From ‘Cycles’ to ‘X’: How Rayvon Owen is Carving a Path for Queer Artists of Colour

After the release of Rayvon Owen’s latest single ‘X’, Jervon Perkins chats to the singer and looks into his past, his musical influences and what it means to be a Queer Artist of Colour in Trump’s America.

Since releasing his debut EP “Cycles” in 2014, American Idol alumni Rayvon Owen has been intricately carving out a place for himself in the music industry. While struggling as an artist is something all too common in creatives spaces like the music world, Owen has to work extra hard for two particular reasons – he’s queer and an artist of colour.

In recent years, we’ve seen more and more queer artists crop up into the public eye. With artists like Adam Lambert and Troye Sivan paving the way, it’s more acceptable to hear a male artist sing a song with “he” pronouns and female artists with “she” pronouns. We’ve even seen bisexuality represented in the catchy lyrics by out singer Halsey. With all the visibility happening in the music industry, it’s still rare to hear queer artists of colour on the radio, especially men. Artists like MNEK and Owen have had to rely on sources outside of mainstream music media to promote themselves. That’s one reason why I find Owen’s story and his music so compelling.

Owen auditioned for the fourteenth season of American Idol in 2015. His at times husky and expressive voice got him all the way into the top four before he was eliminated. Owen made a bold and declarative statement on the Valentine’s Day weekend of 2016 when he premiered the music video for his single “Can’t Fight It.” He publicly came out in the music video by kissing queer activist Shane Bitney Crone at the end of it. Chatting to Rayvon, he told me the reception for the music video was mostly positive. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, his coming out did come with challenges. He lost a few connections in the process, but his family and friends have mostly been supportive.

Since his American Idol days and coming out, Owen has continued to make music. In 2018, he released what I like to call my “signature Rayvon song.” The composition of the song blends Owen’s R&B sound with modern synths. They’re compelling enough to make you bop your head but modest in execution so that his vocals shine. It’s a short track with some hints of dark and moody feelings as he tells us that “what you see is what you get.” It’s passionate, unapologetic, and uplifting – something that gets me excited to go outside for a brisk walk under the desert sun.

While the 2018 track is compelling, Owen has moved past the synth-fused sound and has gone back to his roots. In May of this year, Owen dropped his latest track ‘X’. Inspired by Charlie Puth’s ‘Way I Am’, Owen wanted to write a song that began with an enticing intro, which is why from the beginning, the track starts with a heavy beat. He wanted to “do something different” and go with an “organic” process. Now that Owen is with his husband Shane Bitney Crone (yes, the same guy he kissed in the ‘Can’t Fight It’ music video), he’s ready to dig up some emotions from previous relationships, which is where the inspiration for ‘X’ comes from. He blends soul, gospel, R&B, and pop with his musical theatre background to execute the kiss-off anthem. He also uses storytelling elements (something he picked up during his time in Tennessee) to make a track many people will be able to relate to. There’s a hint of funk in the track as well, something I’ve noticed from many R&B crooners in the wake of legendary singer Prince’s death in 2016. Perhaps as a quiet homage to the late singer.

Owen has been focusing on his own career, but when asked who he’d collaborate with, he said he’d love to make a song with MNEK or Sam Smith. As for the type of song, he said he’d want to create something similar to Halsey and Lauren Jauregui’s ‘Strangers’. MNEK and Owen together? Yes please! Until that dream collaboration happens, Owen will continue to work on his music. He couldn’t share specifics, but he has a lot of projects in the works, including more music. There will be “more digging into older relationships” for inspiration. “I’m excited to make more moves!” he said. This June, he’s been out and about at the Los Angeles LGBT Center to celebrate Pride month.

Owen continues to carve a space for himself in an industry that is still struggling with inclusivity. He’s also a queer person of colour in a Trump America, but he refuses to let these obstacles stop him. “It gives me fuel for my fire,” he said. “Living your life is the [greatest] example to give [anti-LGBT legislation].” His music is what drives him forward. For other queer artists of colour and struggling artists in general, Owen shares this: “Embrace who you are. Find perspective. Find your unique tone. Try different things musically. Be inspired, but don’t get distracted by the things you haven’t done.”

To his fans, he says: “Thank you for sticking with me.”

Owen will undoubtedly be sticking around for quite a while. His goal is simple – he wants his music to be felt not just heard. He wants the world to see his journey and relate to it all, the struggles, the pain, the highs. 

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