Hit Songwriter Justin Tranter on Industry Homophobia: 'The Word Diva Gets Used a Lot' (Exclusive)
The Grammy-nominated hitmaker — who has written smashes for Gwen Stefani and Selena Gomez — wrote the original music for the Paramount+ series Grease: Live of the Pink Ladies
Justin Tranter is making moves in the music industry and beyond.
Over the past decade, the Grammy-nominated songwriter has written for everyone from Britney Spears and Justin Bieber to Gwen Stefani and Selena Gomez, becoming one of the most in-demand hitmakers in the business.
Now, Tranter has found success writing for the small screen, contributing 30 original songs to Rise of the Pink Ladies, the Grease prequel series now streaming on Paramount+. Despite their prowess in the pop world, Tranter says working on a musical series required them to flex another kind of creative muscle.
Related:Songwriter Justin Tranter on Working with Britney Spears: She Is an 'Amazing, Complex Woman'
"When it comes to pop music, it's been 10 years of writing at least a song a day. In a pop song, you're sitting in one feeling for three minutes. In a musical, it's a scene. It just takes about 10 more steps," Tranter, 42, tells PEOPLE. "So this process was so nice to feel like I'm learning again, and I'm pushing myself again. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Through the experience, Tranter (who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns) says their pop writing skills have been reinvigorated, too.
"The art form [of musicals] is so f---ing hard. But the last couple months I've been full-time back in pop music, and it's nice," Tranter jokes about recent co-writing sections. "I'm like, 'Yeah, tell me about your ex!' and 'Yeah, f--- that ex-boyfriend!' So that's been beautiful, to make me appreciate pop music again."
The Pink Ladies gig has been a meaningful full-circle moment for the musician.
Bullied as a kid for being queer, Tranter got into songwriting after finding solace in musicals: "I owe so much of my life to musical theater."
Over the years, Tranter has used their songwriting skills to tell LGBTQ stories, from Fall Out Boy's "Centuries" (the chorus was inspired by trans rights pioneer Marsha P. Johnson) to Halsey's "Bad at Love."
" 'Bad at Love' is really important to me, just because of the bisexual nature of the first verse being about guys she's dated, the second verse being about girls she's dated. It was, like, No. 2 on radio; I don't think that's ever happened before at that point. It was, at the time, the most openly queer thing to ever be on radio. So that makes me really proud."
Despite their success, Tranter has also faced challenges as a queer person in the industry.
"At least twice a week, I'm disrespected in a way that no one would ever imagine doing to a straight person who's had my career," Tranter says. "The word diva gets used a lot. And I'm like, you have to know that that's homophobic. I mean, no one's calling Max Martin a diva — not that I'm saying I'm anywhere near Max Martin's level, by the way; he has about 20 years of success on me."
Tranter adds: "People are subconsciously disrespecting you because they just don't even realize they don't value you the same way as they do the other people, straight people. That's the hardest to navigate, because you have to choose your battles."
Indeed, Tranter has been focusing on bigger battles. The songwriter has worked with GLAAD and the ACLU — and even donated $500,000 (and the Justin Tranter Recording Studio) to their alma mater, The Chicago Academy for the Arts, which was a safe haven when they were a child.
"There's legislation being passed now that is trying to criminalize queer people. Those are the real issues," Tranter says. "We've got to keep fighting to make sure they keep losing."
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.