Hall, who has built a multifaceted career as an actor, singer, choreographer and TV personality since his breakout run on American Idol in 2010, describes marching outside of city hall — a mask on his face, a simple “Black Lives Matter” sign in his hand — as a transformative moment. “I have traveled the world and done several Broadway shows and gotten hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, but I never felt more important in my life than I did sitting in that crowd where nobody knew who I was,” says Hall, 35. “I think a lot of people are looking with stars in their eyes like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this might be the moment when people will actually give me a chance at winning and surviving and being able to create a family and a legacy for myself.’ ”
Hall has thought a lot about that legacy he wants to build — and the obstacles he faces — not just lately, but throughout his career. As a black gay man in the entertainment industry, he is used to paving his own yellow brick road. During a FaceTime tour of his house in late May, he showed off the memorabilia that decorates his hallways: His schoolboy costume from his 2016 visual album, Straight Outta Oz; the thigh-high red boots from his starring role as Lola in Broadway’s Kinky Boots; the MTV Video Music Award he accepted in 2019 alongside good friend and collaborator Taylor Swift for her star-studded “You Need To Calm Down” music video. But despite all that — plus regular appearances on competition shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and an enviable contact list in his phone — Hall still feels like an outsider in the industry.
“People have put me up on a pedestal and think that I am signed to a label and that I have management. I am blown away by their ignorance of how the industry works,” says Hall, who is repped by Creative Artists Agency but has no music manager and releases music independently. “In the next breath, I am flattered that my team and I have been able to make people believe that we are on that same level.” It doesn’t feel like so long ago that he was staging unauthorized pop-up performances around town, trying to get a break: “No one was bothering me when I was singing at the drive-through at McDonald’s and when I was dancing at Target.”
Hall is an unconventional celebrity: He’s part old-school theater showman, part new-school internet personality, part drag queen, with a sound that draws equally from club-ready dance music and contemporary hip-hop. That makes him hard to categorize — even easy to dismiss — for those used to more traditional résumés and less openly ambitious performers. With songs like “Fag” and “I Like Boys,” he’s also pushing the boundaries of LGBTQ representation in a business that has historically been unwelcoming to queer people of color and bristled at out stars who came across as too showy or too sexual. “The thing that moves me the most about Todrick is that he represents the thing that my generation fought for, which is a black man who could be gay and out in the music industry,” says Hall’s friend Billy Porter, a Broadway veteran who has garnered recent attention for his role on FX’s Pose and his extravagant red-carpet looks. “They laughed my gay ass out of the business in the mid-’90s.”
That confidence is treasured by Swift, who has publicly credited Hall with inspiring her to be more vocal about her stance on LGBTQ equality. “From day one, Todrick has always been very honest with me about his life and his experiences as a gay man of color,” Swift tells Billboard over email. “He never holds back or smooths over conversations or topics. It’s always something I’ve been grateful for, that he never felt the need to edit who he is around me or be a different version of himself. I think that unapologetic sense of self is also what people connect to in his work. He’s just Todrick. He’s never EVER going to even attempt to be anyone else.”
Yet as Hall carves out his own unconventional path through the business, sorting out what’s systemic or coded bias and what’s just a bumpy road can be tricky. Earlier this year, he called out German beauty brand Douglas Cosmetics for seemingly copying his thunderous house anthem “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels” in an advertisement he called “shady”; in a statement, the company said “it was never our intention to upset him,” but the slight evoked the long history of corporations profiting off the creativity of queer and black entertainers, often without credit or compensation.
At other times, he has been more direct in highlighting perceived wrongdoing. In 2019, Hall defended Swift during her public battle with music manager Scooter Braun, whom Hall accused of being “evil” based on his time as one of Braun’s clients — only for one of Braun’s employees to say on social media that his company had dropped Hall and that Hall had allegedly ripped off his collaborators; the back-and-forth prompted others to share or resurface allegations of nonpayment and misconduct by Hall. All the while, he has received some of his harshest criticism from members of black and queer audiences, who think he represents those communities in stereotypical or unflattering ways.