Welcome to #TBT Mixtape, Billboard‘s series that showcases artists’ very own throwback-themed playlists exclusive to Billboard’s Spotify account. The curated set features the artists’ favorite tracks from their youth and childhood.
This week’s spin comes from Leland. The Mississippi-bred singer-songwriter has penned hits for many of pop’s top talent, including Selena Gomez (“Fetish“), Charli XCX (“1999“) and Troye Sivan (“YOUTH,” “Bloom,” “My My My“). The latter also tapped the musician — born Brett McLaughlin — to support him on his Bloom Tour last fall, which included a sold-out stop at Radio City Music Hall, as well as a performance at Public alongside Charli, Kim Petras and Allie X.
Since, the queer newcomer — who is repped by Irving Azoff’s Full Stop Management firm and extended his publishing deal with Sony/ATV last month — has earned a number of solo coups including recent film/tv soundtrack work for Comedy Central’s The Other Two and Netflix’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser as well as a bevy of one-off bops like “Mattress,” “Middle of a Heartbreak” and “Another Lover.”
To help ring in Billboard’s Summer of Pride, Leland crafted this week’s #TBT Mixtape as an ode to the tracks that “made him gay.” “These songs have been my gay anthems before I knew what pride was and before the term gay anthem became a regular phrase in my vocabulary,” Leland tells Billboard. “Because of songs and artist like these, I’ve been able to contribute what I hope are also considered gay anthems like Troye Sivan’s ‘Bloom’ and ‘My My My!’ That’s the goal as a songwriter, to make music based on what inspires you and hope that it inspires others.”
Below, the fast-rising artist goes deep into the track list to unpack the theme of Pride as it relates to his own come-up, and the hits that first inspired him to embrace his own identity.
“Being that it’s Pride month, I think it’s safe to say that this playlist made me gay. It’s also safe to say that I love a female artist. These women helped me fall in love with songwriting, find confidence through their fearlessness, and inspired me to become an artist myself. One of the first songs I connected with outside of contemporary Christian music was ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman. I connected with her longing to escape and the authenticity in her vocal. I’m still just as obsessed with that song to this day.”
“Moving down the playlist, I remember watching the MTV Video Music Awards at my grandparents house in Indiana when Britney Spears performed ‘Oops…I Did it Again’ in her iconic, nude bodysuit covered in rhinestones. I’m not kidding when I say that performance made me want to be an artist. I took it upon myself to choreograph a dance to every song on that album. The little gay boy from Mississippi was starting to find his way.”
“The music video for ‘Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera was the first time I saw two people of the same sex kissing on television. Yet again, it rocked my world. That was the moment I started to realize that there were other people like me. Maybe they weren’t attending the same high school as me or maybe they were and just also closeted. I knew my people were out there and that I would eventually find them. Christina has always been a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
“Lastly, Janet Jackson’s discography is a course in self-confidence and self-awareness all on its own. ‘All For You’ just made me feel good. The songwriting, the airtight vocal, and her positivity radiating through the music video was something I not only felt but wanted to exude myself. She’s still one of my favorite performers of all time and her music continues to make feel more confident as a person and artist.”
Give the playlist a spin below and also check out some retro snaps of the artist.