In his poignant music video, “Tilted Crown,” country recording artist Sam Williams comes out as gay (complete with an on-screen kiss with his boyfriend) and acknowledges some of the challenges of growing up as the closeted son of country music legend Hank Williams Jr.
Yes, Hank Williams Jr., who told a crowd in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2012 about President Obama: “We’ve got a Muslim for a president who hates cowboys, hates cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays, and we hate him!” Imagine being the gay son of that guy, AND the grandson of one of the original icons of country music, Hank Williams Sr.
Sam Williams, however, is serving up a gift of language far more tender and poetic in “Tilted Crown.”
In the lyrics of “Tilted Crown,” the 24-year-old artfully shares the metaphoric weight he’s carried as a member of his storied music family. The first lines of the song set the stage for the listener as our hero sits down in an empty theater to watch tender moments reenacted from his own life.
The immaculate misconception of my grand gilded cage
Poses a few peculiar questions that fill me with resilient rage
Williams’s soulful, evocative vocals sweep across the steel guitar-driven soundscape as episodes of his childhood play out onstage. An older man (meant to represent his famous father to some degree) snatches a toy sword and crown from the boy and replaces them with a cowboy hat. Then the father figure returns sitting the boy down for guitar lessons with the intent that young Sam is to carry on the family’s musical legacy.
All the grace and the shame that came with the name
That I got handed down
Keep me walking around ’til the trumpets sound
Halo holding up…my tilted crown
Near the end of the video, Williams watches his younger self share a kiss with his real-life boyfriend. He credits director duo Alexa and Stephen Kinigopoulos with the idea to include a gay kiss to tell the fullness of his life story. Initially, he wasn’t sure if this was the right project for the kiss, but then had a change of heart: “I felt like I was promoting invisibility, like I wasn’t being visible and wasn’t being myself. And I just thought it was the perfect opportunity to just show who I was.”
In an upcoming interview with Apple Music’s Proud Radio, Williams tells host Hunter Kelly, “I identify as gay, and I’ve never said that to anybody else. I mean, people at my label know and people in my personal life know, but this is the first time that I’ve ever been, besides a show or two, that I’ve ever been this public about it. And it is scary, but it feels good.”
Williams describes growing up closeted in Paris, Tennessee, as “exhaustive” trying to hide who he was and ‘fit in’ with other kids. And he hopes his coming out can help other small-town kids who may be struggling in the closet.
“If I was a kid, and I was younger, and I saw somebody like myself doing an interview like this and just saying that, ‘This is who I am and I’m proud to be who I am,’ that it would have been impactful for me,” says Williams. “So I think at the end of the day, that’s one of the most important reasons why I’m being so open.”
Williams also explains why it was important to include an aspect of his late sister, Katie, in the music video. The sibling tragically died in a car accident in June 2020 just a few months after Williams had opened up to her about his sexuality.
“I told her a few months before then — in Alabama of all places — on the back of a four-wheeler,” says the singer. “We were driving on a four-wheeler about to go eat somewhere, and I just felt called to. I just felt like I had to – like I was hiding so much.”
“I think that she could see pain that I was in from hiding that and just had no idea,” he adds. “And I was like, ‘There’s been some situations that have made me uncomfortable and I just want you to know.’ And I could just see that there was such a pain there of not knowing.”
During the Proud Radio chat, Williams does clarify that the older man in the video is meant to be more symbolic than specific to his dad. “My relationship with my dad wasn’t really like that at all,” says young Williams. “He didn’t push me to be in music. He pushed me go to hunting, I do have to give him that. He did push me to go hunting. I just wanted to clear that up…It’s a little bit hard for me to watch because it’s just so honest, and it just brings back so much, and it’s all there on the surface.”
Williams joins several other country music artists – including Ty Herndon, Chely Wright, TJ Osborne, Brandi Carlile, Cameron Hawthorn, Billy Gilman, and Hayden Joseph – who’ve busted down the closet door and helped to make country music industry a bit more inclusive.
“Tilted Crown” is part of a newly-released deluxe edition of his debut album titled, Glasshouse Children: Tilted Crown, available everywhere now.