We didn’t realise it at the time, but the 00’s were a golden era for queer pop songs. There were LGBT+ glam pop stars like the Scissor Sisters and Mika, as well stars P!nk, Kylie and Lady Gaga. They were all openly singing about being gay. Even early Katy Perry was singing about being an ally. They had all built on a strong legacy of artists like David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, Elton John, going all the way back to artists like the Village People. These were songs that were fun, accessible and most people could like. Recently however most of the songs in the Top 40 seem to be either boring hetero love songs like Justin Bieber, Drake and Calvin Harris, or about toxic masculinity like Panda, Kanye etc.
This is not to say that there aren’t any LGBT+ musicians. However, lot of these musicians are popular but are not what I would classify as pop; more like popular indie, rather than something you can sing along with or dance to. These would include artists like Frank Ocean and Blood Orange. When there are gay “pop” stars, quite often they don’t often explicitly sing about being gay and try to write love songs while leaving gender ambiguous, like Sam Smith.
You may believe that pop music isn’t the genre where the culturally interesting things happen. However it is hard to argue that pop music is not culturally important. Top 40 songs are fundamentally what most people listen to. It is also what young children almost explicitly listen to. I, like most others, grew up mostly listening to Now! albums. And the music you listen to as a child, has a really important effect in forming your worldview.
For me as a bisexual man, and the wider LGBT+ community, the fact that queer music is less in the mainstream is really upsetting. Growing up listening to musicians like Mika and Lady Gaga singing openly about their sexuality instilled in me the view that gay people deserve to belong in the mainstream and shouldn’t have to hide. The mood of this music was that being gay was something to have pride in and you could be open about.
The lack of queer pop music is a really odd phenomenon, because in the past ten years life has got much better for the LGBT+ community in most respects, with one glaring exception in the President of the United States. However most countries in the West have legalised gay marriage, and are taking steps to making life easier for the gay community, such as in adopting children or joining the army, and creating laws against hate speech and discrimination. More generally there has also been a massive societal shift towards people being more accepting and having more positive views of same sex relationships. Transgender people have also got more of a voice in the past few years. And TV and movies have begun to include more well rounded LGBT+ characters that are beyond the stereotype of the gay best friend.
On one level, maybe the shift in queer music away from the more fabulous glam pop is a good thing. It could be a reflection that society no longer views gay relationships universally high energy, fun and fabulous. Maybe we are putting those stereotypes behind us, and allowing for other types of queer music with artists like Frank Ocean.
However there may be another level to this phenomenon. Homophobia can often take the form of people having distaste for effeminate men. This can even been seen among gay men, for example men on Grindr having ‘masc4masc’ in their bio – meaning they are straight acting and looking exclusively for straight acting partners. This obsession our society has with gay men having to act masculine may be one reason why there are so few glam pop artists. Above this there is also discrimination against masculine acting women, and against a wide variety of other non-conforming orientations, genders and expressions of gender.
The sudden change from queer pop to the the charts being dominated by broody music like Drake reminds me of the backlash against disco that occurred in the late 70’s. This was sparked by the Disco Demolition Night; the night where a riot occurred in a baseball game where they were burning disco records as part of a promotional stunt. A crowd of mostly white men were looting and starting fires all while chanting ‘Disco Sucks!’. Fundamentally this was a protest against what disco represented: homosexuals and people of colour having fun and enjoying themselves. This mood resulted in young listeners supplanting disco with punk or heavy metal as the ‘cool’ music of choice in the 80’s.
Although there has never been a time or a place where it is particularly easy to be gay, we are getting closer to the day when homosexuals are fully accepted. Homophobia has always existed in our society, and one place it still exists is hostility to effeminate men. As a society we have to be less fragile with ideas about gender norms, especially in the music industry.