Chely Wright says, ‘I’m gay!’ Brave stand or marketing ploy?
It’s an act of courage any time a public figure comes out of the closet. So why is my admiration for country singer Chely Wright clouded by cynicism? Maybe it’s because the fading star declares herself a lesbian just when she has a new book and a new CD to promote…?
Since Wright went public Monday in an interview with People magazine, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation about whether her country career can survive the revelation. To which I say: What career?
Granted, Wright’s an expressive singer and a gifted songwriter, but her stardom peaked between 1999, when she hit No. 1 on the country charts with “Single White Female,” and 2001, when People magazine named her one of its “50 most beautiful people.”
She lost her major label deal in 2003, after disappointing sales of her album Never Love You Enough. Since then she’s forged a place for herself as an independent artist, selling music largely through her website
Now 39, Wright’s days as a hot young Nashville hitmaker are long behind her. The new album, Lifted Off the Ground, is Wright’s first in five years. The good news: it’s produced by Rodney Crowell, one of the smartest talents in country music. Given Wright’s skill as a songwriter, my guess is it’s probably pretty good.
Wright’s memoir, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, may be pretty good, too. According to her publisher, it tells of growing up in a small Kansas town, the homecoming queen who knew she was different and prayed for God to “fix” her. She writes of leaving home at 17 to pursue her dreams of musical stardom, and her fear that she would lose everything if the truth came out.
But the way the story has been rolled out this week shows the signs of a well-planned marketing campaign, one that sells Wright as “the first country star to come out.” And thereby seeks to obliterate a real lesbian pioneer, K.D. Lang, from the history books.
In case you’ve forgotten, before she was a pop chanteuse, Lang was a country singer–and not a marginal one either: she won a Grammy in 1989 for best female country performance.
It was only in 1992, when she was ready to burst out of Nashville, that Lang declared her sexual orientation — which set her up nicely for her subsequent triumph as a pop singer.
Given that Lifted Off the Ground is said to be less “country” than her previous albums, Wright’s announcement that she’s gay looks like nothing so much as a genius way to transition out of country and into either a mainstream pop or a sustainable folk-rock career.
Wright may be worried, as the many stories claim, about losing her country audience, but the truth is she’s set herself up so she doesn’t need them anymore.
That’s not to say I don’t believe Wright when she speaks of the pain she’s gone through living in the closet all these years, fearing rejection by country’s conservative audiences. But these stories are coming to us via a slick publicity blitz.
Wanna read how she cried during sex with former boyfriend Brad Paisley? See zap2it.com. About how fellow country star John Rich sent her into a depression by questioning her sexuality? EW.com. (And for Rich’s stunned response, gac.com). How, on the brink of suicide, she put a .9 mm pistol in her mouth? See accesshollywood.com for a video interview.
In fact, you can find Chely Wright all over the newsfeeds today, from any number of sources. (For what it’s worth, the deepest, most humanizing interview I’ve found is the one at Entertainment Weekly‘s musicmix.com).
So what do you think? Chely Wright is a lesbian: Brave stand or marketing ploy?