Sexuality In Music: I Now Pronoun-ce You...
LGBTQ History Month is a month-long celebration of the LGBTQ community, observed during February in the UK. Cece Wyldeck (CW) and Lotte Sterk (LS), respectively our Creative Development Manager and A&R Manager & Music Researcher, explore the topic of sexuality in music with this 1 on 1 conversation.
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(CW) A few months ago I was in a flow of searching interesting articles to stay up to date on cultural current affairs and I stumbled across this great mini album called ‘Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined’: 6 same-sex songs by various artists such as St. Vincent, Kesha and Bob Dylan. It features wedding songs with gender-specific terms adjusted to refer to the same gender as the singer.
When I read about the concept and the artists that were involved, I was really intrigued. The track that stands out to me is ‘Mad About the Girl’. The original by Dinah Washington is one of my favourite songs of all time, so it was really beautiful to hear it revisited in this way. I had known that She & Him also did a similar release for one of their tracks: ‘He Gives His Love to Me’ VS ‘She Gives Her Love to Me’. It’s so simple yet a very poetic gesture to inclusivity.
“I never used my sexuality as a way to define myself”
“I never used my sexuality as a way to define myself”
(CW) Gay icons? They have brought some of the world’s most incredible, unique, groundbreaking and legendary music in history. As a musician who is also gay, I have never used my sexuality as a way to define myself. It just is. As simple as I prefer salty foods over sweet or I’d rather listen to the Rolling Stones than the Beatles. But for a lot of the gay community, their sexuality is very much part of their whole being. Part of a club, a security, a sense of belonging.
Our gay icons and musical heroes by the likes of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin & Dusty Springfield (rest in peace) paved the way for a flamboyancy like no other. Not only in their fashion styles but also in their ability to create their own musical statement with innovative sounds, unorthodox melody structures and vocal abilities beyond cosmic realms.
When it comes down to it, nothing has to do with their sexuality. Yet they still faced adversity because of it, they still faced isolation and discrimination. Maybe it was less apparent but it was still present.
Songs no more have to be heteronormative to be beloved.
(LS) Luckily, people are feeling more entitled to be who they are and this is also reflected in how the artists write about the topic, no matter what gender and who you are sexually attracted to. As an artist, you’ll always have people who identify with your songs. Even more so. Nowadays, for instance, any group who does not identify as heterosexual has another group of artists to identify with and look up to.
In the end, we are all unique yet we all have our similarities too. There is always going to be at least one person in the world who feels the same as you do. I think it’s amazing how music can help you find people who are on your exact same wavelength and give you a possibility to connect with them.
Is 2019 hip-hop sexist and homophobic?
(LS) Hip-hop has been associated with masculinity, homophobia and lack of respect towards women, but it definitely seems to be more open-minded nowadays. There are more and more strong female rappers joining the game – take Cardi B and her ‘Gangsta Bitch Music Vol 1’ album cover for example + she is the first female solo artist to win a Grammy for ‘Best Rap Album’. You also have artists such as Frank Ocean who are open about their sexuality even though he’s part of a community that has been associated with negative features. I’m positive that artists such as Frank Ocean might have felt safer to be more open about their sexuality compared to 100 years ago. He’s very much a role model for a lot of people.
This is liberating and will inspire more and more people to do the same.
Take Janelle Monáe for instance: her PYNK music video is a queer masterpiece about sexuality and feminism. Musical trends are always a response to what’s happening in society and vice versa. We’re opening up towards the LGBTQ community and embracing sexual freedom.
Not only: it’s also becoming a trend to be sexually free and outspoken. I know that the word ‘trend’ usually has a negative connotation but here we are talking about encouraging social change, something that it’s very much needed. And that’s beautiful to me. I’d rather embrace this than the #fitgirl movement 😉
Artists: should they always be vocal to encourage listeners to do the same?
(CW) I have a conflicting view on this. On one hand, I think everyone has their own extremely personal experience with sexuality so it should be up to them what they choose to share about their lives and what they find irrelevant when addressing their music. I myself only around 5 years ago struggled with being comfortable with my sexuality, which in turn caused variants of upset in that period of my life.
On the other hand, the fact that we are living in a society where a large majority of the LGBTQ community do not feel accepted or at ease merely presenting who they are is a problem in itself. I mean, when was the last time a heterosexual artist was questioned on their heterosexuality?
(LS) I’m also thinking about how things have changed in the Internet era. It’s interesting: back then, most LGBTQ artists were quite eccentric, yet it might have taken a while to come out, as it was a very big thing to be openly gay or bisexual. I feel like artists’ sexuality is no longer a big deal for the public. You listen to them because they are making good music. And yes, they happen to sing about their homosexuality or pansexuality because, guess what, love is part of their life.
There’s less censorship, more freedom of speech and we live in an era where social media make it more difficult to be private. I believe this helps people connect and identify with their icons and like-minded individuals. You could also say that, because of this, people pay less attention to the music. That might be true but I do believe that music will always play a huge role. If people do not like your music they won’t start following you just because you were vocal about your sexual taste.
Who is making an impact in today’s musical scene?
(LS) Lots of them, whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, trans, gender fluid. Hayley Kiyoko, King Princess and Troye Sivan are great examples.
Then you could say there are artists such as SOPHIE and Brooke Candy, also making awesome music, who are much more outspoken about how they identify themselves and who they are attracted to. They are much more eccentric and this inevitably becomes part of their ‘personal branding’. You could say they might have a bigger impact on the LGBTQ community because of this.
I personally believe they are just being themselves, which is beautiful. It’s awesome to think that we’re growing towards a society where you can simply be yourself.
We’re here, we’re queer
(CW) Get used to it. Whether you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, a husband or a wife, own it. Cry about it, laugh about it, feel all the feels and f**king write about it.
Create and make beautiful music.
Create and make ugly music.
Just own it and do it for you first.