Justin Tranter was once best known as the frontman of Lady Gaga-championed punk-glam New Yorkers Semi Precious Weapons, but in recent years he’s become a songwriting superstar, co-penning massive hits like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” and multiple tracks for Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, and Selena Gomez. He’s also a tireless advocate for LGBTQ rights — for instance, this past weekend he raised $123,000 at the GLAAD Media Awards by auctioning off a private writing and recording session. So when accepting his Songwriter of the Year honor at the 65th annual BMI Pop Awards, held Tuesday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, he made sure to deliver a message of inclusivity during his brief but passionate speech.
“I’m gonna shut up real quick, I promise; I know we’re not supposed to talk,” Tranter joked, while his proud parents and fellow openly gay songwriter Barry Manilow (who received a special lifetime achievement award Tuesday) looked on. “But I’m an activist, so I cannot be near a microphone without doing some sort of activism. Everyone in this room: This [award] is in my hand. Barry Manilow got the Icon Award. Put more LGBTQ people in your sessions, please!”
Tranter also gave a shoutout to his frequent writing partner Julia Michaels, who was also recognized by BMI at Tuesday’s ceremony, saying, “Julia Michaels is a Latina woman! Put more women, and put more women of color, in your sessions! And do it now!”
Earlier on the BMI Pop Awards’ red carpet, Tranter told the Press Association that he was proud to share the night with Manilow, who came out at age 73 just last month. “It’s so amazing he’s being honored this year right after he came out of the closet. To see an icon like him finally embrace his truth publicly… It’s really special for me,” Tranter said.
— Broadcast Music Inc. (@bmi) May 9, 2017
Later on Instagram, Tranter elaborated: “Me and Barry are proof that LGBTQ people’s ideas are mainstream and valuable. And my songwife @imjmichaels who cowrote 3 of the 4 songs I won for last night, is proof that the ideas of young women, and even more specifically young women of color, are valuable and mainstream. So to all the young underdogs who feel like it’s impossible to succeed in a system stacked against you, I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but I hope that me, Barry and Julia are the proof you need to know that it’s possible. Don’t give up. Ever.”
Tuesday’s BMI event was hardly the first occasion that Tranter, a member of GLAAD’s National Board of Directors, had spoken out about inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance. Recently he took to Instagram to protest sexism in the songwriting world, and earlier this year he told Billboard, “I feel like there is a lot of homophobia and misogyny in the music business, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve broken down a lot of those doors. I’ve had the experience of going through homophobia in my work, and I can share my experiences so future generations don’t have to deal with what I’ve dealt with.”
Below, check out Tranter’s 2014 Yahoo Music interview (with Semi Precious Weapons bassist and future DNCE member Cole Whittle doodling in the background), in which he discussed the major-label legal struggles that sidelined his recording career for four years and hinted at his exciting collaborations to come. For a complete list of BMI Pop Awards winners, visit bmi.com.