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Ricky Martin is not alone, but a new generation of vocal artists has more courage.
As an out gay writer, I find that one of the most rewarding developments of the last decade has been the emergence of proud and out artists around the world and the amazing indie art scene they have created. No longer do greedy or timid publishers stymie individual artistic talent. Authors always had it easier, because we are ultimately recluses who do not seek the limelight. Having your book rubbished by a conservative reviewer is easier to stomach than attacks on a person, unless of course your name is Rushdie.
To me, the most intriguing group of artists to come out are pop singers. Songs never have to be explicitly gay: they can always hide behind an adored ‘you’. Why then bother with all the politics and risk alienating your bigoted (still the majority, unfortunately) fans?
I am not talking about the old guard here. Elton John, George Michael, and the boyband members Mark Feehily and Lance Bass came out after they had raked in the millions. That doesn’t count! In fact, I dislike people who ten years after they made it big suddenly decide they are rich enough to come out and reveal their sexuality—most likely in a publicity stunt intended to kick-start their fading careers. But fine, I won’t argue. It’s a personal journey, and you are ready when you are ready, I guess.
Ricky Martin may have lost half his market value when coming out, but he is an inspiration to countless of singers around the world. Out gay singers are far more popular than you would imagine. Here are a few you may not have heard of, and some who are definitely worth listening to.
First, an honorary mention. Adam Lambert apparently was the first openly gay singer who became famous through the excruciatingly tacky selection process of American Idol. And he is still going strong. More in my line is Frank Ocean. He came out as bisexual before he released his first album. That’s the way to go. The adorable Mika at first called himself bisexual before coming out as gay. Well, most of us have been there.
Equally, if you like your men hairy and their voices dark, check out Barbzul. The music is, well … I’ll stick to my Schubert for now, but it’s nice to see the bear community handling a microphone well.
But enough about chest hair. There are up-and-coming twink singers too. Being gay seems to be the latest Jewish fashion craze. Alex Shane Krilov might not be your cup of tea, but seriously, who can say no to Harel Skaat? His Hebrew rendition of ‘Ne me quitte pas’ is marvelous. He puts me in mind of a young Charles Aznavour. Israel has also given us the laryngeally talented Yehonathan, no less appealing in voice and timbre, but with a little more facial and I assume chest hair. His songs are lyrical and very inspiring.
Not all are turning their 15 minutes of fame into a lasting career however. Remember Johnny McGovern’s ‘Dickmatized’? or Cazwell’s ‘Ice cream truck’? There is a fascinating male-erotic iconography here, but not much on the musical front. I discovered that there are porn stars who were singers before they whipped out their equipment in front of the camera too, such as German twink Carsten Andersson who thought he could make it as a pop star even after all that lustful groaning.
Some are more subdued in their sexuality, but no less attractive. And they are keenly aware of the role the male body plays in the promotion of their art. Both the artist and the art become a commodity. Is being gay and gorgeous a career builder? Food for thought.
But back to the music. Finally, if you haven’t seen him yet, Steve Grand isn’t just a gifted country singer, he’s also cute as pie in this touching video:
I have inevitably left out quite a few gay singers (and all the lesbians I am afraid) and I sincerely hope that there are many more out there you can point out to me. There is something very rewarding in supporting people outside the deafeningly boring mainstream.
Anybody can be a little monster and scream “I was born this way” but what ultimately makes the world a better place are not the sound effects and flashy costumes, or millions of dollars lining the pockets of studio executives, but our support for young and struggling talent, for individuals who go their own way and sing with pride and honesty about their dreams and motivations. I am not urging you to only support out gay singers. But try listening to creative people who are not handed to you on the platter of deadbeat commercialism. And now I’m going back to cuddling Harel Skaat … only aurally, of course.