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From Broadway star to shaking ass, Bradley Gibson enters his pop star era

From Broadway star to shaking ass, Bradley Gibson enters his pop star era

Bradley Gibson
Sam Pickart

Bradley Gibson is starring in The Lion King's 30th-anniversary show alongside Jennifer Hudson, Nathan Lane, North West, and Heather Headley.


When Out first spoke to Bradley Gibson back in 2018, he'd just debuted as Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King. Tonight, he'll reprise his role alongside Heather Headley, Nathan Lane, Billy Eichner, Jennifer Hudson, and North West in a special 30th-anniversary show at the Hollywood Bowl.

"I never performed at the Hollywood Bowl," he tells Out from NYC, days before flying to LA to begin rehearsals. "I'm in these meetings and getting these emails that are just kind of like, 'I'm like, why am I doing this? Not Jennifer Hudson and me?' But yes, Jennifer Hudson and me."

The triple threat has been a force in the industry for the last decade, starring in several Broadway productions and even featured roles on TV series Kung Fu, Partner Track, and Power Book 2: Ghost. The latter featured a queer sex scene that was a heated topic of discussion amongst viewers.

"It was one of the first queer relationships in that franchise, so it came with a lot of opinions, feelings," he recalls. "It's crazy to have like, it's crazy to have Snoop Dogg Instagramming your sex scene and being like, 'Yo, man, what's this?'"

Now, Gibson is stepping into his own as a pop star. As he gears up to release his dancey new single, "No ILYs," Gibson spoke to Out about the need to shake his ass this summer, The Lion King, his Broadway career, and, of course, new music.

Sam Pickart

Out: How are you feeling leading up to the show?

Bradley Gibson: It is another huge honor that has been given to me from my relationship and work with Disney, Disney on Broadway, and Disney Theatrical Group. I'm so honored to be part of the Lion King history, right? The Lion King was the very first Broadway show I ever saw. I saw it on a high school trip. I sat in the front row of the mezzanine. My teacher sat me in that very center seat because he knew that I was a theater kid. I was a dance nerd. I was a choir nerd.

I had been performing my whole life, pretty much, and always in spaces [where I] didn't see or have people like me there — or very few of us. But honestly, real talk, there was none of us there. I never had a Black teacher or Black professor or mentor in the business of Broadway musical theater to look up to. So to see a full stage of people that look like me...

We all love The Lion King. That's what this concert is about. It's the anniversary of 30 years of the Lion King film, of the musical, of the life that this property has taken over. To be on a list of great Black men who have played Simba throughout the 20-some years it's been on Broadway and to then also be asked to sing in this concert celebrating it with these people… like, I'm gagged to be in the same room with them. I'm honored to be in the same room with them, on the same list with them.

Jennifer Hudson, Nathan Lane, North West, we can praise them all day and people know their names. But someone like Heather Headley, who is a titan and icon of the theater stage of Broadway and also the original Nala? The original Nala on Broadway is singing! And then, like, the 11th Simba is me. I'm honored just to be there, so I'm gonna do my best to be great. To make us look good!

We both grew up watching movies like Hercules and seeing ourselves in those characters was kinda like putting a square block in a circle hole. There's something emotional and healing for me: seeing you sing "Go the Distance." Does that have meaning for you?

It's the one song that I sing all the time, right? I just did a concert a few weeks ago in Taipei with a bunch of Disney Broadway stars from around the world and one of the songs I sang is "Go the Distance." I'm gonna be singing it till I'm dead. And the coolest thing is seeing how it affects other people, and it affects other people in the same way that it affects me. Whether it be a kid who's fully getting a whole different meaning from it than the adult sitting next to them who's also being so moved by it.

The first time I sang it live for people — outside of the world of Disney — was a few years ago. I sang it at the Out and Equal Summit in Las Vegas. This is after I had been doing workshops and readings of the show for a couple of years… but I sang it for a room of like 2,000 drunk corporate workers who were at the end of a long conference week. And seeing them like cry and scream and sing along and wave their arms, I was like, 'Oh, I'm not the only person that loves this song.' Everyone can see themselves in it and because, like you said, I always had to search for me, whether it be in music, whether it be in TV, or whatever.

I usually had to pull back so many blinds, or carve my little clay statue to make the version of myself that I saw, and put in the pot. That's me. So to know that there's someone in the audience who is Black, who is a little gay [and/or] queer person, just seeing a bit of themselves in me doing it. Or being able to see themselves more because someone who is not the normal expectation is singing it, that's a huge honor. I would sing that song on the moon. Truly, like, it is the most beautiful exchanges between me and an audience member while I sing that song.

Your new song, "No ILYs" comes out June 6. Tell me about your new music!

Music, music, music. The last time we talked and connected about music was "Fool," a song I released in 2020. The songs that are coming out this summer are songs that I've been working on since the pandemic. I had so much time to really get in the room and edit them. Producers had a long time to really fine tune them, and craft them, and make them into what I needed to hear, especially at the time.

But the new music is not like "Fool." "Fool" was way more mi tempo, way more introspective, way more of a serious tone… whereas this music is about shaking your ass, having fun, letting go, and getting free. In 2020, in my little apartment on the Upper West Side, I needed to get free. Even now, my 33-year-old ass still has spaces in my life where I need to get free and I need to hear something that inspires me to move my body — whether that be dance, whether that be work out, whether that be something nasty. You know what I mean? We need music to inspire us to do that. Music inspires me to do that. That's why I love amazing dance music.

I'm a kid of the 1990s. My parents were hotties of the 90s listening to the flyest stuff. So in my music, it's inspired by 90s hip-hop and R&B. It's pop music. It's inspired by great dance music, and music that I love to hear when I'm with my husband on the dance floor at a warehouse party in Brooklyn, when I feel sexy on that dance floor. When I feel like I'm just jumping around dancing with myself, making coffee in the morning with my dog, right?

This first song, "No ILYs," is that personified. It's release. Free yourself and stop making things so serious. Why do you have to jump to I-love-yous. How about you just dig into the fact that right now this feels good and you're vibing? I'm vibing. Let's vibe. I have to remind myself not to take it so seriously, all aspects of life. So this music is fun. It's sexy. It's about letting go.

The two other singles I have coming out soon are also in that same vein. It's about releasing freedom, feeling sexy, and not having shame. That's a huge word around the music too. It's like releasing shame. And as a Black gay man, there is, historically, so much shame within me. At this point in my life, I'm forcing myself to break out of that and say, 'No more shame.' No more shame around my skin. No more shame around my sexuality. No more shame around how I express that sexuality or how I feel sexy or what I do with my sex. You know what I mean? It's about freedom. I hope the music makes you shake your ass and wanna dance.

Are there any challenges, as a Broadway singer, when releasing pop music?

It's scary. That's the uncomfortable part. I know that there are people who are supporters of me, followers of me, fans of me, who are there because of the other work that I do: my Broadway work, my Disney work. I think about that too much sometimes, especially in the past.

This season of life is kind of saying… you know, I'm an interpreter, right? I'm an interpreter on the stage, in musicals, and in plays. I'm an interpreter on screen in TV, shows, and films. I love that life, and I love that some of the nuanced audiences that those shows and musicals are aimed at. I love that my Disney work is aimed at families and children. I love that so much because it's what I needed growing up. That's what I need now. Therefore, I'm so honored to be able to do it.

But I'm also an artist and a creative. I'm living life. I've lived a lot of life and I have things to create. I can't be paused about how to make my art because of the other things I do. This is my free space. I'm making art. It's also what I needed growing up as a pop music lover and as a student of pop.

I always joke with people and say Janet [Jackson] is my foundation. It begins there. My first memories are breaking down the choreography to "If" and "That's the Way Love Goes." I know it still, because that was me. And whether it be Janet, Michael [Jackson], Mariah [Carey], Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, and today, Ariana Grande… all these people, right?

I'm a student of pop, and these performers also allow themselves to be free. They allow themselves to make a universe of their own, which allows them to play and put on these characters of their own pop star superheroes. I wanna do the same. It's freeing for me. So Bradley Gibson, the pop star, he's free, OK? And he's grown. He's not a Disney Prince. He's a grown-ass man, and he wants you to shake your ass.

Bradley Gibson's "No ILYs" drops Thursday, June 6 — and you can pre-save it here.

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