When Dan Reynolds dropped his documentary Believer earlier this year, he was taking a major risk. The nearly-two-hour film explores the ways in which LGBTQ youth have been disenfranchised and demonized by the Mormon church, and Reynolds’ own relationship with his faith.
The 31-year-old Imagine Dragons frontman was completely aware of the risk he and his band were taking for a project like this. “That was definitely a thought going through my head before going into all of this, like, ‘You know what, I know that we're gonna lose some fans along the way, because we have a lot of conservative fans,’” he tells Billboard.
But one aspect of the film showed viewers some hope: part of the documentary shows Reynolds organizing and putting on the first-ever LoveLoud Festival Powered by AT&T, a day-long music celebration that donated all of its profits towards LGBTQ charities and organizations. This year, LoveLoud is back and bigger than before -- and with a higher aim of raising $1 million in one day.
Reynolds knew that if he was going to pull this year's event off, he was going to need the help and support of some of the biggest names in queer music: Tegan and Sara. Working with Tegan Quin, one half of the Canadian megagroup and co-founder of one of this year's LoveLoud charities, the Tegan and Sara Foundation, Reynolds prepared for a bigger and better festival, which will take place at the Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah this Saturday, July 28.
Reynolds and Quin sat down for a conversation with Billboard about putting together this year’s LoveLoud, the state of affairs for LGBTQ artists and fans, and what it means to be an ally.
How did the two of you come to work together on this festival?
Dan Reynolds: So I've followed Tegan and Sara's music for quite a while, and I've been a fan of them and what they do and what they stand for. We've run into each other at one or two festivals over the years, and I kind of fanned out on them. When we started to get into LoveLoud...I don't know, how did we first get into contact about this, Teg? I think I reached out?
Tegan Quin: It's actually so funny, because my manager and your agent talked to each other, but then you just hit me up on Twitter. I was like, "Yay, let's circumvent the adults and we'll just talk to each other!"
Dan: [Laughs] Yeah, so we eventually jumped on the phone and talked for a while. I've been so inspired by how long they have been at the forefront of standing up for the LGBTQ community, especially in the ways that they've done it for so many years. Like, they know it far better than me, and they also know ways to make the most impact. So, for me, I came from a really similar place of following my heart, but I was not as educated and not as understanding of how to really make an impact. Having Tegan and her infinite resources and knowledge and years of exploring methods within the community was so, so important for LoveLoud.
The goal of this year's festival is to raise $1 million for The Trevor Project, the Tegan and Sara Foundation, Encircle and a few other LGBTQ organizations. That's a pretty ambitious number -- how confident are you guys in terms of reaching that goal?
Dan: I think that we went into this shooting for the stars, and that's been kind of what LoveLoud has been about from the very beginning -- doing something that is maybe a little overly ambitious, but somehow we pull it off. Last year, even getting the event to happen was insanely hard. It was in a place in Utah that was already a kind of religious community. And on top of that, it was in Provo, which is the home of Brigham Young University and Mormonism in a lot of ways. So having a gay rights festival in Provo was really difficult, but we have an incredible team and people who just believe. And it happened! So with this year, it's kind of a similar thing. We thought, "Let's do a stadium," and it's been hard. We have a difficult location, but we just continue to sell tickets and to bring people together. We're now at 30,000+ tickets sold, and we're just super excited. The best part of all of that is we've got a team of people that's just working out of the goodness of their hearts — all of the money is going straight to the foundations. So, as far as reaching the goal, I think about it every day, and I think we'll reach it.
Tegan, as one of the most identifiable queer entertainers of the last twenty years, what is it like for you to see so many LGBTQ artists making big waves in the mainstream music scene?
Tegan: Oh, my God, it is so great! It's really exciting. I mean, in general, I think that one of the great things about the internet -- and there's not very many -- is that there's now this community that has found itself, in that they have the support and solidarity of each other. That extends to women in our industry as well. Obviously, Sara and I got our start in the indie rock world, which was pretty male-dominated, and that was sometimes really lonely and alienating. It wasn't just that we were queer, it was that we were women in this world that was often not particularly friendly to us. I will walk up to any queer artist, I will DM every queer artist that comes out and hits the scene and offer up not only support, but also friendship. I think that it's really important for us to work together and to support one another. So I'm really into this whole new explosion of LGBTQ artists.
I think it's really exciting, and it's funny because I've learned so much more even six months ago by getting involved with LoveLoud, because we really wanted to increase the amount of LGBTQ artists that are there, and it's just been kind of astonishing to look at these spreadsheets of speakers and performers and advocates and allies and musicians and actors. Like, there are so many of us! It's wonderful, and outside of Pride events, there really isn't something like LoveLoud out there. So aside from raising money and inspiring this incredible conversation in Utah, it's also bringing together a lot of LGBTQ people that haven't met each other before. And I'm really excited to see what happens in future years.
While there are a few more LGBTQ artists this year than there were last year, the majority of the acts performing at LoveLoud are non-queer artists. Was there a struggle to find and book LGBTQ talent for the festival?
Tegan: When Dan and I got in touch with each other and started to talk about us being involved, I teased them and said, "We have to start booking the talent for next year's LoveLoud, like, tomorrow." Because there aren't as many of us, so it is harder than it is with other festivals. We know our touring schedules a year from now. So yeah, I can verify that there was a massive effort made to hire and book as many LGBTQ artists as possible. Unfortunately, there are just less of us, so a lot of them were booked. There is a massive amount of LGBTQ artists and personalities and YouTube stars and speakers and performers and organizations that are all booked to come, but we just haven't announced them yet.
I think I can speak for the team from LoveLoud, which I talked to a lot, that there is absolutely a desire and passion to make this a much more diverse and much more LGBTQ space. But I think it's also important not to discount our allies. I think that's really powerful, and the reality is that it would be really amazing if it was all LGBTQ artists, but there just wouldn't be as many people coming. That is just a reality. And I think it's really important to look at our allies, and I look to Dan and Imagine Dragons as a big one, to see how amazing it is to have them there.
Dan: Yeah, one of the things that Tegan has brought to the table, which has been infinitely important to LoveLoud, has been exactly that. I think that we were really happy with last year, and I think that it was a beautiful festival, but it really was lacking the diversity that I think we wanted, and that it needs. That was one of the first things we talked about when I talked to Tegan, and that she saw coming into it, was how important it is to really make it a diverse lineup. I mean, what I am really excited about is we have this announcement coming out about a lot of the speakers and special guests — I wish I could tell you who's coming right now, but sadly I cannot. We're really excited.
That's awesome. Now, Dan, I actually wanted to talk to you a little bit about allyship. You have been a very vocal and outspoken ally for the LGBTQ community over the last couple of years, and I've noticed that you are actually one of a very small group straight male celebrities who identifies as an ally. What has your experience as an ally been, and why don't you think there are more straight male allies in the industry?
Dan: You know, strangely enough, I would cite my mom, who is a conservative white Mormon, as being one of my biggest inspirations for fighting for people who have been stigmatized, who're more...I don't know, I think that I was in kindergarten when my mom emphasized to me how everyone is different, and that's beautiful, and it's so important to protect those and stand up for those that are less privileged than you. She started that in me from a really young age, to fiercely stand up for that, and to stand up for what you believe in, even if everybody else thinks it's wrong or right. If your heart says it, then that's it. When I got into middle school and I started to get a sense that what I was being taught at church did not align with my heart -- when I was in sixth grade, I had my first close friend who was both gay and Mormon, and he was so conflicted. He was living with guilt every single day about his sexuality, so he hid it because he felt he had to hide it. He was tormented by it. My heart saw that and was like, "This isn't right with what I'm being taught." So I thought, "Ok, well, where do I go from here?" And I put it aside for a long time out of fear and out of lack of education and out of indifference.
Those are the things. One, as a white, privileged male, it doesn't affect you in your day-to-day life. It doesn't affect me — I'm not fearful about holding my girlfriend's hand in public, it's not a reality for me to feel like I need to hide my sexuality. So it doesn't affect me directly, then why stick my neck out and risk talking about it, especially if I'm uneducated about it. Two, it's a fear of turning people off. That was definitely a thought going through my head before going into all of this, like, "You know what, I know that we're gonna lose some fans along the way, because we have a lot of conservative fans." And I know that about the band, and I've seen that throughout the years. But on the same note, I think what has been most important to me, especially seeing as I have three little girls who are growing up and starting to understand that their dad is this guy who sings these songs. I really don't want my daughters to know me for being that guy who sings songs. I want them to know me in the way I know my mom. My mom is a badass who stands up, and she was the one who forced me to do things that were uncomfortable for me. I want them to know their dad as someone who stood up for equality and for what he felt in his heart, regardless of what he thought those consequences would be.
What strides do you think the music industry still needs to take in order to make it safer and more accepting of LGBTQ fans and artists?
Tegan: Well, I think that, honestly, LoveLoud is an example of something that the industry needs to do. Our allies and those with power and privilege and access, they need to say, to a wider and broader audience than any of us LGBTQ artists have, that this is ok. I think we're still othered in the industry, and we're often othered by each other. That's not a critique of the industry, that's just the way that it is. Like, I have success, but what I have is LGBTQ success. So actually, where Sara and I have gotten in our career is not actually that significant, if you compare us to straight artists. What's significant about Sara and I's career is that we've gotten where we've gotten because we're marginalized, but also in the industry. So I think we have to get to a place where this isn't something we have to talk about, and I don't think that will happen in our lifetime.
So right now, we have to have festivals like LoveLoud. What we have to do is pull from creative, amazing, alternative communities like the music industry and say, "We have to step up, we have to speak out." And I think that you're absolutely right that the work that Dan and the work that Imagine Dragons has done to speak to their audience makes them an anomaly. It makes them one of few, and that is too bad, it breaks my heart a little bit. I've met a lot of really great people that just don't seem to want to stand with us, and I don't get it. I don't want to put Dan on a pedestal, but you know, if there was someone to put on a pedestal, I think Dan should be on it. [Laughs] Dan, get up on that pedestal!
Dan: [Laughs] I've talked to so many people who think, "Oh, you know, what a good time to be alive! We have such a safer community for our LGBTQ youth and artists! What a great time to be alive!" And I actually thought, "Wow, man, how wrong!" The more I look into it, the more time I spend with actual LGBTQ youth, that's when I realize, "Hell no, there is so much work to be done." I was talking to one of my friends the other day, who is one of the most beautiful people I know, and he told me he still fears and second guesses any time he looks to hold his boyfriend's hand in public. Like, he said, "Never in a parking garage." And it's just boggling to me. I've never had that thought, and it is heart-wrenching.
For me, one of the problems is that people in the industry are thinking things are great. No, you do need to do something, and especially today. People are now feeling more than ever that they have the right to be bigoted, and they have the right to be racist, and that's a scary thing. So, I think now more than ever, it's important for people to speak up, because it is not where it needs to be, and it is bad. Even to hear Tegan say that they are successful for an LGBTQ act, even that, I'm like, "It's so true." That's not a reality that so many privileged musicians and people realize. It's eye-opening, and it makes me more driven to keep this fight up.