Remember when it was 2008 and Lady Gaga was bisexual?
If you don’t, it’s okay because it hasn’t been particularly important to the trajectory of her career. Save a few same-sex references in songs like “Alejandro” and “Poker Face,” the fluidity of Gaga’s sexuality has hardly influenced the charm of her material. But would she be as commercially notable today if she hadn’t used her sexuality to spark interest back then?
While occasional moments of girl-on-girl engagement have been a hot commodity in popular music for some time now -from Britney Spears’ infamous 2003 VMA kiss with Madonna, to Beyonce’s questionable duet with Spanish star Shakira- never has gay for pay been such a necessary resume builder for female artists as it is today.
Look at hip-hop’s latest female player Nicki Minaj, who is probably more noted for her sexuality than any of the other gimmicks that dictate her media persona.
“…I’m plotting on how I can take Cassie away from Diddy,” she says in Usher’s “Lil Freak,” after “Shakin’ It For Daddy” with Robin Thicke months earlier.
Even veteran act Christina Aguilera boasted about her same-sex fantasies while promoting her album earlier this year; and Rihanna enjoyed a tryst with another woman in her video for “Te Amo.”
What Gaga, Minaj and Aguilera (to a lesser extent) have in common is a choice that they’ve made to not just exist as bisexual women, but to publicize their sexuality as it works to promote their professional endeavors. In other words, they’ve turned their sexual orientation into capital gain.
Some will argue that these women are sharing their sexuality with popular media to combat close-minded concepts of homosexuality; but then Aguilera releases a video that sees her lapping milk from a cat bowl after running her tongue across a female extra. “Lesbians are hot!” is so American Pie.
But it is possible for a popular artist to challenge gender and sexual bias in a thoughtful, if unintentional, manner.
Last week FourFour’s Rich discussed Young Money star Drake’s success, and what it means for the scope of hip-hop:
“In a world that idealizes hardness, Drake has a bag-of-cotton aesthetic: soft on top of soft” Rich says. “It's ballsy to sound this neutered in hip-hop.”
Drake’s Thank Me Later is a ballad far more than it is a banger. After a trail of commercially catered features, like “Every Girl in the World,” his solo effort sees him less concerned with broadcasting his masculinity, and ultimately committed to engaging his emotions.
In “Find Your Love” he says “I’m more than just an option –I better find your love” not just shamelessly, but with a longing that hasn’t been heard on pop radio since Mariah’s “We Belong Together.” He sings that song, but even when he’s rapping, he’s vulnerable: “…that first cut is the deepest.”
A Rod Stewart reference from a ‘Lil Wayne affiliate?
Not that fans should start assuming Drake is gay, or that emotionally aware hip-hop should be synonymous with homosexuality. But Thank Me Later’s success proves that ultimately, none of that should matter. If the album succeeds at nothing else, it succeeds at wearing its honesty, so that it shows Drake’s artistry instead of simply telling listeners that it’s there. As the album unfolds, Drake’s sexuality becomes an afterthought, not a selling point.
In the end, an artist’s sexuality should exist separately from his or her commercial viability. “Bad Romance” functions the same on Top 40 radio with or without listeners’ prior knowledge of Gaga’s bedroom preferences. And if Nicki Minaj wants to a have threesome with Usher and some other girl, then hook-up with Robin Thicke later –that’s fine too.
Be bisexual. Be gay, or straight. But don’t be so desperate for attention that you’d exploit a minority group still struggling for social agency.
What do you think?