“A tapestry of queer possibility”: The music of Jared Milian

Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe

Jared Milian has come a long way. He’s got two albums out with a third on the way, and he’s graced several stages this year, from an intimate singer-songwriter showcase at Georgie’s to the main stage at Jersey Pride. But even when he’s alone on stage, belting out vivacious queer pop with high notes that could freeze time, he knows it’s not all about him.

“There’s really a whole world out there for so many queer people,” Milian says, “and they’re stuck in these circumstances that they just haven’t realized they can get out of. So I’m dedicated to making music, because that’s my weapon.”

The child of two musicians, Milian came early into his musical inheritance. You could argue that he participated in his first music video when he was four years old. That’s when his parents caught him on tape singing in the bathtub. According to family lore, they heard his nascent musical talent already emerging, and knew immediately that they had to sign him up for vocal lessons.

Now 34 years old, Milian grew up before Internet access became commonplace. Many parents were, to understate, not fully accepting of LGBTQ identities — but Milian’s parents have always loved and celebrated Milian for who he is. In fact, when hearing his parents talk so lovingly about their two gay sons, many comment that Milian and his brother are lucky to have such loving parents. Milian’s parents inevitably retort: “No, we’re lucky to have them.”

In his musical career, Milian never loses sight of this. “In my mind, music is really like a love letter to both my upbringing and to people who are not as — I don’t want to say lucky, because my parents will come for me,” Milian says with a laugh. “But I think that it’s a gateway to kids who weren’t as safe as I am.”

Even with a supportive family, Milian had his own struggles as a teenager and young adult. He describes it as a feeling of being controlled as teachers and other adult figures told him that he was too much. It’s a feeling that he knows many queer people experience as they try to find their own voices in a world that wants to drown them out.

“I was taught at a young age to embrace myself and love myself,” Milian says. “And I think what gave me pause was the disconnect with the rest of the world. Because all of the things that people criticize about me, I love. I love how loud I am. I love how much I talk. I love how obnoxious I am.”

Milian always knew he would make music. In his eighth-grade yearbook, each student described their aspirations for the future. His was: “to be a professional musician.” He performed in musical theater, worked on various stage productions in New York, and even worked for Disney.

As Milian grew in skill and self-confidence, he learned to embrace the very qualities that others had criticized in him when he was younger. Fully accepting himself led him to a realization about his career. “I wanted to be me on stage,” he says — not a fictional character or a persona, but his own self, speaking the truth of his experience.

That was important for Milian not just for himself, but for his community. “As queer people, we don’t always realize how underrepresented we are,” he says. “Yeah, I was listening to Beyonce and Britney Spears. And I was, you know, changing pronouns and songs, so nobody could figure out that I was gay.”

Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe

These days, more queer musicians are coming out and producing material that features their own experiences. Still, mainstream media from movies to music remains overwhelmingly straight. That’s a gap Milian hopes to help close as a queer pop musician and songwriter.

“Why can’t queer kids get pop music? Why can’t queer kids listen to fun, bubblegum, stupid stuff?” he says. “Where it’s always coming from is me trying to write the story from a queer perspective, me making sure that I’m speaking to my people.”

That queer perspective is refreshingly clear in Milian’s lyrics, and even more so in his music videos. His first music video, “Leaving You Behind,” depicts an experience that will feel achingly relatable to most LGBTQ folks. In the video, a young boy is shopping for clothes while his mother tries to steer him toward safer, more mundane options. Then the boy sees a crowd of “these vibrant, beautiful, colorful people,” as Milian describes them, queer, quirky, and gloriously alive.

Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe

“I wanted that video to represent queer possibility,” Milian says. That sense of possibility sharpens in the closing scene. After a dance scene that makes you want to climb into the screen and join in, Milian’s character leaves the boy with a colorful jacket. It’s a moment that mirrors the self-recognition that many LGBTQ people experience after their first encounter with unapologetic queer selfhood.

Milian brings that empowering, inclusive approach to his production process, too. He estimates that about 99 percent of the people involved in his music and music videos are queer-identified, from backup singers to mixers and just about everyone onscreen. The video of “Leave You Behind” was shot in Rebel Supply Co., a store in Asbury Park that’s owned by one of Milian’s friends.

“I want to be the type of person that if I win, I want all of us to win,” Milian says. “Like, if I succeed at something, I want all of my friends to be a part of it.”

And that’s ultimately what drives Milian — the memory of what it felt like to be young, scared, and alienated from himself, and the urge to create music that helps queer people feel heard. He’s had a lifetime of learning how to push out the negative voices and create the life he’s wanted since he was that little kid singing in the bathtub.

Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe
Jared Milian in photo by Nick Kiefe

“I’m so desperately attached to the light that burns inside of me because I want to shine it on other people,” Milian says. “Not because I want them to bask in my light. Because I want them to light their own….What it is for me, truthfully, is: I want to inspire you to believe in yourself, and then inspire the next person, and the next person, and then…we become part of this large tapestry of just queer possibility.”

Milian already knows it’s possible. He remembers going to Jersey Pride as a 16-year-old, looking at the stage, and telling his friends that he would perform on that stage someday.

A few months ago, he stood onstage just as he’d envisioned. Milian remembers looking out into the crowd of nearly 30,000 people. “You see like a little boy in a dress, or you see a little nonbinary kid, or you see a mom who maybe doesn’t fully get it yet, you know? Then, in the front row: “And then you see my parents — my dad and all four of them, just standing there, cheering me on with my brother and my brother’s partner of five years, and my aunts who are a lesbian couple, and this…we’re showing these people that it’s okay.”

It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream — and who knows? Somewhere out in the crowd, maybe it was the start of another.