With his resume of performing on Broadway and multiple reality TV stints — not to mention the fact that his younger sister is one of the highest selling artists of today — it’s hard to believe that Frankie Grande has taken this long to release his first song.
In 2014, Americans not familiar with the ins and outs of Broadway were introduced to Grande on the sixteenth season of CBS’ Big Brother. Since causing a little reality TV mischief (R.I.P. Zankie), the entertainer has entered other endeavors to promote his brand, recorded music being one of the latest.
For his debut single “Queen,” Grande relies on his Broadway-trained vocal chops and his passionate drive to perform. The tune itself — which promises a “rock n roll revolution” — channels glam rock from the likes of David Bowie. While talking to Billboard about the inspirations for the song and the video (premiered below), the actor also opens up about what’s to come next — including a merch line and hosting gig on Amazon — and answers which sibling can hold a high note longer, him or Ariana.
What is “Queen” about?
It’s kind of the story of seeing glam rock icons when I was younger — trying to emulate those people, then kind of seeing them go away, and then rediscovering that just because you don’t see them anymore doesn’t mean that they’re not with me. It kind of became a metaphor for my own life. You can see things growing up, be inspired by things. Just because they’re not around anymore doesn’t mean that you can’t take those inspirations and bring them to life, and bring them to the next generation.
“Queen” has elements of Broadway and glam rock. What drew you to those musical styles?
I’d been on Broadway twice. I was in Mamma Mia and then Rock of Ages. The last thing that I sang — eight shows a week — was rock. David Bowie has always been my vocal inspiration ever since I was a child. I was singing [sings Bowie’s “Magic Dance“] “dance, dance, dance magic dance…” I just wanted to be David Bowie so badly. I loved his love of make-up and glam. Oh my god, Labyrinth was the anthem to my life.
So rock — glam rock in specific — is naturally the thing I gravitated towards. And it’s naturally theatrical, so I think it works out. Glam rock always has a story to tell, and has that powerful voice with a little hint of libretto. I kind of just was myself, and a large part of myself has been trained for Broadway.
Besides David Bowie who else do you consider your musical inspirations?
Prince. Madonna, for sure; she’s a major influencer of mine. Elton John. Those are my biggest ones. Even Gianni Versace in a way. He was just a glam rocker who you wouldn’t think. [Laughs.]
What was your vision for the video and how did you execute it?
I knew that I wanted hair and make-up to play a large part in the video. I came up with a treatment that’s inspired by the Musical.ly app, where the hair and make-up would be happening really fast and my mouth would be filmed in slow motion. We actually did the music video in one take — straight through — using real lighting and no green screen. So it’s all real. There’s a lighting box behind me, there’s lighting in front of me, and they did the hair and make-up only once. That was my vision, to just slow it down so that I was literally going [starts singing extremely slow]. I was literally singing that slow while they were doing my make-up, so that when it was set up it was in real time.
The director Ben Gettinger — who I did Mamma Mia with — was very inspired by the song. He just watched [the video for] “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, and he was heavily influenced by that when he went to go sit down and make his treatment.
I think that it was a very beautiful collaboration between Ben and I on this music video. But again, stressing the fact that it’s real light, it’s real sound, there’s no post- or pin-correcting. There’s occasionally a fade-in and -out. There’s one moment where there’s four of me. Other than that it was really one take we did it in. I think it’s so cool. The song comes through in the authenticity of the music video.
Is this song a new single for a future album?
I’m going in the studio this week. I definitely got the bug with “Queen.” It definitely made me feel like “You know what? I like this. This is fun. I’m going to keep doing it.” Beyond “Queen,” I already know I’m recording another song. Whether it will be released as a new single on an EP or an album, I have absolutely no idea. I’m just staying in the realm of “I’m enjoying this, so let’s keep doing it.”
How would you describe the Frankie Grande sound?
I would say it’s definitely glam rock. I definitely take influences from my idols David Bowie and Billy Joel. I’ve combined them with the Frankie Grande-isms that I’ve cultivated over singing every night for two shows a week for four years on Broadway. I think it’s a sound we haven’t heard in a while, let’s put it that way. It should be a sound that should be brought back.
Speaking of bringing that sound back, what do you think about Lady Gaga‘s “The Cure“?
Love it! I think she’s also a part of the vein of glam rock, but she’s a woman and I’m a man. Those are two totally different situations. She’s definitely in that realm. I think that she would love this song — I hope she does.
How has your transition been from reality TV to starting a music career?
It’s interesting because I was on Broadway and then reality TV and then back to Broadway. Somewhere in there between YouTuber and social media mogul, as I still lovely dubbed myself while I was in the Big Brother house. I’m such a multifaceted individual that I can’t just do one thing. I’m also hosting Style Code Live right now. I just look at this as another wonderful opportunity to express myself.
Everything I do is a part of the “shine bright” motto I created: “Shine bright like a Frankie, when people throw shade shine brighter.” It’s all just a part of who I am. I’m also a musician so I’m going to be a musician. I’m a Broadway actor, I’m going to be a Broadway actor. I’m a host, so I’m going to be a host. I’m entertaining on TV, I’ll be a reality star. I think that it’s so authentically me that it’s easy to transition from one to the other and go back and forth. It might look like it’s crazy to other people but for me it makes total sense.
At the end of “Queen” you hit a high note. Billboard would like to know if you or Ariana can hold a note longer.
Oh my goodness. [Sings.] “Anything you can do I can do better.” We never tried. I think I have bigger lungs because I’m a little bit bigger than she is. But, she’s got those pipes, so I don’t know. We’ll have to have an actual note-off. I think that would be fun.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m currently the host of Style Code Live on Amazon. I currently launched a merch line which is Shine Bright by Frankie Grande on District Lines. So you can buy my merch. I launched a blog called Shine Bright By Frankie where I get to really talk about my opinions and share essays and things from my past and my present that will help people specifically in LGBT communities going through hard times. Hopefully they can take some strength from the fact that I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’ve survived so hopefully you guys can too. That’s kind of the premise of the blog… Just be more of yourself — it’ll work out.