Bradley Kim is an indie-pop musician from Seattle with a story unlike anyone else’s. A jack-of-all-trades, Bradley is a musician and the first openly LGBTQ Division 1 athlete at a service academy. With a smile as bright as his sunny disposition, the personable 22-year-old sat down with EnVi over Zoom to talk about his recent release, coming out, and believe it or not, a little TV, too.
From A Suburb in Seattle
Bradley spent his early years in a suburb just outside of Seattle—in his own words, an affluent, privileged neighborhood. And by all accounts, he had a relatively normal childhood, spending his time playing all sorts of sports before setting his sights on playing high-level football one day. “I wanted to play sports my entire life, and my siblings played sports. I was so focused on football, track, basketball.”
It wasn’t until prom rolled around toward the end of his junior year in high school that he sang his first cover. With a sheepish laugh, Bradley recounts the story. “One of my really good friends asked me to go to prom with her. She was really into music—she played the piano, was in the jazz band.” The “promposal” is a tradition of US high schools, and he wanted to do something unique for her. “I picked up the family uke [ukulele] and taught myself to play.” He let out another laugh when asked what song he played for her for the promposal—it was Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me.” That was the first time he’d ever dabbled in music; the rest is history.
Art, Athletics & Air Force
The ukulele “promposal” was somewhat of a gateway drug for Bradley. After that, he set up an Instagram for his covers, his early audience comprised primarily his friends and family. Music didn’t become a serious part of his life until he started at the United States Air Force Academy, where he was on a D1 football scholarship.
In his freshman year, Bradley met Kaleb Naylor, known professionally as nayl. He’d encountered him singing with a guitar in a stairwell and decided, at that moment, that they’d be best friends. Over five months, Bradley visited that stairwell every night for impromptu jam sessions with Kaleb and a few more friends. As Kaleb began to dabble in producing, naturally, Bradley dabbled along with him. “After we went through the entire process of “The Middle,” I was like, damn, I want to do this for the rest of my life,” Bradley said. “That’s when I started taking it the most seriously.”
A Day in the Life
Though he’s recently moved to Georgia with his boyfriend, Bradley spoke to us over Zoom from swampy Mississippi, where he was on an assignment—with a sleepy grin and a hand running over his face, he says he got up at four in the morning that day.
Despite the shift in location for the next few months, Bradley is a creature of habit. “I’ll get up around five-fifteen, five-thirty. I have to have morning workouts for my mental health.” After that, it’s a fairly regular, relatable routine: he goes to work, gets home in the early evening, makes dinner, and winds down watching TV or playing Xbox with his boyfriend. “We just finished Clickbait,” he shares, and with an excited gasp, “The Morning Show is coming back soon!” If it’s not one of those shows, though, you can catch Bradley watching How I Met Your Mother, a comfort show of his. “I’ll know the exact episode with just one line.”
“Some days I don’t do music at all,” Bradley admits, “because I don’t like to force myself to be creative when I don’t feel creative. There are some weeks when I don’t pick up my guitar at all.” Bradley’s songwriting process is honest, organic. Writing solo, for the most part, he messes around on his guitar and records on his iPhone, then sends those recordings to one of the few friends he produces with. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Not every song can be a hit.”
Trusting the Process
“I’ve always been a lover of music,” Bradley said when asked about his relationship to music. “My exposure to music was just like everyone else’s,” he said with a slight shrug, “I just listen and belt along to songs alone in my car.”
These days, Bradley’s listening to a handful of artists that he’s promised you probably haven’t heard of. In true Gen Z fashion, Bradley paused to flip through his phone and pull up his Spotify. His top artist is American singer-songwriter Chelsea Cutler, but he sang praises of Motel 7 (“you need to check them out,” he gushed, “they’re one of my no-skips,”), Aries, and Blake Rose.
“My music is literally just random,” he explained as he scrolled through his library. “It’s kinda hard to pinpoint what it is. When I look for music to listen to, I look for a feeling.”
A Blend of Identities
Bradley is a man of many identities–an athlete, musician, part of the US Air Force, Korean-Hawaiian-German, and openly gay. But each of these intersectionalities brings something unique to how Bradley sees the world around him. “It’s opened my mind to see a lot of perspectives, views, backgrounds, to see where everybody comes from. Being a part of all of those communities makes me want to sit back and listen,” Bradley said. “It’s kind of humbling because it makes me realize there’s a lot more to learn. I have to approach everything, even when I don’t want to, with an open mind.”
Bradley speaks about his life experience with a unique maturity, especially when discussing his privilege. “I was not exposed to a lot of the bad stuff that other people were exposed to growing up,” he said, alluding to the affluent community he grew up in. “It made me want to learn more about everybody.” Some of that learning included becoming more aware of the trans community, and specifically, trans members of the military and veterans. He shared that he attended a talk by activist Laila Ireland at the Air Force Academy, someone he now refers to as a friend.
Representation and Following Your Dreams
As an out athlete and musician of color, Bradley is breaking a lot of barriers and expectations—and that’s part of why he decided to publicly come out when he played football at the Academy in 2018. “Growing up I didn’t have a lot of role models around me. I think the only out football player I heard about was Michael Sam,” Bradley said. “It was amazing he came out, and props to him, but a lot of it was tainted because it wasn’t as well-received as I would have liked. He got pushed to the side. People I went to high school with would joke about it.”
The journey to Bradley’s public coming out was not one without its challenges and struggles. “The first person I came out to was my oldest sister,” Bradley shared, in his senior year of high school. “I called her and I started bawling my eyes out.” He was getting into fights with his parents, resisting his scholarship to play football at the Academy solely because he didn’t want to put himself through four more years being closeted.
Eventually, he realized that he had the potential platform to affect a lot of people if he came out. “I posted on all socials that I had, and one of my biggest things was that I know how it feels to be closeted, and I don’t want anyone’s sexuality to be the reason they don’t pursue what they want,” Bradley said. Along with the announcement, he left his email and his direct messages open, and it’s no exaggeration to say he received hundreds, even thousands, of positive messages from young people thanking him. “Even if just one person messaged me, I would have considered it an ultimate success.”
“High School” Blues
An upbeat alt-pop track, “High School” is a vulnerable look at Bradley’s struggles as a closeted teenager in school. Featuring Liam Hull, the track provides a juxtaposition of Bradley’s internal thoughts against the “straight” self he felt he had to present in order to fit in. It’s a story of an internal battle, a struggle to be who you want to be versus who you think you must be. ”If I bite my tongue, I’ll bleed from all the lies,” Bradley sings. Despite the melancholy overtones, Bradley noted the song ends on a hopeful note. “You’re seeing a little bit of hope because high school’s ending, it’s the end of the shit, it’s the beginning of a new era. That could represent me coming out, leaving my hometown—the hopeful overtone. This too shall pass, y’know.”
The songwriting process for a song like “High School” is no less organic and natural than any of Bradley’s other tracks. “I wrote the first full verse while freestyling,” Bradley said. He paused and dashed off-screen, returning with his guitar to replicate his process, strumming a few chords (he apologized for his guitar being out-of-tune, though it certainly didn’t sound that way). “I’ll play something over and over again, freestyle it—most of it’s just gibberish and nonsense, and I’ll get a line or two, or at least a melody I like.”
…and the LGBTQ+ Experience
“This one I thought was important because it shows you a bit of a struggle people in the [LGBTQ+] community go through that you can’t understand unless you go through it yourself, and even then you can’t ever exactly understand another person’s struggles.” Although the track is about the LGBTQ+ experience, Bradley still tried to keep the track vague enough for more people to relate to. “I was vague so I could have a song that would resonate with a lot of people, not just my community. I feel like every day, at some point, people think they have to be somebody else.”
— Bradley Kim (@bradleykkim) August 16, 2021
“High School” made its debut when Bradley opened for Dermot Kennedy in Indianapolis. “that was the first time I’d ever performed any of my original music live to anybody – that in itself was fucking amazing. This song was really special to me […] because there are kids out there that think they’re better off dead than being themselves.” With a laugh, Bradley said he got chills. “I almost started crying on stage!”
The immediate future for Bradley held an exam, he shared with a groan. But after that? “Over the past year, people have been asking when the album is coming, and I always answer it’s going to come soon,” Bradley explained. His approach to songwriting bleeds out into his approach to making an album altogether. “I don’t need to release an album, I don’t need to release an EP. I want to release songs as I want to.”
But Bradley did tease a few upcoming tracks to look forward to. Once again, we’re lucky enough to see him pull his guitar back out, giving us a preview of a few chord progressions for upcoming tracks. He’s excited for “Happy Alone,” a track that’s out of his comfort zone, blending five genres into one, and “My Space.”
“I have issues, sometimes, finishing songs,” Bradley joked, “because I always want to start new projects. I try not to pressure myself, but I’m my own biggest critic and my own biggest enemy.”
Much like the musician himself, Bradley’s discography is real, raw, and vulnerable, but not without a hint of hope. “The pain right now is not going to be forever,” Bradley reminds us with “High School,” and we’re inclined to believe him.
Thumbnail courtesy of Erica Modlin for @1EliteGroup.