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Why Katie Pruitt Is Country Music's Next Queer Star

The 25-year-old Nashville-based singer is reimagining the genre one gay love song at a time.

Queer singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt doesn't necessarily believe in God in the biblical, "deity with a white beard" sense, but that doesn't mean she's given up faith.

A Nashville transplant by way of the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, Pruitt was raised in a traditional Catholic household. She cut her teeth performing in musical theater productions as a kid, later branching out to singing with jam bands and belting at open mic nights in nearby Athens during a stint in community college. But the country crooner cites relocating to Nashville for the latter half of college—and beginning to take the stage as a solo artist with confidence—as a pivotal moment in her burgeoning career.

"I just felt like I couldn't really be myself, specifically embracing my sexuality," Pruitt tells NewNowNext, reflecting on her past as a young adult stuck in suburbia. "And I really struggled with that. I think just the act of moving away from my hometown essentially is what provided the space for me to embrace that side of myself."

Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

At just 25 years old, Pruitt has already attracted the attention of musicians like Ruston Kelly, Kacey Musgraves' husband, and recorded her first full-length studio album: Expectations, slated to drop this Friday, February 21. She's spent the bulk of her adulthood learning to accept herself for who she is, and putting that journey of self-love to music.

And it shows. Like any good coming-of-age saga, queer or not, Expectations unfolds in chapters rife with angst, fear, and pain. Tracks like "Grace Has a Gun" and "My Mind's a Ship (That's Going Down)" spell out Pruitt's firsthand experiences navigating toxic first loves and mental health issues, pairing her throaty, powerhouse vocals with mellow, Americana-style guitar riffs. Her torment is almost uncomfortably palpable, a testament to the level of vulnerability Pruitt herself is comfortable channeling.

"When I'm going through hard things, [songwriting] is an outlet for me to express the emotions that I'm sifting through," she shares. She remembers the real-life Grace showing her the gun under her pillow, prompting Pruitt to jot down the phrase Grace has a gun—a painful anecdote which would become the genesis for the gut-wrenching track.

Pruitt likens her songwriting process to keeping a diary or a gratitude journal, both things she also does regularly: "You have so many thoughts, and it's hard to understand them all. So writing things down is important. You don't quite know what it's going to turn into, but you know it means something."

But Expectations, like Pruitt, has hope. Songs like "Loving Her," "Normal," and "Georgia" speak to her ongoing struggle to embrace her own queerness and encourage those around her to do the same. She's described "It's Always Been You" as a love song to her current girlfriend, with whom she's experienced a healthy, loving relationship for the first time in her life.

"There is a place past the Georgia pines / People who welcome you with an open mind," she croons in the bridge of "Georgia," a bittersweet ode to her home state. "They say it'll take, it'll just take some time / 'til love it belongs, it belongs to all humankind."

Pruitt credits out country and Americana legends like Brandi Carlile—whose record By the Way, I Forgive You scored her the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album—for carving out space for other women and LGBTQ acts in the genre. (Pruitt says she frequently gets likened to Carlile, a compliment she struggles to accept—"She has, like, 20 years on me!")

"Had I tried to make a record like this 10 years ago—even seven, or, fuck, five years ago—it's becoming less and less controversial," she says. "Thank God. Because it shouldn't be controversial! It's a human struggle. It's a specific human struggle. I'm especially proud to keep those Southern roots and talk about these topics because being from the South is a different experience than, like, growing up in California and being queer."

Alyssa Gafkjen/Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

KATIE PRUITT

Pruitt adds that she lives for the moments where her songs strike a chord in listeners, queer or not. "I love knowing that I also have fans who aren't LGBT," she says. "My favorite is when straight white dudes are like, I love 'Loving Her,' that's my favorite song. Like, Dude, yes! You rock. I also want people who aren't LGBT to maybe better understand that experience."

As she gears up to release Expectations into the universe, and embark on her first headlining tour throughout the U.S., Pruitt can't help but reflect on how far she's come. She's nervous, sure, but what 20-something-year-old finding their place in the world isn't? Ages 20 and 25 may only be separated by five years, but the amount of major life changes and transitions that occur in that short period are almost too vast to number.

It's even more true for someone like Pruitt, who openly admits she's still very much in the process of figuring out who she wants to be—and what she wants to believe in.

"I feel like I was a person of faith in the beginning of my life because that's what I was told to be," she confesses. "And I'm trying to figure out, as I'm becoming an adult, what religion and what faith mean to me. The older you get, you're sort of redefining and reshaping what God is to you. At the end of the day, it's that feeling of, like, Wow—that there is good. The world can be good. And that's God. That's hope."

Stream Expectations on Friday, February 21.

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