Singer/songwriter Who Is Fancy is at the forefront of a fresh crop of young queer artists who don’t need to hide their sexuality to be successful.
The 24-yer-old Arkansas native makes it quite clear who he is singing to and about: Boys.
With just two singles to his name—”Goodbye,” which hit Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40, and “Boys Like You,” featuring Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor—he’s already making a big impression in the industry.
And he’s gained the backing of Taylor Swift’s label, Big Machine Records, and Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun.
On Monday, February 1, Fancy performs alongside Trainor at Logo’s New Now Next Honors.
“I can’t wait to be on stage with my girl Meghan,” he told us. “It’s always so much fun performing with friends!”
Below, we chat with Fancy about “Boys Like You,” his controversial Dancing With The Stars performance and the significance of singing the word “him.”
How did Meghan Trainer and Ariana Grande get involved on “Boys Like You?”
I wrote that song about two years in Nashville and then when rounding songs for my record it was an obvious choice. It has that Motown feel.
Meghan and I have been friends for a while, since our Nashville writing [days]. With her sound being like a Motown throwback we asked her to be on it and she did. Then a couple months later I guess Ariana heard Scooter, my manager, play it.
The next thing I know I’m writing a new verse for Ariana. It was kind of a whirlwind.
There was some controversy with your performance of it on Dancing with the Stars.
I was talking to the choreographers… about stuff we thought would be fun for the performance. I wanted boys to dance with each other because the song is about boys. It was shut down by ABC, though, and TMZ kind of ran with it.
I don’t really know how I feel about it. I watch shows on ABC all the time, specifically How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and Grey’s Anatomy.
There are so many gay story arcs, so I just think it’s so crazy that in 2015 it’s a big deal for two boys to dance with each other. I was just kind of confused.
But it all worked out in the end—I got to dance with the boys myself.
What was it like growing up in Arkansas?
[It] was a little bit of a challenge. I grew in a very conservative, Republican right-wing Christian family. Up until I came out of the closet, I don’t know that my family and many people around me had ever met someone openly gay.
When I got to high school, and went to Nashville, that’s when I really started soul-searching and experimenting, and just kind of figuring myself out.
All of a sudden I was doing my makeup, I dyed my hair, my nails were getting done. That’s kind of how “Fancy” was born. Fancy was not too far away from when I came out of the closet. It was a real big adjustment and a really big change.
Have you encountered resistance from the music industry for being so open?
Definitely not. I mean, I’m fortunate now to be surrounded by a team that my sexuality has, maybe, been of zero importance. They’re pretty fearless. They let me express myself however I want, because I have a story that I want to tell.
That hasn’t always been the case. Before I had artist deals, I think that was one of the big obstacles I was facing going through meetings.
The music was never the issue—it was always “Well maybe you could say ’they’ instead of ’him?’ ’You’ instead of ’boy.'”
I have never been one to be ambiguous, and I don’t like being hushed, so that was never an option for me. I want my songs to be heard exactly the way I’m writing them.
“Boys Like You” was one of the first songs that I played for my manager Olivia Zaro and Scooter [Braun]. It was kind of why we started working together. We wanted to push that on the radio. It’s not something I’d ever heard on radio.
Are you very conscious about using male pronouns in your songs?
My songs are pretty much my journal—I write about my life experiences. Being single, I date a lot, and that’s kind of what I write about: Falling in and out of love and heartbreak and all these other things.
Straight singers are always specific and it’s not an issue: They can say ’girl’ or ’boy’ and it doesn’t matter. Coming up as a writer, I was always told that my songs could only be pitched to girls because they referenced guys.
What you think about other out artists who maybe aren’t so specific in their songs?
I have to give credit where credit’s due. If it wasn’t for artists like Adam Lambert and Sam Smith paving the way, I might not have the opportunity to sing what I’m singing.
I think they’re both incredible. Sam’s record is so emotional and it’s very obvious that he’s singing about heartbreak. Knowing that he’s gay—for me it’s kind of obvious.
Would you call yourselves an activist?
It’s something that just naturally comes along with the music I make. I write stuff that’s very true to myself and what I’m going through. I’m not pushing any sort of agenda, or trying to make people change their minds. I sticking to music that speaks to me and hopefully it speaks to someone else in my position.
[But] I do think about those kids growing up in Arkansas like I did, being told that who they are isn’t okay. I think about it all the time. My whole life was listening to music, trying to figure out what songs represented me, and there wasn’t really anything that blatantly said my story line.
Do you see music as an instrument to change society?
I make music because it’s what comes to mind when I think about what I’m going through. It just comes out as a melody and lyrics. I would be doing this regardless if I had a record deal or not.
Now, I have been given a platform, as I’ve been able to be on TV and have my songs heard on radio, and especially with people like Meghan and Ariana jumping on my songs.
I am really glad that I can make a change and that there can be more of a movement behind the whole “Who Is Fancy” thing, because I think it’s time.
We’ve come so far fighting for equality. There should be no reason that I can’t sing about boys on radio.
Watch Who is Fancy on the New Now Next Honors, February 1 at 10pm on Logo.