'Queer Eye' Star Bobby Berk on Returning to Music & Why Taylor Swift Is 'Definitely a Queer Ally'
By now, Queer Eye's resident designer Bobby Berk is accustomed to helping prop people up by transforming living spaces and inspiring them to live their best lives. Now, Berk is using that same mindset when it comes to his first love: music.
Not only does the Queer Eye team make a cameo in Taylor Swift's video for "You Need To Calm Down," but Berk is unveiling his own feel-good anthem just in time for Pride. Collaborating with the Brazilian singer-songwriter Tiago, the two recently released "Everybody." A dance earworm that features Berk crooning out the track's inspirational lyrics, "Everybody" makes its grand debut alongside a host of other songs in a just-released Pride-themed playlist Berk curated for Apple Music.
Berk caught up with Billboard to talk about how "Everybody" came to be, the pressures of being an LGBTQ role model and what it was like when Taylor Swift came calling: "You don't have to be queer to be a queer ally, and she's definitely a queer ally."
Congratulations on the song! What's the genesis story of "Everybody"?
Tiago and I have been friends for a while. Him and I talk about how I've always wanted to get into singing and how it's my passion, which is something I don't often talk about. For the last couple years he's been asking me to do a song with him and I always kind of blew it off because I guess I was scared of failing. When he came to me with this song, it had such a great message and to put it out for Pride was perfect. In one of the parts of the song, we say "You see my face but don't you think you know my truth." There are so many people out there whether on social media or TV and our community looks at and says, "Oh my God, their life is so great. They're so happy!" But all you see is that little peek into their lives through social media and just because you see their faces, don't think you know their truth. Everybody goes through problems and everybody gets sad. The song's goal is to get you dancing and get your mind off of these things, and also to realize that we're exactly the same and we're all not always happy all the time. One of the lines in there is, "It's all of our business to stand up and witness." I feel that's kind of our job on Queer Eye, to stand there and witness. There are people, especially in our community, who are having a hard time coming out or are thinking about suicide and it's our job to tell them, "Hey, our lives aren't always peachy either. We all go through hard things, but we've got to get out there and dance and support each other."
So is the fact that "Everybody" is coming out for Pride a happy coincidence or something that's been in the works?
We've been talking about maybe recording the song for at least the last six months. And then two weeks ago, he was like "Dude, it would be great to put this out for Pride." I made it work when I was in L.A. and we recorded it.
Was it intimidating getting on the mic and recording your vocals?
I think if this was two years ago, yeah it would have been very intimidating because that was before I was doing TV shows and in sound booths. But since I have been doing that recently, it was actually more fun than anything.
I've been wondering about certain gay celebrities who have turned into the faces of the community and representatives in some way. It's not a big group of people, but the Queer Eye guys are at the top of the list, like whenever an event or brand needs an out celebrity. Can that be a lot of pressure sometimes to be representative of a larger community? It seems like it can be a big, tricky responsibility.
I take it very seriously. I never thought I could be in a place where I can be a quote-unquote role model for younger LGBTQ youth. It's my responsibility as somebody now who's so out there, to show people that we all need to be kind and support each other. Because if we can't even support each other how can we expect other people to support us? I think that's one of the reasons why I did this song as well. Because going out and singing has been my first passion, it was scary for me. It was one of the things where I was like, "Oh, I don't want to try because what if I fail?" But I did it to set the example of: follow your dreams, follow your heart, and follow your passion no matter if you do fall down. So yes, being a role model for the community is something very important to me and I think about it every day.
When you were cast on Queer Eye and the show premiered, did you ever expect it would have the impact that it has had? That it'd inspire people and you'd turn into this role model? You guys became overnight stars, so I'm wondering what it was like to be in the middle of that when it was first starting.
When we were filming, we absolutely could not have imagined it'd be received so well. And to be frank, we didn't know it'd be received so well by the gay community. We sometimes can be the absolute hardest on each other and can sometimes be our own worst critics, so we were kind of scared that the LGBTQ community would not get on board with the show. We just wanted to make sure we were putting kindness and love out there into the world. Our show is kind of like the song: we're taking our "heroes" out to dance and showing them we're all the same. We thought maybe we'd film two seasons of it and it'd be fun for a few months and then we'd all go back to our regular lives. We never imagined that it'd be the cultural phenomenon that it's become.
So this month you're associated with not one but two Pride anthems, delivering a cameo in the video for Taylor Swift's "You Need To Calm Down." How long ago did you know that was happening?
This all happened within the last month. A few days before the call, Taylor was on Ellen and she mentioned that Queer Eye was one of her favorite shows. We were blown away and elated by that. A few days later, our publicist from Netflix got a call from her manager saying she wanted us to be in her music video and a week after that, we were on set. Taylor was amazing; she's one of the sweetest, most down to earth, and humble people. As talented and big as she is, when she walked into our tent, we happened to sitting there talking to each other and she quietly stood there next to us because she didn't want to interrupt us. We didn't even realize she was standing there and then we were all like, "Oh. Oh! Oh my God. Hi!" She was like, "I didn't want to interrupt!" We were like, "This is your set, you can interrupt!" You meet a lot of people in our business who honestly can be a disappointment. People who put positivity out there and in real life they're not. So it really made me happy to meet Taylor and see she wasn't just a character portraying kindness and acceptance. She really is that person in real life.
What was it like seeing the final video?
It was amazing, because we didn't get to see anyone else's scene at all. Seeing the way they were able to make that trailer park look so damn cool was awesome. We didn't even know what the song was.
They didn't play it for you on set?
Nope. That's how much we trust Taylor.
If I were interviewing Taylor, I would love to ask what spurred her to go headfirst into supporting the LGBTQ community and the Equality Act, especially including that message to sign the Change.org petition at the end of the video. It's one thing to voice your support, but to release this song for Pride and make the video that she did, even shouting out GLAAD. I'm wondering if there was one moment that made her want to take a stand.
All that I can assume is that after meeting her and seeing how lovely she is, I can just imagine that Taylor's sitting there and not taking the fact that she's a straight white person with straight white privilege for granted. She's looking around at the people who aren't naturally born with that privilege. She's trying to make sure that everyone has those same rights and everyone is treated the same. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they speak to crew. A lot of times, people can be divas. For Taylor Swift to be the biggest pop star in the world, when there were things on set she didn't quite like, she'd say something like, "Hey guys, what do you think about this or that?" (The attitude was that) it's a community and let's make this work. When I saw that, I was thinking, "Wow, this is her video and her production." I had so much respect for that. In her world, she speaks to every single person she interacts with equally. So for her to see that there are demographics like the LGBTQ community who aren't treated equally, I think it infuriates her. One thing that infuriates me are the amount of people who've come after her in our community in the last week, saying things like she doesn't have any business latching onto the queer community or is using the queer community to promote herself. She doesn't need us. She is doing just fine on her own and is using her platform as somebody that millions and millions and millions of people look up to and is saying, "Hey, everybody needs to be treated equally." For her to be using her time and money to help us and help the Equality Act get passed, I mean, we owe her a debt. You don't have to be queer to be a queer ally, and she's definitely a queer ally.