IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande (she has received criticism due to the fact, as a straight artist, she will appear at this year’s Manchester Pride as a headliner)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Nocito for FADER
Pulling Down Barriers and Coming Together to Celebrate Diversity
ALTHOUGH I have covered some pretty meaty topics...
IN THIS PHOTO: Manchester Pride 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
over the past couple of days, I think it is important to tackle them and not let them sit at the side. I have talked about sexism in Metal; why we need to look at black Britishness and get rid of discrimination – another story has just broken. Ariana Grande is coming to Manchester Pride and will play the celebration. We all remember her concert in Manchester that was marred by a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of many of her young fans. Since then, there has been this bond between Grande and Manchester and, whilst the relationship started in tragedy, she has supported the city and played there since. There was a little consternation raised around the fact that, at an LGBTQ+ festival, Ariana Grande (a straight artist) is at the centre of the stage. The ‘backlash’ began with a rather anonymous commentator taking to Twitter and complaining but many of her fans discussed the issue and whether she was the right choice. There is an LGBTQ Chart that you can investigate and some great videos made by those in the LGBTQ+ community. I will end by putting together an LGBTQ+ playlist – from LGBTQ+ artists – and there is this bubbling and colourful community producing sensational music. Not all of the songs produced are about respect and being proud in their skin but there are powerful mantras and moments that are deserve mainstream acclaim.
IN THIS PHOTO: LGBTQ+ artist Halsey/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
There are a lot of LGBTQ+ artists working in the mainstream right now but, as I have asked before, is a non-heterosexual viewpoint truly accepted and able to integrate? There are some artists who feel confident expressing their sexual preference and desire but the mainstream is, as has always been, white and heterosexual. That may seem rash but it the truth. I feel like there is so much brilliant LGBTQ+ music around that many only discover through festivals like Manchester and London Pride; some playlists on Spotify or the odd discussion here and there. As much as black and female-made music deserves great attention and respect, so too does the work of LGBTQ+ artists. Manchester Pride, like it southern counterpart, is a great event that helps raise awareness and, at its heart, a moment for LGBTQ+ artists to shine.
There is a debate, regarding Ariana Grande, that an LGBTQ artist should be at the centre but are we needlessly focusing on the wrong thing? She might not be, as she has claimed, to be the essential and true face of the LGBTQ+ movement but she wants to play for her fans and play her part. There are straight artists like Kylie Minogue and Cher who have a big following in the LGBTQ+ community but are heterosexual. It is about the music and how it connects with people rather than the specific messages and the origin of the artists. There will be LGBTQ+ artists playing at the Pride festivals and Ariana Grande’s inclusion will bring fans together and help play a big role.
Whilst I agree it is important, at Pride, to shine a light on LGBTQ+ artists, I do not feel booking a big name like Grande is betraying its roots and missing the point. Grande’s music has a big following and crosses boundaries; she has a large demographic of fans and her brand of Pop will surely go down a storm. Others have complained about the increased ticket prices for Manchester Pride - £71 for a weekend pass is a huge increase from last year – but that is nothing to do with the calibre of Grande and more to do with other considerations (things she is not involved with and cannot change). Another complaint that has been raised by some (regarding Ariana Grande playing) is the fact people who do not support LGBTQ+ music will attend.
I think people need to choose their words carefully. There is a marked and clear difference between those who actively oppose LGBTQ+ music and those who do not usually listen to it. Grande’s fans are not, as far as I know, discriminatory with regards LGBTQ+ music and are not only there to see her and ignore everything else. It is true many of her young fans will not be aware of LGBTQ+ music and its role but, if anything, their eyes will be opened and the festival will bring in fans who will discover all this great music. I think raising the profile of Pride, whether it is through booking a huge artist or taking it to more cities, is a good thing and people should not questions artists who attend.
A lot of young fans, as I say, do not usually attend Pride festivals so it will be a new experience. If a Pop artists like Ariana Grande was performing at a festival for immigrants, let’s say, then would she be judged because she is not an immigrant herself? I do not think an artist needs to be LGBTQ+ to play at Pride and we need to get people together. Were the festival to only book non-LGBTQ+ artists then that would be different – that is absolutely not what is happening. Artists like Sam Smith, Sia; Perfume Genius and Angel Haze are raising awareness and the profile of LGBTQ+ people and music and shattering barriers. Years & Years lead Olly Alexander is part of a mainstream act and, as someone who identifies as an LGBTQ+ artist. Musicians like Alexander have experience bullying, attacks and suffered from psychological disorders because of their sexuality. There is still so much misunderstanding, venom and bigotry that holds back a lot of progress in music. Just because one does not understand someone’s sexual orientation and skin colour, should that be a reason to attack them or turn a blind eye?! I think artists have a hard enough time succeeding in a tough industry without having to face hatred and alienation. As the mental-health crisis increases to a point of insanity, LGBTQ+ artists are being affected and many are hiding who they are or struggling to find an artist.
IN THIS PHOTO: LGBTQ+/queer artist Bronze Avery/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The music coming from LGBTQ+ artists is as varied, deep and eye-opening as any you will hear and I think it should be much more involved in the mainstream. It almost seems tokenistic to have LGBTQ+ playlists and celebrate the artists. In the same way female-led music is not a genre, neither too is LGBTQ+ music: it is part of our fabric and, whether we know it or not, we all listen to music by artists who are part of that community. I recall reading about the late George Michael hiding his sexuality when he was part of Wham! because he felt that would damage his career. So many non-heterosexual artists either have to pretend they are straight or secretive regarding their sexuality because there are radio stations and labels that feel uncomfortable marketing that. I do feel that there are steps being made regarding LGBTQ+ music and making it a more common part of the music fabric. The fact so many artists struggle and suffer feels me with unease but Pride festivals are designed to showcase the best of LGBTQ+ whilst making a very loving, safe and celebratory space. I can see why some might be concerned a non-LGBTQ+ artists is booked for Manchester Pride but, rather than see this as a betrayal and bad move, it should be seen as a positive move that is designed to bring new fans and support in; an artist who backs LGBTQ+ music and is not trying to take the spotlight.
Of course, everything is not about Ariana Grande but the sort of reaction she has received from some regarding LGBTQ+ music and straight artist being involved raises some interesting debates. I feel like any support, whether from straight or LGBTQ+ artists, is a good thing and we should not question that. Going forward, I think we need to get out of this mentality that attacks artists and questions things rather than looking at the big picture. The reality we have right now is that LGBTQ+ music is a vital fuel but one not as dominant and visible as it should be. Artists are not the problem, because, as we can see, they are letting their voices be heard. Whether it is an artist talking about LGBTQ+ matters or one who identifies themselves as being in that spectrum, their role and place is vital and important. The songs and videos I have included in this piece are only the tip of the iceberg. Do some research and have a look at all the great music being made by LGBTQ+ artists. From Halsey and Sam Smith through to Hayley Kiyoko (artists either LGBTQ+ themselves or addressing the community through their music); these artists have an important role and are helping to change perceptions.
PHOTO CREDIT: @belchev/Unsplash
I think music is very bland at the moment and LGBTQ+-led music is adding much-needed vitality, originality and boldness into the scene. We should be focusing on all the positives and possibilities ahead but, like people often do, the negatives are coming through and we are mired in the doldrums of criticism, doubt and negativity. Check out articles like this and this and acquaint yourself with the incredible LGBTQ+ artists around right now. I know I have protested and rambled for a bit but I think there was a lot to unpack regarding Ariana Grande/Manchester Pride and some of the reaction that has been generated. Music is at its strongest and most wonderful when artists of all races, colours and sexualities are together and given the same rights. Whilst this may seem like a far-off utopia, I am seeing changes and at least conversations are happening. Big mainstream artists like Ariana Grande might not be the best embodiment of the LGBTQ+ experience but they are helping to champion artists in the community and, through their profile and fan numbers, making more people aware of the great music available – and allowing them to help raise awareness and support a community that, whilst proud and vocal, still are not as accepted as they should be. Debate is good and anything that progressed and elevates LGBTQ+ music is a good thing. When Manchester (London and Brighton + Hove for that matter) rolls around, rather than asking why Ariana Grande has been booked, we need to see her inclusion as a good thing. More importantly than that, we need to stop the arguments and negativity and, instead, throw our weight behind a...
BRILLIANT and important community.