Billy Porter has been the name on everyone’s lips this awards season. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor has managed to steal the spotlight at every red carpet he’s walked this year, and is currently leading a pack of talented actors on the second season of FX’s hit series Pose.
Porter has built an illustrious career both onstage and onscreen, and has become one of the most outspoken advocates for authenticity and freedom of expression for queer people in the world today. In celebration of Pride month and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Porter is releasing “Love Yourself,” an empowering anthem about having confidence in yourself and projecting that confidence out into the world.
Billboard spoke with Porter about his plans of getting back into music, the new season of Pose, and his scene-stealing looks both on and off the red carpet.
Billboard: Congratulations on the new season of Pose! With the show now in its second season, what does it mean to you as a queer black person who lived through this era to see all this success on a show you’re involved in?
Billy Porter: It’s just thrilling! I’m just so thrilled that I lived long enough to see this day when we can vibrate in these spaces that are mainstream, and tell the story of a generation of my friends who haven’t been able to do so for themselves. It’s just awesome.
Without giving too much away, what is the show going to explore this season that you’re really excited about?
A lot of it is about activism. In the premiere, we see Pray Tell get involved with activism through ACT UP. Everyone gets involved with activism, and that’s the crux of the season for pretty much everybody. And I hope to find some love at some point! We’ll see if that happens.
I saw a video of you singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” at the Tonys last weekend. You’re obviously busy with TV work right now, but do you have any desire to return to the stage anytime soon?
I would go back for the right thing. It has to be the right thing, and it has to be focused on the right things for me. But 16 to 22 weeks is all I got! I wouldn’t do years and years at a time again; I did three years of Kinky Boots and it almost killed me. Being in a theater show is just a different kind of energy, and I’m just interested in something else right now. But for the right thing, I would definitely come back. Theater is my home.
So you’ve just put out a new song, “Love Yourself.” It’s all about embracing who you are and finding that light within yourself—very fitting for this Pride month. So what led you to want to create this song?
I have to say, as busy as I’ve been, it was truly my manager Bill Butler’s doing. He and Carmen Cacciatore are friends, and Carmen is at the forefront of the music world. D. Smith is a transgender writer and producer who created the song, and Bill and Carmen found it. They presented the song to me and I loved it and thought it was a great idea. I have a good team behind me, so it really was my manager that came up with the idea to do it!
Is this song just a one-off or is it part of an upcoming project?
Well, ultimately it’s going to be a part of a project. My goal is to sort of reenter mainstream R&B and soul music by next year. By this time next year, I hope to be releasing the album that’s connected to this song. And now I have a space to sell it, you know? Now I don’t have to just depend on radio to sell a record. I have a platform of my own where I can sell it myself.
Let’s talk a bit about your fashions, because you always manage to steal the spotlight on every red carpet. When you create a look, besides obviously the purpose of looking fabulous on the red carpet, what do you always have in mind?
I always want to be a walking piece of art … I just want to say something. It’s not a frivolous thing for me; fashion is art, and art in general across the board has the power to change people and change things. So I just want to make sure that my intention extends to that side of my career too.
A lot of your looks challenge gender norms that permeate all different parts of our society—especially places like red carpets. Why do you choose to put these forms of genderfluid identity and expression in spaces where so many eyes are watching?
Well, I have the platform. This is the perfect space to create those conversations that need to be had. It’s sort of like Kaepernick; he had to do it right on the field, otherwise, it doesn’t matter. If you’re not risking anything inside of your activism, there’s space, and space doesn’t make any changes. When the eyes are on you, that change happens. It was risky! I didn’t know how people were going to react to me, but I’m glad that most people have responded with positivity, and that the world is now having a conversation about gender and what it means to be masculine and feminine and everything in between.
This Pride month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and obviously we’re dealing with people in power who are actively trying to erase our identities. Why is it important for you now more than ever to put your energy out there and be unapologetically authentic?
It’s war time honey! Put your war clothes on! The only way for us to do it is to show up and be authentic. We’re here, we’ve always been here, and we’re not going anywhere—and that’s the message that I always give every time I walk out my door.