We’re here, we’re queer and we’re writing your favorite songs was the theme of Beyond, the third annual benefit concert that Justin Tranter and his CAA agent, Jenna Adler, organized to benefit GLAAD at the Sunset Room in Hollywood on Wednesday night (Oct. 16). Beyond a music showcase, its mission is to highlight the annual anti-bullying effort known as Spirit Day. “2019 is the year of the queer songwriter,” Tranter told Variety. Perhaps inspired by the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, there has been a proliferation of recent smash singles penned by members of the LGBTQ community — and many of them were on the lineup. Adding to the diverse array of songwriters booked by the self-proclaimed “queen of inclusion,” Troye Sivan, Parson James and trans artist Shea Diamond came out to show their support.
“Spirit Day is so important to me because when I was young, I was bullied beyond belief — I went to one semester of public high school and got the shit kicked out of me,” recalled Tranter. The prolific hitmaker revealed that even today he deals with bullying — at least its verbal manifestation, micro-aggression — in the workplace. “Even where I am, I hear people say weird shit where I’m, like, ‘Am I going to call you out or am I just going to finish my day of work?’ The music business is still a business, and like a lot of businesses in this country needs a lot of change and progress.” Specifically, the industry could benefit from more LGBTQ representation in the recording studios as well as at the major labels. “We need more producers and executives,” said Tranter, who rarely encounters another queer person when he attends a business meeting. “Maybe one out of 30 times — it’s not good,” he said. “But tonight is a night of hope, and I feel hopeful.”
Tranter admitted that part of his motivation was “to raise awareness about LGBTQ people kicking ass in the music business” as well as for Spirit Day. “You’ll see on stage the amount of massive songs that were co-written by LGBTQ people this year,” said the former frontman of Semi Precious Weapons, who kicked off the show with a trio of hits he co-wrote for other artists: “Sorry” (Justin Bieber), “Bad at Love” (Halsey) and “Believer” (Imagine Dragons). The bill included Jesse Saint John performing “Truth Hurts,” which he co-wrote for Lizzo, Victoria Monet belting out “Thank U Next,” which she co-wrote for Ariana Grande and Jozzy crushing “Old Town Road,” the remix she co-wrote for Lil Nas X featuring Billie Ray Cyrus. As it turns out, not just one but two queer artists of color share credit for the biggest song of all time, which ruled the charts for a record 19 weeks.
A few famous allies were invited to the party, such as Bebe Rexha. “I was bullied — it was a nightmare in middle school — so I want to use my platform to raise awareness,” she told Variety. (Later, after treating the crowd to hits like “I’m a Mess,” “In the Name of Love,” and “Meant to Be,” she put her money where her mouth is by donating $25,000.) Rexha said she was grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community that has given her so much. “My manager, a lot of my best friends are gay, and they’ve always taught me to be my true self,” she said. “They’ve actually helped bring out a lot of who I am, and that’s a really beautiful thing.”
Idina Menzel shared a similar story of friendship with Variety. “I feel like this community has supported me ever since I got my first professional job off Broadway in ‘Rent,’” she said. “They confided in me, told me their deepest secrets and fears and the changes in their life all through the years. We’ve grown up together so I’m just glad to be here to make sure [other LGBTQ] people don’t feel alone.” Not surprisingly, she and Tranter are collaborating on new music. “We’re making something real special together that we can’t tell you about,” he said. Menzel would not reveal any details, either. “Oh my gosh, we can’t,” was all she would say on that topic.
But Menzel was happy to provide the night’s show-stopping number by leading an all-star singalong of “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” that featured Tranter, Rexha, James and Jozzy. As far as fundraisers go, the evening proved to be a hit with over $400,000 raised for GLAAD’s advocacy work thanks to donations of $25,000 from Troye Sivan, $50,000 from August Getty and the Jonas Brothers, who remotely contributed $50,000.