And the video for Katy Perry’s new single, “Firework,” a song from her album “Teenage Dream,” features a scene in which two boys passionately kiss as pyrotechnics burst from the singer’s bust.
To get her fans ready to sing the song loud and proud, Ms. Perry released a teaser on YouTube last month, plastering the song’s encouraging lines, like “After a hurricane comes a rainbow,” in jumbo handwritten cursive letters over stills from the music video. In case anyone was confused by the song’s message, she dedicated it to the “It Gets Better” video campaign aimed at gay youth who may feel alone or suicidal. “Everyone has the spark to be a firework,” she wrote on Twitter.
Then there is Lady Gaga, arguably the biggest gay idol of the decade. Her next single, the title track from her forthcoming album, “Born This Way,” isn’t due out until early next year. But Elton John has told Entertainment Weekly that it “will completely get rid of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ as the gay anthem.” A vocal snippet of the chorus, lifted from a brief a cappella rendition of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards, has already been remixed into a pulsating battle cry of selfhood that plays in gay nightclubs, at circuit parties and on fan-made videos across the Web.Together, these artists represent a new wave of young (and mostly straight) women who are providing the soundtrack for a generation of gay fans coming to terms with their identity in a time of turbulent and confusing cultural messages. “These songs are countering a hateful message that a peer, family member, politician or a bully might be saying,” said Dan Savage, the sex columnist who started the “It Gets Better” campaign, for which Ke$ha has also recorded a video. “I get frustrated with gay politicos who discount or undermine the importance of pop stars,” Mr. Savage added. “They’re a huge part of this fight.”
For some, however, there is a whiff of opportunism behind the artists’ good intentions. Ke$ha and Ms. Perry, who started their careers as irreverent party girls, suffered from a credibility problem early on. Eyes rolled in particular at Ms. Perry’s first single, “Ur So Gay,” a jab at image-conscious straight men that many critics said was homophobic, and at her breakout hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” an ode to bisexuality that the lesbian singer Beth Ditto of the Gossip called “offensive to gay culture.”
“Many in the gay community felt used by her,” said Barry Walters, a music critic for Spin and Rolling Stone who is writing a book titled “100 Albums Every Gay Person Should Hear.” He added, though, that maybe the new records “are these artists telling us they’re growing up — and emblematic of an entire generation growing up with them.”
THERE is no better place to witness the growing pains of pop music than on the video-sharing site YouTube, where for the past year Josh Erdman, 20, and Ben Klute, 19, both sophomores at Occidental College in Los Angeles, have been posting clips of themselves singing covers of pop songs by Miley Cyrus, B.o.B, Kelly Clarkson and other Top 40 regulars. Shot mostly in Mr. Erdman’s dormitory room, where the walls are adorned with posters of Lady Gaga and from the television series “True Blood,” the videos have the simplicity and sincerity of a campfire singalong. After several of the clips received over 100,000 views, the two men began to add a small stamp to the videos that reads “Legalize Gay,” a line that Mr. Klute cribbed from a T-shirt he bought at American Apparel.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to express our orientation with these videos,” said Mr. Erdman, a member of Occidental’s Queer Straight Alliance. “But we wanted people like us to know we’re out there.”
After finding “We R Who We R” on a music-sharing Web site a couple of weeks ago, they updated the stamp to read, “Legalize Gay ’Cause We Are Who We Are.”
“The lyrics obviously spoke to us,” Mr. Klute said. “What these artists are doing means the world to the gay community.”
Fan-made lyric clips (the YouTube generation’s version of the karaoke lyric sheet), remixes, covers and video tributes to new singles commonly pop up on video-sharing sites long before the songs are officially released. “These artists hit a nerve with their audience,” said Tom Corson, general manager of the RCA Music Group. “They actually live this stuff alongside their fans. They’re plugged into a lifestyle, and the music reflects that.”
The connection between dance music and gay social history extends back to the disco era of the 1970s and ’80s. It was a time of anthems like Ms. Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and “I’m Coming Out,” by Diana Ross (written by the producer Nile Rodgers as a tribute to the drag queens he saw mimicking Ms. Ross’s style at a nightclub); boundary-pushing performers like Sylvester and the Village People; and winking camp classics like La Jete’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” a high-energy disco version of the title song from the Broadway hit.
“Artists and producers became conscious of speaking to a gay audience in code that straight audiences wouldn’t understand,” said Vince Aletti, a music journalist who reported about nightclubs for The Village Voice during that era. “I Was Born This Way” — which can be considered a bookend to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — was released by the Motown artist Valentino in 1975 and was one of the first explicitly gay anthems.
The rise of MTV in the 1980s encouraged more flamboyance, with songs like “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat — as well as an outspoken and hugely popular gay-rights advocate in the ever-shifting form of Madonna Louise Ciccone.
Mr. Walters said the current crop of singers “are women who were born after Madonna.”
“They’re raising many of the same issues as her,” he said, “but taking it one step further.”
Another singer to whom Ke$ha, Ms. Perry and others are indebted is Christina Aguilera, although her current album, “Bionic,” has been heavily criticized as climbing on the electro-pop bandwagon and harping specifically on the sound and look of Lady Gaga. But Ms. Aguilera’s hit “Beautiful,” one of the few mainstream songs to function as a gay anthem in the early part of this decade, serves as a kind of template.
A somber ballad about fighting insecurity, “Beautiful” won a Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance in 2004. Its appeal to the gay community was solidified with a video that featured both a man who was seen changing into women’s clothes and two boys defiantly locking lips eight years before Ms. Perry’s “Firework.” There was also a pounding club remix that was crafted by the superstar D. J. Peter Rauhofer, whose work helped to define the circuit party sound.
It is no coincidence that the new releases from Ke$ha, Ms. Perry, Pink and Lady Gaga are all set to a pulsating beat: it’s a defiant gesture, and an optimistic one — less “I Will Survive” and more “We Have Arrived.”
For some in the gay community, the popularity of these new songs is bittersweet. Could Adam Lambert, the pop star who finished in second place on “American Idol” in 2009, sell a gay anthem the way Lady Gaga can? Probably not.
“It’s exciting because it feels like this gay awareness and openness to homosexuality is coming to a head,” said Jake Shears, the lead singer of the band the Scissor Sisters, which is supporting Lady Gaga on a forthcoming leg of her Monster Ball Tour. “If our band’s sexuality, and other artist’s sexuality, and really anybody’s sexuality, is going to be less of a big deal, then great. But what if it is just something that is just a trend? What happens to the gays if it goes out of style?”
For Ke$ha, however, this is a transcendent and satisfying moment. “I never could have imagined how much impact my music could have on people,” she said. “I realized that through pop music, I have the opportunity to stand up for something I believe in.”
Source: NY Times