Island Records' Cheyenne Beam
Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess
What Makes A Good Ally? LGBTQ+ Artists And Industry Leaders Weigh In On Pride, Diversity & More In New York
We're nearing the end of Pride Month, but the issues of acceptance and representation that LGBTQ+ artists—especially those of color—face don't disappear when June is over. With that in mind, the Recording Academy hosted a GRAMMYs Soundbite Conversation After Dark panel at New York City's Soho House Ludlow on Wednesday (June 26) to keep the discussion going.
Moderated by Recording Academy Editor In Chief, Digital Content & Strategy Justin Dwayne Joseph, the panel included Queens rapper Dai Burger, electropop artist Saro, Island Records associate director of media relations Cheyenne Beam and Brooklyn-via-Oakland emcee Nappy Nina explored a slew of topics that specifically impact black and brown members of the LGBTQ+ music community.
"It's kind of just like this double weight," Saro—who noted that while he has been out in his personal life for some time, he just recently came out in his career and started using male pronouns in his music—said. "You feel like you have this extra thing you have to break through."
Beam recalled feeling uncomfortable early in his career, but he said as he gets older, he has gained the confidence and experience to avoid that.
"I feel like the older I get, the more I know who I am and so I can go in any room and stand in my truth and also represent other artists, LGBTQ artists who are trying to make it in the mainstream business like every other artist," he said.
For Dai Burger, there was pressure to fit in, but she never succumbed to it. "It used to come back to me like, 'You should smooth this out a little, make it a little more prim and proper,'" she said "It was hard. I've had people tell me what I should change [and] shouldn't do, but we are who we are and you can't ever change that."
The panel noted that while the music business is more accepting than ever of LGBTQ+ artists, representation is important on all sides of the industry. Beam called for more diversity at record labels.
"We are who we are and you can't ever change that."
"There needs to be more diversity in the meetings, those brainstorming meetings, those creative strategy meetings, those conference calls," he said. "There aren't a lot of people of color in those meetings. A lot of times I walk into the room and I'm the only person of color. So therefore I'm the only person of color who also represents the LGBTQ community, you know what I mean? The more we hire and employ people of color and the more diverse these companies are, the better we can represent the artists and the talent."
Networking and collaborating with other members of the community was also brought up as an important tool. "I think if I do have an artist friend who is a part of the community, it just gives us that more energy and that more magnetism to work on something, and it usually is magical because we can just fully be ourselves together, just connect and make something beautiful," Saro said. "I don't have to wear that mask that I'm learning to shed."
The group discussed the need to book LGBTQ+ artists year-round, not just during Pride Month, and debated over whether or not straight artists like Ariana Grande, who will headline Manchester Pride, should be taking slots at pride events.
"I'm not the type to be like, 'Oh, he's not gay? No, get him off the stage,'" Dai Burger said, adding that she's not a fan of creating boundaries. "Just because someone doesn't announce or tell you their sexuality, you don't know what people are into, do behind closed doors. It shouldn't matter. If you are okay with me and my friends and who we are, then we're okay with you. So come as you are, straight or not. We're all friends, we're all musicians, artists, and there should be no cutoff on that based on what you do when you want to do it."
Nappy Nina disagreed, arguing that there's no shortage of LGBTQ+ artists to fill those performance slots.
"I think allyship looks like taking a step back," she explained. "There are plenty of queer artists. You don't have to go to whatever straight artists you're going to just because they're there and they're available and they're down with LGBTQ+ folks. Allyship does look like taking a step back sometimes. A lot of times."
She also noted that as June comes to a close, it's important to remember the origins of Pride Month and the members of the community who often get overlooked.
"Pride definitely didn't start as a party, and it is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which started by black trans women and sex workers, not folks who are really currently uplifted or showcased in the forefront of Pride, so I think every year during this month I take time to really reflect on that," she said. "I'm from a place that has a super deep political background, and I think that I've always known to look for the real sh*t, the ones who paved the way for me, because it's not the gay white men who are on the floats at the forefront right now."