Laverne Cox may be surprised by the breakout success of her recent hit “Welcome Home,” but that doesn’t mean she’s not ready to parlay the moment into an opportunity to speak out for more inclusiveness in the music industry.
The song, which embellishes a dance beat with Cox’s words from her ad campaign with Smirnoff, debuted during Pride Month, slowly sashaying up the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, peaking at No. 4 in September. Cox, Smirnoff’s national spokesperson, will next appear in the company’s holiday campaign.
“I’m blown away,” she tells Billboard during Advertising Week in New York City, where she gave a talk about brand inclusivity with Smirnoff’s vice president of brand marketing Jay Sethi. “I got an email [from Smirnoff] saying ‘We want to put your dialog to music, and we’d love to play it during the pop-ups we’re doing during Pride and do you approve?’ I listened and was like, ‘This is amazing, of course you can use it.’ Then they said ‘We’d love to release it and have the proceeds go to charity,’ and they would match $10,000 no matter what. I thought this is a total win-win.”
All proceeds from record sales benefit the Transgender Law Center, by Cox’s choice.
For Cox, a transgender actor who enthusiastically uses her platform to advocate for equal rights — including calling attention to the three LGBTQ employment cases the Supreme Court will hear on Oct. 8 on the Emmy red carpet, where she was nominated for her third statuette for Orange Is the New Black — another achievement is another opportunity to spread the word.
To quote the “Welcome Home” lyrics, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place that accepted everyone?” Or, as she likes to say of opportunity, “There’s plenty of room in the boat.”
“The same week my song [reached] No. 4, Billy Porter’s song ‘Love Yourself’ was No. 1 on the club play chart,” she says. “And Billy Porter is an openly gay black man who just made Emmy history,” she adds, referring to Porter taking home the best lead actor trophy at this year’s awards, making him the first gay black man to do so.
The club sensation isn’t Cox’s first musical twirl. She owned the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Fox’s 2016 remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dropped a music video for her original song “Beat for the Gods” around her hosting gig for Lifetime’s 2018 reality competition series Glam Masters.
“It’s a really interesting time,” she muses. “In some ways it’s the best of times and the worst of times. A lot of folks in entertainment have been answering the call for more diverse voices, for more representation, and that is a beautiful thing. And then we have what’s happening in the rest of the world, politically, and the backlash to that. But there’s so much progress, and so my hope and wish and advocacy is to keep pushing that and see other folks set new standards and keep pushing.”
What does that push look like in the context of the music industry? Cox, not surprisingly, has some thoughts. “It’s about being persistent. I’m no expert in the music industry, but there are different elements. There are record labels, there are concert venues, there’s music press and then there are the artists. A lot of people are making music and the music isn’t breaking through. So if the music isn’t breaking through, then what can a concert venue do in terms of having a night of LGBTQ talent or talent from different backgrounds?” she posits. “It’s about people in different aspects of the industry asking themselves, ‘What can we do to bring in more people and highlight talent and different musical styles?’”
Cox adds, “Those become the questions. Constantly asking ourselves what more can I do, how much more inclusive can I be. What does it mean to not only feature more artists, but how do we cultivate the talent too? My friend [actor and transgender rights activist] Angelica Ross is always talking about access. Can the industry invest in some training and other programs, so once they get in the room, they have the tools to succeed? So when they get in, they can win?”
For example, Cox cites Rihanna’s recent Savage X Fenty intimate apparel fashion show during NY Fashion Week, in which Cox took part. “I’m so inspired by what Rihanna just did,” she says, referring to event, which included runway models of varying sizes, abilities and gender identities.
“If we open it up we begin to understand that people of different sizes have a lot to offer, that people with a disability have a lot to offer, and can turn your work out in the best possible way,” she says. “For me, diversity and inclusion is super important, but it should be about what you have to offer. When we think outside of the box and think about being inclusive, God, the possibilities are endless.”