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Joe Heaney asks what is “gay” music?



Ownership is a funny old business – particularly when it comes to musical genres. Estelle’s recent comments about the lack of British soul singers is a case in point. On the one hand, she’s right. The UK charts is a pub with no beer when it comes to female black artists of British origin – which is a shame because it’s not like there’s a lack of black talent in the UK right now (Ms Dynamite where are you?). The fact that Adele and Duffy are riding high with their “white soul” sound suggests that history has repeated itself once again. Like The Beatles, George Michael and Vanilla Ice before them, the white magpies have pinched a “black” sound and ended up having a bigger hit. “Adele ain't soul,” says Estelle. “As a black person, I'm like: you're telling me this is my music? Fuck that!”

Waaaait a minute. Let’s pull back on the reins a wee minute, shall we? “My music”? Let’s not confuse the artist with the musical genre. Finding a musician that speaks to you (whether through their lyrics, or their general attitude), is surely different from finding a musical genre that speaks to you (although the two may overlap). I can understand black music lovers feeling frustrated that there is currently a lack of British talent singing about their experiences, but to imply that because a singer is white they are not truly “soul” strikes me as, well, rather misguided.

What right have I to talk about the black, female experience? None really. I’m neither black, nor a woman. But let’s look at this a different way. I am a gay man. And I love music – lots of it. Some of it purely because it speaks to me as a homo. When Morrissey sings about getting his “hands on your mammary glands,” I smile knowingly. When I hear Sylvester crooning about feeling “mighty real”, I’m right there with him in the heady atmosphere of a poppers-infused 70s gay club. And, incidentally, don’t get me started on the genius that is Jean Genet.

But if you start talking about a blanket “gay musical genre”, that’s when I start to worry. Does that mean those musicians who are gay but don’t conform to the traditional gay music stereotype are frauds? (Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and alt rock granddad Bob Mould immediately spring to mind) And what about The Freemasons, whose disco house sound (“how gay!”) is as popular in the queer clubs as it is with the Top 20; or David Bowie, whose lyrical musings about being a stardusted outsider struck a chord with many gay teenager – they’re not gay, so are they fakes too?

Subcultures develop a sound they feel speaks to them. But the thing is, sometimes it speaks to other people too, so they start to copy it. Rather than moaning about singers which we feel have “stolen” a musical genre from a particular group, instead let’s put our focus into demanding recording companies invest more into artists who genuinely talk about our own experiences – whichever subculture that’s from.

That’s why I’m campaigning for someone to sign up Jean Genet immediately. And while we’re on the subject, it would be nice to see some out gay black singers in the charts too.




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