Ben Platt is having a bit of a hard time navigating the press tour for his debut album, Sing to Me Instead. The Broadway actor best known for originating the title role in the smash musical Dear Evan Hansen never publicly came out as gay. But in the press, it was more or less assumed: He’s a Tony-winning performer, he appeared in the first two films of the musical franchise Pitch Perfect, and he’s also close friends with fellow openly gay actors Jonathan Groff, Noah Galvin and Taylor Trensch. (The latter two both separately filled his Evan Hansen shoes.)
Construing these tidbits as an admission of gayness is harmful and reinforces stereotypes—not all Broadway actors are necessarily into guys, for instance (Hugh Jackman would disagree). So for the first decade of Platt’s career, his sexuality was a topic never fully broached.
Then in February, Platt dropped three music videos for songs from Sing to Me Instead. “Ease My Mind” stood out for showcasing an intimate storyline between Platt and out gay actor Charlie Carver. Entertainment news outlets quickly seized on the video as Platt’s official declaration of gayness. Out magazine headlined their post, “Dear Evan Hansen Star Ben Platt Comes Out In Emotional Video,” while Page Six went safely vague with “Ben Platt gets candid about sexuality on new album.” On the other hand, People magazine, never one to shy away from a coming-out story, premiered the video accompanied by an interview with Platt without mentioning that it was the first time he had publicly spoken about his sexuality.
The problem, though, is Platt doesn’t want his debut album to be overshadowed by a declaration. Partially because it’s not news to him. The 25-year-old came out to his parents at age 12, a remarkably early age among gay men.
“I love that a byproduct has been being able to be representation for the queer community and to show that’s very much part of who I am, but also I don’t want that to replace the music itself,” Platt told The Daily Beast.
Inspired by the theatricality of Carole King, James Taylor and Adele, Sing to Me Instead largely follows the narrative arc of one man going through a breakup. Platt, who wrote on all songs, above all else wanted to be “authentic” and “transparent” on the album, so naturally—unconsciously, even—he used male pronouns. The 40 songs he whittled down to 12 became an amalgamation of his experiences with past boyfriends, the earliest dating back to high school.
So how does someone who never publicly came out but was never in the closet promote his immensely personal new record without being usurped by talk of his own sexuality? “It essentially came with the deal, part of the territory,” he said.
Platt has readily answered almost all prying questions into his personal life during the album’s intensive promo campaign, even retweeting a USA Today profile circuitously centered entirely on his gayness which called Sing to Me Instead “not a coming-out album.” After all, he has a lot riding on this album. It’s his first ever non-theatrical record. (Platt is already a Grammy winner for Dear Evan Hansen.) But he’d prefer people focus more on “the songs that I hope people from all different walks of life, all different sexualities and ages can connect to.”
To prepare, he studied what has worked for other openly gay artists, especially Brandi Carlile, whose queerness is “part of the tapestry rather than the tapestry itself,” he said. Carlile, for instance, is openly gay, married to actress Catherine Shepherd and raising two daughters. She also happens to be a stellar Americana, bluegrass musician—an unexpected place for a queer artist to succeed. That’s the career Platt desires. “Hopefully, music and otherwise, we’re getting to the point where it’s part of an assumed reality,” Platt says. “I’m Jewish, from New York and also like dudes.”
On the album, Platt focuses on universal themes like longing, adoration and regret. “All the sentiments are things people could find their way into, and [I] just kind of endow them with my own specificity so they felt as real as they could feel,” he said. “Bad Habit” is a tear-inducing retrospective on a long-gone relationship. On “In Case You Don’t Live Forever.” he ponders what romantic moves he’ll regret not making, while “Run Away” closes the album with hope that by the time true love comes around, settling down won’t seem so scary.
Comparisons to Sam Smith have accompanied the album—with its melancholy lyrics sung in a deep voice over dramatic melodies. Yet Platt is remarkably more multi-dimensional, at least compared to Smith’s debut In the Lonely Hour. It’s here again where it becomes difficult to not consider the impact of a mainstream, openly gay singer presenting not just the perceived shame of gay love but the also the beauty, the simplicity and the mix of it all. “Grow As We Grow,” inspired by a conversation with a former boyfriend on the car ride home from a day trip to Disneyland, follows his desire for them to work on themselves—together. “People,” Platt says, come down on both sides: those who know they’ll need to focus on themselves and those who have had success working on the personal even with a partner at their side.
Platt is trying his hardest to be sincere, but he’s never had to get so personal before. With Dear Evan Hansen, he was fed specific messages of intent and meaning for press interviews by the show’s production team. He’s quickly realizing with a solo album, he’s the producer, the star and the writer. He gets to control the message, but it’s unclear if he knows exactly what he wants to say. “It’s this scary feeling of people can pull whatever they want and focus on whatever they want and twist whatever they want, but I’m just trying to say only things that I would be happy to read.”