In 1998, a wiry 24-year-old newcomer named Rufus Wainwright unveiled his witty, piano-based, self-titled debut album. With its Cole Porter–esque stylings, it was a risk, as was his choice to be out of the closet when he released it, but he ended up with a hit that would launch his career. Twenty years, eight studio albums, and two operas later, he looks back.
What would you tell that kid who set out to record Rufus Wainwright 20 years ago?
I wouldn’t change one aspect. In terms of what I chose to do in the studio and my songwriting, I was spot-on. Except for maybe my visual presentation. I didn’t really start working out until I was 30.
Do you wish you were more buff in your videos?
I mean, I was a very attractive young man. If I’d played the game a bit more, I could have really gone with that. But I was so concentrated on the music. It was probably time better spent than going to the gym.
Did you feel pressure from your record company not to come out?
Well, at first they wanted me to pretend I was bisexual, but I just have to be me. I was arguably the first-ever artist out from the get-go who sang about his love affairs with men for a major label, and I got a real push.
Where did you get that courage? Or did you just not care?
It was two sides of the sword. One was extreme confidence, desire, and ambition — the things imbued within me by my mother. But the other was fear of not being sure if I’d survive the AIDS epidemic. I thought, I have to be as real and truthful as possible, because I was faced with such darkness. There was no time to play around.
You were accepted by other musicians immediately: Gwen Stefani was in your first video, for “April Fools.”
After Napster, the industry was no longer designed to support artists, so I think some people tried to give me a hand, because they knew that otherwise I would just get lost.
Don't miss Rufus Wainwright's North American tour to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his debut. "All Of These Poses Anniversary Tour 2018" kicks off in Los Angeles on November 9. Click here for ticket information.