Toshio Meronek

Country Singer Chely Wright: "Coming Out Hurt My Sales"

Filed By Toshio Meronek | January 11, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Chely Wright, coming out of the closet, country music, music, People magazine

Last April, People promised to reveal a country star's big gay secret on Cinco de Mayo. All the pop culture blogs played the guessing game.

chely-wright-cd.jpgThat star turned out to be Chely Wright, who wasn't really known to people outside of pop country fans. But after the front-page coming out story, Chely went on to appear on Oprah, Ellen, and hundreds of other media outlets, which should have bumped up sales for her recent album. She says that it most definitely did not.

Queer lady blog Autostraddle has a new interview with the woman who was supposed to be the gay queen of country by now. In it, she tells of the backlash from certain fans she's faced since the People feature eight months ago.

Autostraddle: There's a perception within the gay community that coming out has helped your career, since you have all this exposure. Is that true?

Chely: They're wrong. There's the gay community that now knows my name and it's a long leap from the new demographic of people who will come to my Facebook page and hit the "Like" button to them buying my record and coming to live shows. It's a big stretch from those new fans to make up for the fans I lost. It didn't help my career. My record sales went directly in half. If it appears from the outside in that it's helped my career, it could be because I haven't talked about the negative. You won't hear me bitching and moaning on my Facebook about the hate mail I've gotten. My life has been threatened. I get nasty letters every day, "I'm through with you Chely Wright, you're going to hell." There's a big difference between press and advocacy and.... sometimes people forget that people who sing or make movies, this isn't just a hobby for us. This is how I pay my bills. In coming out I had a feeling that it would diminish my wage earning, and that feeling was correct. And, I am fine with that.

Of course, the music business is fickle, and there's no legit way to tell how much those damn BitTorrenters or other factors might have to do with Chely's decline in sales, but the hate mail is real. The full interview is here.

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...or her career was already dropping steadily and she hoped that coming out would cause enough controversy that people would buy her albums. Take your pick.

Renee Thomas | January 11, 2011 1:41 PM

"...or her career was already dropping steadily and she hoped that coming out would cause enough controversy that people would buy her albums ..."

I think you vastly overestimate the buying power of queer music fans . . .

Moreover, expecting the bulk of her core audience to embrace her by evidence of a bump in record sales betrays a cynical ignorance of the average country music fan. At the end of the day she came out for the same reason that any of us do . . . because she had to.

Or maybe the wider audience she was hoping to cultivate doesn't appreciate her jingoism as much as the country radio audience that she alienated by coming out.

@Bil Browning
I wish people would stop with these nonsensical allegations. Have you actually read something about her life? She lost a 12 year relationship because of the strain of both living deeply in the closet. And she almost committed suicide over that and her overall unhappiness. She already had the gun in her mouth. It's pretty obvious she came out for her own sake - even if she did it in a very public way.

Her best bet is to ditch the traditional country genre and do something with more mainstream appeal. Like folk or folk rock.

I'd have to agree. I don't think she came out for the publicity, and it wasn't like her career was slowing down at the time either - it was on a complete hiatus at that point. I don't have career advice for her, but she's right about how people love to "support" artists but then never do anything for them financially.

Every interview I see or hear from her is filled with sincerity, intelligence, honesty and an earnest desire that her coming out help queer kids in the parts of the country that don't pay attention to outsiders -- as an insider, she was uniquely positioned to help change those minds, and she did everything she could to make that happen. Did you know that part of her preparation was to research the movement to try to figure out how she could help with her coming out most effectively? That's how she hooked up with GLSEN. She's also working on making a new LGBTQ center through her new foundation -- she's putting it in Kansas. It's going to be called Lighthouse.

Her book is amazing. I really like her record, and I'm not a country fan in general -- it does seem to be a little more folk-rocky than pure country. And I can't wait for the documentary that some people have been working on about her coming out process -- they started back when she first decided to do it.

There is so much cynicism around celebrities, but I don't think that helps anyone -- especially in this case where, if you scratch the surface, you see nothing but heart.

Renee Thomas | January 11, 2011 1:31 PM

"Take your pick . . .”

Or Bil you could take the lady at her word.

The reality is that coming out in any public venue still mostly sucks. In past years I've worked in the music industry in a technical capacity and I observed that the pressure on artists to make a living by touring is incredible. Many talented artists (most without the societal baggage of being gay in tow) struggle to make and sustain a career. The field is very crowded and the listening public is often very fickle.