21-year-old UK-based rising pop star Smashby, who recently released a song with RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Aja, reflects on his beginnings in the music industry – including some regrettable encounters with managers
I’ve always looked to music as an escape. But cruel managers in the industry almost took that away from me.
Growing up, I was mercilessly bullied for my sexuality, among other things. I would channel my thoughts and feelings into songwriting. So much so, it became my medicine to get me through school.
I’d been performing since I could remember. Now, I was songwriting on the daily. So there was no other option in my eyes than to pursue pop music and make some kind of career for myself.
But when you’re going from manager to manager, and they’re telling you you’re not good enough unless you ‘butch up’, and act ‘more cool’, you start to doubt yourself.
‘I was the only out kid in school’
I came out of the closet at 15 and was the only out kid in my school. Being one of the few boys who sang publicly, it’s fair to say I stood out from the crowd.
The minute I left, I got myself in the studio and started releasing music independently. My goal was to perform on the Pride circuit; to grow an LGBTQ following who would understand me, my music.
Flash forward five years and I’ve definitely achieved that goal. My sights are set even bigger now. I want to be able to headline my own tours across the country, and one day the world.
I want to create a safe space for my queer brothers and sisters. Somewhere we can all come together and celebrate being ourselves while chanting songs that I’ve written for them.
To anyone from the outside, it looks like I’ve just gone from strength to strength. Which I have. But I haven’t had any help getting here.
‘The managers made me feel self-conscious about my appearance’
Despite working with multiple managers along the way, not one of them understood me, my vision or potential. In some cases – and I won’t name them – this treatment overspilled into different territory.
From the age of 17 I was told to ‘butch up’ by managers so I could impress the girls and get a decent following. That I was ‘too gay and not cool enough’ to make it mainstream with my music.
This, despite the success of Troye Sivan and Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander who have been incredibly successful while being open about their sexuality.
I was being told that those guys were the exception. That I didn’t have what it takes.
They made me feel self-conscious about my appearance too. Whether it was my clothes, my body or even my hairstyle.
Some were aggressive and intimidating towards me and members of my family.
This was the picture I was painted of the industry at just 17 years of age. It made me question why I’m even trying to chase this dream.
‘At times, I was suicidal’
It was my struggle with my sexuality and the bullying that led me to music. Now I was being told my sexuality and appearance was the reason I would never make it in music.
I’ve never been someone who had loads of friends growing up, or any potential kind of boyfriend. I only ever had my music to invest my time in. So the fact I was being told that I couldn’t even achieve that because of my sexuality and personality made me seriously hate myself and at times even suicidal.
I’ve been struggling with anxiety and crippling panic attacks since I was a kid. But I had therapy for a number of years and it really helped me when I was younger.
These men that were telling me I would never make it made me feel like I was still that kid in school. That I was an easy target for everyone to bully. It sent me back to that dark place. I knew only I could get myself out of it.
‘I needed to pursue music the way I wanted’
So, once all the contracts with different managers expired, I told myself I would never put myself in that position again.
I needed to pursue music the way I wanted to. The way that made me happy and inspired when I was a kid.
Since managing myself, that’s when things have truly started to happen for me. All the gig opportunities, the fans, the press coverage, the collaborations.
Most of it has come from my community. I get told every single day how much I inspire people all over the world from different walks of life, for being myself. For being openly gay and for not letting anyone stand in the way of my dreams.
That is what inspired my new single ‘Independent B**ch’. It’s me sticking my middle finger up to the industry for telling me that I would never make it, just for being myself. And having Aja from RuPaul’s Drag Race feature on this track makes it even more powerful.
We’re both LGBTQ and we’re making our dreams come true. I hope this inspires anyone out there who has a passion.