In 1976, Elton John told the Rolling Stone that “there’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex.” In 1998, Boy George was arrested for engaging in a ‘lewd act’ with another man in a public restroom just a week before informing a CNN interviewer that he was gay and “doesn’t feel any shame” for that. Two years later, Ricky Martin came out in a televised interview, and, then, somewhere along the line, the public declarations of sexuality caught like wildfire. So much so that, when I went to research for this article, I was faced with a myriad of articles entitled ‘18 more musicians who have opened up...’ or ‘38 Notable people who came out in 2017’.
And with every ‘outing’, there is a sense that we become closer to acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Every time a popular LGBTQ+ musician, actor, presenter, athlete, member of parliament, or any person in the public domain, for that matter, publicly declares their sexuality, it’s made just that little bit clearer that the gay community is a presence in society that wishes to be heard and have their rights respected.
However, should it be necessary – and I ask this acknowledging my privilege as a British millennial – for those LGBTQ+ musicians to declare anything at all?
Recently, Troy Sivan’s song ‘Bloom’ underwent heavy speculation, critique claiming that it was ballad for the ‘joys of bottoming’ which is perhaps down to his visibility on YouTube. It seems to me that the lyrics which celebrate sex with a loved one were mistaken as grounds for trivial investigation. The media’s obsession with grounding this song in Sivan’s sexuality has been to the detriment of appreciating the artistry of the song and its video’s beauty.
I think the concern here is that the talent of these musicians is, in some way, eclipsed by the played-out, supposed significance of their sexuality. I’m in no way advising a return to the 1980s and its sparsity of openly LGBTQ+ role models, but should musicians nowadays share their sexuality through the dramatic outlets of exclusive interviews and YouTube videos? Perhaps it is problematic to expect that the LGBTQ+ sexualities be normalized when they are treated with disproportionate levels of media attention than those of heterosexual musicians. And, while I acknowledge the media’s major influence for this paradox, musicians undoubtedly have some part to play.
Jason Mraz wrote a song for the June Pride month entitled ‘I am bi your side’. When questioned on the curious spelling of the song’s title, he replied: “I’ve had experiences with men, even while I was dating the woman who became my wife”. In this (arguably) subtle means of expressing sexuality, Mraz proudly understated his bisexuality to emphasise the little consequence it has to music and how it should be received. At the end of it all, he is simply like any other musician with something to say about the world; who he loves is just as relevant as his favourite colour.
Clearly, musicians should always feel at liberty to share their sexuality, that is a given. But there is no longer a necessity for the historically dramatic and theatrical methods of coming out. Audience-garnering interviews with Elton John and Ricky Martin were an understandable product of a time that was not used to major gay pop stars.
However, in a time where we’re coming to understand non-heteronormative sexualities as being as ordinary as heterosexuality, the media should treat them as such.