Billboard artist Jaki Nelson puts the ‘B’ in LGBTQ+ through music that explores both sides of her sexuality
BY Sam GOodman
How did you first discover your love for music?
Music was always a part of my life. My dad was big in the rock-n-roll scene back in the 70s and early 80s (He went on tour with artists like The Beach Boys). My parents would drive me around the block to try to get me to go to sleep as an infant and, after a while, I apparently started crying in pitch with the songs on the radio instead of going to sleep. There was always some new album I was obsessing over from as far back as I can remember.
When did you first come to understand your queer identity?
When I was 14, I started going to a lot of parties, getting really drunk and making out with girls. At some point, I realized that I didn’t have to get drunk to kiss girls. I spent months after that going back and forth between identifying as a lesbian and as a straight person. It took a while to come around to the reality of bisexuality (ooh that rhymes!).
Can you share your coming out story?
Of course! I had no plans for coming out, honestly. One day, I was upset about some stupid boy that had ghosted me, and my manager at the time sent me the song “Boys” by Charli XCX. I immediately texted my friend Oscar Del Amor that I wanted to do a bisexual remix cover of it. We spent three straight days working on that, and it was crazy, because the second we had a listenable version, I met Leo Madrid, who is now my creative director and one of my best friends, who told me that he could help me get shows in the LGBT world. I told him about Boys X Girls, and we immediately started putting together my show. I officially came out in front of 2,000 people and my mom at Tigerheat at Avalon Hollywood last year.
Please provide a brief timeline of your music career.
I got my first label deal when I was 18. I released a couple songs after that, and then I got my first song charting on Billboard. We got all the way to #29. My next single made it to the Top 10. After that, I did a song that went kind of viral, making appearances on the MTV show “Are You the One?”. Since then, I started performing at historic venues such as the Avalon Hollywood, The Globe Theatre, and clubs up and down the West Coast. My latest single, “Dancing With Strangers”, debuted at San Francisco Pride in front of about half a million people, hit two Billboard charts, and made it to the Top 10 where it kept company with tracks from Arianna Grande and U2.
It’s okay if you don’t know the answers yet. You don’t have to. Be yourself. It may be difficult at times. It may be uncomfortable at times. But in the long run, you’re going to thank yourself for it. One thing I wish I had known earlier is that people love people who know who they are and are comfortable with themselves.
What does bi erasure mean to you and how have you experienced it?
I have experienced it in so many ways. I have had serious boyfriends tell me that I must be straight now because I’m with them. I’ve had gay people tell me that bisexuality doesn’t exist: you’re either gay or straight. I’ve spent many a night as a teenager trying to decide for myself whether I believe them. I’ve had very close family friends who identify as bisexual tell me that I’m not. It’s such a strange experience.
What is the importance of the ‘B’ in LGBT+ What is the importance of any subgroup in any group of people?
We want the same rights as everybody else, and we want to be treated just like everybody else.
What do you think the rest of the community and the rest of the world should begin to better understand about bisexuality?
Being a bisexual/lesbian, feminine-looking woman is dangerous. Men take my interest in women as an invitation. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA. All kinds of men think that they have the right to do all sorts of inappropriate things to me. Even and maybe especially in gay environments, I am not safe, and no one who looks like me or identifies like me is. I think the rest of the community would really do a great service by becoming more aware of what’s going on with the women around you. Is that girl actually into that guy or is he harassing her? Would it perhaps be helpful if you swooped in and saved her from that obvious creep? This doesn’t just go for the LGBT+ community. This goes for women everywhere. Don’t be afraid to help us. We’re afraid you won’t.
Everything I make is honest. I am in the writing room on everything I put out. I really try to put my real life into my music and my music videos, so my identity is all over the place in my music.
How has your identity manifested in your recent music video and what was the goal of the video and the inspiration behind the song?
The whole concept of the music video is that I’m in love with this “one that got away”, so I’m “Dancing With Strangers” because I’m trying to move on. Midway through, the girl who got away shows up at the club, and immediately I’m back in it, and then she disappears, and I’m left to wonder whether this is all in my head or not. When I wrote the song, I was going through a pretty rough breakup with my ex-boyfriend, and I hadn’t come out yet. The goal of the music video is to show my audience that I am, in fact, bisexual.
Why is self-expression so important?
Life without self-expression is just waiting for a mental breakdown. The human mind needs it. Whether that be singing, painting, fixing cars...whatever gets you to who you are. Get there.
Do you identify as beautiful or bizarre?
Both. A true bisexual. Depends on the situation. If I’m in the studio, being 100% me, I’m definitely bizarre, but I think you kind of have to be to make art. If I’m out on a red carpet, I can do the beauty queen thing.