To my knowledge, this was to be the week country singer Chely Wright was to come out with a brand new album. I don’t know her complete works but I like some of her songs, it was the song and video for “Jezebel” that hooked me. The video featured Wright looking quite sexy, she pulled a few head nod cues from Michael Jackson, and it was the song’s chorus that hooked me, and we all know country music has some of the best choruses around:
Jezebel, save your charms
‘Cause you’ll be back here in my arms
Oh, how quickly you forget
She’s not yours yet
She’s not yours yet
She’s not yours…
I’m driving home this morning, listening to NPR, and the announcer says that a country singer is coming out of the closet. Not being close to country music, I couldn’t figure out who it could be. Then I heard the name. Chely Wright? No. Really?
The story went on to say that not only did she come out with a new album and her lesbian revelation, but she also has an autobiography and a documentary film touching on her career and her having the confidence to finally come out. As I was doing an image search for a photo of Wright, I noticed that her revelation was not an isolated incident, I guess there were clues dropping from her people, a way of putting out the fact that “a country singer is coming out”. No one knew. What was to be the big country music news this week was the release of the new album by Court Yard Hounds, the new group featuring Dixie Chicks‘ sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. However, country music was and is very conservative, so this is a double blast. A new album by two ladies from a group that publicly bashed a former president for his policies on the Iraq war, and a singer who says she’s gay. I am sure there are country diehards who are saying “I can’t stand country music, it’s too rock’n’roll.” Rock’n’roll is where the hoodlums roam, not that music where singers are drunk, sleeping with other truckers, telling lies, killing criminals, and being rebels. Oh no, that’s not good at all.
Back to Wright. The question remains: is this a huge publicity stunt, or at least a marketing plan? Wright’s publicist replied on NPR that it’s not exactly something spectacular to come out of the closet and celebrate it in country music, because most artists have not. k.d. lang became known for her thrift store outfits and unique way of performing before she reduced the novelty factor and turned herself into a country chanteuse who could easily cater to pop. When she did, she became comfortable in letting people know she too was a lesbian, which may or may not have taken her out of the country spotlight in the U.S. In her native Canada, not a big deal. In the UK, where country is treated with respect as Americana, not a big deal. Soon, country music had to measure up to pop, so here came the Shania Twain‘s of the world, and in time the Carrie Underwood‘s. At the same time, you also have someone like Jennifer Nettles, who can not only sing country but has a voice that is versatile to sing a wide range of genres. She has a strong country following with her group Sugarland, but there are pop and rock fans who are waiting to truly tear it up, I’m sure that is being planned out.
So where does this leave Chely Wright? It can’t be denied that it isn’t a marketing plan, because you don’t come out with a new album, book, and documentary film just like that, especially when you’ve only had one big pop hit. The NPR story suggested that when people heard about her coming out, the common response seemed to be “okay cool, but who is Chely Wright?” Did Wright have to take almost half her life to finally be publically acknowledged outside of the country world? Not only that, but she is marketing herself as someone who is more than country, a singer/songwriter who will play pop, rock, country-rock… she’s not going to just be a country singer anymore. This means she will be able to do songs with everyone from Pink to Christina Aguilera to John Legend and Omarion if she feels like it. When you’re in the public eye, it’s all about marketing, and her outing has arguably become one of the best things for her.
Wright outing herself shouldn’t be a big deal, but when marketing is an issue and everyone wants to believe in the beauty of their favorite country divas, and the fact that the country music community is very conservative, it is. Also add to the fact that she lives in a country, amongst a culture, that still looks down on anything that isn’t an accepted norm. People are bashed, ridiculed, and sometimes killed for being out of one’s comfort zone. In the 1960’s, there was a country singer named Johnny Rebel who released racist 45rpm singles with such songs as “Looking For A Handout” and “”Some Niggers Never Die (They Just Smell That Way)”, which one could find in various southern bars, saloons, taverns, and truck stops. The claim was that they were done as jokes, but regardless of the intent, it’s not funny. If it hasn’t happened already, I’m certain there are country radio stations that have already put together their own Chely Wright songs which touch on her coming out. Perhaps this is why she is promoting herself as a singer/songwriter out of the country genre.
In the end, it’s still about the music, covering the life Wright sees, breathes, and lives. If anything, it is sure to make people buy her albums and see if she had been dropping clues all this time. I remember when Melissa Etheridge came out of the closet, I went “oh, Similar Features? I get it now.” I don’t have a gaydar like some people claim they do, so I honestly never knew about Wright being lesbian, and that’s the point, she felt a need to hide it because country music is (according to her) very homophobic. Now, she feels whole and it will result in some great music. Those who didn’t know of her before will get a chance to discover what she’s about, there are some great heartbreakers such as “Back Of The Bottom Drawer”. Those who embraced her before but will not because of her admittance will miss out on future music.
Music is about complete expression, and Chely Wright has done something that is a very bold move. It shouldn’t be a bold move, because that reads as a “tactic”. Now that she has crossed that personal barrier, may she continue to entertain her fans both old and new.