“I love sharing and I’m always gonna be an open book,” Parson James says. He’s in Dublin to perform with dance music titan, Kygo, who turned his song ‘Stole the Show’ into a massive dance smash two years ago, and it’s a hit that just keeps giving. The song currently has over 540 million streams on Spotify alone.
James was unsure when Kygo’s manager first approached him, not convinced his original ballad could be remixed by a dance producer. But when he gave Kygo’s music a listen, his fresh approach to music surprised him.
“He’s a musician, a pianist playing and producing and adding a very unique and interesting element to songs,” James explains. “And I was like, ‘Okay, there’s no harm in him trying it’.
“I stunted my growth so much by focusing on what other people thought of me, but what I’ve always loved about my favourite artists is them being brutally honest and vulnerable.
It was important for James to maintain control of the process, even though he was at the beginning of his career. “I stood my ground,” he says. “I had the final say, and we went through like 18 versions, back and forth. My main condition was that I got to release my version of the song as well.”
That version and other material soon followed. The confessional soulful pop of James’ debut EP, Temple set out his skills as a solo artist. The title track, in particular, tackled both his religious upbringing and facing homophobia. It’s not an easy thing to pull off with a catchy pop melody, but it’s a sign of how James is willing to use his music to revisit the hardship he faced growing up as the biracial child of a single mother in a small, conservative American town. He’s not coming from a place of anger, though.
“I don’t hate the people who were so homophobic and racist to me,” he says. “I’ve had this chance to grow and experience life and understand that some people don’t have the capacity to grasp new things or get out of their communities.”
“I’ve never seen a trans character be presented in a video narrative that was very simple.
Still, James refuses to hold back from telling his story, even if it makes the people from where he’s from uncomfortable. “I stunted my growth so much by focusing on what other people thought of me,” he says. “But what I’ve always loved about my favourite artists is them being brutally honest and vulnerable.”
One of James’ recent releases is the melancholic track, ‘Only You’. The video incorporates queer themes in a way that was important to the singer. He acts as narrator as we watch a couple struggle through their relationship.
“I feel like it ’s so cut and dry with how you show love,” he says. “So the couple that I cast in the video, he identifies as queer and she identifies as trans femme.”
James also wanted to offer a different view from how trans stories are often told in the mainstream. “I’ve never seen a trans character be presented in a narrative that was very simple,” he says. “After seeing the couple’s chemistry, it got me so excited to cast people from that community and give them that job. It was an honour for me. From that point, I didn’t want to be the main focus I just wanted to let them play that story out. These people can be in love, and their love can fall apart. You can’t tell someone who they can love, and you really have no control over who you fall in love with.”
Despite the notion that it’s easier now for pop artists to be out, he’s experienced resistance in the industry. “Even when I was getting signed in 2015, there was caution with me being an openly gay artist,” he says. “I was pretty much told to tone it down. When I think about it, there’s really nothing to tone down I was really just telling the truth.”
As we wrap up, James is preparing to sing ‘Stole The Show’ for thousands of people crammed into Dublin’s 3Arena. Discussing plans for more music, James tells me, “I’m the type of artist that needs an album to pretty much tell my story, because I can only envision a cohesive body of work that is a story from top to bottom.”
Having shone a light on homophobia, racism, and extended his platform to support other LGBT+ people, I have a feeling Parson James has plenty more to tell.
Parson James’ single, ‘Only You’ is currently on release, find out more at