Last April, a little less than a year after finishing as a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, Calum Scott released an emotional, piano-ballad rendition of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” His version reached No. 93 on the Hot 100, surpassing Robyn’s original — which missed the chart. With over 200 million streams worldwide, the song promoted him from human resources employee in northeast England to a global music sensation. As rewarding as his professional success has been, it was also difficult for him at first, having to face his long-held difficulties with accepting his sexuality while in the public eye.
While in the process of finishing up his debut album this year, he’s been steadily releasing new music, including his most recent single “Rhythm Inside” and Matrix & Futurebound’s track “Light Us Up.” Adjusting to life in the spotlight, he’s also opened up about his sexuality, and recently played a set at Birmingham Pride. In the midst of several festival performances and with new music (including his debut album) and a supporting gig for Emile Sandé‘s tour on the horizon, he took time out of his brief family vacation in Greece to speak to Billboard about accepting himself through songwriting, getting advice from Sam Smith and how he’s happier than he’s ever been.
You’ve released several new songs this year — where are you at now and what is coming up for you musically?
I’ve just finished waxing and recording the album, so that’s now at mixing and mastering stage, with the guys who do their magic and make it sound amazing for radio and for the album. So it’s a little bit out of my hands at the moment, which is kind of scary but exciting at the same time. It’s actually given me kind of a week of downtime, so I put a last minute holiday together for me and my family to come to a private villa in Greece, so I’m here out enjoying the sun for the last day before I come back to the U.K. I‘ve had a beautiful week with the family, and it’s my nephew’s first holiday. I’ve been really busy with writing and recording and that’s now finished, so it’s the calm before the storm, I’ve been told by my manager.
There’s a lot coming up, there’s a lot of new releases — I’ve been working with other artists and other producers, so hopefully that will be coming in the very near future. I’ve got my own single coming as well, which I wrote over in Sweden, so that’s super exciting news. To have a debut album coming soon is kind of terrifying — it’s a surreal feeling because I’m so excited to share this with the world after having written and recorded these tracks and lived with them for so long. To then share them with the world, to my fan base who’s so loyal, it’s a very exciting feeling… but obviously I’m nervous as well.
Definitely sounds like the calm before the storm — it seems you’ve got a lot coming up.
Yeah, I think so — I mean I hope so. I don’t think I’m going to get to sunbathe in Greece much longer when the tracks start coming out and the album drops, but music is what I love to do and performing live especially. I’ve had my fill of the studio, I’m really happy with the songs that we’ve written and now I’m ready to go and tour these worldwide, to sing them to as many people as possible.
You’ve had a very successful couple of years — do you think you’ve changed at all from the end of Britain’s Got Talent to now, whether musically or otherwise?
I mean I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve changed — I’ve changed for the better. I come from a very normal day job, a very normal upbringing, so I had six or seven years working in an office nine to five in human resources. I had the normal life and kind of thought maybe this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, but still had that passion and that yearning for music… Britain’s Got Talent just gave me that platform that I needed to share that with the world and be recognized, and now I’m able to travel the world and sing my music in places I never thought I’d visit — Dubai, Mexico, Brazil, so many different places. And to share this with people, to be in countries I’ve never been to and to have fans already there waiting for the music, and most of all, seeing them sing the music back, even to songs I haven’t even released yet, is an incredible feeling. My life has completely changed, but changed for the better. I have not had any bad experiences yet, I‘ve met incredible people, I’ve got an incredible team, so yeah it has changed dramatically — but in all the right ways.
Since the show ended, you have come out publicly as gay. You have talked before about how it was difficult for you to come out initially, so how did you deal with that when you rose to fame so quickly on Britain’s Got Talent?
It was really difficult because I lived a very normal life, I lived all my life in the northeast of England, in Hull where I was born. I lived very normally and in terms of personally as well — by that time my friends and my family had known about my sexuality and I was still getting to grips with it, but especially being thrust into this life. The press obviously want to know your personal life, your romantic life, so it made it a little bit more difficult. It felt like a magnifying glass. I’d always been a little bit uncomfortable talking about my sexuality just because it took me a while to fully accept it, I had a bit of traumatic time with my friends when I was younger and it kind of just put me off talking about it. I was thinking if I talk about it I’m going to lose friends, lose people’s interest.
The show just catapulted me into the public eye, and I felt a little bit under pressure that I would have to talk to people about it before I was ready. I struggled with it a little bit until songwriting came into the equation. I’ve used songwriting as a tool, I‘ve used it as a way of being able to talk about how I feel… it was only a couple years ago I came out to my dad. I wrote a song about coming out to him, and I also wrote a song about coming out to the press, the fears I had, the anxieties I had. One of the lyrics is “If our love is wrong, I don’t want to be right,” kind of in an empowering way, to try and hopefully be an answer for people who are going through the same thing I went through.
But songwriting has significantly helped me to explain how I feel, to put into words all of the emotions that stir up inside me, all of the anxieties and worries I had, and I put it into music. For that to be able to serve, through my experiences, as help for other people kind of brings me a lot of comfort, and in that made me a lot more accepting of who I was. It was difficult at first to embrace who I was, considering the complications I had when I was younger, but I said to one of the people I was talking to at my label, I’ve never been happier in my life. I’m loving what I’m doing with my music, I’m loving where I’m at personally, I’m very happy with who I am, I’m very happy with my sexuality. So music has definitely made me feel more confident and happier. If I can help one person to have the confidence to come out and to be happy with themselves and who they are, then it’s been worthwhile.
It sounds like songwriting has been really helpful for you personally, with coming to terms with your sexuality.
Of course, I mean it’s changed things from me being vulnerable and feeling like there’s a magnifying glass on me and kind of feeling like I had to talk about it — not that I was being pressured at all by media or anything like that. It was just my own anxieties and my own voice making me feeling like I’m going to have to talk about this, because I’d rather talk about this and be happy with it than see a story in the press and feel like I’ve lost the opportunity to tell people how I feel before anybody else does. But these songs that I’ve written, to read the words back. I’ve got a song with a guy called Toby Gad who wrote “All of Me” with John Legend, he’s written countless songs – “If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé, there’s all these huge songs that he’s written. I wrote a song with him about the experience of coming out to my parents, about the anxieties I went through and how when I told them they just said that they love me no matter who I am and they just want me to be me. I played that to my mum and she was in tears, and I said to her, “How come you’re so upset?” and she said “It’s just so beautiful that you’re able to put into words how you feel and you get a sense of how much that meant to you and what you went through.”
To be able to put it to music and to be able to share it with people and for people to go “I know exactly how that feels,” is such a beautiful thing. She pointed out something I knew all along, which is that I wanted to be able to help other people with music — music is almost like a medication, you know? You just stick your earphones in and listen to music and kind of escape the world that we live in and the problems that you’re going through — and hopefully it inspires you and makes you confident enough to face your demons or face your own issues. Without music I don’t know if I would’ve been confident, maybe I would’ve eventually found the confidence, but music has just brought me to that conclusion so quickly, and now I’m so happy talking about my sexuality, talking about my experiences. I always just think in the back of my mind if I can just help one person through talking about these experiences. If somebody catches this interview, or hears my music, this could be their lifeline, to know that I’ve been through exactly what they’ve been through and are going through the same things or whatever, hopefully just inspires people, and I couldn’t ask for more than that.
What have you heard from fans or other people since coming out about your experiences in the public eye?
I tend to get a lot of fans who, especially with the cover of “Dancing on my Own” by Robyn — I purposefully didn’t change the words, so it reads “I’m in the corner watching you kiss him” and it’s from a guy’s perspective. I did that because that’s what I was going through and it related to me, and it’s kind of grown a whole new dimension to the song. I’ve had so many people that have come to me — I was in America doing a show, I was doing some radio promo, and this guy came up to me and he’d written me this letter I kept. It said he had lived most of his life as a straight guy and had always felt there was something he couldn’t talk about with his sexuality, because he’d spent all his life as a straight man, he’d had a wife and kids. He said I listened to your song and everything just worked into my head that I had to be who I needed to be, listening to your voice, listening to the words. He said I’ve been unhappy, and your music and your voice and the way that you emote inspired me to come out and be who I am and I’ve never been happier, and all my family is saying how happy [I am]. That kind of stuff almost brought me to tears, because I’m just I’m a normal guy from Yorkshire and to have that impact on people across the world is such a humbling experience, and makes me feel so proud to be able to represent people going through this struggle. So I tend to get a lot of support and a lot of experiences coming from fans, which at the end of the day… it’s sharing it with the fans that’s the most paramount importance, because they’re the people you touch, they’re the people you sing to, who buy your records and listen to it, are inspired by it.
You mentioned the album is in the final stages. What kind of sound will it have — will it be similar to what you’ve released so far?
I’ve said from day one I didn’t want to move too far away from what people know me for. People discovered me from a stripped version of a pop song. I sat with my producer, Frasier T. Smith, who’s produced most of the album, and we talked at length about what I wanted to do with my album. I said to him, there’s every opportunity to record a live album, but I said for my album I want to have a little bit of an electronic feel in there, I want to stay relevant to the 21st century without dating the songs too much. I want to have that authenticity of the recorded instruments and the organic vibe that you get from live [recordings], with that electronic thread that just binds the whole album together. I’ve listened to some of the mixes that Frasier has sent over and they just sound amazing. I don’t want to blow steam up my own backside, but they sound incredible, from what I remember them as being a thought in my head and an idea, to writing with some incredible writers from all over the world and these producers I’ve worked with, to finally hear that sound come together as a full piece of music with the album is so exciting.
Of course, there’s ballads on there, there’s personal experiences — falling in love with a straight guy, falling in love with the wrong person, coming out to people, going through things with my friends and family, being thrust into the limelight — all personal experiences, all very much what I’ve been through. It’s a discovery of me as a person as well as an artist. So in terms of the sound, it’s going to be organic and just have that electronic thread through it that just gives me the Calum Scott sound…I mean it sounds crazy saying that, but in the same way that Sam Smith’s got his own sound, Adele has her own sound and Ed Sheeran, when I listen to the album in its entirety it has that sound. It just makes me all the more excited to share it with everybody. It’s definitely got things on there that people have heard before, definitely got the ballads, the heart-racing songs to make you cry, but then there are also upbeat songs, empowering songs, songs to make you feel happy… so yeah I’m very very excited.
You mentioned Sam Smith having his own sound, and you’ve cited him as an influence before — is he also an inspiration to you personally?
Yeah, I’m good friends with Sam now. I met Sam through our mutual piano player, who’s played for me throughout my entire promo and recorded songs with me on the album, and he’s also played with Sam for three years — a guy called Reuben James, and a very close friend of mine. He introduced me to Sam, and we met. We met in Nashville and Sam offered me some really sound advice about family and dealing with fame — he went through the same thing, he blew up in America and it all came at once. He’s kept in touch and it’s really nice to have that.
He went through very similar circumstance where he found it hard to talk about his sexuality and stuff like that, but he gathered himself as I did around people who supported him and loved him and found the confidence to talk about it. He’s spoken about it on very public stages, like the Oscar’s where he talked about being gay and receiving this award. Stuff like that is where you look at those role models and you think he’s saying that in front of millions of people who are watching this, and if one person is inspired to talk confidently about their sexuality based on that then we’ve done our jobs. So I do take a lot of inspiration from Sam, he’s a great guy and he’s got a great album coming up — I heard a snippet and it sounds incredible — and it’s people like him that have helped me deal with it. Having such a huge artist being openly gay, it made me want to do that same thing and also be an inspiration to people.