Singer-actor Kenton Chen may be an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community. But he hopes his music as the Bridesmen — including the new single “The Times,” whose video is premiering exclusively below — will have a universal appeal.
“I want to be very real about just how I’m feeling in my emotions and the things I personally deal with often,” says Chen, a co-star on NBC’s Perfect Harmony whose last single, “The Overwhelm,” dealt with depression and mental health issues. “I don’t necessarily push for just queer messaging, really. I would hope that any of my music is not so niche that people can’t see past what I’m trying to say. The message, especially of ‘The Times,’ should be very universal.”
In the video, a white-clad Chen is surrounded by figures wearing painted, masked outfits who eventually reveal their faces after a highly interpretive, abstract dance “battle.” “What I’m trying to say is we go through life with all these masks,” he explains. “So you see me going through life and it feels like I’m dancing by myself and I’m alone in all this, and there’s these faceless entities and spirits that I’m constantly battling with in my head. And it isn’t until I open my eyes to see that we’re all in this together. We can take off our masks and stop trying to be so strong all the time and to express anger or frustration or sadness is a good thing. It’s actually very important to do that and to support each other in expressing that.”
That message, of course, is drawn from Chen’s own life. The native of conservative Irvine, Calif. grew up feeling like an outcast and also grappling with his sexuality in a traditional Asian family. Chen, who studied vocal jazz at USC, took inspiration from artists such as Janelle Monae and Robyn, and as a part-time member of Postmodern Jukebox, Chen credits creator Scott Bradlee with allowing him to take some risks and be flamboyant during live shows.
“I remember after a show in New Jersey I was back in the audience meeting up with a friend, and this 20-year-old Asian girl came up to me,” says Chen, who also works with the group Scary Pockets and has opened for Ben Folds and Portugal. The Man. “She said, ‘I feel very isolated here. There aren’t a lot of Asian queer voices. Just watching you up there in this huge auditorium, being yourself, is so inspiring and pushing me to be more bold with myself’ — which is the kindest thing you can say to somebody.”
Interestingly, Chen has opted to use a moniker for his musical endeavors, rather than his own (more recognizable) name. “That’s something I really went back and forth with,” he acknowledges. “I come from a world of marketing, and my name is attached to so many other projects. I’m always very clear and very up front that (Bridesmen) is me and I’m not hiding who I am. I think of it in the same way as Childish Gambino; If you want to hear this type of stuff it’s this project and this world I’m creating, and you can go look for it. Because I release a lot of other music with other projects that has my own name over it, I wanted to build this other project that people can easily look for and not get lost with (Postmodern) Jukebox and Scary Pockets.”
Chen is now waiting for word about the future of his other musical project, Perfect Harmony. The show, about a diverse choir and community in small-town Kentucky, recently wrapped its first season, which Chen says “was amazing. It was so fun. I’m a big fan of so many people on the show, and I’m very happy to say I consider them friends now. Going into it I was trying to keep down my fandom and play it off a bit, but they were so welcoming and supportive. I think it comes across that everybody in the cast loves each other and feels like family. That’s not something that happens every time. And there are so many voices that are really celebrated in the show, a lot of people of color and queer people. I feel like there was something really special there.”
As to whether it’s special enough to be renewed remains to be seen, however. “Honestly we talked about it a lot — all the time,” Chen says with a laugh. “We’re very, very hopeful. But we feel like we have a good chance. It hasn’t been a breakout hit by any means, but we had a consistent following, and there’s so many sitcoms from NBC that are ending this season, so I hope we’re still on this journey and we get to follow and expand these characters we’ve introduced in these first (13) episodes.”