You might remember Todrick Hall as the incredible singer in the viral McDonalds video back in 2010. Since then, Todrick’s career has skyrocketed, and most recently he executive produced the “You Need to Calm Down” music video for his BFF, Taylor Swift. Next month Todrick is headed to Broadway for a short run in “Waitress” before heading out on tour for his new album, “Haus Party.” Todrick and I caught up about what it was like to watch Taylor reconcile with a former nemesis, why he decided to speak up about parting ways from his former manager Scooter Braun, and how a pair of cheerleading shorts helped him find his confidence.
Katie Couric: You’re obviously a total Broadway veteran at this point- you made your Broadway debut in “The Color Purple” when you were just 20 years old! Next month you’re headed back to Broadway for a limited run in “Waitress.” What was it about this show that made you want to come back to Broadway?
Todrick Hall: I just like to do things that really challenge me. I’ve already played a fabulous over the top drag queen, I’ve already played a hotshot lawyer, and now playing Opie in “Waitress” is a chance for me to show off my comedic chops and sing Sara Bareilles’ music. I mean I have basically already committed everything that Sara Bareilles has ever written to memory. I love “Love Song.” That’s the song that got the whole world on the Sara Bareilles train. And I’m just such a huge fan of theater, and I’ve seen so many musicals, and Waitress is one of the musicals I’ve seen live close to 20 times. The music is so beautiful and poppy and fun! I can’t wait to be part of it.
Katie: You were an executive producer on Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video, and the two of you are close friends. It’s well known that Taylor and her fellow pop superstar Katy Perry haven’t always gotten along, but Taylor decided to feature Katy in the video alongside her. Who came up with that idea? Were you there when they shot it, and what was it like to witness that?
Todrick: It was not my idea, but I was there when they shot it. And I mean, it was a fantastic idea. This was a perfect place for her to address the situation. One of the reasons why people identify with Taylor so much is you can go through her albums and say, “I remember this story, or this time in her life. I understand who this lyric might be targeted at.” And I think that’s really cool because Taylor’s albums are almost like a scrapbook of her life. So this was an amazing way for Taylor not just to show that she is starting a new chapter of her life, but also to show young girls who might have beef with their friends, or have gone through a rough time socially, that they can come out of it on the other side. That it’s ok to bury the hatchet. Earlier, Katy Perry had literally sent an olive branch to Taylor. And in return, Taylor gave her a lyrical one. I think it would have been hypocritical of Taylor to release a song called “You Need to Calm Down” if she wasn’t actually calm about beef she used to have with another huge superstar. Everybody needs to calm down, and Taylor took her own advice.
Katie: Taylor Swift recently shared her disappointment that your former manager Scooter Braun had acquired much of her music catalog. You then tweeted a screenshot of the email you sent Scooter when the two of you decided to part ways, saying that you needed to “chase your dreams.” When you wrote that email years ago, did you ever imagine you would end up where you are now?
Todrick: When I was in “The Color Purple,” I decided I wanted to leave broadway and become an artist. I made a vision board that said “find my Scooter Braun,” because I had watched the Justin Bieber documentary “Never Say Never” on repeat over and over. I never thought I would actually meet him, let alone be represented by him, but that was my dream. And then one day he reached out to me and brought me in for a meeting, and I thought, “my life is about to change.” He reminded me of The Wizard of Oz- when he waves his invisible magic wand in your direction, he has the power to make you a superstar. But Scooter didn’t believe in me in the way I needed, and I don’t necessarily fault him for that. I think he believed I was capable of creating an amazing Broadway musical, but I had left Broadway to pursue my real dream of making music that would speak to people. So that was a really hard email for me to write, because a part of me feared him. But I felt so free when I left, because I was able to remind myself of who I am and what my talents truly are.
Katie: You’ve spoken a lot about being authentic, and how you got to a place where you’re comfortable in your own skin. Do you have any advice for kids out there who might be struggling with this?
Todrick: I know that it’s the scariest thing in the entire world to live your truth and be unapologetic for who you are. I even still feel pressure to fit in, even though I’m not afraid to put on a pair of heels and paint my nails and sing a song called “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels” with 75 boys in heels backing me up. Every gay man that I’ve ever met understands the pressure to fit in. To change your mannerisms, and change your voice, and not act a certain way so you don’t expose yourself as a gay person. I’ve felt that pressure my entire life. And even now, I have to remind myself to be confident. I remember putting on a pair of cheerleading shorts for the first time, when I was a varsity cheerleader my junior year in high school. I had an option to wear pants and an option to wear these short shorts, and I just loved those shorts so much. I felt so free in them and so cute in them. And I remember the day I chose to wear those shorts to school, and exactly how I felt right before I opened the door to get out of the car. I had to say to myself “You’re going to do this. You’re doing it. And you can’t apologize for it.” It’s important to remind yourself to be confident. Because facing that fear of being yourself- you never know how that’s going to inspire someone else. Just by being you, you could give someone else the courage to come out, or to live their truth.
Katie: As soon as you finish out your turn in Waitress, you’re heading out on a national tour in support of your new album “Haus Party.” Tell us about the album!
Todrick: I wanted to make music that would make people feel fabulous and strut down the street and put on a wig and lashes and nails and start dancing. And so I made “Haus Party,” and it’s been the most well received piece of work I’ve ever put out. “Nails Hair Hips Heels” has more than 11 million views on YouTube. And my direct messages and Twitter feed are blowing up with people who are dancing to it at their local clubs, and that just makes me so happy. I want my music to make people happy- to make them smile and dance. And in this current political climate if my art can make you do that, then I don’t need a big manager, I don’t need a record label, I don’t need to be on the radio, because what I’m doing is changing the world.
Katie: Thanks so much, Todrick!