say.”
She’s also eager to usher in a new wave of U.K. talent to follow in the footsteps of beloved queer American pop singers like King Princess and Janelle Monáe.
“It’s about time!” Spraggan says with a laugh. “If you’re talking about a famous lesbian in the U.K., you’re talking about somebody in their late 40s or early 50s who presents the horse-riding or outdoor programs. We don’t have that cool, hip person.”
But actually, we do—and her name is Lucy Spraggan.
Today Was a Good Day is available now.