The Internet has been abuzz over the music video to “All American Boy,” a song by country singer Steve Grand. The reason? Grand is openly gay and his video and song are sung from the point of view of a gay man longing for another man. As the U.S. inches toward marriage equality for LBGT people, you’d think that this wouldn’t be such a big deal. After all, the arts are one area of popular culture where LBGT people are accepted, right? Maybe behind the scenes, but in country music, a genre that plays to an audience that leans conservative; Grand’s gesture is a bold and brave move.
If you haven’t seen the video, take a look.
Aside from the homoerotic skinny dip in the lake, the scenes in “All American Boy” are pretty typical of most country music videos being produced by Nashville stars. Save for the longing in Grand’s eyes as he pines for his equally good-looking buddy. Oh, and they kiss. I guess that’s different.
Grand has the good looks and the type of radio friendly voice that could garner him airplay on any country music station. Had he chosen to conceal his sexuality and sing about a girl, he’d have a shot on the radio. However, the singer followed his heart in penning a song about a gay man and shooting an honest depiction of his song lyrics.
People wouldn’t be talking about Grand and “All American Boy” if the song sucked. In fact, the song is very catchy. It may surprise some people, but this type of 80s style power ballad is right in step with most of the slower songs you find on country radio. Grand’s lyrics are thoughtful and play to all of the same themes of many country hits: friendship, partying, living a certainly laid back lifestyle, and the ache in your heart that occurs when the one you love doesn’t know you’re alive (Taylor Swift, anyone?). It has nice harmonies, is well constructed, has pounding drums, and has just enough twang to make this a nice modern country ballad.
The video is beautifully shot – proof that you don’t need millions of dollars to make an effective music video. Grand financed the video himself, spending $7000 on it. Watching “All American Boy,” I see little difference between it and Brett Eldredge’s “Don’t Ya,” which finds that new country star singing at a party and making eyes with a comely young woman across the room. Grand obviously studied enough videos on CMT to incorporate the right images, such as country nights around a fire (sparklers included), lakes, woods, ripped jeans and flannel. He even waves old glory while standing in the back of a moving convertible.
These images are all pretty cliché in country videos, which may be the point. Grand has said he hopes that his song of unrequited love would resonate universally with music fans, gay or straight. “All American Boy” shows that these clichéd situations happen to everyone.
The most inspired moment of the video occurs after the big kiss. The men join another party, the straight guy finds a cute girl to cozy up with, and Grand enters moment’s later, fear in his eyes that he’s screwed up everything. However, the straight guy hugs his friend, pats him on the chest, and gives a look that says, “I don’t swing that way, but we’re still friends.” This hopeful message actual gave me pause to smile.
One song doesn’t prove that someone is an artist to be reckoned with, but far less talented people have become pop culture sensations singing utter crap. Grand’s song and video are a baby step in country music to being more accepting LBGT artists. Its popularity may not garner him any Country Music Awards, but perhaps some major country star will take Grand under his or her wing and help the singer/songwriter move beyond YouTube sensation. And perhaps his brave choice to sing about who he is will inspire other gay country artists to sing freely about the men and women they love. Only time will tell.
Until then, Grand’s video and song (available to purchase on his Bandcamp page) reminds us that people, gay or straight, enjoy the good times, dread the bad, and love to listen to country music.