All photos courtesy of Billboard and Billboard Pride
“Savage Garden was one of my favorite bands when I was younger,” says Patrick Crowley, who grew up in Davenport, Iowa. “So it was insane to me when Darren Hayes came out. I remember listening to a line in “Affirmation” over and over again: 'I believe you can't control or choose your sexuality.' This was before I even knew gay was an option.” For Crowley, things have changed a lot since then. Raised Catholic, he remembers his father's genuine concerns that being gay would prevent him from getting a lucrative job, but today, he says, “I love to give my dad shit because I made being gay my literal job.”
Fulfilling a childhood dream of working for a major publication in New York City, Crowley is now the editor of Billboard Pride, the huge music outlet's online branch that's expressly devoted to LGBTQ artists, musicians, charts, stories, and industry trends. And it's a branch that Crowley doesn't just oversee—it's one he helped to launch, an initiative that no doubt influenced Billboard's brand new Pride issue that sees a sun-kissed, pastel-laden Troye Sivan on its cover (OUT released its own Troye cover story last month). From a drag roundtable to a love letters initiative, a memorable Allie X tweet to a sweet SXSW memory, Crowley tells Out about the roots, highlights, and growth of Billboard Pride, and why he's so stoked about that growth continuing.
OUT: Billboard Pride launched, appropriately, in June of last year. How long had you been associated with Billboard before the launch, and how did you shift your skill set to create a new branch for the brand?
Patrick Crowley: I'd been working at Billboard for three years as an art director for the magazine. I love graphic design, but I'm also a huge pop music nerd, so this has truly been a dream job. It's a very collaborative environment, and during a brainstorm, I brought up that LGBTQ pride month was coming. The reception was incredibly positive, but was clear that someone needed to take charge—so I dusted off my journalism degree and I pitched a month’s worth of content.
How was that pitch received by your colleagues, and how was Billboard Pride first received by your audience?
When we planned our first-ever “30 Days of Pride,” it was incredible to see people from all departments getting excited about this launch. I remember scheduling what I imagined to be a small brainstorming meeting, but word got out and the conference room ended up being so packed that people had to stand! I truly couldn’t have had a more supportive team. The audience’s response was immediate, too. Within our first month, we racked up over 45,000 followers on our Billboard Pride Facebook. Ahead of the launch, we had early indicators that there was a market for this—I'd tested the performance of a couple queer-aligned pieces and they consistently over-performed. But I couldn’t believe we amassed such a following so quickly. It really showed me something I knew in my heart: there was an audience hungry for this kind of content. I remember being in college, trying to find music by gay musicians with male pronouns. It was impossible! Now, Billboard has established a nook on the internet where music fans can discover songs that tell their story.
Billboard Pride's current homepage
One of the first big successes for this new venture was an interview with RuPaul. Tell me about that, and how it helped propel Billboard Pride.
I was at a drag show and serendipitously ran into the lead publicist for RuPaul’s Drag Race. We had briefly collaborated on a piece a year prior, but not even a week after chatting, he had me on the phone to interview RuPaul. I had done smaller celebrity interviews before, but this was major. Ru caught me off guard because normally a publicist will connect you for an interview, but I got an unlisted phone call five minutes early and Ru greeted me with a “Hi Patrick! It’s RuPaul.” I was gagged! Once the interview published, it was really well received. Seeing the feedback to the piece, which Ru also tweeted a few times, was very empowering.
Another big moment for Billboard Pride was last year's Love Letters Project, which saw involvement with everyone from Britney Spears to Elton John, and was launched again this year. What was the impetus for that and how did it come together?
What a crazy ride that was. When I first pitched our 30 Days of Pride content plan, this project was not on my outline. But I actually remember waking up in the middle of the night and having one of those insomniac moments where your brain goes into a wormhole of ideas. I started thinking up the idea and what it could be. I would have never guessed the caliber of celebrities that would participate. Britney Spears? Selena Gomez? Are you kidding me?! I figured we’d get some decent names, but when Barba friggin’ Streisand was interested, I knew we'd hit a chord with people, and when she jumped on board, I was getting new letters every day. It was such an exciting, emotional time, and you could really tell that a lot of these artists thought hard about these notes.
Was there a Love Letter that stuck out as a personal favorite for you?
That’s like choosing children! I’d say Shirley Manson, Christina Aguilera, and Kristin Chenoweth really stood out as being heartfelt, well-written notes. I think my absolute favorite was Idina Menzel’s. Hers was short and to the point, but there’s one line that really stood out: “You are the real Elphabas and Elsas and Maureens of this world.” I just thought it was so cool of her to have realized the inherent queerness in her three biggest roles. Obviously, Maureen in Rent is a bisexual character, but her roles in Wicked and Frozen aren’t explicitly queer. This speaks to what kind of ally she is, and that she recognizes why these characters are important to LGBTQ fans.
The Hollywood Reporter has actor and director roundtables. You kicked off a drag queen roundtable for Billboard Pride. How did you curate this what were some of the biggest highlights?
I’m not going to lie—that thing was a hot little mess to plan. But it was absolutely worth it. We went back and forth between shooting in New York and Los Angeles and finally shot it at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We didn’t have a lot of time to plan it, and Ru's girls' schedules are insane since they tour the globe. So we were very lucky to get those five queens—Willam, Manila Luzon, Mariah, Pandora Boxx, and Derrick Barry—all at the same time. An obvious highlight was when Derrick Barry started talking about how people died at the Stonewall riots and Willam corrected her. It’s easy to laugh about, but I also loved that moment because it's educational. Derrick Barry wasn’t the only person in the world to think people died at Stonewall, but after all of those memes? Now they know! And to her credit, Derrick has had an incredible attitude about the whole thing. She’s still retweeting the memes.
Billboard Pride's recent story about artists coming out
There are several ways I gauge success, but the biggest one is by the community we’ve built on Facebook and, more recently, on our Instagram and Twitter accounts, which just launched in March. I especially love to read the comments about what this space means to people. The outpouring of enthusiasm from music fans and artists when we launched our new accounts was incredible. Olly Alexander, Kim Petras, and several queens from RuPaul's Drag Race gave us shoutouts. And Allie X had a pretty cool tweet: “Everybody follow @BillboardPride to promote equality and visibility in this dirty music industry.” Success is championing artists who may not otherwise have a platform with this reach. Success is Britney Spears wanting to contribute to Billboard Pride—in the form of a handwritten letter, no less. That shows how authentic and credible this space is. And it’s still growing.
At least one queer artist you wrote about, Gia, reportedly received offers from labels and inked a deal after the piece was published. Tell me about that.
Yes! I had my eye on Gia for a bit. Her music video for “Only A Girl” is so sexy and cool and undeniably queer. So when she had new music to release last year, I had one of our writers, Tatiana Cirisano, interview her and write up a profile. I especially wanted a female writer to tell Gia’s story and she nailed it! After the piece went live, Gia’s team said that they were flooded with label offers. Later that year, Gia texted me and told me that she had signed with Adam Alpert’s label, Disruptor Records, which is huge! Adam is the manager of The Chainsmokers, so he knows a thing or two about turning artists into household names. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Gia. She’s a powerhouse.
What other examples can you offer regarding the elevation of queer artists via Billboard Pride, and how do you feel this is elevating the queer community at large?
I did a piece where I interviewed 12 artists who were performing at SXSW about LGBTQ in the music industry. I didn’t make it to SXSW, but a bunch of the artists from the article ended up meeting up with each other and supported each other's shows. One of the artists, Justin Michael Williams, was sending me videos of all of them together and thanking me. It was a very emotional night—watching these artists meet each other through a platform I provided. When it comes down to it, the analytics are nice, but this is the real reason I’m doing this. As queer creatives, we should be lifting each other up and supporting each other whenever we have the opportunity.
Billboard magazine's new Pride-themed issue
What major goals are you envisioning for Billboard Pride's future?
For Pride month, we’ll be making an even bigger splash than we did last year. With that said, LGBTQ people exist 365 days a year and that’s something that Billboard recognizes from the top down. While we’re planning to have a major presence throughout June, I’m just as excited about things we’re ideating for the future. One major goal of mine is to tackle this trend of gay bars playing top 40 music. If you look at our history, we used to be creating culture—we’d play musicians before they caught on mainstream. Nowadays, it’s so rare to go into a gay bar and hear music by queer musicians, and I’d love to create a campaign to help change that. We should be supporting queer art—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because there is some damn good music coming from our community! Most of my favorite pop tracks so far this year are by LGBTQ musicians: Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, MNEK, Kehlani, Kim Petras, Years & Years—they’re all killing it.
And how do all these passions help you give Billboard Pride a unique spirit and identity?
I have loved Billboard for as long as I can remember. I was that music geek who would wait for the Hot 100 chart in the newspaper, and watch my favorite artists rise and fall on the chart each week. Pop music is my jush! But, I also remember having a realization in college that all of the music that I was being served through the radio and other mainstream outlets was from a hetero perspective. And that’s not everyone’s reality. So being able to provide a platform at a publication that the music industry reads and trusts...well, it’s an honor.