Friday, June 26, 2009

I was 13 when it was brought to my attention that I had particularly "gay" taste in music. We were in Health class at the time, Hannah and I were discussing Freddie Mercury in distressingly minute detail when our teacher overheard us talking. She approached us and openly scoffed, promptly announcing to the class that Queen were a "gay band" and to like them was to "be gay". I was overwrought with such bigotry and with heated cheeks, I spluttered a clumsily-constructed argument: "I love Freddie's songs, I love his voice. I don't see how that makes me gay, how does that make anyone gay? What does musical taste have to do with sexual orientation?" My Health teacher remained incredulous and unconvinced. Even though many years have passed since then, I continue to be intrigued by that confrontation. I am still trying to figure out what relationship, if any, exists between musical taste and sexuality.

Assigning a sexual orientation to song, band or musical movement has always seemed to be offensive to my sensibilities. This became relevant when I developed a particularly intense affinity with synthpop, some ten years ago. I knew that others had associated synthpop with gay subculture, namely due to its heavy reliance upon exaggerated aesthetics, flamboyant imagery and camp extravagance. It was something clearly identifiable in the cross-dressing shenanigans of Erasure's clip Take A Chance On Me. Even still, I didn't see how my love for this genre had any relevance to my being a straight fourteen year old girl. I could listen to songs like Erasure's I Love Saturday, the Pet Shop Boys' Tonight is Forever or Depeche Mode's See You and still strongly identify with the romance of these lyrics. To me, it is the ambiguous treatment of pronouns that makes the lyrics in synthpop so intensely relateable. Particularly in the earlier work of these artists, there is rare mention any gender specifically. There are simply universal notions of sublime love and affection.

This issue takes on a fascinating dimension when purportedly "straight" indie bands borrow from imagery from a gay context. The Smiths, in particular, employed feminine imagery in their live stage show, where Morrissey would sport a woman's blouse and stuff gladioli flowers in his back pocket (if you could ever imagine it). The illusion was further enhanced by Morrissey's aggressively emphatic claims to asexuality in the British musical press. Brett Anderson of Suede would similarly flirt with notions of sexual ambiguity, from the suggestive "have you ever tried it that way?" in Pantomime Horse to the more provocative proclamation "I suppose I'm a bisexual who has never had a homosexual experience". The British musical press, again, sought to obsessively clarify and re-clarify the exact nature of Brett's sexual inclination. They wanted to know exactly what he meant by that, why? Why was it relevant or even necessary to dissect the sexual appetites of Morrissey, Brett Anderson or even David Bowie or Brian Molko? Is this knowledge really necessary in assessing how we engage with their persona? Does it make us feel any differently about their music?

That what we would traditionally label as "indie" continues to have a taste of sexual subversion, but these days it is far more subtle. It is present in the suggestive lyrics of Michael by Franz Ferdinand or in the clip of the Strokes song Juicebox, but such imagery is rarely controversial. Contemporary indie capitalises upon the unacknowledged truth of taste: that the most refined form of sexual attractiveness is the adoption of physical attributes from the opposite sex. Indie musicians adopt feminine attributes in private, they apply eyeliner, put on skinny girls' jeans and use expensive hair straighteners. The feminine influence is far from overt, but it is detectable. Sometimes it even gets to a point where androgyny becomes so latent in a musician's appearance that you begin to think that there isn't the intensely insidious breed of homophobia, that maybe there is no relationship between musical taste and sexuality. But then you see instances of Kele Okereke, having to account for the meaning and sexual intent of every Bloc Party song and then you realise that people still care, people will always care. Because as much as you want to detach musical taste and sexuality, they will always be inextricably linked.

So on that note, I leave you with today's podcast, Electro Podcast #15. I would be interested to hear your views on this topic, so be sure to write me a comment.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Electro Podcast #15
Robyn - Cobrastyle
Hot Chip - Arrest Yourself
Frankmusik - Confusion Girl (Don Diablo Loves To Slowdance Mix)
Pet Shop Boys - Email
Erasure - When I Needed You (Melancholic Mix)
New Kids on the Block - Hold On
Milli Vanilli - Is It Love?
Sliimy - Wake Up

Download (31.5MB)


Mike said...

I got distracted turn my back to find you've done four whole pods!!! Downloading now and will play at work whether people like it or not. Keep up the good work.

Eleanor said...

Thank you, M. Upsetter! Your comment made my morning, I chortled considerably! I hope your work colleagues didn't find the podcasts too objectionable!

Am working on Britpop Podcast #16 at the moment. Been thinking about writing a post about Style Council related matters, namely the artwork of Our Favourite Shop. Will be up soon!