For the past 20 years, we’ve seen only the women do it up! Madonna reinvented the pieces left to her by divas like Tina Turner, Grace Jones, Marilyn Monroe and Annie Lennox and mixed them in her musical Kitchen Aid, bringing the female POP stage show to a whole new level. Every diva who’s come after has used Madonna’s performance tactics as a blueprint, injecting theatricality and a Broadway-like aesthetic into her shows, particularly once she enters the arenas. This is true of Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, P!nk,, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, Ke$ha, Natalia Kills, and even new indie princesses aspiring to the reach the pop masses, like Marina and the Diamonds.
Thinking about this, I’m saddened that there is no male equivalent. Yes, Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Justin Bieber are able to sell-out arenas and put on eye-popping performances, but they lack the flamboyance so prevalent in the ladies’ shows. We have Adam Lambert, who rocked American Idol like the reality competition had never seen before, but once he left the hit show’s cocoon, his popularity seemed to decline. Radio does not provide him with his due promotion. He spontaneously kissed a man and did a LITE simulation of oral sex in his first post-Idol television performance at the 2009 American Music Awards on ABC. The result? The network uninvited him from performing and interviewing on Good Morning America the following week, so Adam unnecessarily apologized, to no avail. They (and the advertisers that likely threatened to pull out of their designated commercial spots) should have apologized to HIM and the gay community for the bigotry that they disguised with words like "inappropriate."
There was lots of hoopla over Janet’s nipple, but Madonna and Britney’s kiss, while supposedly shocking, was not very controversial and didn’t lead to much backlash. Double standard? I think YES. It’s called homophobia. When two gals pull off a Katy Perry "I Kissed A Girl" to turn on a frat boy, it’s okay, but when it’s a real GAY kiss, then it’s not allowed. Even if all Adam had done was kiss a guy in his performance, without any oral sex simulation, I can bet that he would still receive just as much retribution from ABC and others in the media/entertainment business. The threat of losing advertising dollars from companies that sell to the average American, who they deem to be homophobic, is quite powerful. Furthermore, after Adam’s team rejected multiple offers for a solo cover, Aaron Hicklin, Editor-in-Chief of OUT Magazine, revealed that Adam’s management didn’t want him to cover the famed LGBTQ periodical for fear Adam would appear “too gay.” That’s how our society sees it; if a straight person is on the cover of OUT or The Advocate, it’s considered cool and edgy. However, if an LGBTQ artist proudly pronounces their support for a community to which they belong on the cover of these magazines, it is viewed as isolating the entertainer from the rest of their potentially straight demographic.
Europe has Mika, but even he held out on revealing his sexuality for quite some time. Now, he prefers not to (or his management/label prefers that he not) talk about it, as if doing so would color the way some people view him and his work (which is clearly flamboyant and gay in the best way, anyway, so who cares?). It’s not like homophobic people will walk out of his shows, because THEY’RE NOT THERE TO BEGIN WITH. LGBTQ performers like The Scissor Sisters, Patrick Wolf, and Jeffree Star don’t get the proper support from the mainstream media, particularly in America, for their creative, reflective, boundary-pushing music and performances. It’s a shame.
It is ironic that as our society progresses forward and becomes more accepting of minorities, we don’t seem to support entertainers representing those communities. Androgynous male artists like David Bowie (who Madonna has stated as a huge influence), Elton John, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Boy George sparkled and shimmered from the studio to the stage. Some of them were very forthright with their sexuality, some of them remained closeted for years, and some of them never addressed their oft-talked about sexual preferences. I know stereotypes can be dangerous, but I think that the gayness of all of those men’s performances, costumes, and music is something to celebrate.
Capitalism has many pros and cons, but one of its best features is that it provides consumers with choices. Yet where is our array of David Bowies and Boy Georges? We don’t even have one that monopolizes. For years, we deemed it acceptable for female performers to borrow heavily from gay subculture – Madonna’s “voguing” was inspired by Harlem's drag queens; the campiness of Lady GaGa and Katy Perry’s wigs can be seen on every drag queen’s head; and gay fashion icon Thierry Mugler designed costumes for Beyoncé in her attempt to bring drag queen-like SASHA FIERCE to life, both in the album art and on tour. I think all of this is fantastic! Gay culture has always been ahead of the curve. These divas taking it mainstream helps create an atmosphere of acceptance, but why don’t the actual revolutionaries WITHIN the gay community get the same opportunities to rock the big stages when they have such a huge impact on what we see on them? Record labels and radio DJs/executives provide standard corporate answers, saying there is no demand for them, but people could have said the same about an artist who loudly and unabashedly promoted the rights of the LGBTQ community four years ago. Today, Lady GaGa is one of the best selling artists (The Fame sold over 10 million copies worldwide. I don’t think any album in the last 5 years has sold that many copies). She does NOT appeal to middle America, which is often cited by labels as the reason they won’t promote artists who are left-of-center. Yet here is a case where that demographic is deemed irrelevant, so clearly there is enough demand outside of it. Still, for some reason, the fear of no demand is greater than proof of actual demand, making clear that the one thing speaking louder than money is apprehension of deeply-rooted prejudices. Which label will be the first to break the chain and give their ALL to promoting a gay, flamboyant male artist? I don’t want any half-a$$ attempts like the people over at RCA promoting Adam Lambert. I’m sure that the record executives and radio DJs who do so will be pleased with the checks that come in the mail. Money can be unbiased if we let it. It’s only paper. We are the ones who give it meaning. So let’s give money the power to propel pop-culture, art, and society forward. We want to see some male Queens ruling the world’s stages and airwaves! It’s about time.