alternative queer anthems
Alongside the wonderful Diana Ross, Abba, Gloria Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Lady Gaga, we decided to update our dusty Queer jukebox with some modern alt classics.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
July 10 marked the fifth anniversary of Frank Ocean's incredible debut album Channel Orange. This was the birth of a prolific game-changing artist previously known as part of the Odd Future collective, the mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, and his prodigious songwriting skills for artists including Justin Bieber and Beyoncé and his collaborations with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Channel Orange was a huge commercial and critical success, earning him six Grammy nominations, and drew comparisons to Prince and Erykah Badu. But it was the brave statement that his first love was with a man that made global headlines, later sealed by his stunning rendition of the unrequited love song "Thinkin Bout You" on Saturday Night Live in 2012.
A style icon from the get-go, Ocean wears Bianca Chandon and Supreme, has modeled for Calvin Klein by Tyrone Lebon, is friends with James Blake, released a fashion magazine called Boys Don't Cry with editorial content by Harley Weir and Lebon, and commissioned Wolfgang Tillmans to shoot his portrait while exiting a shower with green hair for the beautiful cover for his follow-up record, Blonde. He stood up against the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre and is scheduled to play Lovebox this weekend in London's Victoria Park. Maverick. Genius. Mega talent. Trendsetter. Queer Icon. Inspirational = Frank Ocean.
Described on his Twitter page as "Singer Songwriter: Bitchin' Lyrics. Synth Lover." John Grant is the handsome, bilingual, HIV+, pop song/torch song singing, bear of an artist. Grant has previously won the Rough Trade album of the year, been nominated in the Best Male Solo Artist category at The Brits and The Attitude Awards, had his music featured in the documentary Queerama, the acclaimed movie Weekend, and the TV series Looking. He's sung with Tracy Thorn AND performed "Confide in Me" with Kylie Minogue at her annual Christmas show. Can you get any gayer than that? Possibly… Just check out his video for "Disappointing;" set in a sexy sauna in south London. It features everyone's fav hot ginge Andy Butler of Hercules and the Love Affair among a host of towel clad, sweaty, bearded, and moobalicious hairy dad bods. HOT!
Christine and the Queens
Héloïse Letissier lead singer of Christine and the Queens won Best International Female and Best Track for her disco/pop/electro anthem "Tilted" at the 2017 NME Awards. Collecting the award from fellow pop star Pixie Geldof and dressed in a major Balenciaga suit and shirt combo, Letissier turned to the crowd and screamed "STAY FREAKY." The self-proclaimed pansexual doesn't agree with labeling and wants to prise open terminology imposed on previously queer generations. Along with Solange, Kelela, MØ, Haim, Amandla Stenberg, and Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens have proven to be a bold, brave and brilliant addition to the female-fronted pop charts right now — all these women making the rules and tailoring them to their own schedule.
Growing up, Letissier's parents bought her Judith Butler's book Gender Trouble, (which argues the case that gender is a kind of improvised performance), which led to her exploration into the wonderful words of Jean Genet, later inspiring her to move to London and the sights therein. It was on a night out in the iconic and massively mourned Madame Jojo's that she witnessed a performance that inspired her to don the alter ego of Christine, with the Queens moniker being a nod to the East End drag scene witnessed there. Since her global success with "Tilted," Letissier has appeared on the cover of the French edition of Time with the headline 'Next Generation Leaders', is rumored to be collaborating with Rihanna, counts Patti Smith and Klaus Nomi as influences, loves Kris Van Assche and his impeccable tailoring at the house of Dior Homme, and has performed alongside the stately homo that is Elton John.
Talking to the NME earlier this year about her gender agenda, she stated. "I'm just trying to escape any labels. I can fall in love with a man who defines herself as a woman. I can fall in love with a man that decides she is going to become a woman and then what does that make me?" We can tell you progressive, challenging, and modern. And a brilliant artist with it.
Savages by name and savage by nature, when the Jehnny Beth fronted band played Jools Holland in October 2012, it was a breathtaking and brilliantly abrasive 3-minute pop experience. This was a band with a political agenda, a sense of purpose, and enough vitriol to make a young PJ Harvey wince with pride, confirmed by the band stating, "Our influences are male and female in equal measure." Dressed like a handsome boy in a denim jacket, black T-shirt, ironed suit trousers, and a French crop haircut, it was Jehnny's spike-heeled stilettos that added to the sense of shock and urgency — looking akin to a man-drag version of Ian Curtis or a female James Maker. This unforgettable performance instantly evoked Sinead O Connor's "Mandinka" at the 1988 Grammy's top-to-toe in skinhead and DMs to a stunned audience, both women existing as a bold affirmation for empowerment and equality. As well as two critically acclaimed albums to date with Savages, Jehnny recent walked the runway for Alessandro Michele for Gucci in the Cruise 2018 collection, and when asked by i-D at the time if she were nervous, replied, "If I can walk on people's heads during a gig then I can probably walk on a carpet for three minutes." Mega.
Perfume Genius is the stage name for the brilliant, sensitive, and talented Seattle-based solo artist Mike Hadreas. Of Greek descent, Mike grew up openly gay and received death threats during his formative years that led to him dropping out of high school. This escalated to a vicious beating when he was jumped by a gang of boys, inspiring him to relocate to the safety of New York where he worked as a doorwhore in Williamsburg. It was his second record release, "Put Your Back N 2 It," that grabbed international attention, acclaim, and controversy with the promo video for "Hood," (which sees him being cradled, combed and caressed by gay porn actor Arpad Miklos), being deemed "unsafe for family viewing" by YouTube.
The music and visuals of Perfume Genius are personal, poetic, and heart wrenching, dealing at turns with subject matters that include domestic abuse, struggles with addiction, depression, and sobriety. He likes to dress up in lipstick and a fancy earring and favors designers that include the marvelously talented Jacquemus, Palomo Spain, and J.W.Anderson, has collaborated with photographers Inez and Vinoodh and former i-D Fashion Director (the legendary) Edward Enninful on visuals, and was recently commissioned by Prada to cover Elvis's "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" for their subversive unisex fragrance campaign starring Mia Goth and Dane Dehaan.
Read: While the term 'gay icon' may no longer have resonance to a generation of LGBTQ youth, these current and historical artists, activists and advocates certainly do. Here's our gAy-Z of LGBTQ idols.
Text Ben Reardon