For too long pop has been prudish – but young, queer artists are calling for music to get same-sex positive
It’s been an exceptional year for LGBTQ rights so far: The US Supreme Court ruled in favour of legalising same-sex marriage across all 50 states, Ireland gave a resounding "yes!" for the same thing, the UK’s political parties finally took notice of gay and trans people in their manifestos (bar UKIP) and attitudes towards LGBTQ people, in the UK at least, have never been more accepting.
But whilst politicians might be the lawmakers, pop culture has always been the mouthpiece, and for the most part, music has always rightly pushed for more. Last month, we published a piece on how pop is starting a genderqueer dialogue, shining a light on a new wave of mainstream artists such as Shamir, Miley Cyrus and Grimes, who are refusing to be boxed-in by such rigid gender binaries.
Yet pop that has explicitely, outwardly LGBTQ lyrics is hard to come by in the mainstream, even when sung by non-straight artists, from Marc Almond of Soft Cell to 2002’s poster boy Will Young and wet-eyed pop star Sam Smith. These artists have voiced gender-nonspecific UK number ones in three separate decades. You'd imagine that the thinking is to ensure universal appeal. Even so, it would be pretty meaningful to a bunch of us out there to have a counterpoint to the songs about straight love and sex which aren’t just commonplace – they’re completely prevailing.
“I'd like to hear a gay artist express their sexuality in a really open way, but to be able to talk about sex is possibly new for gay artists” - Olly Alexander
The number one album this week, Years & Years' electro-pop debut Communion, provides a vital counterpoint. “It was important for me to get some male pronouns in some of the songs," singer Olly Alexander told Digital Spy. "So I did it for 'Real' and 'Memo', and then one song on the deluxe. It is kind of sad to me that we don't have gay pop stars singing about men using a male pronoun, but that could change hopefully. I'd like to hear a gay artist express their sexuality in a really open way, but to be able to talk about sex is possibly new for gay artists. I'd like to see that in the mainstream. Music does feel like it's in a much more accepted, tolerant place; even with Miley Cyrus, when she doesn't identify with either gender, and we're getting used to these ideas of about non-binary gender, which is a good thing."
He’s right; music does feel like it’s in a much more “tolerant” place. But this still needs to get louder, and extend to something further than the odd, winking line from Azealia Banks (“Now she wanna lick my plum in the evening, and fit that tongue tongue d-deep in”), or the preoccupation of more indie, lesser-known acts such as Le1f, Angel Haze and Zebra Katz.
Punk rapper Mykki Blanco has always been vocal about her wish for musicians to be louder about expressing their sexuality within their lyrics. Last month, she published a series of tweets about bringing gender-specific pronouns to music, saying: “It's really unfortunate the amount of gay entertainers who are so afraid of actually being gay. It’s like yes make your universal love songs, make your universal dance songs, art should be something for everyone (but) we need songs about lesbians fucking, we need songs about dudes fucking, we need transgender R&B songs. These entertainers don’t get it… '"
its really unfortunate the amount of gay entertainers who are so afraid of actually being gay— mykki blanco (@MykkiBlanco) June 4, 2015
If you’re a gay woman, lyrics that explicitly refer to other women should hardly be niche or radical in 2015 – but in many ways, they still are. In June, Odd Future’s Cali soul collective The Internet released their third album Ego Death, a collection of syrupy, retro R&B gems that covered themes from love to lust. It’s an exceptional album, and threaded within singer Syd Tha Kyd's lyrics are references to different women, because that is what’s personal to her life. “We don’t fight, we just fuck, I’m in like, she’s in love, she gave in, I gave up. Can we just live in the moment?” she sings in “Girl (feat. KAYTRANADA)”.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business whether you’re sleeping with boys, girls, both or neither. But the dialogue surrounding sexuality needs to be loud, all-inclusive and normalised rather than cloaked in shame or brushed aside with the classic cop-out that it “shouldn’t matter”. In order for it not to matter, gay and trans voices should be given a much more public platform, particularly those of women and/or people of colour. Introducing gay pronouns to pop music is only one way of making sure our voices are getting heard.