Is it a Gay Musician’s Right to Represent Us?

Years and Years Olly Alexander

Being gay in the entertainment industry isn’t seen as a career killer in the world the live in today. Stars like Olly Alexander from Years & Years, Neil Milan from Clean Bandit, Jessie J, Adam Lambert, Sia, and the biggest star of last year, Sam Smith, are testament to the fact that LGBT musicians can be just as successful as their straight counterparts.

This isn’t to say that LGBT musicians haven’t always been around. You may recall the ‘gay 80’s’, where stars such as Culture Club, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Dead Or Alive were taking over the airways, and continuing into the 90’s with The Pet Shop Boys, Elton John and George Michael. And we can’t mention mention this era without highlighting ‘Smalltown Boy’, perhaps the most prominent and important anthem in LGBT history – written by Bronski Beat, the song was a poignant tale of a boy’s rejection for being homosexual and the loneliness that surrounded the LGBT community during the 80’s. Written by Jimmy Somerville and released in 1984, the song still remains a classic and as relevant and moving today.

If you look at how far we’ve come and how accepted homosexuality is in the media today, it may come as somewhat of a surprise that there hasn’t been any songs that have touched on the subject of gay rights, or, even more surprising, any that use pronouns relating to their preferred sex. ‘Smalltown Boy’ caused shockwaves in the music industry back then – released at the height of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and boasting a musical video that featured blatant homosexual overtones, it was undoubtedly the bravest move of the 80’s. So why is it, in 2015, when gay marriage is now legal and homophobia is so frowned upon, that we don’t have anybody doing something as simple as using pronouns that represent their sexuality?

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Olly Alexander of Years & Years – who had the UK #1 with ‘King’ in March and reached #1 in the Album Charts with their debut, ‘Communion’ – has called out for gay popstars to be more open with their sexuality. ‘It is kind of sad to me that we don’t have gay popstars singing about men using a male pronoun, but that could change hopefully,’ he said in an interview with Digital Spy in June. Olly’s own tracks on the new album, ‘Real‘ and ‘Memo’, both use male pronouns, which is something he said was ‘important’ to get in.

Of course, this isn’t to say that gay popstars don’t write about their relationships. Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ is about a one-night stand with an unknown man. ‘Eyelids’ by PVRIS was written by lead singer Lynn Gunnulfsen as an ode to her girlfriend. Jake Shears of The Scissor Sisters wrote ‘Might Tell You Tonight’ about his boyfriend. But would you have known about these had I not just mentioned the subject? There is no evidence of them being about same-sex relationships unless you actually knew about them. So I suppose it begs the question: do gay musicians actually have a right to represent us?

Everyone is different. Not everyone wants their sexuality to be publicly broadcast, and that is entirely their prerogative. When Mika first burst onto the scene in 2007, the industry was wild with speculation: was he, or wasn’t he? Mika refused to confirm nor deny the question, instead choosing to ‘[discuss] sexuality without labels’. He eventually came out as gay in 2012, but does he have a point? After all, the enigma that is Prince – an artist that a majority of singers, both gay and straight, cite as an influence – has built a career around his sexual ambiguity and his eccentric style, choosing not to comment on his private life at all. Do artists have a right to a little mystery? The answer, of course, is yes.

But, having said that, musicians have always had the advantage of having an huge influence on society, and especially on a younger audience. If someone identifies as gay, or bisexual, they should be entitled to talk about their relationships as openly as they please. Yes, the industry is about making money, about being able to reach every audience possible. No one wants to be alienated. So if the industry could apply that to the young LGBT, the nervous, the confused, the ones looking for someone to look up to, then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big deal for a man to use ‘he’, or for a woman to use ‘her’ as their love interest.

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