It’s been one helluva year for singer-songwriter Justin Tranter, notching 6 songwriting credits on this year’s Top 20, including Selena Gomez’s undeniably scintillating “Good For You” as well as Justin Bieber’s current single, “Sorry.”
If that weren’t enough (and it certainly would be), Tranter is currently at work on the shrouded in secrecy 9th studio album from the legendary Ms. Britney Spears.
Tranter’s success as an artist has never once compromised who he is, having been out of the closet since his early days as lead singer of the rock band Semi Precious Weapons, receiving his first tinges at fame in the New York City’s Lower East Side alongside his pal Stefani Germanotta. The two would later tour together, Tranter as part of SPW and Germanotta under her more popular moniker, Lady Gaga.
Below, we chat with Tranter about songwriting, homophobia in the music industry and the greatest battle facing LGBT people today.
Have you always been so comfortable in your queerness and the expression of it? And have you felt a struggle from within the industry to minimize that or to steer it in some direction away from who you are?
I feel very fortunate that I have always been super-comfortable in my queerness and my femininity. I went to public school and high school for only one semester, and it was so bad. My parents told me that if I could get into the arts high school that I could leave ASAP. Bullying beyond bullying, as bad as it could get, multiple times a week. I give my family all of the credit. Even before I started making rock music I was rock star to them. So I always knew the kids at school were wrong, and I think my family was a big part of that but also, naturally I just felt that they were wrong and I was right… that it was okay to be who I wanted to be.
And then I got into the Chicago Academy for the Arts, which I think is the best schools in the world. There I was able to be exactly who I wanted to be. Our version of the quarterback was the person who was the oldest, most flamboyant man.
Is there a such thing as queer music or just queer musicians?
When I first started writing music I wanted to be an extremely queer, political singer-songwriter. I do believe it is okay to label yourself a queer artist, and you can still appeal to straight people, because my point of view is specifically queer, because I am queer. But my experience can relate to all sorts of people.
For example, Taylor Swift, I’m a huge fan. I don’t know what it’s like to be a rich, straight, white girl, but she tells the story so well that I can relate to it. I felt a lot of pushback from the industry at the time when I was trying to be a performer. The industry is definitely homophobic. There was a picture of me and Adam Lambert together, and I got a talking to from the people we were with at the time. They said, ’You can’t look more feminine than Adam Lambert in a photo.’ And I said [laughs] ’But I am more feminine than Adam Lambert.’ After that I said ’f*ck this.’
Is it hard to reconcile that on the one hand, here’s this massive opportunity they’re offering you, but at the same time, you have to hold on to the integrity of who you are. Were there times you felt yourself caving to their demands?
Oh definitely. We had been through so many things with the band, and it felt like we were going to break a couple of different times, and it didn’t. So I thought, ’Maybe I’ll just put on a suit and see what happens.’ But it just felt like shit, and it wasn’t worth it. Even my parents told me I looked lame [laughs]. I love that now I can write songs from an extremely queer point of view and have a mainstream artist sing them, and the whole world can relate to them. Like, I related to “Good For You” by Selena Gomez because my ex boyfriend, he preferred the more femme that I dressed; The more heels, the more dress, the more makeup, the more turned on he was.
So is it weird for you to see Selena sing it and have the world reflect a different meaning on the song?
No, I think it’s beautiful. With “Good For You” there’s me, there’s [co-writer] Julia Michaels, there’s Selena, there’s a lot of different point of views involved. The fact that it’s interpreted in different ways is amazing. That song specifically meant so much to Selena, and it’s so beautiful to watch something that meant a lot to you take on this whole new meaning for the artist. It was a dream come true.
What was it like working with Queen Gwen Stefani in the studio?
Gwen came in and was like, ’I don’t give one f*ck about the radio, about hits, I just need to tell the truth.’ I was so here for it. Of everyone that I’ve worked with, Gwen and Courtney Love are the two I’m like super fans for. But me and Gwen got to do a lot more. She’s an icon.
Who is one artist that you’d like to work with and write for?
Stevie Nicks would be a dream come true, and Kanye. I think he’s a genius.
How did working with the Biebs come about
It’s a f*cking honor to have a song with one of the biggest artists in the world. I was going to say the biggest, but Adele just came back. But he’s one of the biggest, say, top 5 of this year. It feels crazy. How the f*ck did this happen? But, “Sorry” just happened. Chelsea, who works for Bieber and Scooter [Braun] brought in the whole group, and wanted to get me and Julia in to write for the album. We were played some tracks that were available for the album that Bieber loved, including this Blood Diamonds and Skrillex track that we just loved and we sat down and wrote something in like 45 minutes, then left and went to dinner. The next day everyone was like, ’This might be Bieber’s biggest record. He’s going to go in tomorrow and do his thing,’ and it was just amazing.
A little birdy tells me you are working on Britney Spears new album. Can you divulge even a nugget of detail?
Working with Britney is a f*cking dream. She is so sweet, so inspiring and a master on the mic. Me and Julia had to leave the studio one day because our screams of excitement after every take she did were distracting the producers.
What do you feel is the most important issue that you would like to have increased support and visibility for?
Violence against trans women of color is the most urgent, anything else feels trivial. Also, assimilating and heteronormative behavior doesn’t equal equality. And sure, there are a lot of successful queer people who just want to get married and settle down and have kids and have a ’normal’ life on heteronormative terms – and they should have the right to do that, I wish them the best – but for someone like me who has no desire to blend in, I feel like we should be able to view ourselves, and each other, as equal no matter how femme or masc we are.
We all deserve the same equality, especially within our own community. I have no shame in this, but every now and then I’ll re-download and delete Grindr again. And I delete it, because it’s not very sexy to have someone message me and ask if I can give Gaga a letter [laughs] I can give her your letter but not over Grindr. But also, the amount of femme hatred in our community that is so proudly displayed in those settings, in every setting. The fact people are so proud in this is very scary to me.”
Who are you?
I am a very positive person… more positive and naturally happier than most people I’ve ever met. I’m a very proud son; I like to make my parents proud every chance I get. I’m a really good friend, I know that. And I’m very queer. I want to make the world more queer every day.