It’s no secret that most of what you hear on the radio is music by straight people, for straight people. Twee love songs written by young, straight girls for young, straight girls. Overly confident and oftentimes downright creepy songs about attractive women by straight men, for straight men (because no woman likes being coerced into rape, Robin Thicke).
But, ever since Madonna told us to express ourselves, there’s been a number of pop stars being referred to as “gay icons”: artists that represent LGBT+ individuals, artists that sing about being true to who you are, all of that stuff that sells really well to people struggling with self-image. And this really does apply to LGBT+ people, mind you; a lot of us are struggling with coming to terms with our identities or still in the closet, so to speak.
So, like I said, who do we have? Well, there’s the aforementioned Madonna, who wrote the song “Express Yourself“, and was known for her controversial and cutting-edge concepts for music videos. Madonna was a symbol for breaking the status quo, which resonated a lot with LGBT+ people in the 1980s. Then there’s Lady Gaga, who is known for pretty much the exact same thing today, and even wrote the song “Born This Way“, which does explicitly mention LGBT identities. These are the two women in mainstream pop that are celebrated gay icons (that are either actually straight or in Gaga’s case, bisexual-but-also-kind-of-not. More on that later) that I could see a reason for them to be in the position they are in. But then there are the other ones, that haven’t really done much to warrant them being icons in the LGBT+ community.
I’m talking about Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, the list goes on. These women who may have written one vague song about inspiration and squeezed a “gay men inspire me” in an interview somewhere. These women who have not done much in terms of supporting their LGBT+ audiences are the ones most celebrated by us. Why? What is it about these women that warrants such a strong support from LGBT+ people?
In my opinion, it’s down to the diva quality. These women are completely themselves, and completely unapologetic about it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good thing, everyone could do with some empowerment. But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it weird that they are all straight women.
There’s also the point that these “gay icons” are not actually helping the LGBT+ community that much. Katy Perry has an entire song that essentially uses “gay” as an insult. Katy Perry’s breakout hit was a song about kissing girls that was written to be controversial, she was doing the complete opposite of normalising gay relationships and intimacy. She worked against progression.
Then there’s Lady Gaga, who in 2009 came out as bisexual, and claimed that it was her identity that inspired the song “Poker Face“. However, it appeared that she distanced herself from the label, and referred to herself as an “ally” when speaking about the shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse in 2016. Call me a cynic, but I’m uncomfortable that someone would want to distance themselves from a community that they not only belong to, but a community that actively celebrates them.
But I’m not going to pretend like it’s only these women that are representing us. For years, we’ve had icons like Elton John, Boy George, and Freddie Mercury (who was actually bisexual, you may be surprised to know) holding that rainbow flag high for LGBT+ people everywhere. And even today, we have Hayley Kiyoko, Sam Smith, and Adam Lambert, just to name a few.
But, speaking strictly as a bi girl here, I am sick to death of straight women being celebrated as gay icons of the music world when a lot of them hardly take part in any activism for LGBT+ people, especially when there are many other people that do actually represent us in the music world. I think we should definitely be more critical of those we call icons and representatives of our community. I think we should also be giving actual LGBT+ people a platform for their music. I want to hear songs about girls that have crushes on girls. I want to hear personal, raw songs about someone’s struggles with gender identity. I want to hear songs about gay men going to clubs and dancing as if the world is going to end. I also want to see news articles about homophobic people who had their minds changed because a song with a cool ’80s synthpop beat managed to convince them that boys loving boys is a great concept. I guess that one is a little more out there, so we’re going to have to take this one step at a time.
But that first step definitely needs to be taken, and soon.