Country artists and their loyal fans have long been notorious for their right-wing viewpoints and rarely come out to play with LGBT audiences -- let alone speak with gay publications. But in March Martina McBride sent shock waves through the world of country music when she spoke with Out.
Now Reba McEntire is bridging the gap even more. As she releases her 31st album, Keep on Loving You, on August 18th, the one-time rodeo singer turned diva with album sales of over 55 million faces another challenge -- how to address the LGBT community without alienating the fan base that helped her reach and maintain country royalty status. McEntire who has topped the charts 33 times over -- spoke with Out about her new album, sending Tweebas to her fans, and how growing older has changed her approach to making music.
Out: There are going to be people who will not appreciate you doing an interview with a gay publication. What do you say to those individuals who are more conservative and dont support the LGBT community?
Reba McEntire: I just try not to judge. Dont judge me, and I wont judge you. And thats what it says in the Bible -- Dont judge. Keep an open mind. That would be my voice. I have gay friends. I have a lot of straight friends. I dont judge them. I take them for what they are. Theyre my friends, and I cant defend my feelings for them, other than I like em.
Do you think there is a place in country music for an openly gay artist?
[Laughs] I cant say for sure, but anything is possible.
The first single from your new album, Strange, is your fastest rising solo single and the highest solo chart debut of your career. What is the key to your success?
We work really hard to stay up-to-date. Were all into the computers now. I dont know how many computers I own. Im into Twitter. I tweet all my Tweebas. I also do the blogs, the chats, and all this Facebook kind of stuff. Youve got to stay current and up with the competition. The main thing, though, is finding the greatest songs you can possibly find.
Your husband, Narvel, said this album is one of the best of your career. What other albums do you think represent your strongest work?
Oh gosh. Looking back, I think the album with all of the songs I wish I had recorded. Oh, what is the name of that album? Narvel can tell you in a heartbeat.
You mean Starting Over in 1995?
Yes! That album was one of my strongest. For My Broken Heart (1991) was one of my strongest. When you have them out they are all your favorites. When you have 31 albums, its hard to remember all of them.
Speaking of Narvel, you two just celebrated your 20th wedding anniversary. How have you maintained such a successful marriage?
Respect, faith, love, trust, and lots of patience.
There are many in the LGBT community who want the right to marry and have what you and your husband have together. What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?
Again, I cant judge that. I have gay friends who have partners, and I see where they would want to get married. I understand why. So, I cant judge that.
Over the years your music has gone from more traditional country to more pop. How do you address critics who say you have abandoned your country roots?
You have to go with the times. Country music today is what pop was back in the '70s. You listen to '70s pop and by gosh, thats country music today. Thats what is so great about being able to record a 13-song album. You can do a very eclectic group of songs. You do have some almost pop songs in there, but you do have your traditional country, story songs. You have your ballads, your happy songs, your sad songs, your love songs, and your feisty songs. If you only had one song you could put out to be heard, it would be like putting out a book a year.
Youre speaking with a gay publication right now, and thats something that may not be widely accepted. Im remembering what happened with the Dixie Chicks after they spoke out against then President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Do you find that radio station owners and managers take into account political affiliation when deciding who to play and push on the airways?
I cant speak for them, but I think they listen to their audience. When fans got mad at the Dixie Chicks, I think they had to pull the records.
So you dont think they ultimately make the decision?
I have no idea what they do. I cant speak for them.
Keep on Loving You marks your first album with your new record company, Valory Music Co. What made you leave your former record company, MCA/Universal, after being with them since 1976?
My recording contract was up, so I chose to go with Scott Borchetta (President/CEO of Valory and sister label Big Machine Records) because I had worked and had a lot of success with his team when he was at MCA.
Is it a long-term contract?
Its not, but I dont see me going anywhere else.
You said about the new album, Everything that were doing now is more Reba than it was in the past. The things I did in the past were things I wanted to do to entertain me. After all of these years in the business, who is Reba McEntire?
Reba McEntire is more of a mature person than even the last album she recorded six years ago. Im older and more secure in myself. For instance, when someone comes up to me and says, I think you really need to record this song; it will be smash hit, if I listen to it and my heart is not into it, it will never be a number 1 hit. I really have to sing songs that I love and am passionate about. Then I know when I go out on that stage and sing that song, I know from the bottom of my toenails that it is a song I absolutely love. Therefore, when I sing it, hopefully youll fall in love with it too because I have so much passion for it.
Yes, getting on that stage -- will you tour with this album?
Were not planning to until January.
And what about Broadway? You took it by storm and won rave reviews when you did Annie Get Your Gun in 2001. Are you coming back?
Id love to. We dont have any plans to right now because were really focusing on my music. But, I love the theater community. I love Broadway. I never did anything until Annie Get Your Gun. That was the first play I had ever done in my life. It was the hardest work I had ever done in my life, but it was very rewarding.
Youve done Broadway. You had a hit TV show, a best-selling autobiography, starred in a few movies, and, of course, the records. After it all, what are you the most proud of?
My son Shelby. That was the greatest thing I had ever accomplished. Hes a good boy -- a very good young man, and I love him to pieces. Hell be 20 next year.
Does he have any plans to go into show business?
I dont think so. Hes more into cars. He loves to design cars. That may turn. He may get into the management part of the business like his brother Brandon and his father, but not musically. He never did go that way.
Before we say goodbye, what parting words would you like to say to your fans -- gay or straight?
I hope they like [the album]. The reason I named the album Keep on Loving You is a tribute to my fans. I wanted to say, Youve always been there for me and realize that Ill keep on loving you.
Keep on Loving You and Reba McEntires latest single, Consider Me Gone, are out now. For the latest on Reba, visit www.Reba.com.