The singer-songwriter spent his adolescence rummaging through racks of vintage clothing and Stevie Nicks records. Now, he performs in four-inch platforms and has earned the title of “Gen Z’s Elton John.”
When Jake Wesley Rogers pops onto my laptop screen on a gray day in February, I am instantly blinded by colour. And not just any color — bright fire-hydrant red. Between the wall behind him in his LA home and the top of his head (thanks to a recent hair refresh), the 25-year-old singer is basked in a crimson halo, made more vibrant by his purple, green and orange V- neck sweater The only neutral in this entire pop-art tableau is the black of his thick aviator-style glasses.
Despite this colorful chaos, Rogers is incredibly calm. He periodically sips herbal tea from an old mug throughout our conversation and takes great pleasure in talking about his tea preferences. (He loves a good green or black brew, if you’re wondering.) Considering the theatrical performances and flamboyant fashion for which he has become known and the fact that he is on the brink of superstardom, I’m pleasantly surprised by how serene , sage and introspective he is.
Like everything else in the Kansas City-born singer-songwriter’s life, Jake Wesley Rogers didn’t find fame in the conventional way. After a brief stint on America’s Got Talent in 2012 and a string of singles, he caught the eye of hit songwriter Justin Tranter (think Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Selena Gomez’s “Lose You to Love Me”) and in 2020 was signed to an imprint of Warner Records. Shortly after, Rogers’s rocket ship took off on TikTok, not because of his music but for spilling the tea on “queer icon” Abraham Lincoln, which he filmed while wearing a tea infuser as an earring. His historical musings racked up over 1.8 million views, and through this atypical portal, fans began to discover his true talent for songwriting.
Since then, Rogers’s pop-rock ballads and campy costumes have earned him the moniker of “Gen Z’s Elton John.” In 2021, John invited Rogers to appear on his Apple Music 1 radio show, Rocket Hour, telling the audience, “I love Jake because he reminds me of me when I was starting out.” When I mention this moment to Rogers, he gleefully grins. “It’s one of the best compliments anyone could ever receive,” he says.
Jake Wesley Rogers grew up in the heart of the Bible belt in Springfield, Mo., but he didn’t have a typical conservative small-town experience. In fact, he says, his upbringing in the Ozarks was filled with warmth, compassion and acceptance. “My hometown has like 40 churches on each block, so, of course, it’s very religious, but it also has Midwestern values like love and kindness,” he shares. “I was very lucky to have found a safe place where I was free to be myself.”
The “Middle of Love” singer’s coming out was a two-step process. He told his parents when he was in sixth grade and then his friends at 16. “Back in 2008, my family didn’t know a lot about being queer, and we were all a bit scared, so that kept me in the closet until I was a teenager,” he reflects. Besides the natural worry that he wouldn’t be accepted by his community, his fear of coming out also stemmed from his early viewing of the musical Rent. “I was 10 years old, and it was the first time I’d ever seen queer people,” he shares. “And while it was empowering, it was also terrifying because I thought being gay meant I was going to get HIV and die.”
With the Missouri school system providing little to no education on the subject, it took a few years before Rogers fully understood and embraced his identity. Thankfully, the Jonathan Larson production didn’t scare him away from musical theater entirely, and he found support through singing. “In high school, I was known as ‘the musician,’ and I felt that because of this, people were OK with me being different. Like ‘Jake’s really good at singing so he can be himself.’”
Being the charming rule breaker that he is, Rogers pushed the limits on how different he could be through fashion. “What I recognize now is that many people feel they have to follow a script — go to college, get married, have babies, etc., and if that’s your truth, no shade,” he says. “But I turned these expectations into a game. Going to thrift stores allowed me to curate who I was and who I wanted to be. Being different pushed me to be more different, and fashion has always been my superhero cape.” Even now, he jokes that his first question to his manager whenever he books a gig is “What am I going to wear?” “As soon as I got my record deal, I was like ‘When do I get a stylist?'” he laughs.
It’s hard to describe Jake Wesley Rogers’s style without referencing pop icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, but it wasn’t always intentional. While he cites Adele and Lady Gaga as his early influences — the Brit for her vulnerable lyrics and the American for her theatrical persona — it wasn’t until college that he did a deep dive into actual musical history. “Elton John wasn’t a thing in my house growing up, but I recognize now that he, Bowie and Madonna obviously influenced Gaga,” he says. “I got a lot of that inspiration inadvertently through her.” Rogers also admits that he has always had a love affair with the ’70s — hence his preference for wearing four-inch platforms, which make him a whopping six feet eight inches. “My number one fashion and everything icon has always been Stevie Nicks,” he says. “So at the end of the day, I’m just trying to be as cool as her.”
Just like Nicks’s aesthetic, Rogers’s can’t be categorized with a single adjective. In his music video for “Weddings and Funerals,” Rogers rocks a pair of feminine 1950s cat-eye glasses, oversized floral earrings and a bloodstained white tuxedo. Then for his latest song, “Dark Bird,” he took to Instagram to show off a patent-leather lace-up corset paired with punk accessories and graphic eyeliner. But he admits this is intentional. “Each song has a different energy, so fashion helps me embody what I’m singing.”
What Rogers chooses to sing about is raw emotions like pain, love and self-acceptance. A master of storytelling, he uses poetic symbolism in “Dark Bird” to explore themes of resilience, freedom and “metaphorically burning your life down to make something better.” Talking about his process, the singer relates his 11-year-old songwriting experiments to the world of Harry Potter, where young wizards accidentally perform magic before they’re aware of their powers. Over a decade later, Rogers (like Harry) has learned to harness his talent and find those magical moments. “I write a lot of songs, but most of them never see the light of day,” he notes. “The songs I end up releasing are the ones in which I feel like I have transcended myself and I’m carrying a message that is bigger than me.”
@jakewesleyrogers Pre-save 🔗 in profile, babies!!!! #fy #originalmusic #witchtokrising ♬ Dark Bird – Jake Wesley Rogers
But what Rogers is really chasing with his music is the element of surprise. “It’s my favorite emotion because it takes so much to feel surprised these days,” he shares. He reads my mind when he references the Latin proverb “Fortune favorites the bold.” “There’s no time left not to make something bold,” he says. “If something doesn’t cut through the clutter and surprise you, I don’t see the point. That’s not me or my music.”
And therein lies the truth about Jake Wesley Rogers. As we virtually sit together contemplating life, TikTok and dancing in platform heels, somewhere along the way, my eyes adjust (metaphorically and literally) to the calm fire-hydrant-red figure before me, and now I can’t imagine him being any other way. He is candid and a bit kooky, and just like with tea, the longer we’re together, the more flavourful he gets.
“I don’t accept myself all the time, but I’m in the business of loving myself,” he reveals, pausing to sip from his mug. “It’s hard, and it takes practice, but through my music, I remind myself that I’m worthy of it.”
Photography by GREG SWALES. Styling by TOM EREBOUT AND SANDRA AMADOR. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Hair by LISA MARIE-POWELL FOR BALMAIN HAIR COUTURE. Makeup by DARIAN DARLING. Producers: ALEXEY GALETSKIY AND RYAN FAHEY FOR AGPNYC. Fashion assistant: JAIIN KANG. Production assistant: SASHA MILOSTNOVA.