Jake Owen, who recently had his seventh No. 1 single at country radio, is at the top of the charts with a lot of gay country fans now that he’s expressed his solidarity with the LGBT community — a move that doesn’t come without at least some controversy among the genre’s fan base.
His cheeky way of coming out of the closet as an LGBT ally was to work up a Cher cover. “I Googled ‘gayest’ songs of all time, and the boys and I decided to put our country spin on Cher’s ‘Believe.’ Hope you dig,” he wrote on Instagram, providing context for this bluegrass-based, banjo-fueled addition to a series of cover songs he’s put up on social media.
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I believe #loveislove Some of my closest friends and coworkers, are part of the #lgbt community and I couldn’t be more happy for the progress they have made. I’m inspired by people loving people no matter who you are. I BELIEVE the world needs more love. No matter where it comes from. So with that said, I googled “gayest” songs of all time and the boys and I decided to put our country spin on Cher’s “Believe.” Hope you dig. I plan on releasing all of these backstage random songs we’ve created very very soon. Stay tuned friends, and most importantly, love everyone. 🌈 @matthewpaskert on the 🎥 @lukasbracewell adding his incredible talent and love the 🎼 #cher #lgbt #countrymusic #jakeowen #bluegrass #loveislove
Owen elaborated in more earnest depth. “I believe #loveislove,” he posted, using rainbow colors for that hashtag. “Some of my closest friends and coworkers, are part of the #lgbt community and I couldn’t be more happy for the progress they have made. I’m inspired by people loving people no matter who you are. I BELIEVE the world needs more love. No matter where it comes from.”
Several Nashville-based singers posted support for his support. Wrote Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard in the comments section: “Love this my brother and think it’s awesome that you’re down to talk about topics that are not necessarily comfortable. Keep doing what’s right and don’t worry about the people that don’t get it. Not everybody is comfortable accepting others for who they are but I’m glad you are and you use your voice to show love and acceptance to everyone. Proud to call u a friend.”
Nashville-based “Voice” star Meghan Linsey wrote simply: “Yesss.”
But not every commenter was so positive. “Suddenly I feel sick that I have tickets to your show here on Thursday night,” wrote one former fan, whose comment meant with nearly 300 replies, one of them from Owen himself. “I’m sorry you feel sick that you have tickets to my show Thursday night,” he replied. “Maybe it would do you good to come out, smile, laugh, (and) sing along with a bunch of strangers that are all going through what we call ‘life.’ … It’s really only you and few other ignorant people that make yourself look silly. If you make it out to my show, come give me a hug. You need one. If you decide not to come, trust me… we will all be okay. We like to share our shows with people that are kind, and loving.”
The commenter, who identifies on Instagram as a Bible-believing Virginia mom, stood her ground while accusing Owen of not playing “true country, but good music nonetheless… I just hope that this type of political propaganda isn’t a huge part of his show because I didn’t buy tickets to hear it. I want to go hear him sing and see him run around barefoot. … I don’t hate homosexuals. I just don’t agree with their behavior and I don’t like it shoved in my face. I don’t shove my sins in their faces. I just want musicians to play music.” That led to hundreds of comments from other fans, with about a 100-to-1 ratio of support for Owen’s stand, including from many other self-professed Christians.
Support for the LGBT community is considered widespread in the country music industry itself. In a Variety article last year (“Living Gay in Nashville: Country Music Insiders Share Stories of Inclusion, Blackmail, Huckabee and Haters”), top writer-producer Shane McAnally said he’d encountered nothing but support as a prominent gay parent in Nashville. But outliers like Kacey Musgraves notwithstanding, it’s still rare for major stars of the genre to declare themselves allies, with a significant part of the fan base and some regional programmers identifying as socially conservative. It was considered a relatively major show of support just when Tim McGraw and Faith Hill showed up backstage earlier this month at Ty Herndon’s and GLAAD’s annual Concert for Love & Acceptance during CMA Festival week.
In March, Owen released his first album for the Big Loud label, “Greetings from… Jake,” after five albums with Sony Nashville dating back to 2006. The first single from the album, the John Mellencamp-referencing “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” reached No. 1 on the airplay charts, and a follow-up, “Down to the Honkytonk,” hit No. 7. He just launched a third single from the album, “Homemade,” which Taste of Country described as “his most country expression since ‘Yee Haw’ introduced his career in 2006.”