British crooner talks coming out, falling for straight men and learning to love himself
Britain’s Got Talent finalist Calum Scott, who incited massive swooning on music mogul Simon Cowell’s reality show in 2015, once thought he’d be a counselor. He wanted to ease people’s troubled minds. Give them hope. But Scott, 29, has found you don’t need an office to help heal people – you can do that on a stage.
Following his Cowell-praised show run and a devastatingly gorgeous piano version of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” that charted at No. 93 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (Robyn’s original didn’t manage to crack the list upon release), the honeyed-voice crooner wants his new songs, some of which are personal reflections on coming to terms with his sexuality, to serve as a support system for those who also know or are currently weathering the struggle to live openly as a queer person.
With his debut, Only Human, he’s your out, gay shoulder to cry on. And if you like them as tenderhearted and impassioned as Scott, who exudes a warm optimism in conversation, he’s certainly the kind who will make you feel better after a lengthy, enriching talk about the greatest love of all.
What’s the motivation for wanting to move people with your music?
I’ve always wanted to help people. Since writing an album based on personal experiences, I’ve realized I can inspire people with my music and reach people on an emotional level. I love the fact that people are moved by my music. It’s a dream come true, man.
One of my all-time idols is Michael Jackson because he said to the press that he wanted to change the world with his music. It kind of sounds a bit corny, I guess, but it’s such a beautiful sentiment, and I try to live by that. If I can inspire one person to come out and find the bravery and strength to at least confide in one person and lessen that burden on themselves, and inspire them to be who they were born to be, then I feel like everything I’ve gone through in my life is worth it.
Recently, I went to a conversion therapy protest here in Michigan. There’s a church, Metro City Church, that is offering these “unashamed identity” workshops for LGBTQ girls.
That’s ridiculous. It’s on my mind because it just happened. But there’s a lot of conversation about the importance of queer representation for young people, and you are now a part of that team. What do you want the message of the music to be for young struggling queer people?
Growing up for me was difficult. My sexuality … I went through the phases that I know a lot of gay people have gone through: “If I could take a straight pill, I’d take it.” Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, like I had to hide away. Feeling judgment.
Those were all things that held me back from being my true self. That took me all the way through my teens, all the way through my 20s, really, until I got into songwriting. And when I got into songwriting, the penny dropped for me. I started writing about the fact that I was terrified of coming out to the press. I have a song on the album called “If Our Love Is Wrong” – it’s right on the top of the album – and it’s all about being terrified of telling people about my sexuality.
It terrified me to the core, to a point where I didn’t want to talk about it. I felt sick, like I’d rather be anyone else. I only told my dad three years ago, as a full-blown adult. My heart was in my mouth, and I felt sick. I was upset, and I just didn’t know how to tell him. But when I started writing … that song developed into something empowering.
Relating that back to what you said about conversion camps: It’s disgusting that you could tell a person that what they feel is wrong when they don’t have any control over what they feel. So, the message behind this album is to embrace how you feel and who you are and who you love and to feel empowered by it. And you don’t have to change who you are, and, in fact, you should embrace who you are and love who you are.
Do you think queer public figures have a responsibility to be out for that reason alone?
I think it’s a difficult one. If that had been said to me when I was in the closet, I’d be really upset. Not that I necessarily was condemning the gay community in any way — I just wasn’t ready to come out. So, I feel like maybe that’s the case with thousands of men and women. We have a shortage of out football stars, and I think it’s because they’re terrified of what their peers might think. But as a nation and a globe going forward, we should be reassuring people there is love in the world, and hopefully, with music, you can inspire a generation. With music, we’ve got the power to move people.
I love how matter-of-factly the two men who are casually holding hands in your video for “You Are My Reason” are treated.
Yeah, it meant a lot to me to have that in there. Being a gay man, there needed to be that representation. I pitched it into the video because it reflects the message of the song, which is “Love is love, and love conquers all and love isn’t heterosexual.” I said to our director, Frank Borin, “As a gay man myself, I want a gay couple in there because that’s a representation of me.”
It was the same reason why I didn’t change the lyrics on “Dancing On My Own.” I wanted it to be from the perspective of a gay man. I’ve fallen in love with plenty of straight men and watched them have a relationship with a girl, and I wanted to make sure when I sang that version it wasn’t me doing a straight cover of Robyn. It was me trying to say, “This is me,” and I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of LGBT community members who can appreciate where that voice is coming from. I’m not a flag bearer for the gay community, but I’m an advocate of wanting people to be themselves and giving a voice to the LGBT community.
How do you end up falling for so many straight men?
I think it happens to all of us in the gay community. There’s no way of telling anybody’s sexuality. I have a song called “Hotel Room,” about me meeting this guy while I was on the road. Great looking guy. Great personality. Got along really well. All the signs were there, and I was like, “Oh my god, this guy is maybe the one.” I fell for him. And I took it a bit further, and he told me he wasn’t gay. I was shocked. It’s very much a song about the heartbreak, but it’s about trying to put a positive spin on it. “Hotel Room” is one of the heartbreaking songs on the album where I suppose at the time I was like, “You bastard!” (Laughs) But I don’t want to write with malice.
How did your song about coming out to your dad take shape?
The song you’re referring to is called “Out at Sea,” which didn’t make the album, unfortunately. It was definitely one of the songs I wrote initially, and it was one of the triggers that got me into really writing honestly with my music.
It was about my fear holding me back, almost drowning me. I was going through that process with my dad, and when I told him, the burden that left me was just unreal. It felt like a physical weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And it’s so liberating, and I felt euphoric after that. I had pins and needles in my face. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was crying. I was on top of the world. It was the most liberating feeling. I wrote that in the song, about feeling tied down and drowned under the walls, and not being able to breathe from the pressure and judgment and fear of disappointing, well, everybody, I guess. But then casting it away and it actually turning out better than I thought it would.
It didn’t make the album because it wasn’t good enough. It was because I wanted to give variety on the album. I wanted to showcase what kind of an artist I am — and didn’t want to write a whole album that would make people cry. There are other emotions! (Laughs) I’ve written a lot about my sexuality because it means a lot to me.
Of course — it was your catharsis.
It was a journey, yeah. And it was something I put my heart and soul into. I wrote “No Matter What,” and the chorus is really beautiful. I think I’m gonna play it for my headlining show. It’s about my mom saying, “I love you no matter what.”
You performed on Dancing with the Stars in May with two dancers: one male, one female. On tour, have you given any thought to possibly having two male dancers dance as intimately as that opposite-sex pair did?
Makes sense, man. It’s something I’ve thought about, either having two male dancers or running a short film, maybe. I’m always on the lookout to create with the intent of making an impact on my audience.
Having two male dancers just shows that it doesn’t matter who you are or who you love, you should love yourself, and that being gay, lesbian or transgender is just as normal and just as acceptable as being straight. There should never be a difference. There should never be boundary lines. We’re all a human race, and that’s what it should come down to.
Would you be open to singing a love song with another man?
Yeah, of course.
Well, you’re buddies with Sam Smith now, so you two could make this happen.
Yeah, and do something. I know Sam is as much a believer in what we talked about as I am. He’s very much an activist for letting people come out, so I would love to collaborate with him and do something like that.
Sam has been very vocal about weight and body image issues, and we talk a lot about body standards and the struggle for queer people to live up to an ideal prototype in the gay community, in particular. What was your motivation for speaking at the National Student Pride event in London on this subject recently?
In this industry, there can be quite a lot of body shaming. As soon as I got into the spotlight with my music, you have people all the time saying, “Isn’t he getting fat? Hasn’t he put on weight?” Instantly, I felt self-conscious, and I felt ashamed of my body, and was like, “I’m not gonna be able to eat properly; I’m gonna have to slim down really.” It wasn’t until I sat back and thought about it. I thought, “Why should I be dictated to by some anonymous hater online about how I should feel about my body?”
Being gay and feeling ashamed of myself, I look back and go, “I should have loved myself a lot earlier,” because I tortured myself for so long. Now, I’ve finally got the confidence to say, “I’m gay and I’m out.” I’ve never felt so much support. The saying, “Love comes from loving yourself first”? It’s true. Hopefully this album is inspiring across the globe for so many different reasons. I just hope that people are inspired enough that they can just love themselves a little bit more.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).