Growing online buzz and speculation came to a head this past weekend when it was revealed that country artist Chely Wright, 39, would announce that she is gay in this week’s People Magazine.
The move is obviously not without precedent; Ricky Martin came out in the same way just a month ago. And stars like George Michael, Melissa Etheridge – and even younger, less established artists like “American Idol” alums Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert – along with many others, have come out of the closet and gone on to greater success.
In short, coming out of the closet doesn’t seem to negatively impact one’s career. But, this is uncharted territory for country music: there’s never been a major star in this genre to reveal his or her homosexuality. Country music’s artists and fans have typically skewed to be more conservative than not.
Wright’s camp seems to be going all-in on the bet that being openly gay won’t hurt her career — and they will find out quickly. Her announcement comes the same week that her memoir, “Like Me,” and her first album in five years, “Lifted off the Ground,” are released.
While it remains to be seen how fans will respond to her announcement, there’s evidence that some of the genres big stars would be supportive. Last year, the Rascal Flatts song “Love Who You Love,” was interpreted by some as a message of acceptance toward the gay community.
And as far back as the early ’90s, Garth Brooks was singled out by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/Los Angeles when he was awarded the Outstanding Recording Award for his “We Shall Be Free” video, which encouraged tolerance and understanding.
So far, there’s certainly a case to be made that the move was a good one, as she continues to be buzzed about online (Wright was in the top Google trending topics early in the week). Whether or not that translates into album and book sales remains to be seen. Initial album sales projections won’t be available until later in the week.
The nine records Wright has released since 1994 have sold a total of 975,000 units according to Nielsen Soundscan.