When the news began to slowly trickle out that songwriter turned performer Brandy Clark was in fact gay, it didn’t really cause the kind of stir you would assume this type of news might drum up in country music. Part of the reason is because you just sort of found out about it through osmosis. There wasn’t some big news story with a huge headline proclaiming “Brandy Clark Is Gay!” She didn’t call a press conference to officially come out of the closet. She never really was in the closet to begin with, and she wasn’t so well-known that she could be considered a household name where there may be an element of shock once the public found out.
Brandy Clark’s private matters seem to be an aside to her success, not a preface to it, and certainly not an element of adversity to it. She’s an acclaimed and awarded country music artist—that also happened to be gay. This isn’t a scandalous development, and it didn’t stimulate some debate over country music’s values. It was simply a side note that you said “huh” to when you heard about it and moved on, not really thinking about the fact much more, or allowing it to reflect negatively upon her music, or the music she’s written for others.
Saving Country Music caught on early from some buried mentions in interviews and such that Brandy Clark was gay, and that this information probably was not common knowledge to country music at large or even most of her fans who cherish her as one of country music’s best songwriters who’s actually finding some meaningful mainstream success. Immediately thoughts came to mind that this news was something that could be headline worthy and create a lot of attention. But that just didn’t seem to be appropriate for the way Brandy Clark had conducted herself about the issue. She just didn’t seem to think it mattered that much, and this is a similar stance to how most of country music has taken it.
This is in pretty stark contrast to how another openly-gay country star, Chely Wright, handled her situation. To begin with, Chely was in the closet during her heyday in country music in the mid 90’s, when she was releasing songs like “Shut Up and Drive” and “Single White Female.” Then in May of 2010, she made the big pronouncement she was gay while in the midst of releasing a new album and a new memoir. Chely made the rounds to all the major news outlets as country music’s first openly-gay star, and the whole thing seemed to be just as much about marketing as it was about Chely making a stand and bearing her soul. It looked like an artist with a dwindling career was searching for relevancy, and then almost immediately her claims of prejudice began to ring out when she wasn’t played on the radio, or represented at awards shows, even though that ship had sailed for Chely years before.
No offense to Chely Wright. She decided to take the more public route in addressing her sexuality, and that’s her right. But she was the one who decided to make it an issue by making such a big deal about it, not necessarily country music. Nearly a decade removed from the crest of her mainstream prominence, many didn’t even know who Chely Wright was. But they do now. She’s that gay country star.
Meanwhile Brandy Clark just remains a songwriter and a performer, and a revered one at that, who happens to be gay. Kacey Musgraves, a close friend to Brandy and frequent songwriting collaborator, has made much more of an issue of homosexuality in country music with her song “Follow Your Arrow” than Brandy Clark ever could, or seems to be inclined to, especially with Kacey’s “Do you know what this means for country music?” quip at the CMA Awards. Yes, Brandy co-wrote the song, but it was apparently Kacey who wrote the “kiss lots of girls” line, inspired by Brandy.
And of course when Musgraves and Clark were bestowed CMA Song of the Year awards for “Follow Your Arrow,” the leering, and left-leaning press who pay little to no attention to country music otherwise, seized on the opportunity to make a political show of the win, and to plaster Brandy Clark’s private sexual matters all across papers and the internet, as if it was some watershed moment for the stuffy and bigoted institution of country music. It played out similarly to what happened with The Dixie Chicks in the aftermath of their George W. Bush comments. Few were paying attention to The Dixie Chicks’ music outside of country before, but now the group was being played as bumper music on NPR, and in the coffee shop at the Borders bookstore.
Meanwhile inside country music, very few people care if Brandy Clark is gay or not, including in some respects, Brandy Clark herself. That is why Saving Country Music has waited to broach to subject until it was such common knowledge, it was kind of an irrelevant issue. Yes, there is no doubt that if there was a bastion in the music world for bigoted fans, it probably would be country. But to the chagrin and wonder of some outside observers, Brandy Clark being gay is a big non issue.
That is why Brandy Clark was the perfect artist to integrate country music, because she’s not looking to make a big deal about it, or figure out a way to fall on the sword for some sort of martyred glory or marketing ploy. She just wants to write and sing songs, and country fans just want to listen to them. She could have gone the Americana route where in theory she would be more openly accepted, but she didn’t have to. And sure, Brandy’s acceptance by country probably does give a greater opportunity to gay country performers in the future, but this process was happening naturally anyway, not to take away any credit Brandy deserves for gently nudging the country genre in that direction. An openly gay male performer is still, and has always been the big Rubicon that lays out there as a difficulty for country music to cross.
The fact that Brandy Clark is a songwriter who is returning substance to country music, the fact that she’s a performer who seems to have respect for the roots of the genre, and the fact that she is a woman, and that she’s penning big songs, and being put on big tours and singing for big audiences, and now is signed to a major label, these are the things that make Brandy’s contributions to country music exceptional and noteworthy, and something country music and the media beyond should be proud of, rally behind, and report on.
Brandy’s sexual preference is her business. While her music is one of those rare things in a polarized society that we can all come together and enjoy as something that enriches us with insight, depth and wit, instead of appealing to our banal and devolved tendencies.