The title of Keiynan Lonsdale’s debut studio album, “Rainbow Boy,” is a tribute to his child self ― the one, he says, who hasn’t lost his belief in magic.
That description may lead some to believe Lonsdale would follow up his crush-worthy roles on The CW’s “The Flash” and 2018’s gay teen comedy “Love, Simon” with a collection of cutesy love ballads. Instead, the Aussie actor and singer offers an intensely personal, sonically ambitious look at his life as a Black queer man.
Of course, Lonsdale still wants to have fun, as evidenced on the album’s first single, “Rainbow Dragon.” The song’s lyrics find him clapping back at his bullies while dropping cheeky allusions to marijuana and oral sex.
(Check out the music video for “Rainbow Dragon” above.)
“I spent a lot of time trying to break out of boxes, whether they were placed on me or ones I put myself in, and rebelling against false ideas of what it means to be a man, what I’m allowed to sing about,” he told HuffPost. “I want to uplift and empower people who, like me, haven’t heard songs like this and need to. This is a new level in terms of my own story.”
Released May 29, “Rainbow Boy” defies easy classification. Its 14 tracks run the gamut from pop to R&B and rap. “White Noise,” for instance, is a politically charged rebuke that riffs on classic Motown, while the sexy “Magic Mickey” recalls Lenny Kravitz and Craig David at their boldest.
What makes “Rainbow Boy” compelling is Lonsdale’s willingness to tap into the emotions he’s felt and reflect the adversity he’s encountered since going public as his authentic self three years ago. The 28-year-old, who is part Nigerian, shrugs off labels like “gay” and “bisexual,” saying only that he’s attracted to men and women.
“This is the first time I’m out in the world and not worrying if the way I walk, talk or dance is something that will be embraced,” said Lonsdale, who has described the album as “queer AF [and] Black AF” on social media. “I’m just focused on how good it feels.”
Lonsdale wrote all of the “Rainbow Boy” tracks with producer Louis Futon in Los Angeles. Still, he opted to return to Australia as California’s monthslong COVID-19 shutdown took hold. Heading back to Sydney, he said, would better support the story he wanted to tell through the album’s visuals.
“How dare we continue to uphold systems that don’t allow a guy to sing directly about being in love with another guy, having sex with another guy.”
He hopes to use his time in self-isolation to create videos for at least two new songs, “On My Wave” and “Gay Street Fighter.” A music industry pal, he said, tried to convince him to change the title of the latter track, fearing its reference to same-sex love would dissuade listeners.
Lonsdale refused to back down.
“It’s strange that my presence [and] singing about the way things really are is still met with confusion,” he said. “Instinctively I want people to feel safe and comfortable, but ... sometimes people need tough love, too. How dare we continue to uphold systems that don’t allow a guy to sing directly about being in love with another guy, having sex with another guy. We’re living in a false narrative that allows people around the world to be fed lies and fears.”
He added, “That’s something that the Black and queer communities both face. To be at the intersection of both is challenging, but beautiful.”
The release of “Rainbow Boy” coincides with Londsale’s return to the small screen in an episode of “Love, Victor,” Hulu’s series spinoff of “Love, Simon.” And his album arrives at a time when LGBTQ artists are making powerful strides in mainstream pop.
Janelle Monáe earned near-universal praise and two Grammy nominations for her 2018 album, “Dirty Computer.” And last year, Lil Nas X set a precedent for queer musicians when his country trap smash, “Old Town Road,” became the longest-leading No. 1 single in Billboard chart history.
While grateful for such success stories, Lonsdale counters those who are content with current levels of queer representation in music.
“For the industry to say, ‘That’s enough,’ or pride themselves in filling a quota is the same thing as applauding Oprah [Winfrey] for being successful,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the people who came before me, but this is a long journey. There’s still so much work to be done.”