By James Barker, Staff Writer
I’m grateful to Syd for letting me write this next installment of Queer Country Rewind: the bi-weekly column that examines queer country songs of the past.
This week I look at Steve Grand’s 2013 ‘All American Boy.’ Although it received considerable attention from LGBTQ+, and particularly gay, media outlets, the song did not herald Grand’s transition into the mainstream country music industry. Yet the quality of the song and the 2015 album of the same name proved that Steve Grand had the talent and songs to be a major country artist.
Of course I couldn’t write a feature on ‘All American Boy’ without talking about that video. Featuring Grand pining after his straight friend, the video contains various scenes ambiguously shot to portray the sexual chemistry between Grand and his ‘all American boy’ that it’s unclear whether this is just in his head, but by the end of the video it is clear that the other man is straight. Whilst the song and Grand’s performance were praised, the video received some criticism particularly from LGBTQ+ activists about the way it showed gay men as coming onto their straight friends and being rejected, turning to alcohol in their misery.
Grand, to his credit, was able to take this criticism on the chin. My own opinion is that the song itself is not the issue, but with few openly gay country songs, particularly within the mainstream industry receiving attention, LGBTQ+ artists can be unfairly burdened with representing their community rather than just themselves. This makes it harder for artists to write songs about some of the messy parts of life and human experiences, which country music songwriting does so well.
The song itself resonates with feelings of being in the closet or unrequited love that queer country listeners also want to hear represented. The song perfectly captures feelings of desire, longing and rejection that is often the heady mix of feelings that young love can be for people. Further the song’s referenced to being all-American is both a move to include LGBTQ+ lives within representations of patriotism, whilst also critiquing the all-American culture that has historically marginalized LGBTQ+ lives to the closet.
If this was the only representation of gay men in country music this would be problematic. Yet even in Grand’s music, this is not the only representation. ‘Stay’ and ‘Soakin’ Wet’ celebrate queer love and sex without any hangovers of shame or toxicity.
Neither of these songs are as well-known as ‘All American Boy,’ and when Grand released the album nearly two years’ later did not receive the same amount of media attention as the song and video did. The album is an overlooked classic, showing off Grand’s versatility across rock, pop and country. The queer dance anthem We Are the Night’ show off his powerful voice, whereas ‘Time’ and ‘Back to California’ encapsulate feelings of nostalgia and reflect the experiences of growing up. This is what country storytelling does the best, and proves that if he wants it, country music suits Grand perfectly.
Queer Country Rewind is a bi-weekly column that takes a fresh look at one iconic queer country song every installment.