In 2019, we launched #SpheresOfQueer, a campaign series aimed at understanding the various letters of the queer alphabet by profiling some of our local queer artists slaying the scene on a daily basis.
And with the US celebrating #PrideMonth, and South Africa celebrating Youth Month, we want to revive what should essentially be an ongoing conversation, hardly limited to one or two months a year.
Hot on the heels of his latest release, “Better For Me”, SA’s chart-topping prince of pop, Armand Joubert, greets me with a sassy smile, ready to share his evolution through music and queerness. He takes me back to his innocently fabulous five-year-old self, growing up in Witbank, Mpumalanga, “Wow, I remember always being in my room, always pretending to be Britney Spears, always putting on my mom’s shirts and shoes, just being very like obsessed with glamour and stardom”, he explains and pouts.
Growing up in a musical family, his talent was discovered early on. “I remember we were swimming outside on a hot day and I started singing this song that my mom always used to sing to me”, he says and subsequently starts singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “So then my mom was like, ‘Uhm okay? Hold on, hold on’ so she invited the whole family, and then I just had to perform, and that was like the first memory of me discovering I could sing.”
Joubert’s parents got divorced when he was only six, resulting in two very different, conflicting upbringings. His mom’s side of the family being more liberal, she encouraged the performer that she always knew he was. His father’s side of the family, however, was far more religious, and it was through attending church that he began to understand that he was different, and that being different (read: gay) was a “sin”.
“As I got older, the more I became aware that I shouldn’t be like that, you know? I became aware of the pastor being like, ‘There’s a demon in you and if you’re gay you need to come to the front, so we can pray for you”, he explains of his more stifling upbringing, “And honestly it was really, really hard for me coming out or being gay while I was in that house because it just wasn’t allowed”.
Joubert explains how this inner conflict with accepting who he really was negatively affected his music, “[In 2016] I was doing an Afrikaans record, and it just never worked because people just didn’t get me. I was not proud of my first album, so I begged [my label] to remove it from everywhere because I just wanted to start fresh. And the moment I started singing English music that I liked, people started reacting to it”.
This new-found confidence inspired him to audition for The Voice and, embracing his natural otherness, he wowed the judges with his rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Into You”. I commend him on his brave song selection and his face grows more serious. “I was always bullied in school and something that people always teased me on was that I sing like a girl because of my high range, and when you’re afraid, you hide”, he confides, “And I always felt so shy about that. But I remember before my audition I thought to myself I’m gonna use that to my advantage ‘cause no tea, no shade, there are not many male singers who can do, vocally, what I do, so I’m just gonna be me”.
Joubert explains how The Voice opened up doors, securing him a deal with Universal Music that spawned five radio chart-topping singles and really put him on the pop map. He tells me about another talent competition — SACOPA (South African Championship of Performing Arts) — that he entered in 2019 and subsequently won, sending him to Los Angeles, where he dominated the Best Contemporary Male Vocalist division and won Champion of the World, introducing him to international producers who have worked alongside greats like Michal Jackson and Lady Gaga.
Ironically, Joubert confesses that, even with all these successes, something was still missing for him, something that he only discovered in himself during lockdown with the release of his Flamboyant EP. “I’ve always felt that, even though I’m cis-male [identifies with the gender he was born into], I have a feminine energy, it’s just who I am, but I was still somehow not fully comfortable with myself. There was just this moment during lockdown, when I discovered that I need to tap into who I am and not be afraid of what people would say if I wear earrings or fish nets, or if I sing about sex,” he explains thoughtfully.
Lockdown forced Joubert to confront every part of himself, in regard to his sexuality, his self-expression, and his craft, allowing him to find liberation in being his truest self. There is a beautiful confidence in his smile as he concludes, “[After releasing Flamboyant] it felt like my career really stepped up. There was always something people didn’t get about me because I was hiding something, but now people are like, ‘Okay, we get you’”.