Calum Scott Details How Accepting His Sexuality & Being 'Only Human' Played Into His Songwriting
The British singer-songwriter breaks down some of his tracks from his debut album, out now.
Two years after placing sixth on series 9 of Britain’s Got Talent in 2015, Calum Scott had a record deal with Capitol Records and was ready to get to work on his American debut, anticipating a spring 2017 release. But as months went by and Scott, now 29, continued to hone in on what exactly he wanted to write about, he realized that the early songs he had written weren’t true to who he is. Looking to his idols, Adele, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, Scott started to get a better feel for where he really should be pulling inspiration from.
“All of those guys write from the heart, they write from their past,” Scott says. “So I started to look to myself, and that’s when those sort of songs started to develop. I started to feel songwriting was pulling different pieces of my heart out -- the more I started writing, the more there was honesty.”
Following that realization, Scott had a pivotal conversation with some of his co-writers about his sexuality, and how he was terrified to come out as gay to media as his career was starting. The conversation (which he says “was almost like a therapy session”) resulted in a song titled “If Our Love Is Wrong,” and suddenly, a new door had been opened.
“It was a turning point professionally and personally,” he asserts. “[When] I was trying to whittle down the songs, the pattern was so obvious -- human nature, emotion and the LGBT issues.”
Eventually, Scott had 13 songs he wholeheartedly believes in that were all pulled from personal experiences, both good and bad. Almost exactly one year after when he thought he’d have his debut album out to the world, Scott released Only Human, on March 9.
While the wait may have felt somewhat agonizing for eager fans, Scott says he needed that time to develop both as an artist and as a person -- and once fans get to listening, they’ll quickly realize just how true that is. Scott’s stunningly pure voice is affecting enough in itself, but his lyrics on every one of the 13 tracks (14, including a Tiesto remix of his now-famous cover of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”) are vulnerable and raw, whether he’s singing about struggling with his sexuality or unrequited love.
Billboard chatted with Scott about six of the tracks on Only Human that mean the most to him, fully divulging the experiences starting with a specific lyric that he wanted to highlight. As you spin the album and let Scott give you all the feels, take a look at some of the most influential stories behind Only Human.
“If Our Love Is Wrong”
“If it’s me, if it’s you, and if our love is wrong, then I don’t ever wanna be right”
“If Our Love Is Wrong” is, quite simply, my coming out song. As I was trying to wrap my head around my sexuality and was starting to learn about songwriting, and that my honesty and my authenticity came from my personal experiences and writing about stuff that genuinely bugged me or upset me. At the time I was going through a lot of anxiety, I still hadn’t told my dad [I was gay] and the press was asking me about my personal life a lot. At this point I was getting quite anxious and I was panicking thinking that my dad was gonna find out in the wrong way -- and I still didn’t feel, at that point, that I was ready to talk about my sexuality.
It wasn’t until I was in a songwriting session where I just said to the [cowriters], “There’s something I really need to get off my chest. I’m really feeling the pressure right now, and I just have to talk to somebody about it.” Talking to those boys and telling them that I was gay, I mean, I was sweating. My heart was in my mouth. I was shaking, because it was that terrifying to me to talk about my sexuality. They didn’t judge me -- they were there for me, and they really did help me turn the corner with my sexuality and with my songwriting.
I ended up talking about the whole thing. I was really terrified about talking to the press, I didn’t want people to think it’s a sob story. What if people didn’t like it? What if people stopped listening to my music? I was so terrified for so long about what people think about my sexuality, and I didn’t wanna find myself in a position where I was losing my fans and couldn’t do my job.
Because I put myself through torture for so many years, “If Our Love Is Wrong” was kind of like me turning things around going, “Why should I punish myself? Why should I feel so bad about the fact that I’m gay? I should be confident in the fact that I’m gay, and this is something I can’t help, so I shouldn’t put myself through hell for it.” And “If Our Love Is Wrong” really gave me that seed, really, to plant into my head and to finally come to terms with it.
It’s positioned that way at the top of the album because, at the end of the day, this is something I’ve lost so much time on. This is how I’ve been feeling for so many years, and as an introduction to my album, you’re going to get a really deep, really personal song, because I need my listeners to know that that’s me, that I’m sensitive, that the album is personal, that I really wanna try and inspire. It’s such a personal message to be confident, because it hurts me to know that other kids might go through what I went through and lose all that time to fear.
“Dancing On My Own”
“I’m in the corner watching you kiss her" and "I’m not the guy you’re taking home”
It’s something that went a little bit unnoticed when I released the single. When you look at the lyrics, “I’m in the corner watching you kiss her” and “I’m not the guy you’re taking home” -- it’s very obviously a gay man’s perspective. I thought of that on my own. That’s why I related so heavily to the song and that’s why I covered it in the first place, because I was so attached to the lyric. I was like, “This is me!” I always fall in love with the straight guy and the straight guy’s in love with the girl, and I’m on the outside watching these two form a relationship.
I’m such a sucker for falling in love with a straight guy. And I imagine a lot with the gay community, you fall in love with the same sex, and there’s no way of telling it. The heart wants what it wants, and you know if you’re not careful, you can find yourself in a situation where you give your heart away and it can get broken.
I think it went a little bit unnoticed from a broad sense, but the LGBT community really took that and was like “Oh my God, this relates to me so much.” Probably most notable was a guy who’d come up to me at an American meet and greet [on my] headline tour in America. He’d hand-written this whole page, like the front and the back of this paper, and he was reading it out: “I was listening to ‘Dancing On My Own’ from your perspective, and it was so brave when you talk about your sexuality, and you inspired me to be honest and truthful to myself. I told my wife that I was gay. And my wife’s been really supportive, and my kids they’ve been really supportive, and now I live my life as a very happy gay man.” I’m in tears, because I’m like, “I can’t believe my interpretation of that song has changed somebody’s life to the point where their whole life is changed.”
That’s exactly what I want to do, is to inspire that bravery and that courage and honesty in people. Because nobody should suffer like that -- nobody should suffer in silence. I really wanted to point out those lyrics, because it was really a big moment for me to use that as way to talk about my own personal circumstances, what it did within the LGBT community, and how it snowballed into what it is.
“So they bullied me with silence, just for being who I am”
“Only You” is another sort of reminiscent one of when I was younger. I was surrounded by a big bunch of my male friends, and we were into street sports like BMX and skateboarding, and we hung out all the time and they started to get girlfriends -- and I wasn’t interested. I thought I was going through a phase, I couldn’t understand, and I didn’t really wanna be interested in either gender. I was really just interested in my skateboard and hanging out, like a typical kid.
I was confused, I was starting to get a bit upset about myself. I started to not eat properly, I started to lose sleep, and I told one of my friends, “I’m just not really interested in girls.” And he’s like, “Are you trying to tell me you’re gay?” And I was like, “Well I don’t know mate, maybe. I don’t know what’s going on with me.” And then I watched him tell all the other boys in my group, and from then, they just abandoned me.
From a young age, I had to suppress my sexuality because I thought, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, but when I talk about it, I’m losing friends. I’m losing my peers.” The term that I’m using there, “They bullied me with silence,” is really prevalent in the fact that they didn’t bully me with words or actions or make fun of me, or hit me or abuse me -- they just abandoned me. They left me and fell silent on me, and that almost was worse. I didn’t have them to try and hang around, they didn’t want to know me. Like, I couldn’t even argue my way to a point, or fight and get it out of our systems and move on. I was left to feel isolated as an adolescent.
That was why, I think, for so many years I suppressed my sexuality, never come to terms with it. Whenever somebody would ask me if I were gay, I’d always say no and that I was bi as a way to sort of cushion the blow, almost. It’s a rough thing to say, but I was terrified that I would lose my friends and family.
Dan, who’s one of my best friends to this day, came along at school -- I was in PE one day, and he could obviously tell there was something wrong. He was like, “I heard you’re arguing with your other friends,” and I was like, “I had a bad time with them and we had a disagreement about girls.” And long story short, he goes, “Oh, I’m gay.” And he’s like, “Are you?” And I’m like, “No, I’m bi. I don’t know what I am.” And from there, he completely gave me somebody to relate to. At that point, that was a complete savior for me. He was my rock, he was my shoulder to cry on. He help me come out to my mom, he helped me come out to my family. He was genuinely an angel right there when I needed him.
“Only You” is a tribute to friendship and companionship, the strength and the power that friendship and loyalty hold. He’s helped me all the way through until now with my sexuality. I just needed to pay homage to him, as well as paying homage to all friends out there and those who’ve stood by their friends.
“Oh what I’d give, to hear you say that I love you, but say it the way I do”
This is heartbreak central. I was on the road in Korea, and I came across this guy. We got to talking and got on instantly. We hung out a bunch, which created this bond. I put the feelers out, I was getting all the signs back, like, “Oh, this might be ‘the one.’” I really genuinely thought I hit it off with this guy, he seemed into me, we were talking, we were close, we started to get physically close, and everything was building up to this point. As you can imagine, when things like that happen, emotions are heightened, you’re starting to really get an idea that this is the one, and you start forming that idea in your head. Then, one night there was a moment, and he said, “I’m not gay.”
I think it broke my heart a little bit. I put myself in a position where I was vulnerable, I put down my walls, and this guy led me on, it was awful. I didn’t wanna write “Oh, you led me on and you're a dick” -- I wanted to be a little more hopeful. So when we sat to write this one, I thought, in an ideal situation, I would say to him, “Just give me a moment to show what I mean to you, and you mean to me.” We would start to say, “I love you” on the phone. It was like, I was saying it in a certain way, and he obviously wasn’t but I thought he was. So I was saying “love ya!” but I did love the guy, but he was saying it nonchalantly, like, “oh yeah, love you, bye.”
It’s my version of unrequited love. You really want that love, and you want that moment to show the depression of the lyrics, “What I’d give to hear you say you love me, but say it the way I do.”
"Won’t Let You Down"
“No matter how far, don’t care where you are, I won’t let you down”
This one’s a tribute to my sister. She overheard me singing in my bedroom, believed in me, pushed me, and I eventually sang publicly and it ignited a passion in me that I’d never felt before. From then, this crazy career snowballed and she pushed me to go onto Britain’s Got Talent.
Of the things that came up when I was songwriting was the guy I’d written a song with, Phil Cook, had told me about this Facebook post that he’d seen. Basically, it was a guy that was writing a Facebook post to his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend saying, “I’m glad you treated her badly. I’m glad you made her upset. I’m glad you made her cry, because I’m gonna show her what true love is, and I’m gonna be there for her, and I’m gonna love her.” I just thought that this was really beautiful, and it’s quite a cool angle for a partner to be saying it to their partner’s ex,
My sister had been going through some crap with her ex-boyfriend -- now ex-boyfriend, thank God. He’d been really horrible to her, and she was saying, “I just don’t understand what I’ve done to deserve this. What have I done? Why is he treating me like this?” It was difficult because I was in London, so I was away from home a lot. I was not spending as much time with the family as I could, and it was killing me that I wasn’t there for my sister. So, as I was writing the song, Phil and I just got into the piano, and my sister was on my mind, as was this Facebook post. I basically said to Phil, “I wonder if we can recreate what this Facebook post is saying, just without it being romantic.”
I wanted to make sure I paid tribute to my sister because obviously if I hadn’t moved on with singing like she believed I could, then I could potentially be still at my desk, working my 9 to 5 job. This is the perfect opportunity to tribute to her, while making it relevant in the context of she was going through a really crappy time -- and I wanted to make sure that she knew that I was always gonna be there for her. That line, “No matter how far/ I don't care where you are, I won't let you down,” that’s me saying, I know I’m not always gonna be around for ya, but it doesn’t matter where in the world I am. I’m always gonna be there for you.
“What I Miss Most”
“Under three crowns when I’m far away" and "those quarter million stories pass me by”
“What I Miss Most” is my nostalgia song. It’s a complete tribute to my hometown. The crest for my city is three golden crowns on top of each other, so when I say, “Under three crowns when I’m far away,” I’m trying to basically say I’m proud of Hull, where I’m from. I’m always gonna have my roots and no matter where I go, I’m always gonna have that -- almost like those three crowns travel with me. I’m proud to wear that badge and be from where I’m from, and I kind of like to shout that wherever I go.
It’s the same with “quarter of million stories pass you by.” I was basically saying how I get on a train and go back to London or the airport, and I would look out the [window] and see my hometown go by. The population of Hull is about a quarter of a million, so I’ve tried to work in some clever lyrics to specifically pay homage.