Bradley Kim is an indie-pop musician from Seattle with a unique story.
Although he discovered his passion for music during his late teenage years, he never thought life would lead him down this career path. Kim initially dreamt of playing football at the highest level, but as a closeted member of the LGBTQ community, he was fearful his sexuality would prevent those aspirations from coming to fruition.
Despite the hardships he had growing up, his athleticism earned him a Division 1 scholarship to the United States Air Force Academy for football where he played for two years, Unfortunately, severe injuries ended that journey early. Experiencing a lot of anguish, but also a great deal of joy and accomplishment from his success in athletics, Kim turned to music as a creative and emotional outlet.
His most recent single is called “High School,” a track he first debuted in August while opening for a Dermot Kenney show. Not shying away from being raw and vulnerable, the song’s lyrics portray the inward struggle that Kim experienced by being a closeted athlete and trying to fit in with the rest of his peers. He always thought his reputation and the dynamics between his family, friends, and teammates would be ruined if anyone knew the truth about him. The last line of the chorus directly addresses this idea of escaping from the mental prison that high school represented for him.
Instinct caught up with Kim to talk more about his recent release, coming out, and his future goals as a musical artist.
Hi, Bradley! Thank you for taking some time to chat with us. How has your latest single, “High School,” been received by listeners?
Really well. I have gotten DMs from a bunch of people, and it has resonated very well with my LGBTQ+ followers. I think a lot of people can relate to it because I feel at some point, whatever you identify as in the community, and even outside of the community, I feel like you can identify with having to pretend to be somebody to fit in. Whether it’s in high school or your place of work, it is a topic that a lot of people can relate to.
The track’s concept goes into your own high school experience and being closeted. Can you tell us what inspired you to write it?
I was sitting in the stairwell at the Air Force Academy in December right before we were leaving on Christmas break after a really, really long semester of COVID and not being able to leave our rooms and only being able to have contact with our roommates. So, I was just in the stairwell singing random covers because singing makes me feel better mentally, and I started to play a random chord progression. I turned my voice memos on in my iPhone and started freestyling to it. Most of it was gibberish, but I got a good melody out of it.
A couple of the lines that were in it, I had just randomly sung. I put together the verse, and at first, I didn’t really know what I was writing about, but when I looked down at the lyrics that were sitting on my phone, I was like, oh, shit, it can be about this. So, I kind of tailored the rest of the song to be about that. I did not specifically sit down wanting to write a song about my high school experience as a closeted gay man or athlete. It just happened. That is how I read into the lyrics that I was thinking, and I ran with it.
Reflecting on this time in your life, did you find the writing process to be therapeutic?
A little bit, yeah. It was therapeutic in the sense that it was kind of another form of distancing myself from my past self. It was another reminder of how far I have come. I was referring to a time that was only 5-6 years ago, and that’s not a long time, but so much has happened in my life since then. I have learned so much and grown so much as a person, so it is therapeutic to write about how, even though it’s kind of a sad perspective, it is nice to know that I am not in that place anymore.
Will there be an accompanying music video?
I did a little promotional music video on my Instagram, but unfortunately, due to my work circumstances, I am not able to shoot a full video right now. Maybe I can sometime in the future. I have a couple ideas as to what I would have done, but I am in Mississippi right now doing a couple months of training at Keesler Air Force Base.
In addition to being an active member of the U.S. Air Force, you initially wanted to pursue a career in football. What made you transition over to music?
I don’t think it was a clear-cut line where I was like, I want to do football, then I want to do music. I got into music around my junior year of high school, so the timing overlaps. It’s funny how it happened because I had this friend on the track team with me during my junior year. She was a senior, and I was a junior, and our high school prom was only for seniors. She asked me to go, and we are known to do these creative asks. She was a part of vocal jazz, was great at piano, and had a lot of investments in music. My family has a ukulele because we are Hawaiian, so I taught myself to play it, and I learned “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars. I sang it to her, which is ironic because I was singing “Count on Me” to a girl while pretending to be straight. That is a whole oxymoron in itself, but that is how I got into music.
It began as a joke, but I loved it so much that I wanted to keep doing it. So, I started posting little music clips on Instagram where I would do covers and new songs on the ukulele, and looking back, they are terrible, but I enjoyed it [laughs]. I think a few of my friends enjoyed it too, so I kept with it. I still wanted to do football at that point in time as well, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. A big part of that was just because I was scared, and I almost didn’t go. As a gay man, I felt like I didn’t belong in the military, but obviously, I feel differently now. I also wasn’t sure how my music aspirations were going to be affected by that.
I am glad that I went, and that is how I met one of my best friends. His name is Kaleb Naylor and his artist’s name is Nayl. If you look through my songs, I have eight or so songs with him. I met him singing in the stairwell my freshman year. I was really sad one day, and I heard his voice, so I went over to talk to him, and we started singing in the stairwell. I don’t remember how many months afterwards, but he taught himself how to produce, so we would make joke tracks, sing, and write some songs together.
At the end of my sophomore year, I went out to California to visit him. He had just graduated and was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. We decided to make a song and release it on Spotify and Apple Music, and honestly, that was when I started to discover how much I enjoyed the process of creating a song from scratch. It is so much different than just writing a song. Producing it, adding instruments, adding your vocals, and hearing the final product, I don’t even have words to explain it. I fell in love with it, and I don’t foresee myself stopping anytime soon.
Football is no longer on the table for you?
No. As far as my football career goes, I was just riddled with injuries. I went in and right of the bat, I tore my labrum and had to have shoulder surgery. After I came back, I then tore my Lisfranc tendon, which basically keeps the arch in your foot. It is an important tendon. Then a couple years ago, I broke my ankle and tore every horizontal ligament. Taking all that into consideration, I thought it was in my best interest to stop playing. I stayed with the team as a student coach, but due to factors beyond my control, I hung up my cleats.
Wise choice. When you were playing, you became the first active-duty football player in a service academy to come out. What made you feel like that was the right time to open up about your sexuality, and what was the reaction like from your family and peers?
My family actually knew about a year in advance. My oldest sister Lindsey, specifically, was the first one I came out to, then the rest of my family shortly after. My thought process was kind of twofold. Growing up, I didn’t really have a role model to look up to. I don’t know what other people’s experience are like growing up, but I do believe being gay or whatever you are is genetic and hereditary. I don’t know if people know from the start or know when they’re, like, 12, or whatever, but I was very good at suppressing myself. So, I didn’t fully come to terms with it until my middle to late high school timeframe.
Even at that point, looking at the current college and NFL football players, I didn’t really have a role model to look up to or be like, hey, he is out and gay and playing football at the highest level. The only person I can really think of was Michael Sam, and I think what he did was amazing, but I do think a part of his coming out was a little bit tainted. It wasn’t anything he did. I think it was just the timing and people did not receive it very well. I don’t remember exactly what happened with his career, but he kind of went away, and you don’t hear much about him anymore.
It was awesome to see that during the time, but simultaneously on my high school football team when we would be practicing or whatever, we would joke around saying, you’re gay, you’re like Michael Sam. That was another derogatory term to throw at somebody. It was another insult you could call somebody in that hyper masculine culture. It was positive in a sense, but at the same time, it was like, the people around me aren’t receiving this very well. What am I going do?
When I was 19 years old, over the course of that summer, I had come out to pretty much everybody that I was close to. I felt like I had a good enough support circle, and being in the position that I was in, being intersected with the military, the Asian community, the LGBTQ community, and the football community, I was like, I have a unique opportunity here to do some good. So, I talked with my family and friends telling them I was thinking about coming out to my teammates and how I think this could be a really cool opportunity because I have this platform to help reach a bunch of closeted youth who maybe think they can’t be who they are and do the things they want to do.
That’s why I came out, and it was received better than I could have ever expected. Obviously, you have Twitter trolls and whatever, but overall, it was received very well. My teammates were super supportive, and the next day was the most normal day ever in the best way possible. A couple people would come up and be like, ‘I saw what you did, that’s super cool,’ but for the most part, nobody even acknowledged it. It wasn’t a big deal. They treated me the same way they always treated me.
Circling back to your music, what do you hope listeners take away from it?
I feel like a lot of my songs are, I don’t want to say random, but they are kind of like pieces of what I am thinking about at that point in time. It’s like abstract art. Some of them have specific messages, like “High School.” It was a window into what it’s like being closeted and all the struggles because on a surface level, everybody kind of understands what it’s like having to pretend to be somebody else to keep that secret for so long, but you will never fully understand that until you go through it yourself. For a song like “High School,” that’s what I wanted to get across.
For me, songwriting is a way for me to impose my thoughts and feelings into a character I have created. I will sing from the first-person POV, but I will not actually be talking from the first-person POV. I will create these certain characters and go through these certain things. One of the songs that I released right before “High School” is about going through a bad breakup and being super petty about it. Like, I haven’t really gone through a breakup. I am in a very happy and loving relationship right now. I like to step outside of myself to write about different perspectives. I feel like everybody can take away something different from each song. I can have one intention writing a song, and somebody could take away something completely different.
What are some future goals you would like to accomplish with a music career?
I am very ambitious [laughs]. I don’t know when this will happen, but at some point, I hope to build enough of a following to go on tour and interact with people. I opened for Dermot Kennedy in Indianapolis in August, and it was so much fun. I am going to be chasing that feeling for the rest of my life. I want to play for people, whether it’s five, five thousand, or five million, I just want to play and connect with people through my music. That kind of connection is very intimate, and that’s what life is about. The connections you make with other people. Without those, what would life be? I don’t care how much money I make. I want to make enough to sustain myself through music, and it would be dope to not have to do another job that I don’t feel as passionately about. I want to play shows, write music, and keep making music for the rest of my life.
Can you talk more about your experience opening for Dermot Kennedy and how you landed that gig?
Words cannot describe the experience. Right before Dermot started going on tour, he put this thing on his Instagram being like, ‘hey, I have come a long way from where I started and I really struggled as a musician at first, but it wasn’t until people gave me a shot that I kind of blew up and started to get somewhere.’ So, he wanted to give an opportunity to local artists in different areas to be able to do the same thing. He wanted to give them a shot. I sent in an application and all the required materials, and a couple weeks went by, so I assumed I was not chosen.
I go about my business, and then on Saturday at around 6:00 p.m., I’m playing Xbox and I happened to check my email. There is an email from Dermot Kennedy’s tour manager saying, hey, you’re opening tomorrow night in Indianapolis! In the meantime, I am sitting in my hotel room in the middle of Georgia, two hours from the Atlanta airport. My jaw dropped. Like, I’m supposed to open in 26 hours in Indianapolis? I had nothing prepared. In the span of 30-45 minutes, I booked flights, picked an outfit, grabbed all my shit, and sprinted to the car to drive to the airport. I got in at 1:30 a.m., and my boyfriend Ty, he came with me, and thank God he did because he has family in Indy. We stayed at his sister’s house.
We got up around 8:00 a.m. to go get COVID tested, so I then spent a couple hours trying to figure out what songs I was going to sing. On a whim, I decided to do two songs that everybody probably was going to know, “I Like Me Better” by Lauv and Callum Scott’s rendition of “Dancing on My Own.” Then I also wanted to do a couple originals, so I decided to do “Don’t,” a song that is already out on all platforms, and then “High School.” I was super nervous the entire day, and when I got there, I was still not convinced it was real. I was 80 percent sure I was going to go there, and they were going to be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ I was fully convinced they were going to tell me to get out.
We got there, and I told the security person who I was and that I am opening for Dermot, she was like, cool, go back there. She didn’t even ask my name, but I went back, and people were just going about their business. Nobody even paid attention to me, and I was like, am I supposed to be back here? I spent 10 minutes walking around trying to figure out what’s happening. Then I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, Ty came up to me with a huge smile on his face. He’s like, come with me, and he brought me to my dressing room that had my name on it. So, obviously, we were in the right area. Then when I got to the soundcheck, as soon as I plugged in and started singing, I was like, oh my God. This is real.
I could not wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the night. Although I was super nervous all day, once I got up there, I was relaxed. I was talking to the crowd, and I knew that this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life. It was just such a good feeling. Just being up there, interacting with the crowd, singing my music, and this was the first time I had ever sang my own music live. To sing two songs that mean the world to me, and to hear the crowd sing it back to me, I almost started crying on stage.
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
I am really excited about a couple different projects that I have coming up. Not sure how soon I am going to get them out just because I want to do it the right way. There is one song called “Happy Alone” that I have been working on for a very long time with my friend Connor, and my friend Kaleb, who I previously mentioned. The song is not LGBTQ specific, but it’s about wanting to have that inner peace by yourself, rather than with somebody else. If you can’t find that for yourself, how are you going to get that through other people? Finding inner peace and not feeling satisfied or happy with yourself, even though you are in a relationship. It blends 5-6 genres together, so you be the judge on whether or not that works, but I think it does. I am hoping to get that out before the end of the year, and then there is another song called “My Space” that I am very excited for as well.