- Asela Lee Kemper
The Music Continues: Why You Need to Support Jake Zyrus
When Netflix added the musical drama Glee to its platform, I couldn’t help but watch it again. I used to watch Glee when I was still in high school and spent time in choir with friends. As I scanned through each season, the one episode I rewatched was the one that introduced the character Sunshine, played by Jake Zyrus in his first prime TV appearance. In pigtails and babyface, he belts out Lady Gaga’s song “Telephone” until the character Rachel, played by actress Lea Michelle, join for a short yet memorable duet in the school bathroom.
Zyrus first rose to the spotlight through his YouTube covers. His cover of “Note To God” charted at number forty-four on Billboard Hot 100. His musical talent led him to duet with well-known artists such as David Foster and Andrea Bocelli, and appear on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Winfrey dubbed him “the Most Talented Singer in the World.” In 2014, Zyrus surprised the world when he came out as a trans man on Winfrey’s show.
In 2018, Zyrus released his first English single since coming out as trans. “Diamond” is a ballad of survival and self-love. He once told Billboard that he was inspired by singer Shawn Mendes and his single “In My Blood,” which has a similar message and tone. Coincidentally, Mendes worked on “In My Blood” with trans songwriter Teddy Geiger. A year later, “Diamond” was included in his album Evolution, which recounts his self-discovery in an emotional, warm pop sound. “Diamond” reintroduces Zyrus as a singer, but his music now speaks his truth and shows how much he has grown as an artist. Today, we look back on “Diamond” and why the song’s message holds importance now more than ever.
The song opens with a soft electric guitar before Zyrus comes in with his tenor tone:
I have to admit I am in the rough
Try to forget but it's just so tough, yeah
Hungry for peace and whenever I ease it
The more it just brings me down, no, no
But I still hang on
What makes this part of the verse unique is that while the lyrics are simple, he is straightforward with his feelings and where his mind is at this time. He doesn’t give a flowery statement like ‘yeah, I had a hard time but now I’m okay!’ Instead, he starts “Diamond” as if he is speaking directly to a close friend about how diamonds are a reflection of himself. His second verse continues:
People say they'll hear you
But they don't really understand
It's really so exhausting
They're tryna reach out for someone's hand
Keep on tellin' me it gets better
It's hard to see when all I get is bad weather, no
But I still hang on
This can also be a call to his experience as a trans man. During an interview with Billboard back in 2018, Zyrus acknowledged that he knew his place in the industry; he understood he would have a difficult time finding the same success he had before he transitioned. Zyrus was also open about his Filipino community having a harder time accepting him, evident from Esquire PH making fun of Zyrus’ name (they later apologized).
Zyrus also dealt with continuous misgendering and news writers constantly bringing up his dead name. Some of these comments can still be found under the official music video for “Diamond.” While Zyrus already expected positive and negative responses to his transition, based on his interview with Paper Magazine in 2017, it doesn’t change who he is and his passion for music. As the conversation on gender and identity change progresses, and the trans community gains more representation, such as with the recent coming out of Oscar-nominated Umbrella Academy star Elliot Page, Zyrus’ impact in both music and community shouldn’t be left behind.
Despite the mixed response he initially received when he came out, Zyrus feels more at peace with himself. Now, he continues to make music and is engaged to his longtime-girlfriend, Shyre Aquino. When he spoke with Star Sides: Lifestyle last year about his upcoming album and his transition, Zyrus opened up that, mentally and emotionally, he was at peace. He was happy to be able to go out and be who he is without thinking about how other people perceive him.
Zyrus is a living example of perseverance when life gets extremely rough. There are a couple of lines that tie well with the chorus towards the end:
Hunt for me, press on me
I don't mind seeing it comin' my way
As the song draws into a close, Zyrus ends with a chorus almost as a reminder to himself that he will reach a place where he is happy:
For if there's no pressure there'll be no diamonds
So I don't mind it comin' my way, no
I'm tired of putting out the fire
Freedom is all I desire
If there's no pressure there'll be no diamonds
I know I will be a diamond
Zyrus has seen success from a young age, whether from singing on The Oprah Winfrey Show or showcasing his acting on shows like Glee. Despite experiencing harmful misgendering and anti-trans conversation after coming out as a trans man, he sees how far he has come. Zyrus has emerged as a stronger man. In the end, he truly shines as a diamond.
Check out Zyrus on Twitter and Instagram and play his music on Spotify.
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Asela L. Kemper
Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Co-Editor
Asela holds a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Emerging Media & Digital Arts from Southern Oregon University. She holds many positions including poetry reader for Timberline Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Marías at Sampaguitas, Silk Club: QUIET!, Reclamation Mag and No Tender Fences. Asela uses her passion for creative writing to open conversations on diversity and identity in literature, engage and uplift underrepresented Asian American artists. She resides in Oregon, USA with her family.