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Ryan Beatty writes really good pop songs about boys
The former YouTuber and current Brockhampton affiliate is fully himself on his debut album, <i>Boy in Jeans</i>.
Photographer Molly Matalon

Like a lot of YouTube singers, Ryan Beatty was definitely going to be the next Justin Bieber. In 2012, he turned successful covers of Bruno Mars songs into a national anti-texting and driving campaign for AT&T that featured his catchy song “Hey L.A.” With some national attention and legions of fans under his belt, he was ready to become the next pop sensation. He dropped a 6-song EP and started touring all over America, but he soon found himself in a restrictive contract and put his musical ambitions on pause.

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Last year, Ryan re-emerged alongside hip-hop boyband Brockhampton as a frequent collaborator. He appeared on “Queer” off of Saturation II but it wasn’t until Saturation III’s “Bleach” that people were fully aware of how amazing the pairing could be. Thanks in part to Ryan’s haunting vocals on the hook, “Bleach” became one of the group’s most beloved songs. Most recently, Ryan performed alongside the band, Jazmine Sullivan, and serpentwithfeet on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to debut their song, “Tonya.”

After doing a string of solo shows, Ryan is finally ready to give his devoted stans, who regularly call him a king in the comments of his Instagram photos, a taste of what he has to offer as a serious artist. He’s no longer 16, and at 22, his debut album, Boy in Jeans reflects his artistic and personal growth.

Ryan came out publicly as gay in 2016 and the album is some of the first work where he is using male pronouns in his lyrics and frankly talking about sex. In his songs, he reminisces about making out with a cute boy at a high school dance and sings about the boys in his life that he shares cigarettes with now. Things have come full circle for the artist who once didn’t feel comfortable or like he was even allowed to sing about liking boys.

As it is his formal debut and reintroduction to the world, there is a lot riding on Boy in Jeans. When I met up with Ryan at his favorite juice spot in L.A. a week before the release, he was at ease. I wasn’t sitting across from a young boy at the beginning of his career, I was sitting in front of a young man ready to talk about his past, his new album, and the future ahead of him as a queer artist who makes pop music. He just wants to share his liberation with the world.

How does it feel to make pop music right now? There’s so much more queer representation than when we were growing up.

I absolutely love it. To be honest when I’m writing a song and talking about a guy, I’m never trying to like use my sexuality as a marketing point. It’s just my truth. So writing these songs it wasn’t a question of should I or shouldn’t I. It was just about writing my truth. I think my favorite lyrics in this album are my more explicit ones, where I’m really talking about intimate relations with another guy. It’s such a liberating feeling because I don’t feel like I’m compromising in any way.

How did the album title come to be?

Boy in Jeans was a lyric I had written for this song “Bruise.” At the time, I had previously titled the song “Bruise” “Boy in Jeans.” I changed the title because I wanted to hold onto it for the album title. When I hear that title, it feels like a painting almost. It creates an image for me that I think speaks for the album. There’s something so simple about it. The album cover as well has a simple thing to it.

In 2016, you publicly came out. I personally have not come out. I don’t really feel like I have to come out. Heterosexual people don’t have to so why do I have to make that grand announcement? So, I’m always interested to hear about how people go about it and how they navigated that space. Did you talk to your parents or your friends?

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So, I came out to my family the year before that. I came out to my sister first and I just remember it being something that I couldn’t imagine sharing with anyone.

It’s so personal.

Yeah, also the way I grew up. Being gay wasn’t something that almost even existed to me. I grew up really religious and it was something that I had pushed back so deeply in my mind that the idea of coming to reality of it being a fact, scared me so much.

When I grew up, I didn’t even know black people could be gay. I didn’t know those two things could co-exist at the same time. Once I came to the realization it was like, “Woah, this is an actual thing that can exist and it’s completely okay.”

I think once I had accepted it within myself I needed to tell somebody. I felt like I had been keeping a secret. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong even though I had accepted it. I needed to tell someone and I felt like I was lying everyday. I had put out songs with female pronouns and I talked about girls in a way that it felt not right to keep that going. But, I came out to my family a year before that and they were supportive. I mean, my immediate family was and that’s all that matters to me. My family has grown so much and I am honestly grateful that in a way I can be an example for them. They’re still religious but I think they set an example.

Did the misery you felt when you were younger have to do with you being in the closet? I feel like when I was younger some of my depression and misery had a lot to do with me not being able to fully comprehend like, “Yo I’m queer as fuck and that’s okay.”

100%. I think that was holding me back creatively. I remember being in the studio with producers and not wanting to say he/him in songs or i wanted to and felt like I couldn’t because I hadn’t shared that with anybody. It definitely held me out creatively and once I accepted that slowly but surely it allowed me to be more honest with my music and enjoy writing more because there’s nothing holding me back when it comes to creating. That’s when I became a good writer.

Are you proud of the YouTube videos? A lot of them are gone from YouTube...

For a long time I was really embarrassed by them because it was weird. I had started doing it in 2009-2010, but then I made my own channel in 2011. To be honest, it wasn’t something I ever thought about as like a career. It was more like just doing this, not even questioning anything. It’s just my story, there’s no hiding from it and I’m not ashamed like how I used to be. I embrace it more now. Even though I did take down the videos it was more because I want to be able to tell my story in a way that I want to.

A lot of back then was me compromising with what I felt like people wanted from me, including the people I was working with. Because, at first I was doing my own thing and then I got involved in a management and indie label deal that turned out to be really toxic for me. This is really an intense word but I felt like I was being brainwashed in a way. Anything that I wanted to do creatively I felt like I couldn’t because I was being told to play up what was expected of me.

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It was during that time when there was Justin Bieber, Austin Mahone, Cody Simpson, and all of those kids.

That was what I thought would only work for me. Anytime I would try to do something that was quote, “too mature”, I would be told not to do that. It was really disheartening for me especially being young. I remember coming off a tour, I was 17 and I remember being so sad. It hit me that if I wanted to be taken seriously and be an artist I wanted to be for myself, I knew that it was going to be a long time until I could get there because of how I was perceived and because of the music I had put out.

Did you have anyone to turn to and be like, “Yo, Mom! This is what’s going on!” As an outlet to vocalize how you felt?

I remember there was someone I was working with at the time who kind of in a way was my saving grace. Somebody on the management side that I could vent all these things to and she was really supportive. I’m really grateful that I had her. I remember flying home and literally about take off and it was so dramatic but thinking how am I going to do this. How am I going to continue on and become something that I want to be and something that I feel is important and not something that is just expected of me?

Everything happened so fast, it was the YouTube videos and then the whole AT&T campaign. It just seemed like it was extremely stressful to deal with at that young age.

Yeah I don’t think i could even catch up with what was happening at the time. Although I look back and have a lot of bad things to say about my experience I also have a lot of good experiences throughout that. It’s easy for me to be like, “Damn this was not what I wanted to have done as the first thing as a musician.” But, I don’t think if I had gone through that I would have made this album or been making music. Through all of that, I became really sad and depressed and I didn’t feel like there was a place for me anywhere. Not only in the music industry but I was living at my parents house and I was just living everyday almost like Groundhog Day. I didn’t feel like there was any movement in my life. I had decided to move on from my management and indie label and that was like three years of legal shit I had to deal with and I just felt like there was nothing for me to do.

Once the legal shit was over how did you feel?

Don’t get me wrong, even though it was over it was still going on. I don’t want to get into it because I don’t even think I’m allowed to get into it. But, it still was this dark cloud over me and I was just confused on what to do. I was almost waiting for somebody to be like, “Oh. Here’s what you have to do.” I was waiting on somebody to save me in a way.

Yeah?

I would do things here and there and take sessions when I could. But, even then I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer. I didn’t feel like people took me seriously or wanted to work with me. It wasn’t until last July, literally the day the album comes out is a year since I met Calvin, that I did the whole record with. It’s absolutely insane. The first day we worked together he came to the show that I was doing in Venice. It was this random show my friend invited me to play at. I was so close to not going, I was on the 405 stuck in traffic on the way there. I was so frustrated. I was playing this Amy Winehouse cover that night.

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What song?

It was “Valerie.”

Ayy.

I just didn’t want to be playing these covers anymore.

You wanted your own shit.

Exactly. But anyways, I decided to go. I felt like I did really good and Calvin [Valentine] came up to me and was like,“Yo, I’m a producer and I’d love to work with you.” I was like, “I have no clue who you are but I’m down to try or whatever.” So, a week later we had a session together. I almost didn’t show up because I felt so disheartened from all my experiences. I showed up and he had a room in his house in North Hollywood that we were working out of and we made this song “Euro”. It’s the second song on my record and we did that song in a few hours. I remember feeling like….If I could imagine what crack feels like, that’s what I imagine it to be. I felt like I was so tapped into something that I had been yearning for and searching for.

Was this before or after you linked up with Brockhampton?

This was during the middle of it. I met ian like a little bit before he released American Boyfriend. When he made that I remembering hearing that and being really inspired it. We became friends through that and also we had worked with mutual people. When they moved to North Hollywood so I just randomly started hanging out with them more often. It’s so weird looking back how it all started. It was such a natural friendship. I all the sudden was hanging out with them everyday. It felt like Summer camp. Literally going over there everyday and then were working on Saturation 2. I never planned on collaborating. It just kinda happened. I had never felt so comfortable with a group of artists like that. I remember talking in Ian’s bedroom and him being like, “You just need to find that producer that really understands where you're coming from and believes in you.” And the next day I had that session with Calvin.

How did “Bleach” come about? That’s my favorite, I love that shit so much.

I had done background vocals on “Queer” but we had never written together or done like a real song together. Romil made the track, me and Ian were there. Dom came in. And Ian like sang the melody and it was that instant feeling. We tracked the vocals, people came into the room and I just remember feeling after we put the hook in like, “This song is special.” I just felt it immediately.

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Everyone always says it gets better and I try to write and make things that younger me needed to hear and read. So anyone, who is a queer young kid in the closet, do you have any words of wisdom?

It’s really hard to answer this. First thing i would say is that once you accept yourself, everything changes. Once you fully love yourself it doesn’t matter what people think of you. It’s different for everybody, but it gets better. I was really refraining from saying that because it’s so cliche but it’s true. It might but really hard right now, but it gets better.

It’s all about patience. You gotta be patient that you’re going to find your real friends that love you and that doesn’t happen overnight.

You took the words out of my mouth. Patience is truly something that once you learn the art of being patient in all aspects of your life that is when you start to feel like things make sense.