Why Can't Male Popstars Experiment With Their Sexuality?
15 September 2015, 13:07
Surely men want to be cool for the summer, too?
On Friday's episode of UK chat show Alan Carr: Chatty Man, singer of songs Demi Lovato was a guest.
She was in the UK promoting her upcoming album Confident and the ultimate bi-curious banger "Cool For The Summer".
While being quizzed about the song's possibly sapphic subject matter, Demi said: "All of my songs are based on personal experiences. I don’t think there is anything wrong with experimentation at all."
Well, us neither Demi, us neither.
However, that's not where Ms. Lovato's words of wisdom stopped. After being asked about men writing songs about sexual experimentation, Demi had something to say about it.
"If a guy sang this song who was straight," she said about her smash "Cool For the Summer", "there would be such an uproar."
Continuing, she added: "The thing is, there's a confidence to a man that would say, 'I've experimented with a man,' and not care. I actually find that more attractive than someone saying, 'no, no no, that's so wrong.'"
What Demi said resonated with us. Female sexuality, especially in pop, seems to operate with more fluidity. 2015 has seen Miley Cyrus openly talk about her sexual orientation (or lack thereof), while artists like Angel Haze, Lady Gaga, Halsey, Sia and more have openly discussed their sexual experiences with both men and women.
Yes songs like Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" definitely err on the side of problematic, but there's something rather liberating about the fact that it was a massive number one smash and launched Perry's career. Likewise, who remembers faux-lesbians Tatu and their eternal love-banger "All The Things She Said"?
Whether it was Madonna's Sex book or Annie Lennox's androgyny, it seems that women in music have, to some degree, been more active in playing with their sexuality, often rejecting the patriarchal male gaze.
While of course this doesn't mean that women in music are sexually liberated (in fact, far from), it does pose an interesting question as to why, until recently, male popstars have predominantly been limited to heteronormative images. Artists like Boy George, Freddy Mercury and David Bowie may have pushed the boundaries, but there was always an underlying narrative insisting on their heterosexuality.
Recent out artists like Troye Sivan, John Grant, Adam Lambert and Years & Years' Olly Alexander are definitely shaping the future, using male pronouns in songs and not conforming to record labels' ideals of what makes a man a popstar. While this is important, these acts are, essentially, out gay men who aren't discussing experimentation.
A 2010 survey suggests that 8% of men aged between 18-44 have had a same-sex experience. While that might not seem that high, if you think about it in terms of the world population it's colossal. Also, according to the report, this number is higher than the amount that identify as gay or bi-sexual.
Why, then, is there no male counterpart to "Cool For The Summer"?
See, boys are cute.
Obviously some of this stems from socialisation and the image that men are, supposedly, meant to present. Likewise, our male popstars are usually seen as bulging hunky things with big arms, big torsos and are often surrounded by multiple women just to clarify how masculine they are.
Take someone like Nick Jonas, who launched his solo career by vying for the gay audience, playing up to them, discussing his gay fans and even stripping off for Flaunt Magazine. Every inch of the campaign was angled towards salaciously pleasing a homosexual appetite...apart from the music. Jonas was still singing about his relationships and sexual exploits with women.
We're not pointing fingers or blaming Nick here, but we can't help but feel that if he, or some equivalent, could release something as courageous and as banging as "Cool For The Summer" pop might be more of an interesting space. Not to mention the countless teens (and adults, no doubt) that might be able to relate to what was being sung about.
Essentially, if an artist is like Demi and releases music that relates to his or her experiences, surely men should also be releasing bi-curious bangers, too.
One artist who has, however, broken the mould is Frank Ocean.
Ocean's self-published letter that linked him to a man romantically shook the hip-hop community and his song "Forrest Gump", taken from 2012's stellar channel ORANGE, openly addresses a man. What makes Ocean standout is his refusal to comment on his sexuality and the fact that his music discusses experimenting and sexual trepidation. It's less in your face than "Cool For The Summer", but those twinges of discovery are still present.
What Frank Ocean's music does is showcase how a man can sing a song about a man and a straight (probably white) audience will still buy into it. Yet, more needs to be done.
We're living in a different age, one full of gender and sexual non-conformaty. Men and male popstars, if so inclined, should be discussing their experimentation and fluidity, rather than the amount of hoes and bitches they're f*cking. It's an old, tired narrative and one that doesn't do much for us.
We're not expecting attitudes and actions to change any time soon; there's still too much prejudice and expectation surrounding men and the way they're supposed to behave.
However, we can wish for a future where we will, indeed, have a boy singing about how he was pretty damn cool for the summer.