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Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, The Smiths (with singer Morrissey, who has said: "I refuse to recognize the terms hetero-, bi-, and homo-sexual. Everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. People are just sexual, the prefix is immaterial"), Bronski Beat and The Communards (both led by mellifluous singer Jimmy Somerville, now a solo act), Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Soft Cell, and the B-52s all included gay members. Although his own sexuality has been hotly contested, pop/jazz singer Joe Jackson perhaps best represents the gay Zeitgeist of the "New Wave" era in his 1982 song "Real Men":
Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, The Smiths (with singer Morrissey, who has said: "I refuse to recognize the terms hetero-, bi-, and homo-sexual. Everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. People are just sexual, the prefix is immaterial"), Bronski Beat and The Communards (both led by mellifluous singer Jimmy Somerville, now a solo act), Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Soft Cell, and the B-52s all included gay members.
Although his own sexuality has been hotly contested, pop/jazz singer Joe Jackson perhaps best represents the gay Zeitgeist of the "New Wave" era in his 1982 song "Real Men":
All the gays are macho
Then if you're tall and handsome and strong
And so it goes--go round again
Bisexual singer Jill Sobule's 1996 hit song "I Kissed a Girl" is one of the few explicitly lesbian-themed hit songs in recording history. Its happy, bouncy message is unequivocally celebratory of a moment of revelation as a young woman--fed up with her dumb, handsome, "hairy behemoth" boyfriend--explores her sexuality with a friend who is equally unimpressed with her own fiancé.
The title of Sobule's album Pink Pearl (2000) is a wink toward female genitalia, recalling the refrain from "I Kissed A Girl": "they can have their diamonds / and we'll have our pearls . . . ." Sobule's oeuvre is filled with such wry, humorous songs; many casually refer to lesbian characters.
More recently, the ubiquitous British television and musical theater actor John Barrowman has emerged as a pop singer. Never closeted, Barrowman has been refreshingly open about his homosexuality. He is not only an accomplished singer but an engaging personality, who has attracted the devotion of pop music fans, many of whom post tributes to him and his partner Scott Gill on youtube.
Lance Bass, who rose to fame as a member of the American boy band 'N Sync, revealed his homosexuality in a cover story for People magazine in 2006, where he announced that "The thing is, I'm not ashamed--that's the one thing I want to say. I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."
Two members of Irish boy bands, Stephen Gately of Boyzone and Mark Feehily of Westlife, have also announced their homosexuality. In an interview in 2007, Feehily described his coming out as "the best thing I've ever done." He is in a long-term relationship with another pop singer Kevin McDaid, formerly of V.
Although Canadian chanteuse k.d. lang started out her career as an alternative country singer, mainstream country music never fully embraced her. Despite her early "torch and twang" sound, lang found commercial success as a pop singer because she had one of the richest, lushest voices to be heard in popular music in years.
lang came out in The Advocate in 1992 and, more spectacularly, in a cover story in Vanity Fair in August the following year. In so doing, she became the first lesbian celebrity to so openly celebrate--and be celebrated for--her sexuality. An actress as well as a singer, lang thrilled her lesbian fans when she briefly appeared nude in the 1991 independent film Salmonberries in a role written for her by director Percy Adlon.
In contrast, mainstream country music has not produced any "out" stars. In 1995 singer Ty Herndon was arrested for drug possession and allegedly exposing himself to a male undercover officer in a Fort Worth, Texas park, but the career-threatening charge was dismissed and buried.
More positively, in 1992 best-selling heterosexual singer Garth Brooks recorded "We Shall Be Free," a song that espouses tolerance and acceptance. He has publicly stated his support for gay marriage. His lesbian sister, Betsy Smittle, plays in his band.
The singer-songwriter dominates folk music, and no other musical genre is as well-suited to exploring gay and lesbian lives in all their complexity, beauty, and, often, pain. Among the most famous folk legends is Joan Baez, who came out as bisexual following the dissolution of her marriage in 1972.
Janis Ian, whose "At Seventeen" (1975) was the theme song for every awkward adolescent girl, freely discusses her sexuality on her website, janisian.com. Lesser-known but no less-talented lesbian folk singers who emerged in the early 1970s include Ferron, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, and Holly Near. These singers have been in the forefront of women's music.
The all-women a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon. While only one member of Sweet Honey was self-identified as a lesbian (Evelyn Maria Harris, who sang with the group for eighteen years), their experience touring and working with and performing for political lesbians led Reagon to write songs specifically about women loving women.
As Reagon explained, their exposure to the lesbian community led them to "sing about oppression of every kind, including the oppression experienced by the homosexual community."
Like Sweet Honey in the Rock, lesbian vocalist, percussionist, and historian Linda Tillery explores the roots of African-American music and storytelling. In 1992 she formed the Cultural Heritage Choir to preserve this history and to perform traditional folk music such as slave field "hollers," work and play songs, and spirituals.
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