Keiynan Lonsdale Talks “Kiss The Boy,” Representation & ‘Love, Simon:’ Interview
Keiynan Lonsdale is soaring high in 2018. The 26-year-old musician, actor and dancer plays a role in the blockbuster coming of age film Love, Simon. Playing the character Bram, he is one of several potential romantic leads in the project, which stars the likes of Nick Robinson and Katherine Langford. Along with other acting projects including a starring role in The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, he has also been chipping away at a music career for the last 10 years. Last month, the openly queer artist unveiled his latest single, “Kiss the Boy,” and it is a joyful anthem overflowing with pride.
“If you wanna kiss the boy, then you better kiss the boy right now,” he croons over a tropical production on the sunny single. Showcasing his soulful voice and empowering lyrics, it is a surefire hit. Accompanied by a lyric video comprised of fan-submitted video footage, Keiynan is finding a massive audience for his exuberant release. Inspired by his own experiences coming out as well as his latest acting project, the single establishes him as One to Watch.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Keiynan about his evocative new single and what it means to finally release it. We also talked about his experience on set for Love, Simon, his heartfelt lyric video, plans for a debut album and the importance of representation of LGBTQ youths in popular culture. In the process, he opened up about sonic inspirations, plans for the rest of the year and who he’d most like to work with off the Love, Simon soundtrack. Learn more about the artist and give his buoyant new release a spin below!
How does it feel to have “Kiss The Boy” released?
It feels insane. I wrote it like, what feels like six months ago, I think. And so I’ve had this thing that I’ve felt was really special, and I’ve just had it between me and my friends. Knowing that, like it was a different kind of song for me and knowing that, well hoping, that when people heard it that it would be of some sort of help. Yeah, I’m very happy.
I’m sure. And I love the song. It’s so great. Listening to it, there is a lot of wisdom in the song. Particularly in lines like “cause love is a game we deserve to play out loud.” Can you talk about what the writing process was like and the most important message you want fans to get from listening to it?
Yeah, I mean, it’s like, I guess I’ve been able to use all my personal… I guess personal suffering, personal discoveries, personal joy and self-acceptance. Sort of my whole journey can be placed into the song, and that’s how I was able to write it. But at the same time, I wanted people that listen to it for it to feel like it was for them. Because it is. And so, I didn’t want it to be too like, me, me, me if that makes sense?
And in terms of that line specifically, I think that’s sort of, I guess, how I’m viewing life. It’s that everything is somewhat a game, and the story, and when we lose that sort of ability to play with whatever we’re doing, whether it’s in our job, which is the thing that we’ve dreamed of doing. Or in love or games or sports or whatever. When we lose the essence of play it suddenly becomes too serious, and the stakes are too high, and we end up suffering. And so, a lot of the time that can even happen with love. That line is just saying we’re allowed to play this game called love and called life. And we should play it openly and honestly like everyone else does.
I love that. That’s such a great message.
You’ve mentioned that Love, Simon and The Little Mermaid inspired the track, and clearly you just talked about how you wanted it to be a very universal release. But I was also wondering if there was a boy in particular that was on your mind while you wrote it?
Um, there’s actually, probably every boy that I’ve had like a romantic relationship with or crush on. You know, there’s been, there’s a point where I say, “I’m wondering if this is real.” Like you know, I’ve through a situation where I’ve developed a crush on a guy, and I thought that he liked me back. And when I told him, he’s like “Oh I’m not, I don’t like guys.” And we weren’t friends anymore. He disappeared. And so, it’s like that kind of struggle, and going into the next crush being like “I don’t want to lose a friend.” Just that fear. We go through so many of these ups and downs. It was kind of cool. I was like able to take on the heartbreak and all the good stuff, and I’m very thankful for all of it.
That’s such relatable content. I feel like that’s the story of my life.
Yeah, it doesn’t feel good at the time. But when I was writing the song I was like “oh this is what that was for.”
And how do you feel that the song differs from your previous singles like last year’s “Good Life?”
I mean, it stems from the same place in terms of I guess what I would like to do through my eyes from a universal love. And “Good Life” was about that as well, and it was about playing and enjoying. And I guess it was more a celebration; it was the first time I had really discovered that within myself so I was sort of like, just like acknowledging that in that song. This one obviously with “Kiss the Boy” is more specific to my journey. And to a journey that a lot of people are on or have been through. And I think the main difference is that this [“Kiss the Boy”] is a song that I never would have… It’s like the song I would have been absolutely terrified to even consider writing or sharing one day. And I wouldn’t have been able to write it without full self-acceptance and love for the whole process. Yeah, I think I realized if someone had sang this song, like I had heard my favorite artist sing “If you want to kiss the boy then you can,” then I just would have known that I didn’t have to hide or lie anymore.
And that’s something I wanted to ask about. There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of representation in pop culture since the release of Love, Simon. And, you’re 26, right?
Okay, I’m 27. And I was just, I saw Love, Simon twice last week. I’m not going to lie; I’m obsessed with it. But it really got me to thinking how important representation was and how, growing up, there wasn’t as much of that in pop culture. It always makes me wonder how things would have been different, and, I don’t know. Is that something you’ve thought about: How things would have been different for you growing up if there had been more artists like you or Troye Sivan and Hayley Kiyoko or movies like Love, Simon?
Yeah. 100 percent. I mean I even remember when I found out when there was the Frank Ocean Tumblr post. And I remember being in shock, and I remember being like quite elated for like 20 minutes and then all of my thoughts and all of my internal stuff was like, “oh but you know, he’s so artistic and he’s so, you know, like left of center. And everybody will accept him, but there’s no way I can be in the mainstream world or pop or whatever.” And it was like it was almost too late for me. Because I think I was like 20 at that point. Looking back now I realize I needed, you need to hear that in your childhood. Throughout your growing stages. You know, the longer you go without seeing that representation, the more stuck you are. So yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard to say exactly how my life would have gone. But I definitely wouldn’t have felt so alone if I had seen Love, Simon and if I had heard “Kiss the Boy.”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but we honestly are getting that much closer to figuring out who and what we are in this Universe. Personally, I think that we’re just physical expressions of this thing we happen to call Love, & if that is the ultimate truth… then there really is no reason for kids to grow up with any shame for who they are, because all they are is Love. There is no reason for us to judge or fear someone else for being different, because they too.. are Love. And finally, there is percent no reason why a Gay human can’t be the coolest hero & star of his/her/their story, because they are also that same & equal Love. Not to hype you toooo much, but having seen this film 3 times already (hehe), I guarantee that when you watch it – no matter if you’re Straight or Queer, you’ll get to feel a range of emotions that just can’t be put into words, and I think you’ll probably see yourself on that screen. I’m so proud to be part of this game changer, thank you @beckyalbertalli thank you @gberlanti & thank you to every single person involved in bringing it to life. The world is ready for @lovesimonmovie, & it’s coming out tonight ❤️
So, the lyric video for “Kiss the Boy” is more beautiful evidence of representation. It looks like you sourced content for the lyric video early last month on Instagram, right? What was it like to finally be able to roll out the video and reveal to fans what the footage was for?
It was scary. I didn’t know if it was going to work. We had to do multiple posts because we had been very specific. You know, I had the vision of what it could be. And when I made my first post, I said to everyone that they needed to be kissing videos. And then a lot of people were a little afraid I guess or uncomfortable maybe. So, then we realized we should open it up to all kinds of love and fun with friends or family. Some people sent in things of their pets. Actually, once we opened it up then the videos just started flooding in. And we found so many beautiful moments, and we picked, I think, about 60. And even then, it was like, we hadn’t finished the edit until that morning that it came.
Always finessing and perfecting. That’s so cool.
Yeah, and I think it just, it was ambitious. Like the date. But I have to follow my gut. And I just knew I wanted it to be out on the 28th, like the full thing. And I was fine if it didn’t work out like that, but yeah. So I didn’t give myself that much time. But it worked out amazingly, and I’m so proud of the video and proud of everyone who sent in what they did. And, you know, I mentioned in the description, I said the only requirement is that you’re a supporter of equal love because that’s what this project is about. So I was excited for them to see the final product.
Was there a reason that the 28th was so important?
No, it just was a feeling. I’ve learned to trust my gut. And like I said, I don’t force it to be a certain thing, but if something randomly comes up then like, “yeah, let’s do that.”
Speaking of the lyric video, that premiered on Billboard, which is obviously huge. Congratulations first of all!
Can you talk a bit about what that felt like as an artist to have it premiere on Billboard?
Yeah, that is like the ultimate, surreal experience. And I was saying it to my friends. You know, I’m 26 now. And I’ve been writing and recording probably since I was 16. So, it’s been 10 years. Ten years of actively going at this everyday it feels like. It just feels so special for the fact that the first song to be acknowledged in any way, that it’s not just any song. That it’s this song. And it’s this subject matter which is just so much the reason as to why I felt like I couldn’t be a music artist. So everything just sort of comes full circle. It had me feeling, still has me feeling, very overwhelmed. And it was a beautiful write-up. Yeah, I don’t know, it was awesome to have my friends around with me as well.
WHAT IS HAPPENING!?!! @billboard & @billboardpride front page 😭😭😭 You have no idea what this all means!! I didn’t think i could make it in music if i was myself, but it’s only when i embraced the truth completely that things started making sense. YOU BE YOU!!! It’s who you were born to be in this life. I’m so thankful for everyone who made this shit possible & for all of you who submitted to #thektbproject🌈 – this is what we made together… Gonna go cry now. #KissTheBoy
Do you have any plans for a music video or any live performances in the works?
We are focusing on building out a music video at the moment. I have a really clear vision of what I want it to be and specific reasons why. We’re just trying to take our time to make sure that we make it right. And in terms of a performance, it’s not something I’ve been focusing on yet. Because I feel like I need to put all these pieces together, but you know, we’re also open. We’ll just see what happens. Go with the flow.
I have to ask about Love, Simon because, like I said, I was in love with it. Can you talk about what it was like working on the project as a queer actor?
Yeah, it was very confronting. It was very beautiful. I was still going through my own confusion, and I didn’t, like, it took me till like wrap night to even come out to the cast. And that’s because… You know, going into new environments, feeling like you have to come out multiple times just is exhausting. But then I felt like I was lying to them and like I was a bit of a fraud doing this project when it’s about owning who you are. And I couldn’t do that. So, it was actually, it was a perfect experience for me, and I was so honored to just be a part of it. I’m so happy that the film… It’s just made really beautifully. And it’s one thing to shoot it, but once you actually see it brought to life and the way that the pacing and the timing and the shots, I was really floored by it.
Do you have a favorite memory from filming or the release schedule?
I think my favorite memory was day one. It was when I met all the cast. You know, I’m not this way anymore, but back then, which was like a year ago, I was super socially anxious. And super awkward and very, very insecure about meeting other actors and whatnot. And so, when I walked in on day one, and they had already been there for like three or four weeks. And they were all so excited to see me, and they added me on the text chain, and then we all went out to dinner that night. And the boys and I went out to hot yoga. It just made me go “oh, it’s okay. You’re safe. We’re all gonna shoot a movie, and it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be a great experience.” And it was just that. So that’s one of my favorite memories. It was so, like, welcoming.
Since you’re simultaneously working on acting and creating music, how does being musical differ from working on an acting project?
Very much so. I think, well, in terms of acting it’s like, all you can sort of control is how you deliver your performance. And the work that you put in specifically for your character. And then sort of the rest is out of your hands. And so, you’re sort of more… It’s fun; it’s a cool thing to be, but you’re this piece in this gigantic puzzle. And everyone has to be sort moving in a good rhythm together. And then with music, it’s the same thing with my team. We’ve all got to be on the same wavelength and whatnot. But at the same time, I personally, it’s like I know what I’m saying. I have control over what I’m saying, why I’m saying it. Down to the one second — using that one second over that one second. From beginning to end you have a little more control over the creative process. It’s just a different experience. Not to say one’s better than the other. It’s just different.
You’ve mentioned that you had an album in the works. Can you give us any hints about what to expect when that drops?
I can say that it will be a range of personality. Yeah, I would say it won’t all be in the same vein as “Kiss the Boy” or “Good Life.”
You’re giving us a little bit of everything.
Yeah, I’m giving what I can. I feel like each and every one of us is made up of so many different energies and emotions and, you know, even for “Kiss the Boy,” I wasn’t like, “oh this amazing thing happened to me, and then I wrote this song.” No. This whole damn, full circle journey came, and then that came out. So, I think for the album I’m really working on making sure that it’s full.
Who do you consider to be your biggest sonic influences?
Michael Jackson hands down. Since I was two years old that was my driving force. As soon as I saw him on television, that was my life. That was me.
I saw the tribute video you posted to him on Facebook two years ago. That was so cute.
Thank you. It was just like he, even now, I go back probably every six months. I have this huge, huge binge of him and his videos and everything. And his interviews. And I just like… Things make more and more sense. The older I get, the more I understand about myself and people and life. The more that his words and lyrics and message make sense. And I start to remember why I was so obsessed as a child. And then actually, more recently, since Christmas, I’ve been, for the first time, obsessed with The Beatles. I don’t know why it took me so long. Probably because all I could listen to is Michael Jackson. But it’s just a sound, and I guess a message again, that’s really resonating with me at the moment.
If you could collaborate with anyone on the Love, Simon soundtrack who would it be?
There’s a lot of great artists. I would say my first choice would probably be Troye Sivan.
And why? I love him!
Well, I mean, he was… Anytime you see a queer artist owning their space, and his videos as well. I remember when I watched stuff from Blue Neighbourhood I think it was called. I was just like, “wow. Okay that’s going to affect some change.” And it’s those kinds of artists that I find super inspiring and brave. And it would be an honor to collaborate with an artist like that. And also, I guess the fact that we’re both queer artists in the pop realm, I think is a cool thing.
I’d be very here for that collaboration! One last question: What is one thing you really want people to know about you?
Um, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I think I’ve gotten, I’m finally at a place where I no longer want to control how people view me or what they know about me. I can’t. Like everybody’s going to create their own version. Obviously, I’d like everyone to know that I’m… That what I say and what I do comes from a true, good place. But at the same time, yeah. I don’t know. It’s a hard question.
Just kidding. I actually have one last question for you: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2018?
Yeah, I mean – a lot of focus will be on the album. And then also just balancing different acting projects. But, I don’t even know what to expect from me. I don’t know if I’ll end up disappearing and traveling. It changes a lot, especially in recent time. I think, expect nothing and expect everything.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve really enjoyed this.
Oh, yay. Thank you so much! I had fun.