Cody Belew has had his music featured in on screen before — one of his original songs, “The Choice a Lonely Heart Makes,” was on The CW series Roswell, New Mexico. But to have a song of his be part of a first-of-its-kind Christmas movie that centers on a love story between two men was a different kind of proud moment for the Arkansas-born, Nashville-based singer.
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Belew contributed “Hang Your Hat on my Christmas Tree” to Dashing in December, which is currently showing on Paramount Network. Starring Andie MacDowell, Juan Pablo Di Pace and Peter Porte, the film’s LGBTQ+ storyline appealed to Belew. The singer-songwriter has been living his identity as a gay man in country music with sass and authenticity, ever since he stepped into the public eye on season 3 of The Voice.
The Christmas rom-com, which follows an unexpected romance between a city guy and a ranch hand, is being billed as the first major queer country movie. “It’s almost more than I can absorb in one thought,” Belew tells American Songwriter. “I have to break it down into smaller milestones. There’s the fact that I was given this amazing opportunity to have a song featured in a movie. That alone is enough! But then the fact that it’s this incredible moment in film and TV history takes it to a whole other level.”
As Belew sees it, the film is a necessary addition to the tradition of holiday movies. “It wasn’t too long ago that our only options in the LGBT genre were obscure, C or even D-level productions that were borderline unwatchable,” he says. “If we saw a gay character in a mainstream project they were always in minor or supporting roles, or damaged in some way. Happy endings were always hard to come by. The notion that we’re even discussing a movie of this caliber with these characters is beyond good news.”
Belew says he still can’t believe his music is included in the film. “It all started with a random Instagram message from someone that said they had just discovered my music and wanted to let me know how much they enjoyed it,” he says. That person just so happened to be director Jake Helgren, who was also the writer and producer of the movie, which, at that stage, was in pre-production. “Of course, I made sure to let him know that I was available for any role requiring an inescapable Southern drawl,” adds Belew.
Helgren didn’t have any roles for Belew to play, but he did suggest the singer send through a demo pitch for a line-dancing scene in the film. Belew sent him “Hang Your Hat on my Christmas Tree.” “The rest is Christmas history,” he says. “The only parameters were that it had to be danceable and it needed to be in the same vein as “Any Man of Mine” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” The song is played during a bar scene with the characters dancing.
Belew filmed the music video for the song at Nashville bar, Santa’s Pub, and he hopes it will grow into an evergreen Christmas song — one that will be sung for years long after the movie first airs. For now, he’s working on releasing his full-length debut album in the new year. “We’re planning a slow drip of singles throughout the coming year with the full album releasing in the fall. If this year’s blessings are any indication, I can’t imagine what 2021 has in store,” he says. The album has been finished for a while but Belew didn’t want to release it until he was sure it would be heard. “I think people are listening now,” he says.
Belew plans to take what he learnt from his time on The Voice into the next phase of his career. “I learned to get the most out of every opportunity that comes my way because it’s never guaranteed that another one will show up,” he says. Being on there taught me to always know who you are as an artist, as a brand, and as a person in business. If you don’t lead the charge, someone else will certainly lead it for you.” But he still wants to bag a role too. “I also learned that I was built for TV! Somebody get this guy a show!” he chuckles.