Todrick Hall isn’t new to Louisville, but Louisville is probably still, in many ways, new to Todrick Hall. He’s a multifaceted performer who is hard to pin down and harder to resist. His Straight Outta Oz album and musical took his life story and placed it in the setting of “The Wizard of Oz,” offering audiences a tender and unique window into his world as a performer and as a gay man discovering himself in a religious and Southern setting. Hall spoke with LEO about coming to town (pretty often) and shared candid insight about what it means to be a performer and the perils of being in the spotlight and staying true to yourself. He’s also one of the lucky ones who scores Taylor Swift tickets without a wait. Hall is set to return to Louisville again on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Mercury Ballroom.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
LEO: When you come to Louisville, what do you look forward to?
Todrick Hall: I look forward to going to Play because I just love Play nightclub. I love the one in Nashville and I love the one in Louisville. I have a lot of friends that are resident performers. People don’t realize how much Louisville embraces their LGBTQ+ community.
Talk to me a bit about creating “Straight Outta Oz.” It felt like a pivotal work.
I really try to listen to the criticisms that I get online. And even if they’re meant to be nasty, I try to take the gems out of the criticism. I got this comment from someone saying something to the effect of, ‘I feel like we don’t know who you are. Like, you just play a bunch of different characters, but we don’t know anything about you, and it makes it difficult to be a fan of you as a human being versus a fan of your work.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s an interesting point of view.’ I would meet people when they would know nothing about where I was from or things that have happened in my life, but I grew up doing theater for so long that I was like, ‘I don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable and expressing things to people about myself.’
If someone doesn’t like my artistry, that’s one thing, but if they don’t like who I am as a person, that hurts in a different way. I decided to tell my life story, but paralleled with the thing that I love so much. And it was such a last-minute thing, but I got so consumed in it and I devoted all my energy to writing that project. I’m working on a secret project right now. My mom saw it and she was like, ‘This is the only thing that you’ve ever done that can rival Straight Outta Oz for me.’ Because she just loved it so much. I think when artists are passionate about something, the way I was writing every single lyric and stanza of Straight Outta Oz, because it was my life story. It was so real to me. And I think even somebody who doesn’t know me personally can tell. It’s something strange about when you write something from a place of love and passion — the artistry just hits different.
I love the song “Papi,” featuring Nicole Scherzinger. She grew up here.
I forgot about that. She’s told me that a few times, actually.
[insert my long-winded story about attending the class of ‘96 Manual H.S. prom with my sister]
That must been iconic to see. Honestly.
Tell me about your new project, Algorhythm.
Algorhythm was an album that I came out with last year. We don’t really cover that music in this tour. This show is kind of more inspired by Taylor Swift and Beyonce, who are going on tours right now that kind of cover their entire discography, like some of their hits from every single era. I thought it was so genius that Taylor Swift named her tour “The ERAS Tour” and went through all of these different eras; like, let’s just talk about hitting all the nostalgic moments in her life. I kind of modeled my tour after that.
I decided that I wanted to do something where I could do this show and everybody could get a fix from every single era of Todrick that they had fallen in love with. So there are songs from Straight Outta Oz, songs from Forbidden, songs from Femuline, songs from Algorhythm, songs from Roach Killaz — just from different chapters of my life. The songs that have performed the best, we’re doing them. What I love about this show is it has a “Wizard of Oz”-esque element to it. We start in black and white and then we go through the entire rainbow with monochromatic scenes.
There’s a full red scene, a full orange, full yellow, et cetera, and in the end, we end with this big explosion of color with “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels,” and one of my favorite songs from post-Straight Outta Oz era, which is “Glitter.” It’s gonna be a really, really fun celebration. It’s a big show full of pride, anthems, and there’s music from every single chapter of my life in it.
I’ve read that you and Taylor Swift have a close friendship. Do you find it hard to get Taylor Swift tickets like the general public?
No, I don’t find it hard to get tickets. [laughs]
Serious question. I know you’ve heard about the Lizzo controversy with accusations of sexual harassment from her dancers, and have been through something very similar. It sometimes seems there is no route for a performer to make amends or to redeem themselves in the face of these types of accusations, whether true or not. What advice would you offer Lizzo or anyone in that position?
Oof. That’s a rough question. I want to think about what I have to say about that. Yeah. Because I don’t think I’m in a position to be giving Lizzo advice by any stretch of imagination. I will say that the more eyes you have on you, the more difficult it is.
We are just living in a very insane time where, thankfully, the pendulum is swung so that people who are victims get to have a voice. But, like almost anything in reality, there are three sides to every story. And I think it’s scary to be the person who’s the artist, to be in a power position, to be the person who stands [to] lose things based on people that you work with who are in close proximity to you, who have the ability to be a narrator of a story and tell the story from their own lens. And, that lens almost always doesn’t show the full scope of a story. So my heart goes out to anybody who is in that position, because I’ve been in that position before where I’ve read stories that seem almost unrecognizable to me. And while I want to always take accountability for my faults, ‘cause I’m human and I’m gonna make a lot of mistakes. I think that there is this part of pop culture right now and cancel culture that enjoys devouring someone. They love building someone up to tear them down. A verified check next to your name doesn’t make you any less human, doesn’t make you any less prone to making mistakes. I don’t like that mistakes today almost feel like they want the person who is in the power position to never work again, to never sing again, to never perform again. It’s a very scary thing. And to be completely honest, I’ve turned down multiple reality shows this year that were paying great money because I just… mentally, it’s just too much for me to take. And I don’t want any more experiences like that to be my legacy. I’ve learned a lot from it. And I am moving in a very different way than I was moving before. So I hope that anybody in that position learns from the parts of it that they need to learn from and try to do better. I hope, to be someone like Lizzo and the amount of work that she’s had to do to get to where she is, I will never understand what that journey has been like for her. I hope that she continues to be able to — or that anybody in that position would — I hope that they would continue to be able to work, and just learn from the mistakes that they’ve made but still have an opportunity to have a career.
In order for cancel culture to truly be effective, people have to be held accountable, but also have the opportunity for redemption. And I don’t think that people should be bullied into saying… I think that you have to, in that position be a sound enough person to say, ‘I don’t care what everybody says. I know what my truth is and I’m never going to go online and agree with something that I did not do,’ because you’re struggling with, like, your real-life human, moral, and ethic compass. It’s a scary thing for me to even respond to that question, because right now, anybody in my position is just accustomed to getting online and just saying the right thing that Twitter and whatever app is going to agree with.
Thanks for such a candid answer. It’s a tough position to be in, and people all need ways to find redemption. Just to drive it home a bit, how important is it to be as honest and true to yourself as possible in your career?
It is very important, because every time someone puts a mic up to your face or writes something, it’s a part of your legacy that’s going out online. You wanna make sure that you’re being authentic to who you are, but it’s also scary, because in every interview, people want you to be vulnerable. But if you’re too vulnerable… the things that I say to you today could be totally acceptable but in six months, six years from now, it could be completely problematic. Everything that you say can be used against you if it’s printed on the internet. That’s why a lot of celebrities are skeptical about doing press at all, because it’s like anything that you can say can be twisted, can be misrepresented, or it could just mean something completely different.
There was a time not too long ago where the word ‘queer’ was like, almost like the f-a-g word. It was so offensive. And now it is the only terminology that can — one of the only words — that you can use to fully encompass the entire gay community or LGBTQ+ community. It’s just interesting to see how that shift has happened. Now other words that were acceptable then are not acceptable now, and might be acceptable again. It’s like fashion, you know? It changes like the wind, and it’s continuously changing at a rapid pace. Every day I find out about another word I can’t say, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, well, that’s in my song. Do I change the lyrics?’ Even the nuance of like the ballroom community, there were certain words in my songs that I totally was like, “This is okay to say those songs have millions of views. Do I not perform those songs anymore? Do I now change it? I don’t want to offend this community even though I’m a part of the gay community, and those were words that I had heard used all the time and in my everyday vocabulary.’ It’s just a very difficult situation to navigate, and you’re always trying to like toggle back and forth with like ‘How much do I allow social media, and people’s feelings to affect my day-to-day life and my artistry?’ You have to tow that line and really work on that balance. It’s difficult. I love that you talked to Billy Porter because he’s one of my biggest mentors and inspirations. He’s wonderful, and he always has such great things to say. Him and RuPaul, anytime I’ve ever spoken to them, they just say things that are so prolific and give me so much food for thought and fill my heart up with so much wisdom and knowledge and passion and drive. I always leave feeling like a better version of myself than I started when I sat down to talk to them.