Let’s start off with a clarification: Steve Grand may be openly gay, but he is not (yet) a country music star. The hunky YouTube sensation recently received that misnomer from BuzzFeed and has since been covered in similar terms, on the heels of his self-financed summer love lament “All-American Boy.” Salon’s Dan D’Addario brought a less salivating approach to Grand today in a post evaluating the country industry’s readiness for queer artists; the most recent one of note, lesbian Chely Wright, has seen record sales drop off after coming out in 2010. But given Grand’s good looks, palatable pop sound, and nonthreatening sexual presentation, D’Addario concludes that “if any gay star was going to get past the gatekeepers … Grand might be it.”
Though I hate to harsh on an up-and-coming artist, I’m hoping D’Addario is wrong. At least, that is, if “All-American Boy” presages anything about the kinds of messages Grand hopes to promote in the future.
Though the song is itself pleasant enough as a wistful love letter, the video is woefully out-of-tune with the times. It’s like something out of a homo smut story from before Stonewall: Lonely gay man lusts after tradey straight dude (who—bonus—he knows to have a girlfriend BECAUSE THEY ALL HANG OUT), plies him with “whiskeeeey” and homosocial jocularity while occasionally shooting the camera “Can you believe this is happening?” looks, and then finally gets him drunk enough to tolerate a kiss in a steaming lake. Here’s our big moment of truth … that comes to nothing more than the guy sobering up and disabusing Grand with a “sorry bro, no homo, gotta dance with my girl” slap on the back.
Now, God forbid that all music videos have “positive,” P.C. messages—that would be a boring world. But this particular narrative of the tantalizing straight guy and lovesick queen is so hackneyed in gay culture as to be laughable. Perhaps the only bright spot is that it ends not with a punch in the face or scene of public humiliation but with a gentle dismissal. I guess that means that change has occurred on the gay panic front, which is nice. But what the video also suggests is that gays are still hovering on the periphery of straight parties and couplings, yearning for a chance to get in on the action—instead of finding love and happiness among our increasingly legally protected selves. It’s just that now, rather than getting a bloody nose when the ruse falls apart, our hero will merely be left alone.
Tolerance, in other words, is the best we can hope for. Forgive me, but I find that a little less than revolutionary.