The actor/singer released his new album 'Black Mona Lisa' on Friday
Billy Porter is reflecting on the challenges he faced in the early days of his music career.
While the actor/singer, 54, may be considered an A-lister and a fashion game-changer nowadays, he opened up in an interview with Vulture about how “traumatizing” it was trying to make it as a musician in the ‘90s because of the “homophobia” he experienced. The Broadway star explained to the publication, who honored him with a Master of Culture Honorary Degree, that he especially felt defeated when his song “Love Is On the Way” was given to Céline Dion.
“It was traumatizing. The industry was very homophobic,” Porter said of his stint trying to pursue a career as a solo recording artist after he won Star Search in 1992 and was in the midst of starring in his first roles on Broadway. “It was all about the smoke and mirrors of trying to make the world think I was straight, that I was masculine enough to exist.”
He explained that after years of allowing the industry to try to change him because he thought he “should listen to their advice,” he no longer recognized himself.
The Grammy winner revealed that he reached a breaking point trying to make it as an R&B singer when one of his originals went to a bigger name. “Then my label gave my song to Céline Dion for The First Wives Club!” he continued, referring to his song on the soundtrack for the 1996 film and his 1997 self-titled debut, which also was recorded by Dion and featured on her 1997 album Let's Talk About Love. “They gave it right over to her! Same producer [Ric Wake] produced it for her. I was like, ‘I did not come here to be a demo singer for f---ing Céline Dion! I’m done!’”
He continued, “It happened in that moment, and I said, ‘I’m done. If this is all the music business has to offer me, I’m done. She can have it, y’all can have it, I’m out.’”
The Pose actor clarified that it wasn’t the “My Heart Will Go On” singer, 55, who he was frustrated with, but rather the industry itself. “I love her, no shade, she’s fabulous, this isn’t about Céline Dion,” Porter added. “It’s about the systems of oppression that mute and dismiss our contribution to the world.”
While the star said he thought at the time that he “had no intention of coming back to the music industry in a mainstream way,” after decades on Broadway and in TV, he’s since returned to music with his new album Black Mona Lisa (out now on Island Records UK and Republic Records).
“She free, bitch!” the performer joked of making music on his own terms today.
Porter dropped Black Mona Lisa, which was produced by Grammy-winning hitmaker Justin Tranter, on Friday.
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In a press release, the singer-songwriter opened up about his intentions behind the project. “So many of the songs on my album have a very similar theme — getting to a place of recognizing your own worth and celebrating yourself,” he shared in a statement. “The world will try to tell you who you are, and the world will try to decide if you matter. No outside force or entity gets to decide that.”
He continued, “‘Black Mona Lisa,’ the song, is the pinnacle of everything on the album, hence also being the name of the album. We do not need your tolerance, but we do demand your respect. Knowing your self-worth, your value, being able to stand firmly in your authentic self, those things are worth more than gold, and you will pay me as such."
Ahead of the release, the former Kinky Boots star promoted the 12-track album out on the road with the 25-city nationwide tour The Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1.
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