QUEERLY: T.J. Osborne’s Coming Out Marks The Start Of A Paradigm Shift In Country Music

Country music is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I open Spotify and pick a song to listen to. But when I found out about country artist, T.J. Osborne’s coming out, I became intrigued.

Modern country music has seen a paradigm shift with an increase of genre-bending artistry and an increasingly diverse fanbase. Take for example, Orville Peck, a gay country star who embodies a slower and alternative feel to a classic country sound; we’ve also seen the success of the country rapper and increasingly pop-focused Lil Nas X. Not to mention gay icons Dolly Parton and Kasey Musgraves, who brought pop-infused country into the charts.

However, T.J. Osborne, who is the vocalist of Brothers Osborne with his guitarist brother John, has a more typical perhaps traditional country sound. From a first listen, you sense that Brothers Osbourne is country music – with its rock-focused backbone, guitar twangs, and crooning vocals.

Ironically, despite the diversity in production and consumption of country music, T.J. sticks wth the traditional sounds that embody what was (and for the most part still is) American mainstream conservatism. Music popular in the colloquially-referred “Bible Belt”, a place where “family values” take top priority in life and society.

Yet, T.J. is a gay man – when he came out in 2001 the duo released ‘Younger Me’ as a heartfelt and resonant thank you from T.J. to his younger self’s resilience.

In a TIME Magazine feature, which seemed like the final ‘official’ coming out, T.J. said that it was strange not being ‘out’ publicly, despite being proudly so to his family, friends and the Nashville community for so long.

“I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don’t have a problem with. That feels so strange.”, he said.

He posted a thank you video on his Instagram, writing that this story has “always seemed too mountainous to tell but now that it’s been told I am at a loss for words as to how clear the path was all along”.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Upon coming out, T.J. has become the only openly gay artist on a major country label. A remarkable milestone.

And while it’s not explicit, his coming out proves the ways that his identity as a gay man was and is an important part of his career, especially his writing.

Take, for instance, Brothers Osbourne’s song ‘21 Summer’. On a surface level, many people would assume that the person he is singing about was a woman (as we’ve been socialised to think). And though this is understandable and almost confirmed – thanks to the music video featuring a male and female pairing – the lyrics are actually gender neutral. T.J. never mentions a “he” or a “she” that he is referring to. Only “you”.

In reality, ‘21 Summer’ was about the first heartbreak of a closeted ay in his early-twenties. And beneath all the nostalgia and country tenderness of the song, it has a deeper, queer heart. It is a heartfelt song that is definitely worth listening to, if only to appreciate and support a queer artist.