This summer, Out enters its 30th year with over 300 printed issues. Here, we revisit and re-create 10 covers — celebrating them for what they were while reimagining them for newer audiences.
There’s just something about a cowboy. The sensuality is undeniable. Maybe it’s the hat? Or the attitude. Perhaps the way the wide-open road weathers you. Or the haunted resilience? You look into those eyes and can’t help but wonder what they’ve seen. The boot-jean combo? Or maybe it’s the fearlessness, the willingness to go down the path less trodden. Cowboys are just sexy.
“There is something very gay about the imagery of it,” country star Orville Peck tells Out. “I mean, chaps and cowboy hats are definitely something you see in daddy bars and Pride parades.” And he would know.
The yeehaw agenda, featuring the Old West aesthetic, has become a trend in pop culture over the past few years. Celebrities like Cardi B and Diplo have brought the hats and the boots to performances, runways, and red carpets all over the world. Lil Nas X strutted in neon pink bondage cowboy at the Grammys, Beyoncé incorporated the look into her Ivy Park collection, and Walker, Texas Ranger was even rebooted on television. And now Peck — the masked, mostly anonymous, award-winning country singer-songwriter — is roping and wrangling new audiences night after night, performing on stages across the U.S. and Canada. He is in fact our modern-day cowboy.
Hailing from the “Southern Hemisphere,” as he’s previously put it, Peck, 34, croons songs of longing and heartbreak from behind a fringe mask — he has never shown his face in public. When he strode into the spotlight, he did so without saying much about his background or upbringing. He told the world that he was a lifelong performer with dance training — over time he has mentioned other tidbits like having done cartoon voice-over work as a child. And though snoops have done what they could to unveil his identity, to this day he has yet to confirm even his name. It was as if he materialized on the world stage from the hazy horizon of the Wild West.
That air of mystery only added to his intrigue when he released his debut album, Pony, in 2019, where his haunting vocals established him as one of the freshest voices of his generation while also harkening back to the distinct sounds of country’s heyday. (He maintains that all of his songs are written from true stories, either from his own life or an acquaintance’s.) It’s been an upward trajectory from there. His song “Dead of Night” appeared in a particularly devastating scene on Euphoria’s second season. Lady Gaga recruited Peck to record a modernized “country road” version of “Born This Way” for the 10th anniversary of her iconic album of the same title. And his sophomore album, Bronco, released earlier this year, is his best work yet, weaving intimate stories of love and heartbreak with folklore-ian candor while boasting the most moving vocals of Peck’s career.
“If you watch the classic old Western, there’s pretty heavy-handed homoeroticism put into it,” Peck points out. “A lot of those Italian directors had some sugar in their tank, if you know what I’m saying.” He’s right: Cowboys have always been a bit…queer.
This cowboy is rolling in the hay of icons before him — Dolly Parton specifically. Peck is giddy at the thought of re-creating Out’s July 1997 cover. With the caption “Golly, It’s Dolly,” the dolled-up country icon lies on her side, lips puckered, finger dangling suggestively. In another photo, four shirtless men join Parton in the hay.
While Peck was a bit too young to have picked up this issue himself, Parton was always a major influence in his life as far back as he can remember. Her music was on regular rotation in his household, and as a kid, Peck and his mom would watch 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas together, even if he was probably too young at the time.
“I used to think that she was like Elvira. I thought she was kind of a character,” he says. “I didn’t realize she was a real person because she was so extra and kind of over-the-top with how she looked.” It was moments like listening to Parton at home with his mom and, later, to Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” on his Walkman cassette player that turned him on to country music.
Parton’s the-higher-the-hair, the closer-to-God personality is one of the reasons she’s become a gay icon, alongside her incredible allyship over the decades. “For a long time in the country space, Dolly was probably our biggest representation as far as just being an ally,” Peck says. She has always represented someone who Peck, as a queer person, felt safe with within the genre of country. “She exudes this lovely, accepting nature. I think that’s why we all kind of are drawn to her,” he says.
There’s something meaningful about a gay country star re-creating this cover 25 years later, especially one who follows in her footsteps so intently. Like Parton, Peck brings a theatricality that sometimes seems at odds with the genre’s demand for authenticity. But toeing that line is part of the thrill.
“The concepts of authenticity and theatricality are not mutually exclusive,” he says. “I actually think of them more as a crossroads — an intersection, I suppose, that I think really interesting art can get made out of.” Playing with a heightened visual presentation, his signature fringe mask included, allows Peck to “get away with being more authentic in my songwriting” than he’d be without it. “It allows me to have both sincerity and the imagination at the same time, and I think that that is my favorite kind of art. It includes both those things, and I don’t think that either sort of minimizes the other. I think, actually, they help enrich each other.”
Growing up, Peck was also enriched by his parents, who provided early support for his gay identity. “I was exceptionally lucky that I had a family who knew I was gay before I did,” the onetime Shania Twain collaborator reflects. “They knew before I realized what that meant, I suppose. I had two older brothers who were both straight, and my parents were kind of telling my brothers, ‘Orville is no different than you, and you’ve got to always take care of him.’ Kind of just prepping them. They opened the door and let me make the decision. And let me know that the door was open for me to make that decision, whether I was or not.”
While the performer has had his “own traumas with the outside world growing up gay, as we all do,” he’s grateful for his family. “My coming-out to my family was, in a way, nonexistent. I just brought a boy home at some point, I think I was like 17 or something, and it was just a nonissue. Because I’d kind of been gently told it was fine either way. It allowed me the space to decide who I was going to be and who I was.” After learning other people’s stories, “I can see that that’s sadly the anomaly, when it really shouldn’t be,” he says.
You can see those lessons in his spirit, in his openness, and the inclusivity of all kinds of people in his projects, shows, and music videos — he used to have the drag queen Meatball open for him, worked with RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Trixie Mattel and Jaida Essence Hall, and sported a trans Pride flag on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “That provided me with a sort of privilege and confidence with regards to my sexuality; I never felt like I was a musician that had to hide who I was or be in the closet or anything like that,” he says. “That privilege of feeling comfortable with just being who I am, it’s allowed me to have this platform where I feel that the visibility of me being an out gay musician in country essentially is so important. It provides not only the visibility and the space for us in that genre but hopefully inspires other people to feel safe and like they can maybe be a country musician as well. Or listen to country with maybe a different perspective.”
“I think it’s a really big responsibility being a queer country musician,” he reflects. “The visuals I include in my videos should reflect people who feel marginalized from this genre and marginalized by this culture and make them feel included in this. Because it’s my wholehearted belief that they are. I want people to feel included in this genre because they deserve to have a seat at the table just like I felt like I deserved to have a seat at the table.”
However, vulnerability, in real life and in his music, is still nerve-racking for Peck to ponder. “I am someone who is at times very in my head, cerebral, hard on myself, overly critical of myself,” he says. “That’s a lot of the struggle I’ve dealt with.”
Yet with Bronco, Peck intimately shares his experiences with a toxic relationship, even detailing physical abuse. “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” weaves a tale of eternal ache in lore. Peck says his self-critical nature “put a lot of pressure on me to be perfect,” which created an environment for him to stay in the unhealthy situation.
“We’re taught from a really young age to be kind to other people, at least I was. That was my main driving force in life, to please people and be kind to other people, and I never put that back on myself,” he says. “I never really realized the importance of being kind to myself, I think that’s a lot of what I tried to foster in the songs that I wrote on this album. They’re about self-liberation and self-acceptance and freedom from outside forces, and more kind of looking back on yourself and being kind and gentle to yourself. I guess that’s the bigger theme of this album and the freedom that that at least has provided me, where I feel like a big burden has been lifted.”
Peck takes a beat. “It’s funny because if I hadn’t been in those sorts of relationships, and if the pandemic hadn’t hit, all of the chaos that kind of came into my life.… Also, the exhaustion I was feeling from touring and having very quick success,” he adds. “It all kind of boiled together in this kind of perfect storm in 2020. I got to a decision where I was either going to be pushed over the edge, or I had to make a big change in my life.”
With his music, Peck rode headfirst into the sunset of vulnerability, and it brought him to “this sort of cathartic, euphoric journey.” While baring his soul is still terrifying, he “just found this freedom where I suddenly didn’t care about what other people were going to think of it. I didn’t care about what the expectations were supposed to be, versus my previous album and the success that had or the expectations from my record label or all those other things…. I also found myself realizing that I didn’t want to be so hard on myself anymore. I wanted to be gentler with myself. I wanted to be proud of myself and make work that I was proud of and not be so critical and not be so mean to myself.”
While uncomfortable, this honesty is healing. “I’m still embarrassed about some of the stuff that I’ve put on that album and some of the lyrics and a little frightened about sharing some of it,” he says. “I don’t know what that means. But I have the awareness now to know it’s really important to do. It ultimately makes me feel better about myself than when I’m holding back on that stuff.”
A fear of vulnerability is a common theme for queer people. Many of us have to arm ourselves before venturing out into the world. With personas. With masks. It’s a well-traveled road, one that Peck knows intimately. But now he’s gained control of the reins.
Orville’s Black Look Hat Stetson Custom Applique by Rose Cuts Designed by Rose Cuts and Catherine Hahn Custom Suit by The Pack By Campillo Designed by The Pack and Catherine Hahn Tank Calvin Klein Belt Bb Simon Boots Tecovas
Orville’s Denim Look Hat Stetson Denim Vest & Pant Wrangler With Custom Chain Stitched by Bill Farrelly Designed by Bill Farrelly and Catherine Hahn Belt Country General Store Boots Tecovas
Creative Direction MIKELLE STREET mikelledstreet.com @mikellestreet
Assistant MILAN GARCON @milangarcon
Photographer MYLES LOFTIN mylesloftinphotography.com @mylesloftin
Photo Assistant Light Tech EVADNE GONZALEZ @evadnegonzalez
Photo Assistant ANDREW ESPINAL @andrewespinal and JIN JIN
Digitech MERLIN VIETHEN and JOSH ROBINSON
Production Director TIM SNOW @snowmgz
Production Manager STEVIE WILLIAMS x2production.com @beingstevie of X2 Production Production
Assistant TOBY TEITEL @toby_teitel
Video AUSTIN NUNES austinunes.com @austinunes
Creative Conception STUART BROCKINGTON, ANNA CARIAS, MIKELLE STREET
Groomer MELISSA DEZARATE
Stylist CATHY HAHN @cathyhahn
Stylist Assistant BRITT WRIGHT