Don’t Put Shamir in a Box

Studio 360

A year and a half ago, Shamir Baileywas a teenager making music in his North Las Vegas bedroom. Since then, he's been the toast of South by Southwest, seen his face on a Times Square Billboard, and heard one of his songs in an ad for Google's new smartwatch. Shamir, who records under his first name only, has a sound that's as refreshing as it is insanely catchy. On his first full-length album, Ratchet, he blends house music and disco with rap and pop. It's all held together with Shamir's infectious energy and his one-of-a-kind voice.

That voice, a high countertenor that's also his natural speaking range, distinguished Shamir from the other performers at the Las Vegas-area honky-tonks and country competitions where he performed as a teenager. "It was very off-putting for a lot of people," Shamir tells Kurt Andersen. "I didn't care; I just wanted to play what I love."

Since becoming a pop phenomenon, Shamir has fielded a lot of questions about his gender and sexuality, to which he recently replied with a sharply worded tweet:

"Pretty much my whole life I've never felt tethered to one gender," he says. His parents and friends were always accepting of his identity. "It was something instilled in me at an early age," he says. "Now that I think back, I don't know why I didn't get bullied, but I didn't."

Video: Shamir performs "On the Regular"