Jake Wesley Rogers Is Pop Music’s “Dark Bird”
The singer has a new single and A-List supporters.
In Elite Daily’s I Can Explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really went down behind the scenes. In this piece, we chat with singer Jake Wesley Rogers about his new single “Dark Bird” and his 2021 EP Pluto.
Jake Wesley Rogers isn’t Elton John. Sure, both are naturally reddish-blonde haired LGBTQ+ pop stars with a penchant for glam eyewear and stadium-rock piano ballads. But the 25-year-old singer who grew up around Springfield, Missouri, is not a replica of the British legend from the suburbs of London.
If you’ve read Rogers’ recent interviews about his rise from being a Belmont University student- musician in Nashville to a flourishing singer-songwriter in Los Angeles, comparisons to pop’s Rocket Man are common. There are only so many LGBTQ+ pop stars who wind up operating on a grand scale. So when one comes along with powerhouse vocals, a thrifted style, and Top 40 potential, you’re going to think of Elton. Or David Bowie. Rogers receives comparisons to both.
Fortunately, Elton, as well as LGBTQ+ pop predecessors Adam Lambert, Ben Platt, and Scissor Sister’s Jake Shears, support his growing star. Still, like any good artist, Rogers sees his music as unique even if listeners (and journalists) haven’t. “I have a lot of grace for people because when we see something new we just want to connect it to something we understand in order to understand it,” he tells Elite Daily. “I realize it'll probably take time for me to break free so people are comfortable just seeing me as me, but until then I'm not mad.”
Hopefully with his new single, “Dark Bird,” Rogers can rise as his own phoenix from the ashes of similarity. On Feb. 25, Rogers released the piano-driven ballad about embracing impurity. Witches and sinners have more fun. They’re also often operating from a place of honesty, and Rogers isn’t interested in hiding anything. Growing up, this meant coming out as gay in a Christian community. More recently, it’s recognizing he doesn’t have to be a hard-partying rock star.
In late-2018, Rogers got sober, though he quickly clarifies he’s not in a recovery program. Rogers just reached a point where he drank to cope with life’s whims. “There was a very small voice in me that I chose to listen to that basically just warned me and said, ‘If you stop this now it will be a lot easier than stopping later,’” he says. “So I chose to listen to it for some reason.”
Rogers is remarkably composed for a star regularly experiencing life-changing events. Last year, his EP Pluto landed him performing spots on late night shows, an appearance on his spiritual guide Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, and an Instagram co-sign from Kate Hudson.
If 2021 was Rogers’ year of growing accustomed to fame and comparison, he says 2022 is his year of gradual world domination...through love. Rogers wants to embrace and write about the multitudes of life. Or, he says, “I guess Brené Brown would call it [being] a wholehearted person.”
Below, Rogers shares the story behind some of his best Instagram posts. Plus, he talks about finding style inspiration in Christian martyrs, designing exuberant stage wear, and embracing the non-threatening vibe of his last name twin, Mister Rogers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Elite Daily: This first image is of you on the Walk of Fame with Mister Rogers. Why Mister Rogers?
Jake Wesley Rogers: Well, I don't usually go walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame because it's kind of not cute these days. That night I was going to Adam Lambert's 40th birthday party, which was a wig party, and I had to go buy a wig. The only wig store that was open still, because it was pretty late, was on Hollywood Boulevard. I really wanted, like, a Stevie Nicks long, blonde wig. I got it, and then right outside of the wig store was the Mister Rogers star. My last name is Rogers, so my poor friend had to take a photo of me in front of that, sort of as a double meaning. But I also love Mister Rogers. I feel kindred to him in a way.
ED: Did you watch him growing up?
JWR: I did when I was pretty young. He was still on PBS.
ED: People say he was a kinder man than a lot of male figures at the time. Is there anything that resonates with you in terms of that? So much of your stage presence does away with traditional male presentation.
JWR: I think it's the overwhelming kindness and his unabashed embrace of hard things, scary things, and things that confuse people. What he was doing in that show was really, really radical for the time. I can only imagine what he would be doing now and the sorts of guests he would be having on now. Because he was embracing topics that other people were not embracing and talking about. I sort of feel like that's also one of my missions.
ED: The photo of you at the piano on Late Night with Seth Meyers is so cheery. Tell me about it.
JWR: The song [“Weddings and Funerals”] has a line about marigolds, so the designer [Rebecca Bailey] and I wanted to make this big marigold explosion, floral moment. When that photo was taken, I was feeling pretty good [about] the performance. The soundcheck went really well, and I was excited. But I was actually very nervous because that was my first day ever wearing stilettos.
ED: In life or just performing?
JWR: In literally life. I was going to not only wear them on TV but perform in them. And not only perform in them, stand on top of a piano. And I did, and I didn't break anything. The other secret to that photo is that I'm glad the boots were knee-high, because I wasn't wearing knee pads and I had fallen on my knees a lot in that performance. My knees were completely covered in blood.
ED: On the Homophilia podcast, you mentioned loving Lady Gaga as a kid. I grew up as a Katy Perry stan.
JWR: I was more into Katy before Gaga, but then “Bad Romance” came out and it was all over for me.
ED: You said on the podcast that Lady Gaga’s over-the-top, exuberant performances on national TV inspired you growing up in the Midwest. Do you consider your impact on viewers when you go on a show like Late Night?
JWR: Actually, all of the bigger TV performances I've done, [including] the ones I've recorded recently that haven't come out, I always try to imagine either me or someone like me being 10 or 11 watching it. Because that's the whole point. If I connect to that one person — and they don’t have to be 10 or 11. They could be 50 years old and not feeling free to be themselves.
I do try to make those performances for those people, because I know how those performances made me feel as a kid. And no shade to any of the pop stars I loved growing up, but most of them were straight, cisgender women. I think it’s time to be able to empower ourselves with our own stories.
ED: Also on Homophilia, you talked about choosing to highlight a gay embrace in your “Middle of Love” video. Do you feel like you have to show a certain level of your LGBTQ+ identity?
JWR: Whatever I'm showing is probably just what I'm feeling. That music video, I'm sure to some people, [it] probably seems radical, but that's what gay people do. They make out with other gay people. That's actually what being gay is.
ED: Yeah, it's very normal.
JWR: I showed it to my mom, [and] she's like, "Has anyone ever done this?" I was like, "Yeah. They have." Yes, we be kissin’ out here. I think it's just showing it, and showing it unapologetically too is important to me because it really is a unique time in the past three to five years [that] it's even a possibility that A) you can make a video like this [and] B) people would want to watch it.
ED: You've gone through a couple different hairstyles and colors. Why red for this era?
JWR: I started dyeing my hair red right before I released all my new music last year. It was kind of like a light, auburn-y golden red. I wanted to keep red, but I wanted to match this next song and this next era I'm stepping into. Because this song, “Dark Bird,” is a lot more rock-and-roll edgy, dark, witchy, and leaning into a pseudo-goth persona too in the aesthetics. My first big music moment that made me love music was “Welcome to the Black Parade.” I wanted to step into this My Chemical Romance look, [though my] songs don't really sound like that.
There's just something about the fire engine red. I wanted to do a black circle around it, because certain sects of monks have just the hair with the bald part on the top. The song is about the martyr, and I was really obsessed with all these Christian martyrs who got beheaded...so the little ring around, it was kind of a little nod to the monk cut.
Jake Wesley Rogers’ new single “Dark Bird” and his 2021 EP Pluto are now streaming on all platforms.