Greyson Chance photographed on March 1, 2019 in New York City.
Greyson Chance photographed on March 1, 2019 in New York City.
Jessica Xie

At 21, Greyson Chance Is Back From Retirement And Ready For Redemption

After viral fame and an on-screen fling with Ariana Grande, Greyson Chance was ready to leave it all behind: “I completely gave up on music."

Each month, Billboard Pride celebrates an LGBTQ act as its Artist of the Month. Our March selection: Greyson Chance.

These days, Greyson Chance is nearly unrecognizable. You likely recall the musician from his 2010 viral video, in which he serenaded schoolmates at an elementary talent show with a chilling, belted version of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”. The video received over 60 million views, and Chance was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where viewers fell deeper in love with the Oklahoma native turned overnight sensation.

Now, nine years later, Greyson is 21 years old, and a man. A gay man. In July 2017, Chance took to Instagram to write a deeply relatable coming out message. “I decided not to publicize my sexuality largely due to a matter of privacy, as I was still trying to find comfort and confidence within my own skin,” he wrote. “I encourage anyone who is navigating their sexuality to devote as much time as they need to the process of finding self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love.”

The announcement, he wrote, was inspired by “a brave individual” who was actually a complete stranger. “I received a DM from this kid from Arkansas who unabashedly shared his story with me,” Chance tells Billboard over the phone. “He talked about how he ‘easily passed’ in high school and not a lot of people suspected he was gay.”

The fan said that as a rock music fan who dressed down, he didn’t feel that he fit into gay culture. He also mentioned that when he eventually comes out to his family, it wasn’t going to be an easy road. At the end of the message, he wrote, “I know you’re not gay, but I just wanted to let you know that your music inspires me.” With those final words, Chance was forced to confront himself in the black mirror of his smartphone. “I was like, ‘Come on, kid. Find that courage. Do this.’”

Not long after, Chance took to Instagram to come out, posting right before he boarded a plane. When he landed, he came face to face with the public reaction. “For the most part, people were very, very supportive,” he recalls. “But I remember reading one comment where someone said, ‘I bet if Ellen hadn’t discovered him that he wouldn’t have ended up gay.’ And I was just like, ‘Ugh, go away.’”

When Chance came out on Instagram, he’d been out to family and friends for a few years, which had gone extraordinarily well (turns out, they already knew). “I don’t think I had the confidence yet to tell the world,” he says. “That’s something that takes time. It takes patience. And I’m very proud for giving myself that time. I didn’t rush into something and regret it later.”

The other reason Chance was hesitant to come out centered around his career: “I didn’t want my sexuality to become some tactic for me to sell more records, or to advance my career. It felt too personal for me.”

Chance recalls a particularly heavy conversation he’d had with a record industry executive when he was 16 and closeted. “He looked at me and asked, ‘When are you coming out? Because it would be really great to do a video and tie a single release to it.’” Chance was taken aback and disgusted. “I knew in my heart that I wanted to have an honest dialog with my fans and I wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t going to be pushing an agenda,” he shares. “I’m still learning my place in the machine and how best I can help the community. Right now, I think that’s writing music and giving people good songs to listen to.”

Chance knew he was gay at 16. “I had a big lightbulb moment,” he recalls. “I was so obsessed with this girl who was also my best friend. Looking back, I understand why I loved her: she had really cool style. We would go shopping together. I felt such an admiration toward her, and I really loved her, but there was no sense of me wanting to take it to the next level,” he says. “One morning I woke up and I was like ‘Oh, shit. This all makes sense now’: I was essentially in love with a girl, but in a different way.’”

See that? Greyson Chance swears now. He’s no longer the pocket-sized heartthrob with Disney sensibilities and a sweeping haircut. Like many artists who got their start at a young age, it is clear that Greyson Chance is a different person since his pre-teen debut. Chance is now a bright, thoughtful individual, one who’s clearly gone through puberty. His voice is significantly deeper – shockingly so. He doesn’t sound like the same person in song or over the phone. It’s more purposeful. Distinguished.

The voice change, according to the singer, was the worst part of his career.  “What they don’t tell you is from 16 on, your voice is still going through a transition of settling,” Chance says. “I don’t think my voice really settled until now.” To make matters worse, Chance’s voice decided to change while on an eight-city tour in Asia. “It was extremely difficult,” he shares. “It’s like if you were a painter and all of a sudden you didn’t have your brushes anymore. You just don’t know what to do.”  

Being a viral sensation was no easy feat either. Looking back, Chance has mixed emotions about his rise to fame. “It was 50/50,” he shares, lost in thought. “Because you’re really blessed for the opportunities that you are given and I don’t know what my start in music would’ve looked like had I not had what happened to me.” There were also moments he’d look back and ponder if his break was one big flash in the pan and that was going to be it. “It really wasn’t until now, when we began writing this record, that I look back at my past and adolescence and I’m really, really proud of it. I think what happened to me was so crazy.”

With his viral fame at 12 years old, Chance’s life had completely changed. “I had never even been on a plane before,” he says. “I came from a very blue-collar family. I didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up.” Friendships, he found, were harder to come by as well. “There are definitely moments where people might say they’re closer to me than they really are,” he admits. “Being from where I’m from, I will say my core group of friends have really remained intact and they’ve really been with me through this entire journey... They keep me grounded and remind me of where I come from.”

Another friend he made around this time was none other than Miss Ariana Grande, who starred in the video of his 2011 single, “Unfriend You”. “Ari!” he belts as I utter her name, before mentioning the two have not talked in a long while. “I think she’s a little busy,” he laughs. During that time, Grande was still on Victorious and her title as an international pop icon was still unwritten. But Chance saw superstardom on the horizon. “She would say a line and you would look back at her and you knew the girl was going to be a star,” he remembers. “Like, come on. It’s a no-brainer. She deserves every ounce of success she has right now. I’m very, very happy for her. She’s gone through a lot this year and I’m proud that she’s keeping her head up and being the person who she is. It shows a lot of strength.”

As Grande’s career was about to take off, Chance’s sputtered to a halt. At 18, he left music altogether. “Things weren’t going too well for me. I wasn’t happy and I made the decision to go to college. I completely gave up on music,” he shares. But that didn’t last long. That same time next year, his passion made an unexpected return -- with Chance listening to Sylvan Esso, Bon Iver, Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile on loop -- and the experience inspired his new album. “Suddenly, I couldn’t stop writing music. I’d found my love again.”

But as he was getting back together with music, he was going through a tough breakup in his personal life -- the ensuing heartbreak ending up a central theme on Portraits. “I thought I was going to get married last year,” he shares in a sombre tone. “Or at least that I had found the guy that I would have been down to do that with.” Chance  was looking at rings a week before his ex ended things. “That was -- not to be melodramatic -- was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through, and I wrote about that a lot on this record.”

But these stormy conditions brought clarity. “I think love is the essence of de-prioritizing yourself. When the other person is your number one and you’re number two. When I had it with that person I loved every second of it. I was willing to fight for him, I was willing to go to bat for him to do other things. So I have -- even through the hurt -- no regrets over feeling that, because it’s a beautiful thing.”

Now, after the stresses of the breakup with the pressures of producing a record, Chance is finally at a place where he’s ready to date again. “If anybody were to come up to me at a restaurant or at a bar or coffee shop and just literally say, ‘Hey, how are you? Would you want to grab dinner sometime?’ I would be like, ‘Hell yeah!’”, he laughs. “So maybe I’m just waiting for the right guy to do that.” Chance keeps it classic on first dates: “I think dinner is the best,” he begins. “I love to go to concerts on the first, second, or third date because I need to see how this person reacts to music. When I go to a show and I like, I’m a doofus and dance my ass off and have fun. I would really like to see my date doing that.”

Chance shares that another major theme of Portraits is redemption. It’s fitting: Chance survived his viral fame at a very young age, rediscovered a lost love for music, and endured the greatest love and loss of his romantic life. Now, Chace is thriving as a grown-ass man with a message:  “I’m coming back and really trying to make a record that I felt anyone could listen to and respect,” he says. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do in music.”