Gay Country Music Star Orville Peck Talks about Acceptance, Mainstreaming

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday June 3, 2022

Orville Peck
Orville Peck  (Source:Instagram / @orvillepeck)

Gay country music star Orville Peck, who famously wears a mask while performing and has never been seen in public without it, opened up in a recent interview with Variety about being an LGBTQ+ artist in a genre long thought to be homophobic.

Variety noted that Peck is "far from the first entertainer to adopt a stage name, but not many have gone the extra mile and masked up — pre-COVID — in every moment of their public lives."

The article detailed that the recording artist has an assortment of about 60 masks that "range from a rainbow assortment of brightly colored, bedazzled numbers to hard black leather pieces that would make the Village People blush."

But while Peck kept the mask in place, he was far more revealing about his experience as an out gay performer playing to an audience that might not generally be thought of as affirming and accepting.

Billboard reported that though the South Africa-raised recording artist has encountered "reluctance, skepticism and aggression" due to his sexuality, he told Variety that it's "far less that I think people would imagine."

Indeed, Peck shared, when he's playing in conservative areas he goes "in with an open heart and open mind," and that attitude seems to pay off: "A lot of times the people in the audience who I'm nervous aren't going to accept me are dancing and singing along by the end of the show."

Peck added: "I think the important thing that's happening in country music at the moment is there's so many more queer people and people that aren't just white straight men making country music."

It probably helps that while love is love, it's also true that heartbreak is heartbreak — and country is all about heartbreak.

Peck "sings for lost loves and men who have done him wrong," Variety recounted, noting that Peck drew on his own well of post-relationship sadness when it came to writing and recording the album "Bronco," which was released earlier this year.

"I was very depressed and felt uninspired," Peck recalled, but he "forced myself to go into the studio every day for six to eight hours and work on new music."

Peck took note of how there's a growing presence of openly LGBTQ+ artists working — and thriving — in the country music business now, among them TJ Osborne and Brooke Eden. "I think if we keep our heads held high and we...keep doing what we're doing and being authentic," he said, "it will hopefully not only change the landscape of country music, but it'll also help change the cycle of racism and homophobia."

Peck himself has gone so mainstream that he was chosen by Lady Gaga to cover her monster hit "Born This Way," and, more recently, collaborated with drag performer Trixie Mattel, Variety recalled, on "a cover of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's classic duet 'Jackson.'"

"We're coming at it authentically," Variety quoted Mattel as saying, "which makes it hard to reject because when you listen to either of our music, you can tell we're here because we love it, not because it's the easiest genre to pick from."

But it's the response from LGBTQ+ fans that tells him what he's doing is meaningful. "They would send me really beautiful, heartfelt messages," Peck told the magazine, adding that "they would say, 'I grew up with country music all around me, but it wasn't until I listened to you that I felt like I could embrace that side of my culture because I felt really outside of it growing up.'"

"That is what makes me feel really good about my visibility," Peck, who said he grew up in an accepting family situation, added. "It is a big focus of mine, mostly because I now know how important it is to people who maybe didn't have the same experience that I had."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.