A country music star is re-releasing a song updated with male pronouns to honor his identity as a gay man during Pride Month, NPR reports.
Country music singer Ty Herndon released the hit love song “What Mattered Most” in 1995. On the track, Herndon sings lyrics like “If she was sad, I couldn’t tell” and “I thought I knew the girl so well.” In the new release, Herndon swapped the female pronouns for male ones, singing “”His eyes are blue / His hair is long.”
Herndon, who came out as gay in 2014, said the new version is more reflective of his life and personal experiences. He said he used to perform the original song thinking of his mother and father’s “great love story,” according to NPR.
“I’ve sat down and listened to both of them carefully, and I can tell you: There was the kid singing the other song,” Herndon said. “There was the grown-up man that was a lot more emotional and living in his authentic skin singing this song.”
“That’s how I made it a living, breathing thing for me when I would perform it,” Herndon continued. “But at the time, I was also in a relationship with a beautiful boy. His hair was long and his eyes were blue. So, I did think about him quite a bit.”
Herndon said he feared that his sexuality would mean having to leave country music, but said he was surprised by the support from friends and family in Nashville.
“I was really prepared to walk away from it all, but I didn’t have to do that,” Herndon told NPR.
He added that this re-release is part of the responsibility he feels to show LGBT youth that they “don’t have to be afraid.”
“It starts with me,” he said. “It starts with artists that have been there.”
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After coming out as gay in 2014, country singer Ty Herndon is re-releasing his 1995 hit song “What Mattered Most”
It’s been 25 years since Ty Herndon released the song “What Mattered Most” about losing the love of his life — a blue-eyed girl from Baton Rouge. At the time, the country star was in a loving (but closeted) relationship with a man.
The 57-year-old, who came out as gay in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE in 2014, is in a much different place these days. On Tuesday, Herndon is re-releasing the hit single that launched his country music career. This time, the alternative version (premiering below with a new music video) features lyrics that accurately reflect who he is on the inside. It also marks the first single off his new album, Got It Covered, dropping Aug. 23.
“In the [original] I say the word “she” or “her” something like 36 times,” Herndon tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I’m doing this song 25 years later the way I wish I could’ve recorded it back then.”
The Nashville-based artist says he was a bit apprehensive about revisiting the now-classic song (which topped country charts in 1995) — if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? But after years of counseling LGBTQ youth, Herndon knows there are kids who desperately need to hear their sexuality represented in a country song.
“So many of them say, ‘We want to like country music but we’re afraid to like it because we feel like country music doesn’t like us,’” Herndon says. “I wanted to do something to show these kids that country is changing and that Nashville is a safe place for them.”
The “Living in a Moment” singer says he was full of mixed emotions while filming the new music video. “I kind of shoot from the hip and I write from where I’m at in my life. But this isn’t today,” he says. “This is going back 25 years. A lot of my story started with this song. We kept having to stop filming because I would get so emotional. I was having a day of reflection and celebration. There is some heartbreak in it but there’s also a lot of joy in the fact that I’m able to give that song new life for something way bigger than myself.”
Herndon feels at peace with whatever response may come from the re-release. As the first male country singer to come out as gay, he says he’s developed a thick skin when it comes to the public’s opinion.
In addition, Nashville isn’t the restricted scene it once was. Herndon says the country music genre is making great strides towards acceptance. The latest star to come out of Nashville, Kacey Musgraves, proved this when she won several CMA awards for her record “Follow Your Arrow,” which supports the LGBTQ community.
Still, there’s work to be done and Herndon knows he’s “in the middle of a tug of war with the community about LGBT issues.”
“I really hope that a 14-year-old kid who looks just like me, sitting in front of his TV watching the CMT Awards or the CMA Awards, who wants to come to Nashville but is scared to death, sees this video,” he says. “I know I can drive 50 miles south and there are kids on the street who are trying to work their way to Nashville because they’ve been kicked out of their homes and churches.”
Herndon adds, “I’m in the business of saving lives. I can say that because I certainly almost took mine a few times.”
In a 2017 episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? the singer opened up about his troubled past, including multiple divorces and drug and alcohol dependency.
“I look back on everything now, and the drugs, I consider them to have been my medicine,” Herndon said in the OWN special. “At the time, it was the only thing that would numb me out, that I wouldn’t have to feel the hell that I was feeling in my spirit. The bottom for me, during that time, was not wanting to live anymore. I’d lost my faith. Every relationship I touched crumbled.”
In the early 2000s, Herndon divorced his second wife and began to spiral before finally entering rehab for the second time. Today, he’s sober and happy with longtime partner Matthew Collum.
“Matt and I just celebrated our ninth anniversary,” Herndon says. “I told my agent, ‘When you stop booking me for so many shows a year, maybe I’ll have time to get married!’ It’s definitely going to happen.”
In addition to releasing his song, Herndon will present and co-host the Concert for Love and Acceptance with CMT’s Cody Alan in partnership with GLAAD on Thursday evening in Nashville.
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The singer-songwriter, who came out in 2014, wants fans to hear “What Mattered Most” the way he wishes he could’ve recorded it originally.
Country singer-songwriter Ty Herndon is kicking off LGBTQ Pride Month by giving one of his most beloved hits a fresh, forward-thinking shine.
Love filled the room Thursday (June 7) at GLAAD and Ty Herndon’s Concert for Love & Acceptance.
HuffPost got an exclusive first look at the music video for “What Mattered Most,” viewed above. The new version boasts a contemporary arrangement of the haunting melody introduced in Herndon’s original. This time, however, he’s replaced all of the female pronouns with their male equivalent, in an effort to reflect his life as a gay man.
The Alabama-raised artist, 57, told HuffPost he wanted to show LGBTQ youth that “Nashville and the country community have come a long way” by revamping the ballad, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s country songs chart in February 1995.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear them say, ‘We want to like country music ― we just don’t think it likes us,’” he said. “I was diffidently looking for a way to celebrate the song’s birthday. So this seemed like the perfect idea.”
For fans, the new version of “What Mattered Most” is the first taste of Herndon’s forthcoming album, “Got It Covered.” Slated for an Aug. 23 release, the album is the singer-songwriter’s first since 2016’s “House On Fire,” and his second since publicly opening up about his sexuality in 2014.
Last fall, singer-songwriter Brandon Stansell (with whom Herndon has performed in the past) recalled his own coming out experience in the video for “Hometown,” the first of his singles to receive CMT airplay. And in March, independent artist Cameron Hawthorn scored a viral hit with the video for his song, “Dancing in the Living Room,” in which he canoodled lovingly with a boyfriend.
Calling himself “somewhat of a counselor to the community,” Herndon credits stars like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris, as well as legends like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire ― all of whom court sizable LGBTQ fan bases ― with “helping to change things pretty rapidly.”
As for the new version of “What Mattered Most,” he hopes it will appeal to both fans who have been following his work since the original as well as new audiences who may not have heard the song before. The song will be a part of his set Thursday when he takes the stage at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon for the Concert for Love and Acceptance, an annual event he’s co-hosted with GLAAD since 2015.
Whether listeners approach the song as a newbie or with knowledge of the 25-year journey that inspired the redux, Herndon is just happy it will now be heard “with the emotion and story that I intended.”
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CMT’s Cody Alan hosted the event, which saw performances by Ty, Tanya Tucker, Terri Clark, Billy Dean, Michael Ray, Cam, Cale Dodds and Britain’s Got Talent 2015 contestant Calum Scott at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon.
Vince Gill also surprised the sold-out crowd and revealed why it was important for him to attend.
“As a young child I always heard the words that we are all created equal,” Vince said. “I believed that as a little boy and I believe that as a grown man.”
Also on the lineup were Anita Cochran, Temecula Road, Thompson Square, Shelly Fairchild, Cassadee Pope, Brandon Stansell, newcomer Parson James and WWE Superstars Lana and Sonya.
During the concert, GLAAD announced a $2500 grant for young LGBTQ musicians called the Ty Herndon Rising Stars Grant, which is eligible to LGBTQ young people who are working to accelerate acceptance in the music industry.
Partners at the 2018 Concert for Love Acceptance included CMT, Ketel One Vodka, Nissan Mary Frances Rudy from Rudy Title & Escrow and Wade Weissmann Architecture.
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