Kevin McHale on His Post-‘Glee’ Battles, Owning His Sexuality and His New EP
For a long time, Kevin McHale was known as the warm-hearted, soulful Artie Abrams on Glee. After the show ended in 2015, the actor-singer spent some time working on other projects — projects that eventually led him back to music. Preceded by latest single "James Dean," which released alongside a sultry video featuring Pose star Johnny Sibilly, McHale's debut EP, Boy, is out Friday (June 21).
"We just wanted it to be super simple, and it's almost editorial looking," he shares. "I wanted to do things that I hadn't necessarily seen before in a music video, but still make it look like a professional thing — but not porn. It's a fine line, too, depending on the lighting and the kind of camera. I wanted it to be overly simple where there are three setups, and you just go between them."
Before opening up about his sexuality in an interview with Mark Malkin last spring, McHale already had written "James Dean," on which he sings, "I like this boy, right / I said I like this boy, right." However, he was initially apprehensive about being so straightforward on the song until producer Justin Thorne and co-writer Wednesday encouraged him to go with it.
"I was a little nervous about starting the song like that just because it was too on the nose, like I was trying too hard," he admits. At one point, McHale tried to rewrite the lyrics, but his collaborators pushed him to keep his original words.
"Now, I'm super thankful because you don't hear that simple, succinct exclamation of, 'This is how I feel,' often. And if I heard someone do that growing up ... I would have immediately latched onto them," the artist shares. "I realize that if I can like the music I'm making, that's all I can really worry about. So if I'm happy with it and if 16-year-old Kevin is happy with this song, then we're going to leave it and not overthink it."
It's safe to say that McHale has become the example he looked for when he was younger, though he's the first to say that publicly coming out as gay while in the spotlight wasn't as hard for him as it was for those before him.
"I think I have it really easy because of people like Troye Sivan," he says. "I met Troye on the day he posted the YouTube video of him coming out. I had no idea of what was going to happen... And then he's become this incredible pop star in the best way. The more famous he's gotten, the more fabulously gay he's gotten, and people love it."
"I've always said this to Tyler Oakley, too. I don't think they realize it, but I think kids these days get majority of their content from YouTube in what they're learning and seeing — at least, my nieces and nephews do. Being able to see people day in and day out, they're not even questioning anything about these people's sexuality. Tyler's talking about Pride or Troye is singing 'Bloom' in a sheer shirt, and kids aren't thinking twice about it. I think people like them who are unabashedly owning their sexuality really helps everybody else, including someone like me ... If anything, I'm sort of upset that I didn't help shift it in the way that they have."
Despite finding his footing in music, it wasn't always the easiest road for McHale to get to this point. While he admits to finding a number of other projects to work on following his eight years on Glee, he, along with his cast-mates, experienced some pushback when they tried for roles outside of their sitcom character archetypes.
"It's happened to all of us," he explains. "We got it real bad because we were playing such specific types of people, and that happened across the board. Some of us had an easier time transitioning out of that, and some of us, because we played more specific characters, it was hard. But I get it. Everyone goes through that in that position."
While some may wonder why viewers just can't seem to separate him from Artie, McHale understands that people need time to adjust: "This is a whole transitional period for people who are finding my music. You gotta give everyone a break because it's hard for me to see people outside of things that they're known for if they do something else. For me, I can be judgemental and think this feels fake or forced. But then I say, 'Wait, I don't know if what they're doing now is more authentic to them, and they were just playing a character before.' Those are things I have to remember where if people do have a hard time separating me, it's fine. If you come around, you come around. If you don't, you don't."
One place where McHale gets candid is on Showmance, a podcast he does with Glee co-star Jenna Ushkowitz. The show explores the bonds people form while working together, which makes sense considering how long the two worked as a team on the hit FOX show. Initially starting with topics related to working relationships in the entertainment industry, they hope to expand to other areas.
"It's surprisingly been a really cool world that I didn't even think really existed," McHale shares. "At first, I though it could be a really limited amount of people we could find that had that sort of relationship. And now, it's infinite. I can't wait to expand it into things that are not just entertainment and talk to people who are in different work environments outside TV or film. And I think that the dynamics will be similar in each situation — just some of them may be more famous than others."