Introducing: Leland

Multi-faceted performer Leland talks new music, Drag Race, and the key to collaboration

Brett McLaughlin, known better to the world as Leland, is a constant presence in the worlds of pop music and pop culture in general. Not including his solo work, he has racked up well over 100 songwriting and producer credits over the 12 years he has been active in the industry, collaborating with fresh faces like Daya and Carlie Hanson as well as household names like Selena Gomez and Ellie Goulding. He is most known for his work with good friend Troye Sivan, as well as on RuPaul’s Drag Race as a longtime judge and as the show’s resident music guru. Despite his long list of collaborations across TV, film, and music, he is a solo artist in his own right, with tracks like “Middle Of A Heartbreak” and “Another Lover” setting the tone for his solo material. His newest release, “Bad At Letting Go,” is available now on streaming services.

Based on multiple social media posts showing Leland and Sivan in the studio, the pair are hard at work on Sivan’s anticipated new body of work. However, an inquiry into the matter, to address the elephant in the room, was cleverly deflected by the former. “We’re just working on a children’s book,” joked Leland. “I mean… no new music really.” Leland does, in fact, have multiple credits on both of Sivan’s studio albums as well as multiple EPs, and, along with pop diva Kim Petras, served as the opening act for Sivan’s “Bloom Tour” in 2018. The dynamic duo maintains a consistent and healthy working relationship, while also being the closest of friends. “When Troye is ready to share, all details will be revealed,” said Leland. “It’s very special.”

“This song is about just finding the nearest dancefloor you can process some deep shit,” said Leland, about his new song “Bad At Letting Go.” The lyrics in the chorus show Leland allowing his vices to take over in the hopes of numbing the pain, but to no avail; “Drinks are hitting hard but I can feel everything / It’s like lighting a match that you don’t ever throw / I’m good at getting attached and bad at letting go.”

“Because I’m gay, I have absolutely cried on a dancefloor and I am not ashamed of that,” he said. “That has always been a safe space for me, whether it’s Play Dance Bar in Nashville, which was my gay bar from when I was 18-21, or in New Orleans when I would sneak off during high school and say I was going to see Gavin Degraw at the Hard Rock Café, which I would, and then I would go to the gay bar. These were places for me to process things that were going on in my life that I maybe didn’t feel comfortable sharing with someone right away, but I felt a connective spirit in a place like that.”

On the bold pop anthem, Leland sings of relationships that did not go the way he envisioned, and how he copes with the after-effects. “I’ve had a few significant relationships that shaped how I approach the next relationship,” he said. “When I’ve really fallen hard for someone, like, fallen in love, I have not been the one to decide that that relationship is ending. And that is really tough because now I’m a little cautious to jump right in. This song really captures the moment when the relationship has ended, but how it doesn’t really feel real until you tell someone. Until you call your best friend or tell your parents. And also, the person you would normally go through this with is your significant other that is no longer there.”

As both a songwriter and performer, Leland has developed the intuition to know what songs are meant for him versus songs meant for someone else. “Bad At Letting Go” was one he knew he had to keep. “This one just felt like it checked all of the boxes of what I love as far as influences,” he said, citing English legends Tears For Fears as inspiration for the overall feel. “This song felt very inspired, it came very easy. It started with that piano riff… and I just wanted to come up with a really fun moment where when an audience hears that piano riff, they lose their mind. That they know immediately what song it is and what they are in for. I really love stamping a song with an identifiable characteristic right from the beginning so that you know what is about to happen. I like leaving a session knowing that a song has an identity and character.”

While “Bad At Letting Go” is an example of a song that stayed with him, Leland is not selfish with his catalog. “I’m really open to people recording my songs,” he said. “I am not precious about that. I love the idea of someone hearing one of my songs and saying, ‘I can hear myself singing that.’ I want songs to have the furthest reach possible, whether that is with me or with someone like Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, or Ava Max. You never know what experience will come, who you’ll meet, or where a song could thrive.” He has also written and produced music for other mediums, such as the big screen film Boy Erased and the Netflix show Love, Victor, the latter of which he describes as a “wonderful opportunity to bring in, and pay, so many queer collaborators and artists that I love.” “I love going into a room, a studio, and having a blank canvas, creating something out of scratch,” he said, on the process of going into these types of projects. “But I also love having parameters. I love a prompt, a few sentences, a reference, a playlist, a ‘This is where our mindset is,” or a ‘Here’s an artist we want to target.’”

He has also worked extensively on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he says is the best job in the world. “My life has changed so much for the better,” he said on his involvement in the franchise. “It has brought out parts in me, as a songwriter, that I, comedically, have wanted to put into music. That I have wanted to express. I love comedy… I grew up watching shows like Saturday Night Live, All That, and Mad TV. Things that really shaped me. That I love and adore. I wanted to create things that have comedic fibers in them.”

His comedic talents are front and center in his contributions to the many songs of the Drag Race catalog, including “Clapback” and “Phenomenon.” The songs are loud, brash, and sassy, perfectly encapsulating the vibe of RuPaul himself, the show, and all its competitors. On a grander scale, he was largely responsible for the Moulin Ru: The Rusical special from season 14 of Drag Race, composing the music, playing a key role in the mock production, and producing the episode, which received critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. His dedication to the LGBTQIA+ community led to his inclusion in Spotify’s year-round GLOW initiative, which highlights and showcases artists within the community. “it’s not just a pride playlist in June or a pride show,” he said. “It’s global support on major playlists.”

Well over a decade into his career, Leland has worked with an array of talent and has had incredible success, but shows no signs of slowing down. “I have had many different chapters of being a collaborator,” he said. “I worked my way up from the bottom not knowing anyone in LA. Now, 12 years later, looking at a playlist of songs I’ve been a part of, I can’t believe it. In order to be a good collaborator, I think you really need to adapt to what the room needs. I quickly learned that you don’t go into a songwriting session with the mindset of, ‘If we don’t write the radio single, today is a failure.’ That is not the point of collaborating, of being in a room and connecting with someone. You’re not trying to squeeze a dollar out of it, you’re trying to be a vehicle for someone to say what they want to say. Whether you’re trying to find a song that can live on the radio, or if we’re writing a song about what you’re feeling today… screw the radio, screw everything else. We are here to get this feeling out no matter how it comes out.”

You can stream “Bad At Letting Go” and the rest of Leland’s discography on Spotify.