By Sam White
Last summer, it was considered groundbreaking when soul crooner Frank Ocean revealed in an open letter on his Tumblr page that he once loved a man. As hip-hop godfather Russell Simmons noted on his website, http://www.GlobalGrind.com, “the courage of Frank Ocean just changed the game.”
And not just for him but for up-and-coming gay artists like Chris Anthem, the Fort Wayne, Ind. native performing June 1 on the Ferndale Pride Main Stage.
“It’s hard for me to understand why that’s still an issue,” says Anthem. “But if someone of that status coming out opens doors, then it’s a good thing.”
Anthem, 27, is excited to be a part of a more diverse, accepting musical landscape. “I have always wanted to influence change,” says the singer-songwriter. “I want to live in a world where I can sing about a boy on the radio without being the ‘gay singer’ – and I think we’re close.”
Growing up the son of a preacher, Anthem sang gospel music. His powerhouse voice is the product of his childhood, when he started singing in the choir. He showcases his complete range on his recent 11-track LP, “Rock Bottom.” It’s Anthem’s first full-length album, following the previously released EP “Atta Boy.”
Anthem’s vocal ability may come easily, but the lyrics? Not so much. “I’m a perfectionist to a fault, so I never feel like a song is done,” he says. “I’m always searching for this feeling I get when it all clicks. I suppose it’s intuition. If I can listen to it without analyzing it and just experience it, then I know I am on the right track.”
Anthem admires artists like Mariah Carey, Ellie Goulding and the late American-playwright Howard Ashman for their lyrical talents.
“To me, a good lyricist can paint a detailed picture in the simplest, most elegant way possible,” he says. “They are all so clever.”
Whether he believes it or not, Anthem, much like the aforementioned Ocean, has a knack for lyricism and musicality, and he also has talent for telling stories over eclectic beats and rhythms – from a simple piano to a more complex production.
The album’s title track is a slow jam about bad choices made in the midst of loneliness. “It’s a song about those really long days you have when you come home and just start making all the wrong decisions about that one boy,” he says.
He’s not always this deep, though. And when he performs his 30-minute set at Ferndale Pride, Anthem promises to get folks on their feet with his summer song “Boys in Town,” a fusion of ’80s music reminiscent of New Edition and Culture Club – danceable but still rooted in rhythm and blues.
“You can expect a really upbeat, lively show from me,” he says. “I want people to enjoy my music as a form of escape. Come out and forget everything; chill, dance and just enjoy the show.”
Anthem is planning an engaging set that showcases all of his talent – a talent that has the potential to earn him the same global success Ocean has earned over the past 12 months.
“I see myself being globally significant,” he says. “Go big or go home.”