Brandon Stansell emerged on the music scene in 2015 as a brooding, Tennessee-bred Romeo grappling with his quest for love. The country singer-songwriter’s latest video, however, relays a different type of heartbreak.
Directed by Trent Atkinson, “Hometown” depicts the anguish that Stansell said he experienced after he came out as gay to his conservative family a decade ago.
And while the 31-year-old singer has tackled other aspects of his sexuality in his videos for singles “Dear John” and “Slow Down” ― the latter of which is the title track for his 2017 debut album ― “Hometown” is his first to be granted CMT airplay. It premiered on the country music network in November.
As such, it sets a precedent as a queer-themed narrative in country music. Though the genre boasts a growing number of out personalities like singers Chely Wright and Ty Herndon, as well as CMT host Cody Alan, LGBTQ country artists still struggle to be wholeheartedly embraced at the mainstream level.
But Stansell, who was named one of Rolling Stone’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” in 2017 and featured on Billboard’s “Queer Necessities” playlist in August, said he believes fans are primed for more diverse artists and performances.
“People in the country sphere and in the South are more open than we give them credit for,” he told HuffPost. “My hope is that [LGBTQ] people ― especially country music lovers who are living in the South ― will see this and realize they’re not as alone as they might feel at times and that people who have LGBTQ brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends realize that when those people decide to share their truths, that it’s not an easy moment. It’s an important moment, and it should be treated that way.”
To keep “Hometown” rooted in authenticity, Stansell wanted to film the video outside Los Angeles, where he now resides, and as close as possible to his hometown of Georgetown, Tennessee. (He and Atkinson opted for Nashville.) The clip’s dramatic prologue is based on a series of conversations Stansell had with family members over the years, presented as a dialogue between him and his mother (played by Janet Ivey).
The one-and-a-half-day shoot, Stansell recalled, was tough and emotionally draining for everyone involved.
“It was like having a therapy session on film,” he said. “I was having to relive a lot of things that I’d blocked out.” Turns out, those on-camera tears were legit. By the time shooting wrapped, he said, “My camera crew was crying, my director was crying, and I was crying, so I was like, ‘OK, I think we got it!’”
One of the video’s most poignant scenes, however, turned out to be a significant departure from Stansell’s experience. Although “Hometown” concludes with mother and son sharing a heartfelt embrace, he said his relationships with many of his family members remain strained.
I’ll always be willing to have a conversation about my life, my world and how I can use my experience to make it easier for the next generation of LGBTQ people in the South to come out. singer-songwriter Brandon Stansell
The decision to tweak the narrative, he said, had to do with his interest in ending the video in “a hopeful place” for queer youths, and for good reason. The Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report found that 67 percent of LGBTQ teens surveyed said they’ve heard family members make negative comments about queer people. The survey found that only 24 percent of queer youths said they could “definitely” be their authentic selves at home.
“The realization isn’t mine, but the hope is mine,” he said.
“Hometown” will, of course, be featured in his upcoming performances, including a Thursday guest spot alongside Herndon in Los Angeles and a Saturday date in Palm Springs, California. Stansell said he hopes to return to the studio in early 2019 to record a number of new singles to be released as an EP at the end of next year and will remain active on the concert circuit throughout.
“I’ll always be willing to have a conversation about my life, my world and how I can use my experience to make it easier for the next generation of LGBTQ people in the South to come out,” he said.