Making it in the music industry as a gay male artist remains a difficult course to navigate in 2015.
Sam Smith was able to find success with the release of In the Lonely Hour last year, but one could argue that his inoffensive mass appeal owes itself, at least partially, to his intentionally gender-ambiguous lyrics, which obscured his sexuality from some listeners. And although artists whose queerness is more explicitly woven into their work, like Le1f and Arca, might find themselves snatched up as critical darlings, the press tends to forget about them once the general public fails to follow suit—save for a mention on an annual gay-themed listicle.
Who Is Fancy is one of the most recent artists to attempt to navigate that course—but who is Who Is Fancy? To uncover the answer to that very Angie Jordan-esque question, I went straight to the source.
Who Is Fancy, or simply Fancy, is the stage name of Jake Hagood, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who was born in Bentonville, Arkansas, but came up through Nashville. Billboard says that he turned 24 in March, but, when I asked Fancy to confirm, all he would tell me is that he's "timeless, thank you for asking."
Just before the release of his debut single, "Goodbye," in February, Fancy's team—including management head Scooter Braun, who manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande—decided to keep his identity a secret in the hopes that it would build interest in him. (I feel like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would have a lot to say about this.) The strategy didn't exactly pan out; "Goodbye" barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 98, and the track's accompanying three music videos—with a combined total of 5 million or so views—didn't quite become the viral sensations they were intended to be.
But now, Fancy is out of the proverbial industry closet, promoting the release of his new single, "Boys Like You" featuring Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande, as he works on his debut EP, out sometime early next year. Here's what he had to say about "[refusing] to be ambiguous" in an industry that might prefer it, per our phone interview last week.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Fusion: Hey, Fancy? Hi. Where are you calling from?
Who Is Fancy: I'm at mi casa in Los Angeles, California.
Do you spend most of your time in L.A. now, or are you still based out of Nashville?
You know, I'd like to say I go back and forth, but my schedule doesn't allow go back to Nashville as much as I'd like. It's hard. In Nashville, I'd met my people, I'd found my crew. But I think I've started finding my people over here on the West Coast.
You're not from Nashville though, right?
I was raised in Arkansas. I spent most of my childhood there, but I moved to Nashville at 17.
So, how did you come up with your stage name, "Fancy"?
When I came out of the closet, I kinda burst those closet doors down. I did my makeup, had my hair did—everything about me was very different overnight. One of my coworkers at the Forever 21 in Nashville I was working at referred to me as "Fancy," as in the Drake song: "Oh, you fancy, huh?"
I'm sure "fancy" is one of the nicer epithets that's been thrown your way.
Oh my god, yeah. I mean, I haven't always been out, but I've always been this fabulous. Growing up in Arkansas, I've been called many things. So, when I was called "fancy"… I don't know if it was a positive thing, but I loved it. I identified with it, and I found a new confidence from that.
How did "Fancy" become "Who Is Fancy"?
That happened right before my first single, "Goodbye," went to radio after conversations between me, my label, and my management. Scooter Braun's a marketing genius. We were trying to figure out a way to build interest. We tried "I Am Fancy" and "We Are Fancy," but "Who Is Fancy" is where we landed.
Was it weird promoting a song that you couldn't really promote as yourself?
I remember one time when "Goodbye" came on while I was shopping at an H&M. I was like, "OH MY GOD, THIS IS ME." And this girl nearby looked at me and was like, "Uh huh." It's really funny how no one knew what I looked like, and now I could not be any more visible, working with Ariana and Meghan.
Yeah, tell me about your new single, "Boys Like You." How did you get Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor to feature on that track?
Meghan and I have been friends for a long time. We were both writers in Nashville back when she was, like, 18, and I was 20 or 21. "Boys Like You" has that doo-wop feel that Meghan is popular for, so when I asked she was like, "Obviously, I'll do that. He's my homie"
As for Ariana, I think I was in Philadelphia for Pride, talking to my manager, Olivia Zaro, about how I wanted to have a "Bang Bang" moment with "Boys Like You." You know, like bring together a big roster of pop stars on one song? Less than 24 hours later, Scooter was on the phone asking how I'd feel about Ariana Grande being on "Boys Like You." It was so quick—wrote a third verse the next day, and that weekend I was in the studio with her.
One thing I really like about "Boys Like You" is that you actually specify the gender of the person the song's about.
What I write about has to come from what I'm going through and what I feel, and I obviously have a lot of feelings about boys. "Goodbye" was about ending things with this guy I had a crush on. He told me I needed to stop going for "boys like him," so that's where "Boys Like You" came from.
Were you ever pressured to mystify the fact that you like you guys in your music? And did you ever consider it?
Before I signed with Scooter and my labels, I mean, that was always the question. I used to only get hired as a songwriter because, honestly, almost nobody in Nashville knew how to take me on as an artist. But I refuse to be ambiguous—nothing about me is ambiguous! My new team is amazing. They've never tried to tell me not to say anything about my sexuality or boys. I feel like it's important to make that heard, especially if it's somehow still somehow shocking for me to sing about liking boys in 2015.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.