Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop-shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.
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On the latest show, we’re joined by Dan Reynolds of the chart-topping rock band Imagine Dragons. The group’s front man called in to discuss his new documentary film Believer, which follows his journey to, as he describes it, “speak my truth” and “ignite conversation around what our LGBTQ youth are facing in the Mormon religion, on a daily basis, and on a wider note, within orthodox religion and how certain teachings are hurting our youth and even killing our youth.” (Listen to the podcast, below.)
The film — from Live Nation Productions — made its TV premiere on HBO on June 25 and was directed by Don Argott. The movie chronicles a number of months in Reynolds life in 2017 where he explores how the Mormon church treats its LGBTQ members, including that of fellow rock star — and former Mormon — Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees. The film also gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at Reynolds’ efforts to stage the first LoveLoud music and spoken-word festival, designed to help spark that a conversation between the church and the LGBTQ community.
The 30-year-old Reynolds himself is Mormon, and says that his “goal is to try to fix a broken culture” and to “put out the fire from within instead of just walking away” from the church. (Reynolds grew up in Utah, where more than half of the population is Mormon. He now lives in Las Vegas.)
“If we just look at the facts,” Reynolds says, “we know now why the suicide rate is eight times higher for our LGBTQ youth when they’re not accepted in their home or community. And then we look at Utah, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, and is predominantly Mormon, and the suicide rate has gone up four times now, which that’s not happening anywhere else in the U.S. … I think religious guilt plays a huge role in it.”
Religious guilt has been with Reynolds since he was a teenager. “Basically every single Imagine Dragons song, to date, for the most part, has been about it — has been about religious guilt. From our first song, you know? Probably most people don’t know that because I really bury it within metaphors because that’s how I’ve written since I was young, even when I was 13, when I was writing about feeling like, ‘ah man, I don’t know if this religion is right for me.’ I mean my mom and dad were going to listen to the song so I didn’t want them to know what it was about, so kind of buried it within metaphors.”
He recalls a story about when he was 13 and one of best friends was gay and Mormon. “I watched the struggle that he had with trying to live… you know, a faith that he believed, but that was also telling him that his innate sense of being that was unchangeable and perfect was flawed. And it was the first time that my heart didn’t align with what I was being taught every Sunday. You know, the other things I was being taught was, be a good person, serve other people, families are forever, you’re gonna die and be with your family in heaven. All those things sounded great, but this was the first time that I had a conflict about… it didn’t seem like it was right that my friend wasn’t allowed to love in the way that he wanted, but I was. In fact, my heterosexuality was celebrated.”
“The documentary follows the process of me realizing that I need to wake up and stand for something,” Reynolds says. “And being quiet for all these years about things that I was feeling in my heart… I was really standing for bigotry, as a pacifist. I think in this day and age, if you’re a silent voice, especially when you’ve been given a platform, I don’t think you deserve a platform then. Because we need people to take stands. And so for me, this is a community that I’m part of that’s broken and that’s hurting. I want to make a change. I want to help. I want to do something with my platform.”
But, did Reynolds fear any backlash or stigma he might receive from staking a stand on LGBTQ issues, specifically, as a heterosexual man?
“I knew that this is something that I needed to do, and a journey that I needed to take,” he says. “Even selfishly for myself, to speak my truth, and to just feel free to be myself. But, absolutely I knew this is something that… there will be people on the far right that will say this is too left for them, and they’re upset with me. I’ve gotten so many emails and met with parents who are furious with me. They say, ‘you’re not gonna to go to heaven, you’re gonna see God and God’s gonna tell you, ‘shame on you Dan Reynolds, you made more kids gay.’ I’ve literally gotten emails from people who’ve said just that. That’s what they believe. They think I’m on this journey that I’ve been liberalized by the world of music and shame on me. And then I’ve gotten emails from the far left saying, ‘you’re a heterosexual white man and you’re capitalizing on LGBTQ issues to try to make your band more famous.’
“And I think I knew already going into this there would be people on both ends that would be upset, because I’m trying to bridge a gap in the middle. And I get it. I get it. But at the end of the day, I know the journey that I’m on. And I know that I can make a change in a culture that is broken. It takes a Mormon, sadly, to speak to Mormons, because otherwise they just close their doors. Because they’ve been hurt by ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical, and they’re angry. So, when people yell at them, they just close their door. They just don’t listen.
“But for me, I think it’s an important story to say you know what? I’m Mormon. A white male whose been super privileged and I have been living silently in not helping my community and that sucks. And so I wanna try to be better and be educated on how to be an ally. And this is what it looks like to become an ally… And I think that hopefully there will be other, you know, white orthodox males and females from religious worlds that views this (documentary) and say, ‘you know what? I can become an ally too and this is what it looks like.’”
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