Wonderland.

RYAN BEATTY

With his highly anticipated sophomore album on the way, we reflect on the “Because Of You” singer’s sound and identity.

Ryan Beatty

Jacket BODE, hat STYLISTS OWN.

Ryan Beatty
Jacket BODE, hat STYLISTS OWN.

Taken from the Spring 2020 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

With his upcoming sophomore album, Ryan Beatty is taking us on a euphoric, unpredictable trip through uncharted pop territory. Reflecting on the record with us, the artist explains the intertwined evolution of his sound and identity.

Supernovas in the pop world are hard to miss, especially the ones with spine chilling vocal power. Their explosions are sudden and beautiful, with magnitude the world has never seen before. I’m sure by now you must know I’m talking about Ryan Beatty, a former YouTube prodigy turned into queer pop’s next hope, but here we’re not talking about the death of a star. We’re talking about one on the rise. Beatty got his foot in the door of the music industry when he was just 15, as a poster boy for Radio Disney. Racking up a slew of achievements within no time at all, his debut EP “Because Of You” went straight to the top of the iTunes US Pop Album charts in 2012, and a summer tour with Aussie teen idol Cody Simpson and second project soon followed. It looked as if a promising career was written in the stars, but then things went silent. Amidst restrictive contract stipulations and all the other baggage coming of age brings, Beatty retreated back into normality to figure things out. Maybe he didn’t want to be reared as the next Justin Bieber, maybe he didn’t want to be the next anything at all. “At the time, I feel like I had no other choice than to tap into myself,” he admits over the phone. “That time was so foggy because there were a lot of transitions.” The six-year interim may have felt long to fans, but those years were vital for the singer to harness his craft. “I could have given up and gone to college or done something more practical, but at the end of the day I was always drawn back to music,” he says, telling me it was a gut feeling he would find a space where he felt understood that kept him pushing — and that was exactly what happened.

Ryan Beatty
Ryan Beatty

Jacket COMME DES GARÇON HOMME PLUS, t-shirt SUPER YAYA. Trousers THE NOIR COLLECTION, shoes PRADA.

Ryan Beatty
Jacket COMME DES GARÇON HOMME PLUS, t-shirt SUPER YAYA. Trousers THE NOIR COLLECTION, shoes PRADA.
Ryan Beatty

Three weeks after the devastating attacks at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016, Beatty came out as gay to his fans in a heartfelt post on his Instagram, joining a wave of emerging queer voices tired of living in the shadows. This would be the first step in the singer’s recalibration, a reintroduction of himself to the world in all the queer glory he could muster. Having once been a contemporary of the likes of Bridgit Mendler and Austin Mahone, in the years that followed Beatty would find closer comparisons to Troye Sivan, Steve Lacey and alt hip-hop supergroup BROCKHAMPTON. He’s since provided a standout hook on the band’s hype-inducing headbanger “QUEER” in 2017, returning for more on their seminal album SATURATION III later that year — Beatty being the only outside artist they’ve invited back to do so. Aware of this disconnect, he assures me it wasn’t some intentionally forced rebrand, a common practice amongst former teen stars who have (rightfully) found it necessary to change their public image. “I knew that I felt a disconnect from that entire world, but at the same time, it was never like me trying to be different,” he explains. “I honestly just wanted to understand my identity.”

Ryan Beatty

Jacket B.O.D.E, t-shirt UNION LA, trousers DICKIES X UNION LA, shoes PRADA.

Ryan Beatty
Jacket B.O.D.E, t-shirt UNION LA, trousers DICKIES X UNION LA, shoes PRADA.

Boy in Jeans, Beatty’s debut album released the following year, is a culmination of this understanding, a tangible making sense of it all. Those 14 tracks would go on to spearhead an entirely new wave of queer pop, removed from the expectations and theatrics we all know (and mostly love) about the genre. Reverberating into your conscious with funky melodies, exhilarating lyrics and luscious vocal styles, it’s at times broodingly indie and also blissfully psychedelic. Unfurling guitar synths and cymbals crash like a soft tide against the shore, with Beatty offering his take on love at it’s most free and liberating. At the heart of it all is a host of nostalgia-tinged music videos, painting Beatty’s own keen and innate understanding of how expansive the pop sphere can be. With his forthcoming sophomore album Dreaming of David, however, Beatty dove back further into himself, and wrote from experiences lived, not imagined. “It’s very different [from Boy in Jeans],” he explains: “The music is totally different; the writing is elevated. Everything feels elevated and completely separate.” With references ranging from Daft Punk and Grimes to Björk and Joni Mitchell, sonically there’s a clear resonance with boundary pushers, the only logical direction for someone who’d never want to make a sequel to his own work. Take the project’s first track “Dark Circles”, for instance. A mix of unrelenting drum beats and vocals layered in distorted pitches, like the strung-out voices in your head when you’re too far gone at a party — except they make total, beautiful sense — it’s a stark fusing of a club’s pulsating heartbeat with a self-aware exploration of love and lust. If Boy in Jeans was imbued with parasitic California cool, Dreaming of David takes things forward 50, or maybe even 100 years, replacing the beach for an Uber (or hover car) home at 4am. Just when you think you have the album pegged as a subtly synthetic and futuristic dance record Beatty reroutes, with stripped-back guitar and timid beats on “Casino”, or with an echoing ambience on “Genesis”, one threatened by its own playful, rumbling soundscape. “Backseat” maybe the blissful walk to your front door, when the sun is rising and the birds are chirping, a soundtrack to your silent fixation on the previous night’s hedonism. And then, out of nowhere, an explosive jungle break in “Evergreen” sends you veering off course once again, a surprise attack exposing the albums bloody, pulse-raising core. This is introspection at it’s most chaotic and experimental, twisted beyond recognition and peppered with rhythmic finesse. “I think it’s going to serve a purpose,” Beatty tells me confidently, “people will really find something within it they can take from, or find themselves.” There’s one thing he can say for certain, though: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever made.”

Photography
Emman Montalvan
Fashion
Beth Gibbs
Words
Bailey Slater
Grooming
Nicole Walmsley
Production
Federica Barletta
Fashion Assistants
Corey Wash and Solomon Gibbs
Special Thanks
MSA Studios Los Angeles
RYAN BEATTY