Just in time for Madonna’s new album to hit stores (do record stores even exist anymore?), here’s a look at five musicians over the years who have identified potential to resonate in the gay community and actively worked to strengthen those ties.
Some to more success than others…
1. Nick Jonas
We’d be remiss not to mention Nick Jonas first. He (or someone he’s paying handsomely to do publicity) realized early on that a gay fan base is a good fan base. His was a multi-pronged approach. Show up live at gay bars flashing your abs? Check. Come out with a sex-forward ad champaign reminiscent of locker room cruising? Check. Play a gay character on TV and be quoted saying, “the sexiest things in a person is their acceptance of all people”? Check. And mate. As manufactured as his appeal to gay men might be from a marketing perspective, we get the sense that Nick really is the ally he makes himself out to be. And the fact that he’s the first American straight pop star go this direction is, well, groundbreaking.
Do we feel pandered to? No.
2. One Direction
The boys of One Direction take after Nick Jonas in that they embody a new generation of young people who don’t observe such strict lines when it comes to sexuality. It makes sense when you understand the band members have grown up in an environment where gay is OK. There’ve been pro-gay Tweets and the occasional peck on the lips. But then there’s the gay rumors, which the boys had every part in slyly creating. And then more even sillier gay rumors. It seems like while they may be totally cool with the gays, they started to have a bit of fun making the press jump whenever they tossed a bone. And then Louis Tomlinson got genuinely worked up when a reporter commented that wearing an Apple logo might suggest support for Tim Cook.
Do we feel pandered to? Ehh, yes.
3. Bette Midler
Bathhouse Bette, the one that started it all. The gay Continental Bathhouse opened their basement doors in 1968 at the Ansonia Hotel on New York City’s Upper West Side. Owner Steve Ostrow told Bette’s acting teacher at the time that he was starting a “nightclub in his basement.” Bette had recently put together a solid 20 minutes of material, and booked the gig, later revealing that she was unaware at the time that the audience members would be in their towels. But she didn’t seem to mind one bit. That gig would launch her to worldwide fame, and it all started with gays.
Do we feel pandered to? Hell fucking no!
For Madge, the equation seems to have gone in reverse. The gays came to her, and she took their support to heart, willfully becoming a gay icon in the process. In 2008, record producer David Foster reportedly told Madonna that he didn’t like sight of two men kissing. “Two men kissing should be looked at as normal! You represent everything I’m trying to change,” she responded. She has spoken out against LGBT bullying and urged her fans to support gay marriage among other pro-gay gestures over the years.
Do we feel pandered to? No.
5. Katy Perry
So get this — Katy Perry kissed a girl, and she liked it. Our apologies if you’ll now have the song stuck in your head for the next 72 hours. “I Kissed A Girl” was released in 2008, and was a huge success for the budding pop star. The critics, however, disagreed. AllMusic concluded “the problem is not with Katy’s gender-bending, it’s that her heart isn’t in it; she’s just using it to get her places, so she sinks to crass, craven depths.” Slant Magazine agreed, saying the song “isn’t problematic because it promotes homosexuality, but because its appropriation of the gay lifestyle exists for the sole purpose of garnering attention — both from Perry’s boyfriend and her audience.”
Do we feel pandered to? Hell fucking yes.