“He’s great,” Pink said of Wrabel, with whom she co-wrote “90 Days,” a track on “Hurts 2B Human,” her latest album. “He’s an independent artist, and his dream is to make an album. I hope this is what does it for him.”
No worries. Wrabel more than justifies Pink’s praise with his latest solo EP, a six-song collection of breezy, wistful pop titled “one of those happy people.”
Recommendation from an artist of Pink’s stature, on a huge platform like DeGeneres’ show, was an overdue acknowledgment of a prolific, if still overlooked, talent. Over the past eight years, the Los Angeles-based Wrabel has co-written hits for Kesha, Adam Lambert and the Backstreet Boys, among other mainstream acts. Prior to joining Pink as a featured artist on her Beautiful Trauma Tour this summer, he opened for Broadway’s Ben Platt on Platt’s Sing to Me Instead Tour, playing to sold-out venues in Boston, New York and San Francisco, among other cities.
Wrabel’s success with such musical heavyweights helped pave the way for him to release “one of those happy people.” Anthemic tracks like “magic” and “love to love you” wouldn’t feel out of a place alongside Maggie Rogers or Lana Del Rey on a Saturday morning playlist. (Check out the lyric video for “magic” above.)
The collection’s title is intentionally tongue-in-cheek, given that the singer-songwriter —whose full name is Stephen Wrabel — has been known to bring on the heartbreak and those “sad piano vibes,” he told HuffPost. Of course, he hasn’t left his melancholy side behind completely, as the EP concludes with a tender ballad, “flickers.”
“I hadn’t just made stuff so freely in a long time,” Wrabel said of the EP, which was released last week. Writing for himself as opposed to an established pop artist, he added, afforded him the chance to “put it out without too many hoops to jump through. Nowadays people come in and expect me to just write sad ballads. This almost feels like something I would’ve made in college.”
The EP marks another milestone in the 30-year-old’s career, as “one of those happy people” marks his first major release as a fully independent artist recording on his own label. His 2014 debut EP, “Sideways,” was released by Island Records. Later, he joined Epic Records, but he said he left that label in August 2018 after feeling creatively stifled.
“I really like record labels. I’ve seen what they can do,” he said. “It’s not like I got out of the label system and was like, ‘Screw them.’ But when the machine starts to stall, when there’s creative differences and when you’re not all sharing the same kind of vision ... it can be really scary. It can feel like God is hitting ‘pause’ on your life or something.”
After leaving Epic last year, Wrabel founded Big Gay Records. The label’s name is a bit of an inside joke: As Wrabel told Billboard last month, he once envisioned that he would set up shop in a “big rainbow [publishing] house” in the heart of Nashville.
Wrabel, who is gay, has made sexuality and gender identity central to his work for some time. In 2017, he released “The Village,” which he wrote after meeting two transgender fans not long before President Donald Trump rescinded federal protections for trans students in public schools. Directed by Dano Cerny, the video for the song follows a trans teen desperate to be accepted by their conservative family. It became a widely praised viral hit, receiving more than 8 million views on YouTube as of Monday morning.
He took a lighter, though nonetheless inclusive, approach in the video for his 2018 holiday song, “First Winter,” which showed him cuddling with a boyfriend in the back of a pickup truck after a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt.
While “one of those happy people” may not contain such overt nods to LGBTQ themes, Wrabel doesn’t consider the EP to be any less queer than his previous releases.
“I just write songs that are true,” he told HuffPost. “My love songs are queer love songs. My breakup songs are queer breakup songs. I’m very much queer, so it’s definitely through that lens. But love, confusion over love, second-guessing ... that’s just the human experience, really.”
My love songs are queer love songs. My breakup songs are queer breakup songs. I’m very much queer, so it’s definitely through that lens. But love, confusion over love, second-guessing ... that’s just the human experience. Wrabel
Though Wrabel sees the music industry as “in a really nice place with open arms” as far as LGBTQ talent is concerned, he’s concerned about listeners, many of whom he feels are still likely to “write a queer artist off as a novelty or something.”
“The more we keep creating, keep trucking on ― in my mind, that’s how we fight anything, really,” he said. “I think it’s so cool that some of the biggest songs in the world are written by queer people. The visibility of that is amazing, and that does kind of start changing things.”
One way in which Wrabel plans to contribute to that visibility is by hitting the road. In October, he’ll kick off the 11-date “happy people sing sad songs” tour, co-headlined by singer-songwriter Billy Raffoul, in Seattle.
He plans to get more studio time with Kesha, with whom he co-wrote “Here Comes the Change” for the 2018 Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, “On the Basis of Sex,” as well as “Rich, White, Straight Men,” which was released in June. He also names Sam Smith as one artist he hopes to collaborate with. But Wrabel said he’s most fulfilled by working with up-and-coming talents, as “their stuff feels so free and wide open.”
As a whole, Wrabel said he feels more “comfortable and confident” in his artistic skin than ever, and he hopes that translates into his music and upcoming performances.
“I think if you asked me two years ago, ‘How’s it going?’ I would be like, ‘I don’t know, man. I’m waiting for something,’” he said. “Now I don’t feel like I’m waiting for anything. I feel proud of myself in a new way.”