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The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s
Lady Gaga appears at Sydney gay club Nevermind on July 11, 2011 in Sydney, Australia

PHOTO: Mitch Fong-Cool Kids Club/WireImage

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The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s

The 2010s were a transitional and formative period for queer pop artists. From "Born This Way" to "I Kissed A Girl" and Ariana Grande's "Monopoly," LGBTQ+ artists and allies have grappled with identity — and a fair share of haters — on a world stage.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2022 - 01:42 pm

"Girls like girls like boys do/nothing new," Hayley Kiyoko, affectionately known as "Lesbian Jesus" by her fans, sings on her second EP, This Side of Paradise.  

The accompanying music video for "Girls Like Girls," released in June 2015, features two gal pals falling in love while a violent boyfriend looms in the background. The reception was so encouraging that Kiyoko herself came out as bisexual. Two days later, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.

While the timing of the Supreme Court announcement was apt for Lesbian Jesus, Kiyoko is one of many queer pop artists to receive mainstream shine in recent years. The 2010s in particular were a liminal era where pop dipped its toes into queerness, testing the waters when artists and society at large weren’t entirely sure if it felt "wrong or right."

The second decade of the new millennium saw a shift away from the tepid engagement with queer identity in pop. Lyrics became less thematically subtle, instead favoring direct and prideful exclamations, as well as nuanced songs of heartbreak. The rise of self-publishing platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and TikTok further enabled artists to better control their narratives around sexuality, such as Troye Sivan coming out in a viral video in 2013, a year before his debut EP. 

Although queer imagery and lyrical leanings aren't new, displays of queer sentiment in pop culture have historically been viewed as provocational, rather than a necessary means of engaging with queer identity. Yet as queerness has become more "acceptable" in mainstream entertainment and American politics, it’s not surprising that pop stars may refocus on their identity as a means of negotiating the constant demand for reinvention inherent to pop music.

Born That Way: Queer Pop's Early Aughts Origins

When Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in early 2008, the media zeroed in on her eccentric costumes and zany ear-worms. Yet her bisexuality and support for the LGBTQ+ community through song — most notably, 2011's "Born This Way" — was often criticized and allyship largely considered an eccentricity. Even still, her fame skyrocketed in an incredible show of progress. Gaga became a global sensation at a time where any political sentiment was rarely rewarded.

In a 2018 video interview with Vogue, Gaga commented that these formative pop songs were a career defining moment. "I want to be remembered for the message behind 'Born This Way.' I would like to be remembered for believing that people are equal," Gaga said. "I would like to be remembered for being courageous and different."

As Brian O’Flynn wrote in the Guardian: "Gaga did for my generation what Bowie did 20 years earlier. She re-queered a mainstream that had fallen back into heteronormative mundanity."

Did It Feel Wrong Or Right?

Gaga's queer-friendly pop would be emulated and iterated on for years to come. But the dawn of the 2010s brought with it a new age of queer pop, one where authenticity seemed to reign supreme and identity was placed under a microscope.

Released in 2008, Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl'' saw phenomenal success but was deliberately marketed as a cheeky, bi-curious "phase." Perry, who is bisexual, admitted that the marketing was problematic, later saying she would have rewritten the song to confront this stereotype.

Queerness as a so-called marketing plot is commonplace, though it can also result in an artist's sexual orientation being dismissed or diminished. Halsey, Kiyoko and Miley Cyrus have all had to defend their status as LGBTQ+,  reflecting the ways  bisexuality is often criticized in queer circles. When Billie Eilish posted a behind the scenes picture from her of a music video featuring all girls, with the caption "I love girls," she was bombarded with invasive questions about her sexuality. The constant demand for reinvention demanded by pop music, as well as the increase in fandom throughout the 2010s, means that a pop star’s real life and marketing often exist in tandem.

This often leads to accusations of queerbaiting (where a creator hints at LGBTQ representation, but doesn’t confirm openly), which became a more common occurrence in the 2010s. Rita Ora’s "Girls" featuring Cardi B and Charli XCX attracted criticism in 2018 after its lyrics "Red wine/ I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls" implied that Ora only wanted to kiss girls when intoxicated. This forced Ora to come out via Twitter.

The following year, Ariana Grande's "Monopoly" featured lyrics about liking "women and men" and resulted in a flurry of accusations of queerbaiting, as well as speculation that Grande might be bisexual. The song claimed the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart 24 hours after release and has over 52 million views on YouTube, hinting that the appetite for queer representation in pop music is not dying down.

While some artists are accused of queerbaiting, others must deal with intersectional issues of identity. After coming out in 2019, Lil Nas X has become one of the best-known Black queer male artists — an especially significant fact as his has experienced success in both country and hip-hop — and boldy embraces his sexuality across platforms. The rapper has reveled in turning homophobic rhetoric on its head with outspoken lyrics, and explicitly devilish videos and performances.

Yet Black queer pop stars such as Lil Nas X face an extreme level of backlash around sexual performances that their straight, white counterparts often don’t get. When he openly kissed a dancer at the BET Awards — an unexpected, but authentic act of self-expression as a gay man — Nas X was demonized (so much that he commented that, next time, he would have sex onstage). None of the vitriol stopped Nas from achieving his second No. 1 of the year or winning Best Music Video at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards.

It appears that artists such as Lil Nas X are starting the 2020s off with pride — and more unabashed, explicitly queer music.

Shade Never Made Anyone Less Gay

This emphasis on authenticity that grew from the 2010s is, perhaps, both to the detriment and aid of LGBTQ+ pop and identity.

Emboldened by vocal online fans, queer musicians are able to reach huge audiences and raise awareness around LGBTQ+ identities. Yet criticism and backlash can still derail careers. Hayley Kiyoko was the only openly queer artist to break the top 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2018; meanwhile, Sam Smith’s album sales fell when they publicly came out as non-binary in 2019.

However, successes are still common: Demi Lovato came out as non-binary in 2021and Miley Cyrus openly declared her pansexuality to mostly praise; Ben Platt came out in the emotive music video for "Ease My Mind" in 2019.  In 2021, listening to Norwegian singer/songwriter Girl in Red, is almost synonymous with identifying with queer labels. As Spotify streams and YouTube videos can now translate into the charts, homegrown LGBTQ+ stars have even more ability to change pop music into a more inclusive space.

LGBTQ + allies have also emerged left, right and center. Taylor Swift used her 2019 single "You Need To Calm Down" to campaign for the Equality Act, breaking her long held silence on political issues, and even namechecking GLAAD in one of her lyrics. Beyoncé was honored by GLAAD in the same year for her allyship.

It is a sign of progress that we are beginning to dissect and examine these issues of queerness rather than ignore them. Yet the obsession with "true" identity and "correct" ways of expression can hamper queer creativity, especially for those with other intersecting identities. As LGBTQ+ stories are embraced in the 2020s, acceptance of queer pop artists can't be contingent upon the public's comfort with specific presentations of queerness.

We shouldn’t have to force pop stars to come out, or publicly present their sexuality, for us to appreciate their queer work — but if they choose to do so, we shouldn’t be trying to shove them back into that respectable, comfortable queer box. Long live the queer pop star, in any way they wish to exist.  

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

Lady Gaga

Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.

Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.

"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.

"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."

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"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards drove a 3.3 percent increase in album sales compared to last week, according to a Billboard report. The 2010 GRAMMY Nominees album jumped to No. 5 with sales of 71,000 units, a 55 percent increase. Top GRAMMY winner Beyoncé's I Am…Sasha Fierce rose to No. 14 with sales of 32,000 copies, a 101 percent increase. Other GRAMMY performers experiencing sales increases include Pink (up 234 percent), Dave Matthews Band (up 114 percent), the Zac Brown Band (up 82 percent), the Black Eyed Peas (up 76 percent), Taylor Swift (up 58 percent), and Lady Gaga (up 17 percent). Lady Antebellum, who also performed on the telecast, remained at No. 1 for the second consecutive week. (2/10)

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Universal Music Group International Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge has been promoted to CEO of Universal Music Group, effective Jan. 1, 2011. He will succeed Doug Morris and report to Jean-Bernard Lévy, chairman of the management board of Vivendi. Grainge will relocate from London to New York to serve as co-CEO of UMG in tandem with Morris for six months starting July 1. Morris, who has served as UMG chairman and CEO since 1995, will remain as company chairman. (2/10)
 

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Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each

Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)

The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.

Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs

 

During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.

Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.

Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs



 

In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."

Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.

A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.

Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."

Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs

 

Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs

 

The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.

But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
 

Click below for more GRAMMY content:

GRAMMY  liveblog
GRAMMY quotebook
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GRAMMY Week videos

 

WATCH: Lady Gaga And Ariana Grande Team Up For "Rain On Me"

Lady Gaga 

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories

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WATCH: Lady Gaga And Ariana Grande Team Up For "Rain On Me"

Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world as the two pop sensations dance together in an out-of-this-planet setting

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2020 - 10:17 pm

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande have come together for "Rain On Me," an optimistic pop track about Gaga's personal experiences off her forthcoming album, Chromatica

"I can feel it on my skin (It's comin' down on me)/ Teardrops on my face (Water like misery)/ Let it wash away my sins (It's coming down on me)," the global pop stars sing together on the chorus. "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain."

The song is an empowering track about being comfortable with letting tears fall. Gaga revealed the many layers behind the song in an interview with Vulture, sharing that some of the inspiration for it came from her relationship with drinking. "This is about an analog of tears being the rain. And you know what it’s also a metaphor for, is the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself," she said. "I’d rather be dry. I’d rather not be drinking, but I haven’t died yet. I’m still alive. Rain on me."

She added that the song also went beyond that. "Okay, I’m going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers," she said. 

Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world in the video released Friday, May 22, with the two dancing together in an out-of-this-planet setting. The video ends with them in a strong embrace.

Gaga has shared how much the collaboration with Grande means to her and thanked Grande for "reminding me I’m strong."  Before the video's release, she tweeted out a special message to the "Stuck with U" singer. 

"One time I felt like I was crying so much it would never stop. Instead of fighting it, I thought bring it on, I can do hard things. @arianagrande I love you for your strength and friendship. Let’s show them what we’ve got," she tweeted

Grande returned the love with more love, revealing what sharing a track with Gaga means to her.

"one time ..... i met a woman who knew pain the same way i did... who cried as much as i did, drank as much wine as i did, ate as much pasta as i did and who’s heart was bigger than her whole body. she immediately felt like a sister to me," she tweeted. "she then held my hand and invited me into the beautiful world of chromatica and together, we got to express how beautiful and healing it feels to mothafuckinnnn cry ! i hope this makes u all feel as uplifted as it does for us both. i love u @ladygaga , u stunning superwoman !"  

Watch the full video above. Chromatica is set to be released on May 29. 

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