You never know the power of a good deed. For eccentric pop singer Jared Gelman, offering his time slot to a fellow tanning salon patron resulted a music video for his femme anthem “Never Know What It’s Like,” out today.
“I showed her my new music and it turned out she was a music video director,” the 24-year-old explained to Billboard.
Gelman chatted with Billboard about owning his femininity, the serendipitous story behind his new video and how hitmaker Justin Tranter inspired him to the point of tears: “Whenever someone uses their platform to fight for what they care about, I’m inspired.”
“Never Know What It’s Like” is sort of a Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy” moment for femme men. What inspired this song?
Over time, having a polarizing identity forced me to live a lot of my life ready to defend myself on a daily basis. For years, I was always on edge, waiting to see what people were going to say when I would go out in public — not because I care what people think about me, but more out of the concern for my safety. I’m very good at putting on a confident front, but when I’m alone and reflecting, I don’t always feel so triumphant in the face of adversity. It was right after the Pulse shooting in Orlando that it clicked for me that I was probably not alone in feeling scared. That’s when I began writing the song. It’s my way of articulating a feeling of isolation from a hopeful perspective. The third verse sums it up well when I sing, “News says they want me dead/ It’s not in my head and it needs to be said/ They hate what they fear/ My mission’s so clear.”
There seems to be a trend lately where queer men are owning their femininity. What do you think caused this movement?
I think the political climate has left non-cis, white, straight males from all walks of life hyper-aware of what’s at stake if we don’t fight to prove our existence and worth. The femme identity is an act of resistance in and of itself, because by refusing to conform to unfair heteropatriarchal standards, we combat oppression and misogyny. Repressing femininity means admitting to others that there is something to suppress in the first place. Historically, it always takes the most extreme people to normalize all the beautiful shades of queer in between. We aren’t going anywhere and we will be seen, not silenced.
Are there any media figures that inspire you to embrace your femininity?
The first time I ever saw a flamboyant gay artist on TV was Adam Lambert on American Idol. I was so fascinated at the time, because I only dreamed of wearing outfits like that. Still, I always felt that outside of him, the fantasy and escape that pop music provided only came from female pop artists.
That changed in high school when I learned about this NYC punk band called Semi Precious Weapons. I loved how the singer, Justin Tranter, wore heels, makeup, and was so unapologetic about his queer identity. Fast forward many years, and Justin is casually one of the biggest pop writers in the world, without changing his gender nonconforming identity at all. In October, I went to the event he threw with GLAAD to raise money for LGBTQ youth and I left that night in tears, just so proud to be a part of the queer community. Whenever someone uses their platform to fight for what they care about, I’m inspired.
Other than him, I actually find most of my inspiration from the people in my day-to-day life. Instead of trying to find inspiration from celebrities or media figures, I put myself in spaces where everyone feels liberated and free. Now I can look around me, and see a chosen family of genuine hard workers who want to make a difference by being their authentic selves.
I heard there’s a sort of serendipitous story behind the music video. How did that come together?
Yes! It’s actually quite a crazy story. One of my first few weeks in LA, I went to a tanning salon. I got there, and this woman was running late on her schedule. I had time to kill, so I gave her my time slot. She was so appreciative, and we ended up having a conversation about what brought us to LA. I showed her my new music and it turned out she was a music video director.
I thought it was small talk at the time, but a few weeks later she called me and said an artist she was supposed to shoot couldn’t come to L.A. anymore. The equipment was already reserved, the crew was already booked, and the locations were ready so in less than 24 hours, we finalized.
I pulled a few favors, got my friends on board, finessed the video concept, and shot the whole thing. You never know who you’ll meet, or where you’ll meet, but there’s no such thing as coincidences, and the smallest acts of kindness can sometimes have the biggest impact.
What message do you hope people take from this track?
The song may feel sad, but ultimately I want it to show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to remind anyone who feels different that they will eventually find their own tribe. It may seem impossible but one day you will use what society tells you to change about yourself as your greatest strength.
It’s one of my missions as an artist to be someone that the younger me could have looked up to and felt less alone. In a few months when I put out more music, I hope to show a more fun side. It’s just the beginning.