Despite Dolly Parton becoming an icon for the LGBTQIA+ community and Lil Nas X’s attempt to bring country influences into this music, there remains a void of queer artists in the contemporary country genre.
Orville Peck, a Canadian-based South African artist that hides his identity behind a fringed mask and a cowboy hat, is attempting to change that.
Peck officially arrived on the country scene in 2019 with his freshman album “Pony” which introduced Peck’s heavy cowboy ethos and crowd crooning guitars.
“Pony” was later amplified in 2020 with the release of Peck’s EP “Show Pony,” which featured an impressive collaboration with Queen of Country Pop and fellow Canadian Shania Twain.
Despite Peck’s infancy in his solo music venture, he has been recognized by drag queen all-stars and Grammy Award-winners alike for major projects.
Trixie Mattel, one of the most successful mainstream drag queens to roll off of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” teamed up with Peck to cover Johnny Cash and June Carter’s iconic country duet “Jackson.”
In 2021, Peck was invited to contribute to the 10th anniversary celebrations of Lady Gaga’s album “Born this Way,” releasing a robust, country version of the title track.
Peck even opened for Harry Styles during his 2021 Madison Square Garden shows, providing more evidence of the wide range of affection the biggest names in today’s music feel for Peck’s talents.
Peck continues his up-and-coming legacy with the release of his sophomore album “Bronco.” Released on April 8, the album serves asPeck’s strongest step into the country music scene.
With his best booted foot forward, Peck fully explores his identity and challenges the confines of the country genre.
The album visuals alone show Peck’s transition from freshman pup to full-fledged cowboy artist, trading in his pastel “Show Pony” imagery for his newest album’s imagery that shows a muscled up Orville Peck, clad in golden chaps and standing in front of a bucking black stallion.
“Daytona Sand,” the album’s introductory track, continues this strong imagery of Peck as the roaring instrumentals draw visions of a herd of mustangs galloping across Peck’s voice.
The lyrics, depicting a tumultuous relationship between Peck and “big blonde,” mark the beginning of Peck’s exploration of his identity as a gay man navigating the conservative country music landscape.
Perhaps the album’s greatest lyric, “I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t trust a man,” stems from this solid first track that signals the final departure of Peck’s lingering uncertainty as an artist.
Peck’s developing confidence as an artist is evident throughout his vulnerability on the album. “The Curse of the Blackened Eye,” a track that illustrates the effects of an abusive relationship, serves as the pinnacle of candid crooner ballads on “Bronco” with Peck’s deep voice evoking the aforementioned signature cowboy ethos he is known for.
Peck’s superpower is getting listeners who would not classify themselves as country music fans to pay attention to him.
At 2021’s Shaky Knees music festival, hosted just a little over a mile from Tech’s campus in Atlanta’s Central Park, Peck was a mid-day performance that garnered the attention of many festival-goers.
Many gathered around the main stage of the festival in response to Peck’s powerful singing voice that boomed across the park, attracting many with his Cracker Barrel chic aesthetic that heavily differed from the festival’s typical indie alternative lineup.
This superpower is evident in the album’s title song, which offers a dance-inducing track about breaking free and letting nothing hold you back, a message from Peck that is pervasive throughout the album.
Peck continues to push back on elements of toxic masculinity and provides listeners with proud references to his sexuality on “C’mon Baby, Cry.”
While some country adjacent artists, such as Lil Nas X, may beat around the bush or sweep their queer identity beneath the lyrics, Peck offers himself in full in a genre that traditionally lacks LGBTQIA+ representation.
The album’s secret superstar song is “Kalahari Down.” Released early as part of Peck’s “Chapter 2” delivery of the album’s singles, “Kalahari Down” is a personal ode that depicts Peck’s upbringing in South Africa.
Starting off with a whimsical harmonica solo, the nearly flawless song perfectly combines Peck’s soulful voice, a sorrowful guitar soundtrack and references to the cowboy lifestyle to create a painful tale of losing your way.
Peck’s performance of the song summons the “gothic Elvis Presley” characterization given to him by Pitchfork’s review of the album.
Sitting at nearly an hour-long, the album may seem like a long haul at first, but Peck’s ability to get listeners to lose themselves in his cowboy tales makes for an easy listening experience.
The album showcases Peck’s talents that prove his deserving upcoming superstar status.
Representing a culmination of Peck’s newfound confidence and desire to break into the country genre as a queer artist, “Bronco” provides a successful case argument as to why Peck should be considered one of the top new music artists of the year.