how ryan beatty went from radio disney to queer pop star
The singer talks about expressing his authentic identity on his new album, 'Boy in Jeans.'
Photography Alex Nazari
Ryan Beatty is not afraid to sing the words “he” or “him.” In fact, Boy in Jeans is full of pronouns. “ He’s the only one on my mind, he’s the only one that I call when I’m feeling reckless,” the bleach-blonde singer croons in “Cupid,” a lush ballad made for daydreaming. Then there is “God in Jeans,” which confidently opens up with “ God is real, he was sleeping in my bed last night.” There are no guessing games involved in Boy in Jeans, released last week. It is unmistakably an album about a boy liking boys.
Ryan can be found chilling in his apartment — waiting for a repairman to come fix his hot water shortage — a few days after Boy in Jean’s release. The emerging star sounds relaxed as we talk over the phone, like a big weight has been lifted off of his shoulders. “Because it’s been a long journey, a long time coming,” he explains. “It’s the been the most satisfying week of my life.”
The feeling of relief is well-earned. Ryan is only 22 and has already experienced multiple careers. He first burst onto the scene as a innocent pop singer at 15, not publicly out to the world. He felt primed to be a heartthrob, in the same class as Shawn Mendes or early-Justin Bieber. But Ryan stepped away from that path. After releasing songs on Radio Disney and touring with Cody Simpson, he took a break from music. During that three-year hiatus, Ryan underwent a remarkable metamorphosis, coming out on Instagram and becoming friends with members of cool “boy band” Brockhampton. When Ryan came back to music and released the Kevin Abstract-directed visual for “Bruise” it was clear: he was ready to be a queer pop star.
Here, Ryan talks to i-D about coming out, singing about his sexual identity, and working with Brockhampton.
Boy in Jeans represents a serious shift in who you are as an artist. You’ve gone from Radio Disney star to something a bit more radical. What was the creative battle like getting here?
At the end of the day, this was something I was really yearning and searching for within myself. I went through a lot of hard times throughout these past few years, because I started doing this when I was like 15. Through that I grew up so much. I’m just so grateful that I continued to push on and move forward, because there was a moment where I questioned if I would ever make music again. There was always that thing inside of me that kept me going, because at the end of the day music is 100% what I want to do.
What was that period of self-questioning like?
This was 2015-2017, so like a two-year time period of not knowing what to do with myself or my days. Every day felt… I just went through this really tough depression. I know it’s a strong word, but it’s true. Of not really knowing what to do with my life. Looking back on it, this is when I was like 18, 19, and 20. To be at that age and feel that way was just really hard. I felt like I was going through a midlife crisis.
What brought you back into making music?
It really wasn’t until I started working on this record, which was last summer. For a while I did play little shows here and there, just kind of taking what I could get. It wasn’t until I believed in myself and loved what I was creating that I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the feeling that I have been chasing.’ I’m really lucky, because I found a situation that allowed me to express myself in a way that I wanted to.
When did your sexual identity start to flow into your music?
Well, I came out through Instagram in 2016. That was the moment where I was like ‘I’m not trying to be anything but myself to anyone in the world anymore.’ It took a long time accepting it within myself. But at the end of the day, I found the peace of mind that as long as I was happy with myself and following my truth, then it doesn’t matter what anyone has to say. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with people that are accepting and have accepted me — even my immediate family, who have been very accepting. We’ve grown a lot closer through the years and I’m very lucky, because not everyone can say that.
Did you ever feel like you would be forced to separate your sexual identity and your music? Because only recently have queer pop singers been allowed to be specific with the subject matter and pronouns in their songs.
When I started focusing in and making this project, it wasn’t a question of whether or not I should say “he” or “him.” It was just a fact and my experiences. I just wanted to make this record as honest as possible, and I think I accomplished that. Which is one thing that I’m very proud of. The lyrics are something that mean so much to me, because it comes from a place of honesty and my own place of telling the truth. And I just hope other young musicians see that as an example, because I know there are other queer artists out there that freely express themselves in that way. I think that is so cool, and I just want to be part of that by just saying what I want to say.
How did you link up with Brockhampton?
It was all just through friendship, really. I met them and we connected in a way that I had yet to find in Los Angeles. I never planned on working with them, and I don’t think vice-versa. It just kind of happened.
And Kevin Abstract directed the visual for “Bruise.” What was working together on that like?What you see in “Bruise” was the first take we shot that day. I thought there was such a rawness and realness and celebratory feeling behind the footage in that video. Shooting with them was so much fun because they are my friends and I felt comfortable. Sometimes in front of the camera... I just feel like I put on a guard. But with them I felt really free to just not think about it.
So who were all the writers and producers behind Boy in Jeans ?
Lyrically, I wrote the whole record myself. Calvin Valentine pretty much executive-produced the whole record. He had friends of his play on certain things, but pretty much it was just me and him. I think that’s what caused it to be such a cohesive record. Writing these songs were within a two-month period of each other, so I was really following the same album of feelings I was feeling in the moment.
The lyrics on the album are so raw and honest. How does it feel to have these songs out in the world?
Before releasing this record, I had this thought that, no matter how people react to it, this has already been a huge success for me. Because it’s a testament to myself that I can create something that I’m proud of. In a way, I felt like I was at peace no matter what people thought of the record.