Atlanta based singer, songwriter and musical icon Victor Jackson delves into R&B/soul music to break all barriers regarding queer “taboo” love. He uses his gift to represent individuals who are still scared to find freedom and live authentically, communicating that love is, in fact, the most powerful vibration as it brings out the true nature of humanity.
Victor Jackson talked to us about his latest single He Belongs to the City and what it was like working with legends such as Kandi Burruss, Jennifer Hudson, Iggy Azalea, Lil Wayne and August Alsina. After taking a hiatus for about seven years due to his brother’s passing, Jennifer Hudson’s words motivated and empowered him to go back into the music industry.
Although being openly gay, Jackson confesses that writing music about queer love is a bold move. Together with artists such as Kehlani, he considers himself one of the few who delve into such daring themes.
We caught up with the talented artist to chat about his music, art, inspirations and being a minority in the entertainment industry.
In 7 words, who is Victor Jackson?
Victor Jackson is a Black, queer man living in his purpose.
Your parents met in their college singing choir. How did your childhood influence your music, and singing?
Music was a part of my family life growing up and it was what really locked us together. It was a bonding exercise for us. Whether it was singing at church; whether it was singing in the living room at home; whether it was singing in talent shows – music was something that we all engaged in together and I really feel like music made our family ties closer. It’s always been something that we can connect through…that we can work together on. I recently directed and choreographed a music video and I’m working on a concert for both my sisters right now. Music is the way that we not only get to work together, but also get to create together and stay aligned in that way.
What inspires you to continue sharing your art with the world? Are there any challenges you encounter as you morph into both music, and dance?
What inspires me to keep sharing my art with the world is my brother Vaughn. My brother Vaughn passed in 2008 and I stepped away from music for seven years after his passing. Whenever I think about him and whenever I think about how we used to sing together and how much he supported me and how much he supported my artistry, it always gives me just that extra energy and that extra motivation to keep going.
It has been difficult to transition from dance to music, but having people like Kandi or Avery Sunshine reach out to me and say how much they love my music and how much they love the direction that I’m going in, really helps push me along the way and keeps me focused on the end goal. It lets me know that everything that I’m doing is not in vain and even people that I look up to and admire are acknowledging my work.
You’ve worked with musical legends such as Kandi Burruss, Jennifer Hudson, Iggy Azalea, Lil Wayne and August Alsina. What were those experiences like and how did Jennifer Hudson push you into putting out your music?
It’s honestly been an incredible experience to be able to sit behind the scenes and see how the music industry works. Because I have choreographed and been the creative director for performances on live TV and film projects for live shows and tours and even award shows, I’ve been able to see what’s required on every level of performance and I’ve had a hand in every level of performance so it really plays into the intentionality that I take into creating my own work, and my own music, and performances.
The moment that I had with Jennifer Hudson pushed me because her words were: “If you don’t sing then you’ll never truly be fulfilled.” Music was something that I had put off for seven years and although I had traveled the world working with artists behind the scenes, there was still a hole in my heart, and so those words from Jennifer Hudson really spoke directly to that hole and they always resonate with me in the moments when I feel like pursuing music is too much or overwhelming,
I think about the value in true fulfilment. If I never win a Grammy, if I never have a number one chart-topping album, I know that music is ingrained in my being and I get a fulfilment from music that I couldn’t get anywhere else.
Apart from the ones you’ve interacted with, which other artists continue to inspire your music journey?
I am very, very much inspired by Prince; inspired by his musicianship, inspired by his lyrical content, inspired by his fashion sense, inspired by his gender presentation. Prince was someone who actively pushed against the boundaries of what the world said a Black man should be. Whether it was from his heels, whether it was from his hair, whether it was from him playing the guitar and being so grounded in Rock n’ Roll and being a Rock n’ Roll star, I just look at Prince and I’m always inspired to step by game up not only as a vocalist and musician, but also to live in the full truth of who I am on stages both public and private.
Let’s talk about your latest single, ‘He belongs to the city.’ What about queer love inspires the creative process of this song?
With He Belongs to the City I wanted to create a queer love story with an R&B groove. I think a lot of times we hear stories on love played out in music and it is a man and a woman. It is cis-gendered and it is hetero-normative and we don’t have a lot of songs – especially as a Black queer community – where we can hear our sounds and hear our music, and hear a bumping bassline and a groove, and also hear about ourselves and hear about our journeys with love and infatuation, and getting to know somebody and dating and being surprised and being swept off your feet.
I wanted to bring all of that energy and all of those experiences to He Belongs to the City. I wanted you to be transported to another world. I’m laying out a story throughout all the lyrics and there’s a good payoff at the end of the bridge: “Turn myself around, he’s looking right in my face.” I wanted everybody to feel that relief, to feel that warm tingly feeling and I hope that’s what happens when people listen to the song.
Are there any unconventional or daring themes that you include in your songs?
I feel like as a Black artist writing about same-gender interactions is still taboo. Thankfully we have artists like Durand Bernarr, and Kehlani who are pushing the boundaries and bringing that same-gender loving aspect to R&B music, but it’s a daily journey and it’s still something that’s developing. I’m happy to be part of this new chapter in love songs.
Alex Newell, Unique Adams on Glee, has influenced your music career in a great way. How did you two meet and how do you feel inspired by Newell?
Alex and I met teaching with a musical theatre intensive and we immediately hit it off. Alex and I are both Leos, we both love fashion, we both love music, and beyond that Alex is just an incredible person and has always pushed me and inspired me and motivated me to pursue my own sound and lean into my own uniqueness.
Alex is an incredible force, an incredible person, and Alex’s light is vibrant and the warmth from that light is experienced by anyone who works with Alex. Not only am I grateful for the friendship that we share, but I’m also grateful to have someone I can send rough takes of songs to, and Alex will send me rough takes of their song and it’s always just this synergy.
It’s never competition. It’s never comparison. It’s all love and us supporting each other each step of the way and I think it’s really important to have that in the music industry – someone who is there for you personally and professionally and who wants the best for you.
What’s your take on having a mentor – as an upcoming musician or singer?
For me, having a mentor has been super, super important. It’s helped me on my journey not only as an artist, but also as a choreographer and a creative director. One of my most cherished mentors is Jamaica Craft, who is a choreographer and creative director who has worked with a long list of artists.
Being able to work with Jamaica, who has worked on visuals and bringing to life these chart-topping songs, it’s great to be able to play songs for her, get ideas, show her some of my rehearsals and learn what she thinks and get her take on it. Her mentorship has been a beautiful journey for me. I’ve been grateful to have a collection of mentors who help me, who hold me accountable, and who push me forward in my purpose.
Has being Black and gay created any obstacles in your music career?
Being Black and gay has provided some moments for growth if nothing else. It has allowed me to walk into spaces confidently as myself and it has allowed my audience members who may not look and love like me, to see our commonalities. Though I am Black and though I am gay, we all experience love.
Love is a universal experience. If we can connect on that baseline through music, there’s so many other things that we can see each other through. While it was at first a challenge to walk in cis-hetero spaces and be my full self, I now at this point have found a freedom in walking in my truth and so much value in being able to bridge the intersection with people who may not look and love like me.
As a creative, do you believe that art can be separated from the artiste?
As a creative I feel there’s a fine line between the art and the artiste, but a lot of times the art is inspired by experiences of the artiste, so we have to look at those experiences to see how they manifest themselves in the art. If the artiste is someone who is bigoted towards women and abusive towards women and all of their songs reflect that abuse or reflect situations that enact it, then you can’t separate the art from the artiste because the experiences of the artiste have influenced the art.
That has resulted in me deleting a lot of songs from my playlists, not watching certain TV shows…not engaging with a lot of brands. In order to keep my space clear and energy open, I want to cut off those things because it makes me want to hold myself to a higher standard. Whether it’s just as simple as someone saying, “Victor wrote a song about breaking up with a partner”, and an ex being able to listen to that song and feeling affected in a way…I have to make sure I’m impeccable with my words and impeccable with my art. I think that leans into being impeccable with my experiences.
Is there anything you would love to change about the music and entertainment industry?
What I would love to change about the music and entertainment industry is accessibility. And I think accessibility is something that is morphing before our eyes right now with artists being able to upload their own music to streaming services. It has opened up a new world. There’s still spaces that artists cannot access without the help of a label.
While you may have exceptions to the rules, for the most part, in order for you to maintain brand sponsorship, in order for you to get radio play, in order for you to show up to award show spaces, you have to have the support of a label. I would love to see that accessibility offered to indie artists.
What career path do you think you’d want to experience if you weren’t a musician?
I think if I weren’t a musician I would work in marketing. I’m a creative director and right now I’m working with a fashion brand, and what I’m able to do with that brand in terms of product development, trend forecasting, and shooting campaigns is so exciting to me. If I weren’t an artist I would definitely be committing all of my time and energy to creative direction.
What’s next for Victor Jackson?
I’m currently working on my EP, Man. Muse. Magic. and hopefully it will be released later this year. I’m also in pre-production for music videos for my singles Venom and He Belongs to the City. So that’s what’s next for me in addition to an acoustic EP and possibly a holiday single so be on the lookout for that.
Watch Victor Jackson’s Global Black Gay Pride performance below:
Follow Victor Jackson’s adventures on Instagram
Interview by Viqq Adriane
Photos by Aaron Hamilton