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Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds talks privilege, LGBTQ rights, mental health, and why ‘society is broken’

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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Imagine Dragons were the most successful rock group of the past 10 years, scoring the top three rock radio hits of the decade with "Believer," "Thunder," and "Radioactive.” The band is on hiatus right now, with frontman Dan Reynolds telling Yahoo Entertainment, “I've been on the road for 10 years. Long story short, music will obviously be a part of my future. Imagine Dragons will carry on. We'll tour. But as of right now, I'm trying to take some time off.”

But Reynolds isn’t taking time off from using his position of privilege for good, speaking out about various important issues — like mental health, at-risk LBGTQ youth in the Mormon community, and the autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis, which he has lived with for the past “seven or eight years.”

“I want to emphasize it's really not me, being, like, ‘hero Dan’ ... My role is I'm a really privileged rock-star guy who's been given this incredible life and platform; I'm cisgender and I'm heterosexual, so I have all this privilege and platform. The question is, when you have that, what are you doing? … More than anything, I'd say people of privilege need to really listen and step back and be part of the dialogue.”

Ironically, ankylosing spondylitis, or AS, nearly halted Reynolds’s career before he had a chance to be in this position of privilege. “When it started for me, I had a lot of pain in my SI joints, my back, and it had no cause or reason,” he recalls. “It got to the point where it was really debilitating, and it was right when the band was starting. We were unsigned and really trying to hustle, living on the road, and then in an excruciating amount of pain. It was a really scary time period for me. … There were shows where I couldn't move onstage; I was totally standing next to a microphone and not moving at all. I thought that was the end of the band. I really thought, ‘This is it for me,’ because no doctor could figure it out. The pain was just getting worse, and I couldn't do what I loved and what I wanted to do.”

Thankfully, after two frustrating years, a rheumatologist finally diagnosed Reynolds with AS and put the singer, now age 32, on a treatment plan. “It really saved my life, and saved my career,” he says. Now his goal is to raise awareness with his Monster Pain in the AS campaign, so that others don’t have to suffer like he did.

Reynolds has also “struggled with depression and anxiety since [he] was a teenager,” so he’s part of that national conversation as well. He makes the important point that Imagine Dragons’ success didn’t “cure” his mental health issues, just as fame and fortune seemingly didn’t ultimately help Chris Cornell or Chester Bennington. “I can only speak for myself, in saying that nothing has changed for me with the fame or money or success,” Reynolds notes. “When I realized a lot of my dreams that I had since I was a little kid, you think, ‘This is going to bring me ultimate happiness,’ and it's just not the case. Even today, it's a lifelong battle for me with my health, with mental health. … Depression it can be a long, foggy, numb existence. You have to be up for a fight.

“Mental health is such a part of Imagine Dragons and who we are,” he stresses. “That's what Imagine Dragons is about, is to create a safe space for people to be themselves, to love who they want to love, to express themselves how they want openly, to feel like there's a community of people who are dealing with depression and they can talk to each other. That is everything for me. It's much more than the music. It's about a community.”

And that brings us to the LoveLoud Foundation, which Reynolds, who was raised Mormon, launched in 2017 with the mission of bringing communities together to celebrate individuality and support LGBTQ youth. Reynolds often uses his time in the spotlight to advocate for LGBTQ rights, like when he devoted his band’s acceptance speech for the Top Rock Artist award at last year’s Billboard Music Awards to speak out against conversion therapy.

“I grew up in a very conservative family, Mormon, and had a lot of friends who were Mormon and LGBTQ and that put them in a really difficult spot from an early age,” Reynolds explains. “Having your parents or your church leaders tell you that your innate sense of loving is incorrect or flawed, that really sets a kid off on a difficult path. Then we look at these statistics that are showing us that LGBTQ youth who are not accepted in their home or community are eight times more likely to take their life. And we wonder why? If someone had told me from a very young age that my innate sense to love was flawed, it would've really messed me up.

“Our LGBTQ are not broken. Society is broken. Our culture is broken. That takes everybody to get involved to fix it. It takes people of privilege, people with platforms, to speak up and talk about it,” Reynolds continues. “For me, it takes very little effort. I'm not looking to take up space in the community. What I'm looking to do is to raise awareness and to help our youth: to help people like my friends who didn't come out until they were in their twenties, and that was a still a super-difficult process for them just because of their faith or their community and not feeling like it was a safe space for them.”

Dan Reynolds performs at the 2019 LoveLoud Festival. (Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)
Dan Reynolds performs at the 2019 LoveLoud Festival. (Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

Reynolds admits that has caught some flak from the Mormon community (“Of course, there are some letters that I'll get or blogs that will be like, ‘Dan Reynolds is leading Christians to hell’ or something”) but he says “the majority of people of orthodox faith in today's culture have actually surprisingly been very supportive and have come out and said, ‘You know what? This is something that we need to work on, or that we're wrong about, or that I need to see differently.’

“I think that we live in a time when people are starting to understand that this is not a choice and this is the core principle of most orthodox faith, which is to love. When you're not loving, you're not even practicing the most core principle of your faith…. You must accept and love 100 percent. That conversation is, ‘I love you.’ It's not ‘I love you, but…’ It's not, ‘I love you, and I have these other thoughts that I need to tell you about.’ The second you do that, you're not accepting. That is not what love looks like. Love is complete. It's 100 percent. It's all-encompassing. It doesn't involve what your opinions or thoughts are or what you were raised and told about. It just goes, ‘I love you,’ and that's it.”

As for whether Reynolds still identifies as Mormon himself, he thoughtfully answers, “I would call myself a unique Mormon. I'm more a spiritual person than I think aligned with anything specifically, but anyone who grew up Mormon knows that Mormonism is kind of like a culture. It's part of my identity. It's part of who I am. Do I abide by all of it or follow every single thing or believe every single thing? No. Do I believe that there's a God? No, some days not. Some days I do. My spirituality is moving. It's always changing and that's I prefer it to be, rather than be set in some immovable place.”

Reynolds isn’t yet endorsing a specific candidate in the upcoming presidential election (though he says he’s “not Republican” and leans “more liberal”), but says he does plan to get involved this year. “I think all artists should be involved politically in some way,” he says. “I know that so many people argue and say, ‘I don't want to hear about politics. If I wanted to hear that, blah blah blah….’ I just think, ‘No, not in [2020].’ I think we need to speak up and hopefully have productive dialogue. … I think the obvious answer is everybody needs to speak up more. We live in a time right now where we are very divided as a nation, and in order to get past divides, I think people need to listen. Listen, and then speak, and then listen. We have a lot of people speaking, for sure, but not a lot of listening.”

Watch Dan Reynolds’s full, inspiring Yahoo Entertainment interview below.

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