Ryan Beatty is the Brockhampton collaborating boy in jeans writing pure pop bops about boys.
Boy In Jeans, the refreshingly open debut album from Los Angeles-based bleach blonde bombshell Ryan Beatty, is full of queer desire and boy-on-boy pronouns via lines like, “God is real / He was sleeping in my bed last night, we were lying naked with the radio on”. But it wasn’t always like this in Ryan Beatty world.
Growing up “really religious” in his Fresno hometown, Beatty originally emerged via YouTube as a kind of “Justin Bieber 2.0” heartthrob. Beatty’s cute and clean cut look, along with his radio-ready vocals, were considered guaranteed to make bread by record label types. With a national AT&T anti-text and drive campaign featuring Beatty’s track “Hey L.A.”, Disney Radio support for his debut 6-track EP and a tour with Cody Simpson, Beatty was all set for pop stardom.
Then something unexpected happened—in 2016 Beatty came out publicly as gay via his Instagram and hit reset on his career to start living his truth.
Having felt too uncomfortable or simply unable to express his authentic self in the studio previously, a chance encounter with producer Calvin Valentine opened the floodgates for a new era of pure self-expression for Beatty. The resulting pop jams on Boy In Jeans are infused with Frank Ocean freshness, while the lyrical content tackling queer identity and desire, places Beatty amongst the new wave of queer pop saviours like Troye Sivan.
Now, just like his Brockhampton friends who are rewriting the rules on being a boy bands—Beatty sings the hook on Brockhampton’s “BLEACH”, while Kevin Abstract directed Beatty’s own “Bruise” visual—Beatty is redefining what it means to be a male pop star.
You often get asked to speak on the topic of your identity, specifically being queer. Is that frustrating or do you feel it’s important to continually reinforce and represent?
That’s the positive way of looking at it. I’m not the greatest at giving advice, I always say that the best example I can set is just by being myself. I’m not trying to be out here being a spokesperson for anything, or trying to tell people how to do things the right way, because I don’t even know what that is. It’s been weird because I’m still learning a lot and I don’t want to ever come across like I have everything together or I have the answers. When I get asked questions about representation and what that means to me, I’m still figuring that out for myself. I don’t want to be anything except exactly who I am.
Just being yourself can actively be a form of representation. A lot of people tag you as a ‘queer popstar’, do you wish they’d just call you a popstar or do you embrace being labelled queer in that context?
I’m very much looking forward to the day when none of this matters and I don’t know how long that will take… At times it can feel like I’m being put in a specific box and sometimes I get frustrated over that. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m not trying to hide anything about myself and it doesn’t bother me, but it’s not something I ever knowingly labelled myself—a ‘queer popstar’. I’m just trying to be myself. I’m sure that if there was more representation when I was younger, that might have helped me a lot and there are people that I look up to that are just proudly themselves.
What’s your hometown, Fresno, like?
It’s the Raisin capital of California. It feels like the midwest of California, it’s very farm driven and very conservative. That’s all I can really say about it. I don’t really go back that often.
Does L.A feel like home?
I moved out here when I was young so I was not only doing music things but really trying to find myself. I found happiness out here and I found a sense of identity.
What does your album feel like to you?
Like summer. I made it in the summer and it feels like the end of summer. if you listen to the story of the album, to me, it feels like it happened in one 24 hour experience. It’s such a weird thing, I’ve always thought this but I’ve never said this out loud—it feels like it’s all happening at once.
Do you have any regrets about your Disney days?
I don’t regret it. If I didn’t take that initial jump when I was younger and really throw myself in the industry and did all of that, I definitely wouldn’t be the same person I am right now and I really like who I am right now. It was tough. Sometimes I forget about all the stuff I went through, I keep it out of sight out of mind and try and focus on the good of it.
Was it frustrating being unable to freely express yourself back then, especially in writing sessions and in your music?
I was just rolling with the punches and dealing with what I was given. Being young I was just really underestimated and I remember never really being taken seriously. I get it, I was like 16, 17 in these sessions, but at the same time I did feel like I had a sense of what I wanted to to do or whatever. Back then I didn’t feel like I could be myself in any way and the times that I did and I tried to have my own identity, I never felt that it was taken seriously. Can you imagine my entire late teenage years I was being perceived as somebody that I just absolutely wasn’t and that’s something I can never take back. I don’t want this to sound like I regret anything, but it’s really difficult. I’m not trying to prove anything because at the end of the day I have made a record I’m insanely proud of and no matter how it was perceived or whatever it wouldn’t matter to me because I got so much joy from it.
"Haircut" by Ryan Beatty
There are so many love songs but the way you, and people like Troye Sivan, casually use male pronouns in your songs almost makes it feel like a new way to talk about love, because to date it feels like the queer perspective hasn’t been expressed in an open mainstream way.
As a writer what’s interesting to talk about is personal experience. The more I allowed myself to be vulnerable writing, the better I became as a writer. It sounds like such a dumb statement, but it allowed me to be more specific with my own experience and that’s why writing with male pronouns, I never questioned if this word was something I should use—I just wrote the song and didn’t even realise. I was just allowing myself to talk about my life and that’s what I find interesting as a writer, pulling from these very specific experiences I have.
How would you describe your friendship with Brockhampton?
I feel like I can be honest with them more than most friends I’ve made. It’s the most vulnerable friendship I’ve had in a long time.
Do you care about being cool?
I did for a long time and lately that’s been something that’s less important to me. I find that when I want to be cool I become disappointed with myself and feel like I’m not being honest with myself. If I took the word cool and defined it right now, it’s when I walk out of the house and I’m dressed how I wanna look and I’m just being myself and not questioning or thinking about anything apart from chasing my own happiness—that’s when I feel cool, that’s when I feel good.
What’s it like living in America now?
L.A. is one huge bubble. When I’m here I feel a sense of protection but also a bit ignorant of everything else that’s happening. I’m not very involved in politics but it’s hard not to be when it’s in this type of climate. In order to survive you kind of need to know what’s going on. I just want things to be normal and I don’t know what that means either. I just want to feel like I can go on the internet and not be stressed out.
How important is honesty to you?