By Belinda Huang
Stewart Taylor is from Mars—or at least that’s what he likes telling people. And at first glance, he does look like someone from out of this world. Whether he is sporting his favorite flamboyant leggings, wearing his signature tinted shades, or catching someone’s eye with his sparkling spike earpiece, he never fails to funnel curious glances his way. He is a glam pop and R&B singer, dancer, and entertainer with big dreams to broadcast a worldwide anthem of empowerment and hope. Behind the bold appearance, however, lies one of the biggest, most tender hearts of people I have met. Stewart is so much more than the image he puts forward—he is a brave warrior and conqueror—and his story is one of victory and “liberation” over bullying through his journey of self-acceptance and discovery.
With the release of his first EP this March, he is beginning to tell his story with the launch of his single, “Liberation.” The song and accompanying music video have been perking the ears of listeners from children to adults to even our governor Charlie Baker. It has been featured on Channel 7’s Urban Update and is starting to pick up more and more attention for the message it carries.
These big first strides, however, did not come at an easy price. They are the result of a lifetime’s worth of perseverance, resilience and bravery. Stewart’s history is riddled with experiences from a painful childhood and adolescence because of intense bullying, but now his darkest days are coming to light through his music. He says that writing songs was one of his primary ways of coping with the daily harassment, and a lot of the songs he wrote at that time became fertilizer for “Liberation.”
“If I didn’t have my music, my songwriting, and the shows that I was in, I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily made it through.”
“It was really difficult [to deal with all of the bullying at such a young age]. I want to cry even talking about it now because those are things you never forget, especially when you’re such a young kid at 13 or 14 and you’re just trying to be a good person and do what you believe in and what you love,” he said. “The only way I could internalize it was let myself cry first, and then I would write about it. I ended up writing tons and tons of songs, and that was my therapy. If I didn’t have my music, my songwriting, [or] the shows that I was in, I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily made it through.”
Even at such a young age, Stewart knew that he wanted to be star. He began singing and writing songs at four years old, and by the time he was seven, his mom bought him his first songwriting journal.
“You just get a calling really early on in life sometimes, and I definitely got mine. Especially by age seven, I was writing songs and recording them on cassettes and performing them for joggers while waiting for the bus to pick me up for school,” said Stewart.
However, the musical gift that began putting him into spotlight ironically became the reason for his torment as he grew older. As his peers took notice of him, jealousy stirred and he would be called names like “hotshot”. The bullying started in the fifth grade and progressively worsened. Many kids he thought were his friends suddenly weren’t his friends anymore, and they started turning on him because of his dream. At the epitome of the bullying, the police had to be involved because of threats that were being made.
“I was walking through the halls everyday in middle school and [kids from] every single grade were screaming words like “faggot” and other obscenities. And then I would go home and have people on the Internet harassing me and sending me threatening messages,” Stewart recounted. “It got really, really bad to the point where my mom had to get the police involved because kids were saying, ‘If I see you walking around town I’m going to kick the sh*t out of you,’ and saying things like ‘That faggot better run or that faggot’s going down.’ One of the worst things I heard, and they didn’t know I was in earshot, was ‘I want to crack that faggot’s skull,’ and I didn’t even know these people.”
Stewart learned at a young age the importance of not letting your life and your identity be determined by your circumstances and reputation. Through a long and harrowing journey, he came to his own conclusions and won a daily battle to keep pressing forward. He says that there were some very dark times where suicide seemed like an attractive option, but ultimately, his passion and the people that loved him kept him going.
Today, Stewart is turning his story into his platform. He likes to call the demons of his past “fuel to his fire,” and he has a lot of reason to amplify his message of hope and victory. His music is giving a voice to those who are going through the same experiences he had and shining a beacon of light that there is a way out.
“One of the best things I’ve heard back from releasing my song and video is that it helped a girl come out to her friends in high school. It’s helped people who are struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies and giving them hope,” he said. “It’s one of the most rewarded aspects of being an artist when I hear about things like that. That’s why I do what I do and why I will keep doing what I do to help people.”
The self-titled EP was co-produced by Berklee alumnus Axel Ulfson and Berklee student John Silos, who was also the co-writer on “Liberation.” Stewart had Betty Who’s team involved as well, with Mike Roberts mixing and Chris Garanger mastering. Boston-based director Vassili Shields produced the video for “Liberation,” and various scenes make references to his bullying experiences, such as the straightjacket he wears being covered with names he used to be called.
Stewart will be graduating this spring and is planning to move to Los Angeles to take the next steps in reaching his goals. He now commands who he chooses to believe he is, and I love him for that. He is amazing for learning to love others through experiences of not being loved by others, and he is a firm believer of accepting yourself and loving yourself before you can love or accept others.
“I’m just going to be happy with who I am because I deserve to be accepting of who I am.”
“I’m just going to be happy with who I am because I deserve to be accepting of who I am,” he said. “That changed me as a person because it’s made me so much more accepting of people on all different walks of life and of people who aren’t like me.”
At the end of the day, it’s the heart behind the music that will make the difference—and Stewart has more than enough heart.