Jaki Nelson Talks Coming Out as Bisexual, New Video For 'Dancing With Strangers'

Leo Madrid
Jaki Nelson

When Jaki Nelson took to the stage at Club Tigerheat in Avalon, Calif. in April, she knew that her show was going to be one to remember. Her mother was in the audience, a crowd of fans were excited to hear her music, and the singer was about to make a confession before launching into her cover of “Boys” by Charli XCX: “Is there anybody here who likes boys? Anyone here who likes girls? Well, I like both.”

Months after officially coming out, Nelson is releasing the music video for her song “Dancing With Strangers” (premiering on Billboard below), where the singer fully embraces the full range of her sexuality, dancing with boys, girls, and those in between.

Nelson says that when she began writing the song, she had just made it through a particularly rough breakup. “I had spent about five and a half years, which was my entire adulthood at this point, in relationships -- and straight relationships, at that,” she says. “I wasn't out at the time, I was kind of...still hiding, so it was a really exciting time for me to really venture out and dance with strangers.”

Below, Nelson chats with Billboard about coming out to her mom, why she changed some of the words to Charli XCX’s “Boys,” and coming to terms with her sexuality.

Congrats on the song and the video! Talk me through the writing process. What was the feeling you were going for with this track?

Well, when we were writing the song, which was in December, both me and Lauren -- the other girl writing the song with me along with Dave -- were in a weird relationship space. She wasn't quite broken up yet, but I had been through a really bad breakup. So as soon as she started guesstimating ideas, I was like, "Yes, yes, yes" to every one. We actually got the whole thing done, written from blank page to track and vocals, in four hours.

You recently came out as bisexual during a live show with you mom watching. What was that like for you?

[Laughs] I did! It was so nerve-wracking. I was totally freaking out. I actually got myself sick because I was so stressed out about it. And it was so silly, because she didn't care. She was like, "Alright, great, I've got a flight in four hours. I need to go to sleep." I was like, "Um...ok. Really? All of that for 'alright, cool?'" But we talked about it again later, and she was super supportive. She was mostly concerned about my safety, being a bisexual artist out in public. But she's also bisexual, so her understanding of the community is actually very thorough.

That's great! And the song you used to come out was your own cover of Charli XCX's "Boys," referencing both boys and girls. Why did you want to perform that particular song?

My manager sent it to me one day because I was having some kind of boy problem, so he sent it to me as kind of a joke. I was listening to it, and I was just like, "I feel like this is missing everyone else's point of view." Like, it got the straight man's point of view, and it got the straight woman's, but it didn't really get anybody else in between. And for me, I felt like I was only listening to half of the song that I wanted. So when I redid it...I literally still have the texts I sent to my friend Oscar, who produced the song with me. I was like, "I love this song, but it's missing the other half of itself, would you be willing to do this with me?" And he was like, "Yes, I love that!" It wasn't even about coming out, that wasn't what I was thinking about at the time. I just felt like it was a missing piece.

What was coming out like for you? Was that moment on stage your first official coming-out moment, or were you out to others before then?

I've been out to some very close friends for about ten years. Actually, when I really think about it, my mom has been asking me if I was a lesbian since I was, like, six. [Laughs] I'm not kidding at all! So, when I finally realized that I was bi, it was such a frustrating moment where I had to realize that my mom had been right this entire time. I just didn't want to admit it, so I was like, "I'll just live my life, and if I end up dating a woman, then that's great, and then I'll come out." So it would happen here and there, but it never lasted long enough to meet the parents [laughs]. With the music side, it just seemed like it had to happen, it just felt like I needed to.

I totally get that. I noticed that while your video is explicitly bisexual, there's also this subtle thing in there that has taken over the internet — the bisexual lighting. Was that a conscious decision you made to include that lighting throughout the video?

So, funny story. I had no idea there were bisexual colors until about a month and a half ago. But I started my rebranding process a little while ago, because I was blonde until October. I just had this day where I said, "I need to dye my hair purple. I don't know why, but I absolutely have to do it." And I just marched down to the nearest hair salon store and purchased to some purple dye, handed it to my sister and said, "Put this in my hair." I've had purple hair ever since. So my branding shifted at that point, where my colors became blue, pink and purple. I had no idea there was a bi flag. Zero. Literally no idea. So it just kept coming up over and over again, everything I do has those colors in it. So with the music video, it was sort of intentional, but it was mainly another one of those things where those colors just fell into my life.

You got to work with Dave Audé on this track. What was he like to work with?

It was so awesome. I have been trying to work with him for about four years. I actually heard of him the first time when I was in high school because I heard this remix of a Selena Gomez song, and it was, in my opinion, so much better than the original version of that song. I probably shouldn't say which one. But I just remember thinking, "Wow, that's what a remix is supposed to do." And that was the first time I ever had that reaction. Getting to work with him, that was a childhood kind of dream moment for me.

What's next for you?

I am working on an EP right now. I've had a little bit of difficulty with it, because labels keep wanting to pick up my songs individually. Like, this Sony label wants to pick up one of my songs right now, and I was like, "Wait, I wanted that for my EP! Why now?" I mean, it's so great.

There are worse problems to have, I think.

Yeah, it's pretty great. It's a really good place for me to be in.