Country Singer Fancy Hagood on Life as a Gay Artist in Nashville: 'Our Stories Are All Important'

Singer-songwriter Fancy Hagood — who released his debut album, Southern Curiosity, last week — talks LGBTQ representation in country music

Fancy Hagood
Fancy Hagood. Photo: Bridgette Aikens

Fancy Hagood has found himself — and a home — in Nashville.

The singer-songwriter released his debut album, Southern Curiosity, last week, but it's been a long road.

After initially moving to Nashville to pursue a career in music nearly a decade ago, the Arkansas native took a detour to Hollywood, where he spent two-and-a-half years pursuing his dreams of stardom. After signing with mega-manager Scooter Braun, Hagood — who at the time went by the moniker "Who Is Fancy" — scored a Top 40 hit with debut single "Goodbye" in 2015 then teamed up with Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor for the A-list collab "Boys Like You."

But when he felt like he was being pulled in the wrong direction creatively, Hagood left Los Angeles and returned to Nashville to focus on his true passion: storytelling. And storytelling is the bedrock of Southern Curiosity, which perfectly blends his down-home drawl with inescapable melodies on country songs about love, loss and identity.

Here, the 30-year-old rising star (real name: Jake Hagood) opens up about his journey back to Nashville and how he is representing the LGBTQ community as a gay country singer.

Fancy Hagood
Fancy Hagood. Bridgette Aikens

First, tell me about the name Fancy and where that came from.

The Drake song ["Fancy"] is where it came from. I worked at Forever 21 a long time ago, and that's kind of when I came out of the closet. It was the first time I was around other queer people and I felt so empowered to be myself. I jokingly say, "I didn't come out of the closet. I burst out of the closet on a unicorn and rode out on a rainbow." My hair was platinum blonde, I was wearing a full beat face, all my clothes were out there, and it was just the first time in my life I felt like I could express myself however the f— I wanted to. And no one in that space was judgmental. Everyone was super supportive. And one of the store managers there started referring to me as Fancy because my hair was done, my nails were did, everything's did. And it just kind of caught on. Next thing I know, I'm on the schedule as Fancy.

And Fancy was the first time someone was poking fun at me where I felt empowered by it. You know, she's calling me this and I'm sitting there thinking, "You know what? That's exactly what I am. There's no other way to describe it." And that's just always stuck for me. Fancy represented freedom, and I finally felt free, and I don't ever want to not feel that way.

It depends on where I'm at geographically, what people assume my name comes from. Because in Nashville, everyone sings Reba [McEntire's "Fancy"]; in Los Angeles, everyone sings Iggy Azalea; then in New York, everyone sings the Drake song.

You're back in Nashville now, but you briefly pursued a career in pop. What happened?

I was playing a game. I was trying to fit into an algorithm and really there wasn't space for someone like me. And I kept trying to force being something that I'm not to make other people happy, to feel heard, to feel seen. And ultimately, all these bucket list things were coming true for me and I wasn't happy. And at the end of the day, that's because I wasn't truly able to be myself. I wasn't truly creatively or outwardly being myself. I was being a product and being made to be something that doesn't really identify with me.

I became someone that I am not, and that is a people pleaser. You know, when you have all these big names talking to you and whispering in your ear what you are or what you should be, you start to believe it. You know, you get signed off of being yourself, and the next thing, the conversation is, "Well, we need to change your wardrobe," or, "You need to lose this much weight," or, "Now we're going to do this," or, "You're the male Meghan Trainor. You need to just make a blue-eyed soul Motown record." And then you make that record, and then it's like, "Well, this isn't you. You need to make a rhythmic pop Justin Bieber album." And I'm like, "I'm not Justin Bieber, but here I go." And then when you do what you do naturally, it's like, "Oh, well, you're too Nashville. This isn't singer-songwriter. You sound country."

The second I stepped away from that, the second I took things into my own hands and I quit looking for validation from outside people that aren't creating my music, it all started falling in place.

What did you learn from that crazy time in your life?

I was singing songs with Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor, and in my wildest dreams, that would never have been possible. But I learned that that is possible, and that is a stage I can stand on. And that's another thing that it afforded me, is just knowing that these dreams of mine, that I've always been told, "You're crazy. That's never going to happen. You need a day job, or you need a Plan B." I learned that it all is very much possible, but I'm also thankful that I got to step away from it and kind of collect myself and find myself again, to realign my dreams with who I am and what I want, and then start over.

I have a better sense of self. Anytime you get something and you're able to say, "This is not what I want," you're able to then start formulating what it is that you do want and who it is you want to be. I'm super grateful for those experiences because they taught me a lot. I feel like I got a Hollywood pop music bootcamp.

After moving back to Nashville, you spent the better part of five years working on this album. Why did it click this time?

It was a long time coming. And it just was honestly me shaking off everything that had been put onto me. All of the doubt, all of the rules per se, that you start feeling like you have to play by. I moved back to Nashville and just started trying to figure out what it was in the first place that made me Fancy and what it was in the first place that made me want to write music.

My real name's Jacob, and that means storyteller. And so I feel like this album is my homecoming of shaking away all of the pressure, all of the voices in my head, and just being able to say, "This is who I am." I'm sharing my stories, I'm being real, I'm being honest. And hopefully, it connects

I was able to pull stuff from my own experience, my own journal, and make them come to life in a way that I don't know that I've ever heard in a big way growing up. I was always having to reach towards women to hear my point of view or my story be told. And I've been passionate about it from day one, about my artistry, about being true to who I am, and I happen to be a gay man, and I don't want to be told that my story doesn't belong on a mainstream platform, because it does. Our stories are all important.

Fancy Hagood
Fancy Hagood, Southern Curiosity. Bridgette Aikens

Tell me about being an out, gay artist in Nashville. Are there difficulties that come with that?

It's interesting because I think people would say that Nashville is more conservative and definitely probably a harder place to exist as a gay creator. But what drew me back to Nashville after I went to LA was the fact that I think people here truly care about songs. So even if people here didn't quite understand my artistry or what I wanted to do on a platform of my own, I think people always appreciated me as a songwriter and always included me as a songwriter. I had this creative community rally around me here in Nashville.

When I first arrived on the scene in 2012, 2013, it was a different story. Getting co-writes was hard at first. And I will say, I was a little bit more flamboyant, I was a little bit more dramatic with my appearance. I had platinum blonde hair, I wore makeup. But I was also in my early twenties, experimenting with being gay for the first time in my entire life. Coming from a place like Arkansas, where it's way harder to be fabulous and gay, Nashville was a place where I was able to explore myself and come into my own identity, whether that be sexual or even just as a creator. I was able to find myself here.

How did that compare to working in L.A.?

In Los Angeles, I expected this paradigm shift of, "Being gay is okay here and I can be my wild self," and I actually found myself more boxed in. Because in Nashville, no one had done what I was doing or no one really could tell me one way or the other, because it was just so polarizing and crazy altogether. Where in L.A., even though being gay is not really a conversation and people don't really care, I found myself being told to tone it down. Or, "If you're going to wear makeup, it needs to be neutral colors," or, "If you're going to wear something provocative and crazy, it just can't be sequins."

I couldn't believe that, in West Hollywood, of all places, I was being told to tone it down and pull back, where in Nashville, no one even tells me to do this stuff because they've never seen it. It's my own lane. Coming back to Nashville was honestly a huge weight off my shoulders because I'm a part of a musical creative community here where I don't think people really care about my sexuality.

Your friend TJ Osborne (of Brothers Osborne) recently came out as gay. What did it mean to you to see another queer person living openly in Nashville?

It sends a larger message and that's this: If you're listening to our art, you're listening to our songs, you're watching our movies, you're wearing our clothes, you're a part of our culture and you might not even know it. Because some people aren't out and some people aren't in a place in their life to be able to step into their truth and say all of that, because that's everyone's own journey and it takes different times for different people. But that's not to say we're not still creating, we're not still putting stuff in this world that people are relating to.

I've known TJ for a very long time, and I jokingly have said this for years: "We might be in the same basket, but we're different fruits." [Laughs] Someone like TJ coming out is really inspiring to me because it shows everyone that we're not all the same. We all look and breathe and act and perform differently, and you might be experiencing gay culture and you don't even know it.

I think the message that: "We're here, we're queer, and you might not even know it," is so empowering, because gay people don't all sound the same, we don't all look the same. You know, some of the stereotypical clichés apply to some of us and they don't apply to others. And I think that's the most beautiful thing about anyone stepping into their truth, is it's showing, being queer, it's a large spectrum, and you don't know all the time because not everyone is that stereotypical gay male and not everyone has those immediate identifiers.

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