Music Muse

Shattering Stereotypes: Sexuality in Pop

Helena Senior looks at the bisexual and pansexual icons of the music industry and the resistance to labelling

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Image Credit: Ansy Witchger via Flickr

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the UK in 1967, and as a result , the 1970’s saw a wave of queer icons born, with the music industry at the forefront.

In 1970, Dusty Springfield admitted in The Evening Standard: ‘I know that I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy’ and in 1972 David Bowie told journalist Michael Watts: ‘I’m Gay and always have been’.

Photo: Inside cover of Alladin Sane LP via Flickr1563

In 1976, Freddie Mercury came out to his long term girlfriend Mary Austin, although he never publicly spoke about his sexuality. Back then the terminology was loose and although these artists were paving the way for the LG-BTQ+ community, they often resisted labelling themselves as gay or bisexual.

In some ways, a lot has changed since then. Gay marriage is now legal in 25 countries (as of October 2018), the UK government has put forward proposals to (finally!) ban conversion, and filming has just recently finished for RuPaul’s Drag Race UK! In other ways, not much has changed at all: artists are still rejecting labels when it comes to their sexuality, despite a far greater understanding of sexuality. Most recently, Ariana Grande responded to a tweet stating that she didn’t need to label her sexuality with, ‘I haven’t before and still don’t feel the need to now... which is okay’. In the 70s and 80s, labelling was generally resisted due to a lack of acceptance and understanding.

Pop artists are now conveying their sexuality more through lyrics

While Bowie outright declared himself as gay, his long term relationships with women suggested otherwise and allowed him to present gender-bending, sexually fluid characters onstage, while still conforming to a fairly heteronormative personal life.

Freddie Mercury, on the other hand, kept his fluid sexuality distinctly private, and while his flamboyant performances and suggestive lyrics made him the gay icon he is today, the closest he came to confirming anything publicly was when he came clean about his AIDS diagnosis in 1991. Of course, not all of today’s artists have resisted labels.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Janelle Monae stated ‘I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too. 'I’m open to learning more about who I am.’ Her ad-mission caused an 11000 per cent increase in searches for the term ‘pansexual’ on Merriam Webster and has helped empower a group within the LGBTQ+ community who have often been overlooked and erased.

Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons 1564

By identifying herself, Janelle Monae has had a significant impact on helping others, especially among her younger fans, to identify themselves and feel good about that identity.

So why aren’t other artists following suit? In Harry Styles’ song ‘Medicine’ he sings ‘The boys and the girls are here / I mess around with him / And I’m OK with it’. The song has been hailed as a bisexual anthem, which has resonated in particular with young bisexual male fans who often feel underrepresented in modern media.

Similarly , Ariana Grande’s impromptu single, ‘Monopoly’, with Victoria Monet, features the line ‘I like women and men’, though the line could be about Monet’s sexuality as she came out as bisexual on Twitter in November

1561Photo: Carl Lender via Flikr Freddie Mercury live at the WPLR Show 1978

Like Freddie Mercury, to-day’s pop artists are conveying their sexuality more through lyrics and performance an public declarations, and that isn’t a bad thing. Everyone is different, and we have a greater understanding now of just how fluid gender and sexuality can be.

For some of us there isn’t one label that can completely define us. Bi-erasure and Pan-erasure remain as significant problems even within the LGBTQ+ community itself, and while I would love to see more artists come out and represent bisexuality and pansexuality, it is up to each individual how they choose to define and express their sexuality.

One thing that’s certain is that the music industry will always be at the forefront of LGBTQ+ representation

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