Boots on the Ground With Greyson Chance
LGBTQ

Boots on the Ground With Greyson Chance

Story by Riley Leight / Photography by Monroe Alvarez / Styling by Katie Qian

In the music video for Greyson Chance's new single, "Boots," he struts through the desert like he owns the place, decked out in cowboy-inspired gear. As part of our current western renaissance, the track celebrates his Oklahoma roots while also poking fun at trend obsessed LA culture — like when Chance's opponent pauses to puff on a Juul during a Clint-Eastwood-style standoff. "I've been western before all of these punks," he sings, both warning us and reminding himself who he really is against a barrage of forces that might pressure him to be something else.

The song — with its grizzly, booming beats and a dynamic blend of rock/electronic influences — feels like a confident step into a new era of Chance's now decade-long career. "Boots" makes clear he's carving out space in music that authentically reflects the places and experiences that have previously shaped him.

Top, vest and pants: Louis Vuitton, Boots: Maison Margiela, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

At 12 years old, Chance's first taste of fame was a talent show performance of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" that went massively viral. He was quickly swallowed by the industry machine, who wanted to fit him into the Bieber mold — pumping out pop tracks and lacking creative control. After being dropped by his label at 15, Chance temporarily put music aside and later spent a year in college.

Ultimately though, his desire to create was rekindled, and he re-emerged as an artist with the album Portraits in early 2019. It introduced Chance as an adult, one with clear-minded ideas about heartbreak, sex and men, revealing an affinity for songwriting to accompany the vocal talent fans already knew well. "shut up," the album's breakout hit, has amassed 9 million views on YouTube and over 22 million listens on Spotify.

Top: Dior, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Now 10 years since the moment that first put his talent on display for millions and after a grueling year of touring with Portraits (more than 100 shows spanning multiple continents), the 22-year-old is ready to continue leveling up as an artist and performer. For his new album due out in 2020, Greyson's been in-and-out of the studio working with industry heavy-hitters like Teddy Geiger and Uffie to make music that gives fans a real look at what his life has been like for the last year. And if "Boots" is any indication, the songs will probably be on repeat all year.

In a short break from his performance schedule, PAPER caught up with Chance to talk about the new single, what this next era means for him as an artist, and how the last year has changed his perspective on his viral rise. Read, below, featuring the musician modeling designer boots.

What's the story behind "Boots"?

The song, at its core, is a statement on a cultural trend I saw happening as I was traveling this year throughout the country. It was really about walking around these different cities, particularly in LA, and seeing the way that westernwear had come into the mainstream. My friends and I would walk around and see these kids in vintage Wrangler that you could tell they spent like $100, $200 on, and we were laughing because we could find this shit in Oklahoma for five cents. It started there, and when we were in the studio writing the song, I followed that emotion. The essence of being a cowboy or fitting into that narrative is not about wearing the clothes. It's a lot more about the attitude, and that's what being from where I'm from taught me. So this song is a statement on that, in what I think is a fun and comedic way, too.

You live in LA now. Is that clash between where you are and where you come from something you come across often?

Absolutely. I've been on and off living in LA, or at least had a place there, ever since I started in music. So it's been like 10 years now. But I'm calling you right now from Oklahoma City. I also have a place here and spend time here. What I find is, as in any different city, it's a different speed and culture. I always find I'm maybe a bit too untamed for LA. I tend to piss people off a lot when I'm there, because I'm not saying the right thing all the time. You learn to adjust. Going back to "Boots," one of the biggest things I thought about when I was writing the song is, what would a person like James Dean look like if he was walking around Sunset Boulevard in 2019? What would his outlook towards the culture be? What would Johnny Cash look like? What would these iconic men think about these kids walking around in Wranglers? I think it would be a lot different than what you're seeing in California right now.

Top and pants: Gucci, Boots: Boot Star, Necklaces: Dalmata, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Top and pants: Gucci, Boots: Boot Star, Necklaces: Dalmata, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

"Boots" feels like this really confident entrance into a new era of music for you. Why did this feel like the right song at the right moment in your career?

I did like 105 shows last year, I was sort of in and out of the studio, and I'm working on a brand new record right now. This song felt to me like something I never really had before. Portraits, my last album, was a bit more emotional and heavy. When I wrote ["Boots"] it seemed out of my comfort zone in the best way, and I really just wanted to share that with people and show them I've been through a lot of shit in music, but this was a really good year. I really do feel like I'm stepping forward with a confident foot now from a confident place in my life, so I just wanted to share this.

You mentioned leaving your comfort zone, and it seems like you've really gone to a new level with your style, too. Especially in the "Boots" video, there are so many great looks. Was that intimidating for you?

No, actually, the funny thing is everything we did on Portraits and in this video included, I styled alongside Michaela McClure, who's my stylist. But also she's been my friend in Oklahoma since we were like 17 or 18. So for us, there were so many nights of finding the back room at the party and lighting up cigarettes and talking about what we would dream of wanting to do if we had the opportunity. "Boots" was the culmination of that. Every outfit, every ring, every piece that you see within that video, it's all thought of by us. The styling was probably one of the best parts of that video for me.

Jumpsuit and boots: Fendi, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Jumpsuit and boots: Fendi, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

People are still fascinated with your viral "Paparazzi" performance. What is it like to be tied to that origin story as an adult?

It used to really piss me off, if I'm honest. The past two years of giving interviews and with Portraits, I would still get those questions and it would irk me to the fullest degree. Because I was going, How many songs will I have to write, how many posts on Instagram, what am I going to have to do to get people to stop talking about this? What I realized throughout the year — and now being able to really think that it's been 10 years — is my foolishness within having that feeling. The reason why people ask is that it is an interesting story that I'm still here 10 years later. I think about a lot of other people that came after me that had their viral moment and weren't able to find their footing or find a connection to their fans in the way that I have, and I've been blessed to do that. For me now,I'm way more willing to talk about it and not be afraid of it. I'm learning to embrace it. 2020. New year, new me.

Have you always been comfortable performing on stage?

I'm starting to realize, 10 years after the fact, that it always has been an innate thing in me. When I'm not on stage, when I'm not performing, 95% of the time I'm thinking of new ideas about being back on stage and performing and how we can change the sho. This whole journey has really been me finding my confidence to know that I belong there. At this point, hopefully people will still buy tickets in the future, but if not, you can probably catch me at a bar in Oklahoma City until the day I die. I think we can bet on that pretty well.

Coat, top and pants: Amiri, Boots: Boot Star

Coat, top and pants: Amiri, Boots: Boot Star

You have a lot of fans who've grown up with you since that viral moment. What has that been like for you?

That's probably the coolest thing about all this. I have grown up with a lot of these kids that still come to my show. There are fans that come up at the meet and greet and I know where they go to college, just because we've been talking for so long and they've been coming to so many shows. That connection I have with them is something so special, and something that I think is a bit more unique if you compare me to newer artists right now. I'm looking forward to in 10 years, in 20 years, being able to see how this evolves and how this changes. It's something truly special.

Your music has also matured. Now, you explore a lot more adult themes and write honestly about your life. Were you ever afraid you might lose fans along the way?

Portraits was such a desperation album. And what I mean by that is I didn't have any choice, I just felt all of this music in me. I really felt like I knew I wanted to make an album and I didn't care about how it was going to do or what the reception was. I wanted to make it for the 15-year-old kid that got dropped by Interscope and didn't have any fucking idea what was going on in life. I remember crying back in my parents' house on that day saying, "Keep on going, keep on writing." Before Portraits happened, I had given up. I went to school and I was pretty dead set on never going back to music. What I've now learned is when I speak authentically, and I make the music that I want to make, people resonate so much more with that than me trying to sit in a room with 10 people thinking, How are we going to have the biggest song on pop radio? Moving forward, I'm going to keep locking myself in my bedroom and writing songs. I hope it goes well, and if not I'll crash on your couch. So to answer your question, I do not worry about losing fans. At this point I'm just writing music.

Top, vest and pants: Louis Vuitton, Boots: Maison Margiela, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Top, vest and pants: Louis Vuitton, Boots: Maison Margiela, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

You've previously talked about how music execs tried to monetize your sexuality, and people were trying to make business decisions around something really personal. Do you think the industry has changed?

If anything it's probably gotten worse. Now that we're finding ourselves in this moderately accepting society, you have to remember that music is still an industry. There's still these executives thinking how they can capitalize off these artists and how they can make the most money. I'm very critical of my peers and people within music and my space, especially other artists in the community and the way they present themselves within that space. Because there are a lot of things I have turned down because it didn't feel authentic. And it might have been a really good look for me, or it might have been a great post to have a lot of retweets, but I want to be an authentic gay person for my fans and for the community. So I think right now it's on artists. It's on us to make sure we're staying true to our word. And I remain really critical. I won't tell you who I'm talking about right now, but there was a lot of bullshit in 2019, for sure.

You mentioned you're working on a new album. How are you approaching it differently than you approached your last one?

I'd just been coming off our first leg of the tour in the spring, and I was so nervous to get back into the studio. We had just signed a record deal with Sony, and as I mentioned — my life before Portraits, and really when I was writing Portraits — I didn't know what was going to happen. So when it had been going so well, and when I got back into the studio I was like, "Okay, I'm now a full-time artist again, so let me figure this out." It took me a few months to feel comfortable again in the studio. I ended up meeting Teddy Geiger for the first time, and [we had] some long conversations about what we think is important in music right now and how albums are so important — making a body of work that is congruent, consistent and tells a story. If you want to know what happened in 2019 with me, just put this [new album] on, and I will tell y'all in really good detail. It's storytelling, and that will be my consistent theme as an artist as long as I make music — I'm going to tell you about my life. This album, in a way, it's definitely more confident than Portraits. Not that Portraits wasn't confident, but I think it was a bit more vulnerable. This album is a bit more romantic, as well — deciphering the boys and lack of men I've been with this year.

Top and pants: S.R. Studio, Boots: Syro, Necklace: Dalmata, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Top and pants: S.R. Studio, Boots: Syro, Necklace: Dalmata, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

There was so much heartbreak baked into Portraits. Are you approaching songwriting from a different angle now?

I am finding myself writing a lot about my relationships in 2018, which is what inspired Portraits. But on this album, it's a person who's had a year to think and recover. Think about if you've ever had a really bad breakup, right? Think about how when you're meeting up with your friends and you're talking to them about it — the first month, two months, you might be in this sad place. And then within the fourth, fifth month you might be like, "I'm picking up my stride." Then by a year into grieving this relationship, when you're talking to people about it, you're able to tell them about the inconsistencies that you see within it, and the things that were bad within the relationship, and I've been doing that through the music. I've been writing songs about how I look back at myself within that relationship that I thought was so strong and so sturdy, and I'm realizing where we were going wrong. I's going to be interesting for the fans to listen to Portraits and then put on this next album, because they're going to find a continuation of the story.

What are you hoping this year will mean for you and your career?

My career has been a constant chase to find enough confidence to know that I belong on that stage. It's been a constant battle sometimes because of what I've had to go through and because of some of the ups and downs in my career. I think my biggest goal for 2020, moving forward with this record is... I really don't give a shit how it does, I don't care about the reception of it, I don't care about those things. What I really want to focus on this year is knowing that I do belong on that stage, and I want those fans to know how much I love and adore them — how much I would lay my body down in front of a train for them, because they've been with me for so long. I want to know that I belong there. If I can do that, then it will be a successful year.

Top and shorts: Dior, Boots: Maison Margiela, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Top and shorts: Dior, Boots: Maison Margiela, Hat: Gladys Tamez Millinery

Stream "Boots" by Greyson Chance, below.

Photography: Monroe Alvarez
Styling: Katie Qian
Prop Stylist: Ali Isaksen (Isaksen Creative)
Groomer: Arlen Jeremy Farmer

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