HOW POP MUSIC INFLUENCE THE GAY RIGHTS
Talking about sex is hardly new for gay artists. They were doing the dirty in song almost 100 years ago, in 1920s Harlem, when blues singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith sang about same-sex affairs. Even gay men, less documented than the women, took advantage of a brief new social permissiveness following the first world war – George Hannah wrote and sang Freakish Man Blues in 1930
Bette Midler and Madonna all the way through Lady Gaga's Born This Way, performers courting gay audiences and incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes into their songs is a pop music tradition.
increasingly, it's more than just big-voiced divas tapping into the LGBT community: Just as Gaga’s 2011 hit was dubbed a LGBT anthem for its messages of self-love, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Same Love made waves in 2012 with strong statements against homophobia and for acceptance.
true that the trend reflects certain societal shifts on LGBT issues such as gay marriage. A Gallup survey reports that support for same-sex marriage jumped from 27% to 55% from 1996 to 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage also shows the change in public opinion.
the trend isn't limited to pop. Gale agrees that it's crossing genres, noting that rap, “one of the more homophobic areas in music, (with) very strict gender roles,” has seen a positive shift in tolerance among artists. “Young Thug is a rapper who will flash a gun on Instagram while wearing a dress, so he’s sort of playing with gender roles,” Gale says. “There’s a little more tolerance, at least in the hip-hop world, for this.”
Kissed A Girl "was kind of polarizing, because ... it’s almost glamorizing girl-on-girl action,” Lamphier says. “On the other hand, has Katy Perry sparked this conversation among youth? And now they’re starting to think, ‘Oh, it’s OK if I’m curious about kissing my girlfriend, and it’s OK if I actually realize after I’ve done it that this may be what I enjoy more."
said that the 20th century’s two most liberal decades were the 20s and the 70s; in between, McCarthyism unleashed a fresh era of homophobia, and the British establishment fought just as hard to discourage social tolerance and progress. If only Little Richard’s original lyric to Tutti Frutti – “Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy” – wasn’t censored by his producer, Britain would have enjoyed a top 30 ode to anal sex some 30 years before Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax.
it wasn’t until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 that homosexuality – only for those aged over 21, and only in England and Wales – was decriminalised, and that the gay liberation movement didn’t get going until after the Stonewall riots of 1969, it’s not surprising that singers, actors or musicians didn’t want to advertise their same-sex feelings.
such as Sam Smith, who openly identifies as gay, are faced with a dilemma: risk alienating audiences by singing about LGBT themes and relationships that aren’t just abstract concepts or get accused of “straight-washing,” a label Smith has been slapped with for using gender-neutral pronouns in his lyrics.But could society be at a point where Smith could make music that is more explicitly in line with his personal experience?
(Smith) did not see his success curtailed when he came out, so it might be interesting to see if his music becomes a little less neutral,” Gale says. “If Sam Smith were to release a song that was explicitly about his same-sex love, if it was a good song, I think it would succeed.”
For a genre beloved of gay men, pop music has traditionally been curiously lacking in out-gay superstars. In their absence, the singers with the gayest sensibilities have tended to be straight women – from Kylie’s brand of winking camp to Madonna and Beyonce borrowing from drag culture on songs like “Vogue” and “Formation”.
As a child of the nineties, any exposure I had to non-straight pop stars was strictly rationed, one per boyband (and even then – the joke went – only on the edict that it would be the least attractive member, and that they would only come out once they were past their commercial peak).
Today, it’s a very different story. There is a new raft of unapologetically gay pop stars whose sexuality is central to their music and performances. Consider self-professed ‘world-renowned pop twink’ Troye Sivan. His latest song, “Bloom”, is an ode to bottoming, with lyrics including “Hold my hand if I get scared now / Take a second, baby, slow it down” (Music website Popjustice declared it a ‘bummer anthem’, while Troye tweeted the hashtag ‘BopsBoutBottoming’ to his 8m followers).
“The landscape for queer artists has changed quite profoundly in the last few years’” Alexander says. “The music industry is less predicated by heads of labels, and social media has allowed queer artists to take centre stage. It’s really exciting to see people making art that reflects their experience.”
Growing up, Alexander says that he was sorely lacking in gay role models. “I knew George Michael was gay, and that there were stories in the paper about his sexual deviancy, but I had no real idea of what it would mean to be an out gay pop star”, he explains.
in the City