With iconic singles such as ‘Blue’, ‘How Do I Live’ and ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’, LeAnn Rimes’ hybrid country-pop sound helped define the musical landscape of the 90s and 00s. While the Grammy winner always boasted LGBTQIA+ fans in the crowd, she won an army of rainbow followers with the release of the latter track, a Diane Warren-written pop banger that memorably led the soundtrack of cult musical dramedy Coyote Ugly.
Despite her roots in country, a predominantly white and cis-het genre, LeAnn tells GAY TIMES that she never hesitated to voice her support for the community. “Absolutely not,” she says. “There were so many friends of mine in country music that were gay and not out. And so I always wanted to give voice to people that I felt didn’t have one at the time; especially to my uncle because he was from the South, not completely accepted and pretty lonely. It was so incredibly sad to me. I always wanted to give him a voice.”
Next year, LeAnn will bring The Story So Far Tour over to the UK with a one-off show at The O2, where she will perform classics such as the aforementioned three smashers, in addition to ‘Life Goes On’, ‘Right Kind of Wrong’ and tracks from her fifteenth studio album god’s work; which includes a collaboration with queer chorus groups from San Francisco, Sydney and New York.
From ruling the charts at age 14 with ‘How Do I Live’ to her legendary role in Coyote Ugly, as well as her relationship with her LGBTQIA+ community, we celebrated LeAnn Rimes’ return by reflecting on pivotal moments from her career (so far). BREAKING: she also reveals that she’s not seen But I’m a Cheerleader, the queer cult classic starring her husband Eddie Cibrian as… erm… this. (Sacrilege, yes.)
LeAnn, it’s really important for me to tell you that ‘Life Goes On’ is the song I play whenever I’m having a mental health crisis.
I love that. It’s a good one. Thank you. It’s interesting, I had someone tell me one time that they heard that song on the radio and it stopped them from committing suicide, which is wild. Wow.
Wow. How do you even respond to something like that?
It takes your breath away. She was like, ‘I was about to commit suicide. I heard you on the radio and it made me realise that it’s not what I wanted to do.’ It’s amazing how music does that.
Congratulations on The Story So Far Tour. How does it feel to be back in the UK after six years?
It’s good. We’ve been having a great time in the [United] States with the tour and it’s been too long since I’ve been [in the UK], so it’s nice to bring it back. And it’s going to be interesting over here because the music has been a bit different. Whatever We Wanna came out here and not in the US, and Remnants is really huge in the UK too. So yeah, it will be fun to put this all together.
Why did it take you this long to come back? I demand answers LeAnn.
I mean, the pandemic.
Oh yeah, her.
People forget about that. That’s really what it was. And, I think these last couple of years have been us gearing back up. When we came over here, we wanted to do it right. I feel like The O2 is going to be exciting.
Is the hubby here with you?
No he’s not, unfortunately.
He was joking, saying he’s not in the budget this time around. But, he’s coming back in May.
You tell that man that I need to speak with him about But I’m a Cheerleader.
I’ve still never seen it! I know what he looks like in it, but I’ve never seen it.
LeAnn goddamn Rimes. You’ve seriously never seen But I’m a Cheerleader?
I know! I need to download it. Maybe I’ll watch it on the plane going back home.
I’m in desperate need to talk with him about his character, who was a sexual awakening for many a gay…
I wanted him to dress up like that for Halloween, but he wouldn’t do it this year.
That would’ve truly broken the internet.
It would have, right? I think so.
Let’s talk about the tour. What can you tell me about it?
We’ve been revisiting 30 years of music, basically, which has been amazing. The show is a bit different every night because people usually share their stories with me of why they want me to perform a particular song. It’s a little far out for us to say, but we’ve got a lot to choose from.
How do you choose which of your babies to perform and which to exclude?
It’s how I’m feeling some nights. There are certain songs that we always play, but whatever else we need to fill in, it’s about how I’m feeling and what I want to convey. I used to be so concerned about what people wanted to hear. Of course, that comes into play. But these days, I think more about what I want to sing and what message I want to put out there. I grew up as a child entertainer. What you do is entertain people, but now it’s a bit different.
A fact that blows my mind is that you sang ‘How Do I Live’ at 14…
I was a baby! It’s interesting, I was invested in those songs. I felt like I knew what they were about and could emotionally convey what the story was. But living it, living life in general, has made me sing from such a deep place. So, that song is now… I’ve reimagined a lot of my songs along the way. There’s the adult version, then there’s the ‘little me’ version.
Do any of your songs take on new meanings later on?
Very much so, especially the songs I’ve written. My stepdad passed away a couple of weeks ago and I have a song called ‘Love Line’ on Remnants, and I wrote it for my stepsons. When I performed it live after he passed away, I started bawling. Once again, it took on a new appreciation and layer that kind of revealed itself. That happens often.
What other songs are quintessential on your setlist?
I mean, obviously ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ from Coyote Ugly. ‘How Do I Live’ and ‘Blue’. I’m sure we’ll perform ‘Life Goes On’.
What about ‘Right Kind of Wrong’? That’s another favourite of mine.
Yeah, we do ‘Right Kind of Wrong’ in the States, but it’s funny because I used to perform some stuff from Coyote Ugly and ‘Right Kind of Wrong’ but it would fall flat there.
I mean, people knew it but didn’t freak out as much.
No offence to you LeAnn, but the US has no taste (chart-wise) when it comes to pop music. The fact that ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ only peaked at 11?!
It didn’t until two-and-a-half years later, too. It was number one in 11 countries and then Diane Warren convinced the head of my label. She was like, ‘You have to release this in the States.’ I think they tried to at one point and pop radio was like ‘no’ and then two years later, they caught on.
My first introduction to you was ‘How Do I Live’ but you blew up in the UK with ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’, especially amongst the LGBTQIA+ community. Can you talk to me about how the song and Coyote Ugly impacted you and your career?
You work on projects never thinking or knowing how it’s going to be perceived. No one ever expected Coyote Ugly to be as big of a cult film it is. Kind of like But I’m a Cheerleader, but without the music. It was a huge film when it came out, but it’s now taken on this generational passing down where mothers watch it with their daughters and, of course, the LGBTQ+ community. I mean, who didn’t want to dance on a bar? It was such a time stamp in my life, and it was huge. I’m always going to follow my heart with what I do. I loved the music and I loved working with Diane. We had so much success together.
Your outfit in the video is iconic.
I still have that outfit!
We need a photo of you and Eddie revisiting your respective Coyote Ugly and But I’m a Cheerleader outfits. Now!
See? That’s what I wanted to do this Halloween, but he wouldn’t!
C’mon Eddie. Did you notice your LGBTQIA+ fanbase increase after the release of ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’?
Probably. I would definitely say so. I never really thought of equating it to that. But, I’m sure that was it. Also, after I married my husband…
Again, please pull yourself together and watch But I’m a Cheerleader. It’s a must. When did you first notice that you had the support of the LGBTQIA+ community?
I don’t remember a time I didn’t! We were always in sync. As a country artist in the States, there weren’t a lot of people speaking out about the LGBTQ+ community. For me, it was something I always wanted to give a voice to because my uncle was gay and died of AIDS when I was 11.
With the lack of LGBTQIA+ inclusion within the country genre, were you ever hesitant to voice your allyship out of fear of being ostracised?
No. Absolutely not. There were so many friends of mine in country music that were gay and not out. And so I always wanted to give voice to people that I felt didn’t have one at the time; especially to my uncle because he was from the South, not completely accepted and pretty lonely. It was so incredibly sad to me. I always wanted to give him a voice. He was super cool and playful. He was the kindest man and I have very fond memories of him when I was younger.
What was his name?
I bet he was fabulous.
He was. It’s funny, my dad was the only one that ended up going to his funeral out of the whole family.
Because of his sexuality?
Yeah, that was just how the South was, unfortunately, and how it still is in other places.
Did you ever notice any backlash when you did voice support for the LGBTQIA+ community?
I don’t know if I did. There might have been, but it was never really in my face. I feel like I was always the rebellious [country artist] anyway. I started to crossover and have pop success and that was part of my personality where people were just like, ‘Oh, okay.’
Who wants bigoted fans, anyway?
No! I don’t want any of that. Because of how young I was, I think it drew so many different kinds of people from all walks of life. From grandmas to grandpas and their grandkids, all across the board. When you come to my show, there’s such a mix of people. I’ve always wanted to create a safe space for people to just come and be and feel. There’s definitely a lot more acceptance [in country music]. Nashville is still a good community. But, I feel they take one step forward and a couple steps back. So, it hasn’t really expanded into what I think it can be, but it’s differently different than it used to be.
It is difficult, because we’ve seen a bit more acceptance with the emergence of artists such as Lil Nas X, Orville Peck and Brandi Carlile. But, then there’s cases like Maren Morris, who recently announced her departure from the genre as a result of its anti-LGBTQIA+ stance.
It’s funny, because I don’t really consider myself part of that business anymore. Like, the music business in general. I kind of do my own thing. So, I appreciate Nashville for what it is and where it took me along the way. I definitely still feel connected there, but there’s so many pieces of it that I don’t agree or jive with, so I understand her feelings deeply.
Hopefully, one day, we’ll see a trans country star or drag queen top the charts.
Absolutely. I don’t think that’s far off. I hope not! And I think artists should be afraid of drag queens. Look at them: they’re the best performers. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe everyone is afraid [of their talent]?
Last year, you released god’s work – your first album in six years. What was it like, being back in the studio?
We started the record in the middle of 2019, then the pandemic happened. I thought I would have plenty of time to get in the studio, but we all ended up separately on our couches, which is a totally different way to record a record! A lot of the album was influenced by this collective emotional experience that we went through. It all worked out, thank god. Life unfolded the way it did and everything we went through influenced that album. Hopefully it won’t take three years to record the next one.
You’ve just released the “resurrected” version of the album, which features a new version of ‘imagined with love’ with the New York Gay Men’s Chorus, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir. How did this come together?
It’s such a wall of beautiful voices. It’s so stunning. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir put their voices on at one point, I guess it was a year-and-a-half ago, and then we wanted to add to it. I performed with the Gay Men’s Choice in LA several years ago, and I’ve had a connection with them since. We also reimagined ‘innocent’ with the Orchid Quartet with all these gorgeous strings. Then, there’s dance mixes with Dave Audé for ‘spaceship’ and ‘throw my arms around the world’. I just love god’s work (resurrected). I’m sure I’ll start a new album at some point.
Would you ever return to the world of pop music?
I don’t know! I don’t know where the next record is going to take me.
You’ve explored so much, genre-wise. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did metal next.
I’d be up for it. I would totally be up for it. I explored doing another country record, which I would love to do at some point. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. We shall see…
god’s work (resurrected) is out now.
LeAnn Rimes will perform at The O2 on 8 May 2024. For more information, visit here.