Rising country star Brandon Stansell celebrates new love on his effervescent, summer-ready new single "Top Shelf." The song, which Stansell wrote with his friend and frequent writing partner Mylen, compares being in love with the intoxicating feeling of sipping top shelf liquor.
"We have great people in our lives and we started throwing around this idea for 'top shelf' as a metaphor for the good people that we have...My friends call me a singer of sad songs, which is normally my forte," Stansell tells Wide Open Country, laughing. "So it's really nice to have a new upbeat song to throw in the mix — especially in the summer."
In 2017, Stansell released his debut album Slow Down, which featured his last single "Hometown." Stansell wrote the song about his painful experience coming out as a gay man in the South.
"I went through quite a difficult coming out period, but when I wrote that song it had been almost ten years since that experience. My feeling on it was that even though the things I went through were hard for me, they made me who I am and that's something I'm really proud of," Stansell says.
Stansell is one of a few openly gay country artists helping to chance the landscape of the genre, showcasing a same sex love story his video for "Slow Down" and featuring queer icons like RuPaul's Drag Race star Eureka O'Hara in the video for the joyous "For You."
"Hometown" was the first video on CMT to show a queer person coming out, allowing gay country fans to finally see an important part of their lives represented in the genre.
"I grew up in the South as a lover of country music — watching CMT my whole life — but never really seeing anybody like me in that space. The project was important to me because it was mine and I was very proud of it. But I think it was also important to people like me, because it was the first time they ever got to see a story like theirs on a network like that," he says. "I think it's something that the majority of queer people can relate to. But again, it never gets talked about it country music. I felt very honored and very happy to get to do that."
Chely Wright, who released her debut album in 1994, came out as lesbian in 2010. Fellow '90s country hitmaker Ty Herndon followed Wright's groundbreaking lead and came out as gay in 2014. Since then, both artists have worked to increase LGBTQ+ visibility in country music, taking part in events such as the annual Concert for Love and Acceptance.
Stansell says the country genre is becoming a more inclusive space for gay fans.
"Doing shows like the Concert For Love and Acceptance and having country artists involved in Pride events and just having country artists that are openly queer and talking about their experiences and what those are like more regularly is the visibility that we need to actually change things and turn the tides," Stansell says. "Not only to just make people aware that we're here but also to...give that next generation the comfort and the courage to know that they can be authentic, whether they're just listening to country music or whether they're singing it. I think it's changing for the better."
With honesty, talent and heart, Stansell is telling important stories in the spirit of country's adherence to three chords and the truth.
"I've always thought it's so interesting that country at its very core is stories and storytelling. Our community — we were told not to tell our story. Not to be authentic to who were are. Now we're finally getting the chance to do that and I think it's changing the landscape and that we're introducing storylines that this genre has never seen," Stansell says. "I think there are a lot of people who live in this place in the Heartland and the South and they feel very alone and isolated. Even in a space as happy as music, they just can't seem to find their people. It just makes me feel really good that they're finally able to connect with someone they feel is like them in a genre that they love."
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