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Fancy Hagood Was Almost an L.A. Pop Star. He Finds His True Self on a New Nashville Album

After debuting under the mysterious stage name “Who Is Fancy,” Arkansas songwriter embraces his Southern roots and flamboyant personality on ‘Southern Curiosity’

Nashville songwriter Fancy Hagood embraces his nickname on 'Southern Curiosity.'

Bridgette Aikens*

You can be excused if you don’t know the name Fancy Hagood. In 2015, when the singer-songwriter released his debut single “Goodbye,” he did so under a mysterious and clumsy moniker — Who Is Fancy. Hagood didn’t even appear in the music video for the pop song; instead, his voice was seen coming from a Bieber-lookalike actor. It was meant to sell an air of mystery, but the marketing strategy left Hagood feeling stuck in the shadows and questioning his sense of identity. Even a follow-up with Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande, “Boys Like You,” didn’t bolster Hagood’s confidence.

“I would be in a store somewhere and ‘Goodbye’ is playing over the intercom, and I wasn’t able to live in that moment,” says Hagood, who was living in Los Angeles at the time. “I was hidden again. I realized it was happening at the cost of my happiness. It was happening at the cost of my creativity. It was happening at the cost of me being able to be myself.”

Hagood — given name: Jake — was all too familiar with the feeling. Coming from a strict, religious upbringing in Bentonville, Arkansas, he concealed the fact that he was gay until he moved away to Nashville. When he did come out, it was in the most “flamboyant, vibrant, wild kind of way.” The name Fancy was bestowed on him as a joke — a mocking reference to the Drake song — by a manager at the Forever 21 where he worked.

“My hair was platinum blond,” he says. “I always had different colored nails. I wore full-face makeup, which is so funny to think because it’s so not who I am in this chapter of my life. But it was who I was then.” He decided to own it. “I was like, ‘You’re exactly right. That is who I am.’”

Accepting the name Fancy conferred a kind of superpower, a God-given ability to stand out that, along with his musical talent, helped him sign management and label deals with high-powered music executives like Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. But Hagood only made himself miserable as he tried to blend in in L.A. or fit a more conventional pop star mold. Released from his contracts and dejected, he returned to Nashville to go about rebuilding his career. “I just felt so defeated after that era of my artistry and music,” he says.

With the support of his songwriting and artistic community in Nashville — Hagood runs in the same circles as Kacey Musgraves and Brothers Osborne — Hagood is back on track. His newly released album Southern Curiosity finds him shaking off past traumas and letting go of the need to please anyone else.

“I’m born and raised from the South and also queer as fuck. How the two don’t always go hand in hand is interesting to me.”

Inspired by flamboyant and “explosive powerhouses” like Freddie Mercury, as well as the Baroque melodies of the Beatles, Southern Curiosity walks the line between tight Nashville-style songwriting, confessional pop, and the glittery grandeur of glam rock. It also centers narratives about what it’s like to be gay in the South and navigate matters of the heart in that environment.

“I’m born and raised from the South,” Hagood says. “There’s no getting around that. And also, I’m queer as fuck and I celebrate that in every facet. How the two don’t always go hand in hand is interesting to me.”

That tension plays out in interesting ways on Southern Curiosity. In the gospel-tinged “Don’t Blink,” he alternates between positions of vulnerability and strength as he addresses a long-distance lover. The folky, acoustic guitar-driven “Good Man,” meanwhile, has him cautiously wondering if someone is worthy of a commitment. “When mama calls to ask about you/I hope and pray, I could say, you’re a good man,” he sings. The devastating ballad “Either,” inspired an experience Hagood had in high school, is a queer person’s view of young love, spoiled because of shame and secrecy.

“That was just too important of a story not to tell,” Hagood says. “It’s the first time I felt like I missed out on love because of shame or because of not being enough or not feeling normal. I can’t be this, even though I was experiencing those feelings, those thoughts.”

Though it has a few of them, Southern Curiosity doesn’t focus on sad songs about loneliness. The title track is a lively, unapologetic declaration of identity, while “Another Lover Says” weds thundering piano and fuzzy slide-guitar licks to a sunny, skyscraping melody. Even more buoyant is “Mr. Atlanta,” a toe-tapping number in the vein of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” about a series of fleeting but instructive encounters.

“It’s easy to write a sad song as a gay man,” Hagood says. “We’ve all experienced sadness. But there’s also a lot of fun times and I want that to be seen as well. I don’t want to write sad songs all the time.”

The fact that Hagood can express that desire and demonstrate the different sides of his life so capably points to him being exactly where he needs to be. He’s no longer hiding, no longer having to pretend. After an arduous personal journey, he’s answered his own question: Who is Fancy?

“Something I’m never going to allow again is becoming something else for anyone else,” Hagood says. “I’ve learned my lesson the hard way too many times. I was thirsty for it back then. And the difference now is I still want it, but I’m hungry — I’m not thirsty.”

From Rolling Stone US