People keep asking TJ Osborne how he feels, which makes sense given the things he’s up to, but it makes him uneasy to hear this well-intentioned question over and over again from so many people – his friends, family, his team, and even me in the Over the days that led to this now, at a masked photoshoot in East Nashville, he insists that putting on a jacket makes him feel good “I’m ready to get this over with,” he says

TJ is tall and friendly, with a seedy, sonorous voice that often turns into deep, warm laughter.He is the singer of Brothers Osborne, the duo he formed in 2012 with his brother John, a guitarist together they make deeply rooted, soulful country rock that sounds as good on the radio as if it were filling an arena. Since signing with EMI Records Nashville, they have released seven country top 40 singles and three studio albums, including their passed out platinum hit ” Stay a Little Longer “which went on to mainstream radio (Have you ever fell in love in late summer and seen an orange-purple sunset from the bed of a pickup truck? Well, neither do I, but this song will make you feel like it The duo have won four CMA awards, nominated for seven Grammys, and worked with hard-hitting contemporaries in the country such as Dierks Bentley and Maren Morris.The duo’s popularity is not surprising: both T.J and John hire actors with a knack for anthemic hooks

What might surprise fans of the band is the news that TJ, 36, is gay This is not a new revelation for him Known since his youth, he’s been around his close community in Nashville with family and friends for years. In some ways, he says, coming out publicly isn’t a big deal. “I feel very comfortable being gay,” says he later said, in a quiet room in his management company’s office, “I’m being protected because I don’t want to talk about something I personally have no problem with. It feels so strange”

But his reservations are understandable, as country music remains a bastion of mainstream conservatism in American art and culture.If liberal Hollywood is notorious for advancing a progressive agenda, the country has historically been its counterpoint – a safe haven for traditional “family values” “It doesn’t matter that many country artists like Nashville have poor blues as a city: They know that their primary market, like the state of Tennessee itself, is red. The country music business is lucrative and generates $ 5, according to the RIAA alone $ 5 billion for Nashville’s economy; When artists speak up, they run the risk of alienating the audience, especially at a time when even single statements of support for a cause can be misinterpreted The Story of the Chicks, formerly the Dixie Chicks, who went into exile after criticizing the Iraq war Taylor Swift even cited the band’s fall as a reason they remained publicly apolitical for so long: “You’re always one comment away from finishing,” she told Variety in an interview in 2020

With this news, TJ becomes the only openly gay artist who is under contract with a major country label – a historic moment for the genre.Of course, he had predecessors: other openly queer artists, from Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile to the masked cowboy Orville Peck to viral hitmaker Lil Nas X, have found success by incorporating country influences into their anti-genre music, and country artists including Chely Wright and Billy Gilman have passionate fan bases. But TJ Perhaps the first to come out with his feet so firmly planted in the sound and machinery of the mainstream country in the prime of his career

He is concerned that coming out will look opportunistic or attention grabbing. “People will ask,” Why does this even need to be discussed? “And I personally agree,” he says, “But if I showed up at an awards ceremony with a man, it would be mind-boggling for people. It wouldn’t be,” Oh, cool! ”

What happens next remains to be seen “I don’t think I’ll get run off the stage in Chicago,” he says, “But in a rural town that has a fair? I’m excited to see how that goes. “The professional risks he takes when he comes out are worth it, both for his own luck and because the time is. Country music is about storytelling, and that means TJPerhaps, T.’s identity is inextricably linked to his musicJ says land is not the most popular genre among gay people “But is that just because they never had a chance to relate to it?”

TJ is the abbreviation for Thomas John, the reverse of his older brother and bandmate, whose name is John Thomas, named after her father, whose name is also John Thomas, although people call him “Big John”. He grew up in Deale, Md, a working class town of Chesapeake Bay, TJ and his siblings – including sister Natalie who now works for a publisher in Nashville – were always musical and performed on local shows with Big John’s blues band But being closed off was painful. “It was so lonely and isolating,” TJ says “It made me angry” A first heartbreak in his early twenties weighed on him even more when he felt he couldn’t tell anyone “I was angry that no one knew why I was hurt” He says he channeled that agony into his music. A song he wrote about that relationship called “21 Summer” has become a fan favorite, and you can see why: It’s a big, nostalgic singalong with lyrics about cut jeans and hair blowing in the wind It’s still tender for him – not just heartbreak but how alone he’s been through “There are so many times I’ve sung this song and wanted to cry”, he says “People love this song, but the emotions are deeper than they even realize”

After moving to Nashville, TJ and John signed a publishing deal and eventually a recording deal. It was around this time he was in his mid-twenties when TJ first told his brother that he was gay “He was very open and open about it and I was emotional because my brother was finally able to be completely honest with me about who he was,” recalls John. “How often in life do we hold parts of us back and wish we didn’t? ” His reaction when TJ Ultimately, choosing to come out publicly was similar to “If I had to erase all of my money and success so that my brother could really be fulfilled in life,” says John emphatically, “I wouldn’t even think about it for a second”

As Brothers Osborne’s career grew, they made gestures toward inclusion, starting with the video for the single “Stay a Little Longer,” which featured gay and interracial couples. The response was mostly overwhelmingly positive, “And Then,” TJ says, “There were people who like” fagot lovers! “were”This type of reaction was particularly daunting for TJEven amid the confirmation he had received from his family and friends, staying closed to the public was also suffocating – not just for him but for the guys he dated “Say,” Hey, hold my hand Not someone I know is in here So can you wait in the car? “, He says” You would rightly feel undesirable from me “

The months spent in lockdown due to the pandemic forced some introspection and he realized that the perfect moment to get out would never come he had to make it for himself. “I want to be at the height of my career, just who I am,” he says, then stops. “I mean, I am who I am, but I have a part of myself muted and it choked me ”

He hopes this will open up a new world of creative possibilities. It helps that the band has already stayed away from some of the gender tropes that can pop up in country songwriting “If our songs were all about” Get in my truck, Girl “went, that could really confuse some people,” laughs John

TJ Agrees: “It’s not that I want to write a song that begins “He’s starting to sing and it’s a shock right now how rich and robust his baritone is.” Hey boy “He flinches” Just that I got this right sounded awful, didn’t it? “(Reader, it wasn’t!) He continues,” But the worst thing about creativity is having limits “

That doesn’t mean their next album will be a disco record Brothers Osborne plan to keep making the same music they always did (When I tell them that country rock music with a male front feels like the last stronghold of straight culture to me, they both laugh, “That could be my fault “John quips) But there’s also the possibility that TJThe openness will widen the field for new fans to make them feel welcome. “Others feel invited to the country music party for the first time,” says TJClose friend Kacey Musgraves, the singer-songwriter whose progressive storytelling helped her become a mainstream fan base “Country music deserves a future even more honest than its past”

When Ellen DeGeneres appeared on the cover of that magazine in 1997, it was shocking to many – both the act of coming out and how visible it made herself. Now the tide has turned to calmer identifications, especially as young people become more fluid expressions Accepting Sexuality and Gender For high profile people, high profile coming out has largely fallen out of favor; A public figure now might as casually mention their weirdness on social media as they would a formal announcement, which gives you both control and potentially minimizing the message

In pop, it is beneficial to be perceived as a provocateur.This is less the case in a country that is still a risk-averse business that is carried on with the established machines of radio and touring and in its texts and soundscapes More traditional tropics act Even amid calls for greater inclusion, the homogeneity of the genre’s top performers is still remarkable. “All the steps that have been taken were deliberately kept small enough not to ripple on country radio,” says Musgraves / p>

Will conservative radio programmers or rural concertgoers just as much enjoy playing and leaving behind a gay artist, even one they already know and love? Both brothers want to believe the answer is yes “Maybe I don’t give my fans enough credit,” T saidJ says “Maybe I don’t give the genre enough credit” Its reasons for doing this now have nothing to do with wanting to be loved or hated “I just want to keep going,” he says again and here I break

So I ask TJ a question that is, what if there is nothing to go on from? What if being gay is a gift and your gayness is not to be tolerated but to be celebrated, and even if it takes a long time to unravel the shame and confusion of growing up gays in a straight world, it is well worth using Your voice not only to sing songs about cut jeans and hair blowing in the wind, but to say clearly and without apology that this is who you are? What if there are a lot of gay boys in small towns who haven’t figured it out yet and are overwhelmed by snarky TV pals and glittery pop stars shouting anthems to self empowerment, and what if those small town gay boys do one need to have? own avatar – if you only knew someone like her sang this song about cut jeans and hair blowing in the wind on the radio? Isn’t that why we spend so much time talking about representation, because as much as it is a burden, is it the only antidote to loneliness to be different? And – not to tell him how to feel, which is, of course, exactly what I do – but not this opportunity to own who he is in a place some people might prefer him to be does not exist, to hug something instead of enduring something?

“Don’t get me wrong”, TJ says “When I say I want to get it over with, I want to get this over with because ultimately it’s a very small detail about me”

But what if being gay isn’t a small detail? I ask what if it’s the most important thing about you? Which is not to say that it should be or that it is, just that – what if?

TJ nods “There are times when I think that I’ve pushed that part of me to the edge to make me feel better,” he says, “And I know it’s a big part of me: how I think the way i act, the way i play god, think of all the times we talk about love and write about love it’s the greatest thing we can ever feel and i kept the veil on “he sighs” you know the thing – stand for something or you are going to fall for something? “he says” That sounds like something someone in country music would say. But if you stand for something and it is not what you stand for, then you hate it it’s who he is, whether people like it or not “I’ve done more than I ever thought,” he says, “At this point, my happiness is more precious than anything else I could ever achieve”

It’s almost dark by the time we return to his home north of Nashville, and it’s a sticky evening, so warm it almost feels like summer. Along the river through the darkness I can see where herons make their nests in have built the treetops I stand outside and ask TJ, maybe for the tenth time that day how he feels

TJ Osborne

World News – US – TJ Osborne is ready to tell his story