Once upon a time, gays chose their own icons. Nobody at MGM ordered Judy Garland to mess up her life in between singing songs about gay icons so that gays would buy tickets to her eight million comeback concerts. Gays used to create gay icons instead of publicity departments.
If you haven’t noticed, after Lady Gaga showed that bullied gay kids make for a great cult-like fan base, P!nk, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry have spoken out for gay rights as they released songs aimed at bullied gays— “Raise Your Glass,” “We R Who We R” and “Fireworks”—generic songs about overcoming strife, which have become gay club anthems although they never mention tangible gay issues, such as promiscuity, loneliness, or homelessness.
There have been bright spots in the post-Gaga era of gay icons, though. Robyn sings about dancing on her own without pandering to us in “It Gets Better” videos. (Note: Not all “It Gets Better” videos are glorified advertisements; many are very helpful.) But since 2010, we haven’t chosen an icon of our own.
We’ve accepted whitewashed homosexuality devoid of grime and darkness. We’ve accepted the suburbs when there are urban musical alleyways out there lacking our names but possessing our gay spirit.
I discovered one alleyway in an essay that had nothing to do with gays. In New York Magazine’s best of 2012 issue, Nitsuh Abebe called Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing” the song of the year, describing how the underdog that lacked media buzz and popular YouTube imitations triumphed over all the other girls: “With all apologies to the chest-bursting shout-along of Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It,’ to the metaphysics of aloneness in Grimes’s ‘Oblivion,’ to the terrible driving on Schoolboy Q’s ‘Hands on the Wheel,’ and to that chewy second melody at the end of ‘Call Me Maybe,’ it’s this effortlessly simple tune, from an L.A. pop chancer, that really sticks: It has feathery grace and weary melodies, magic and sparkle, and feels as warm as curling up next to the radiator on a cold day” he wrote.
I had heard of Sky before. She had modeled in underground magazines I read and released singles that failed to catch on. At my liberal arts college, Los Angeles skater boys talked about how she attended their middle school and had tried to become a star since her tween years at her momager mother’s behalf. I had never listened to her music, because she seemed like a wannabe, the kind of girl that would pander to homos because her momager read a marketing study, but after several failures, she had become the underdog.
Over a beat that sounds like it’s leading to a four-on-the-floor radio ready chorus, she sings,
“Maybe if you let me be your lover,
Maybe if you tried then I would not bother,
(I know you’re trying, I know you’re trying)”
But he never tries enough and the Pitbull chorus never comes; we are left dancing to our expectations, as we dance when we expect a boy we meet at a club or on Grindr to bloom into a romance. Sky isn’t speak for gay people, but neither did Judy Garland or Britney Spears; like our greatest gay icons, Sky has created something which we can actually relate to.
She hasn’t become a gay icon, because she hasn’t asked to become one. It’s time we create our own icon and make a Judy Garland again.
Follow Mitchell on Twitter @MitchSunderland
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image via Sky Ferreira’s Instagram