In their newest music video for their song “Desire”, the band Years & Years takes on the issues of Compulsory Heterosexuality first brought up by Adrienne Rich, sex positivity, and even white male privilege. The lead singer of the band Olly Alexander writes about his experience as a gay male in the pop industry, the industries relation to sexuality, and what this new video means to him below. I couldn’t find a way to embed his post from Facebook, so I have copied it and pasted it below along with the video.
Most of the pop videos I’ve seen that have any male and female interaction are usually centred around a romance, and that’s great, I am all for romance, but let’s face it there are a lot of other sexualities and identities that are well deserving of some shiny pop video love.
I’ve been wanting to make a video with some of my queer family for a long time and ‘Desire’ felt like the right time to do it. Every Y&Y video has some similar elements that run through it: magical worlds, symbolism, pretty lights and this time I wanted sex added into that mixture.
I wanted the video to feel sexy. Everyone has a different definition of what they find sexy, so why do we so often get given one version of what sexy is time and time again? Is there a rulebook for men and women on how to feel sexy or what sexy is? For me, whoever it is, two women, two men, a group of gender-queer people, it’s all cute. It can all be a positive and a joyful expression of sexiness and sexuality, you don’t have to be a specific gender to enjoy it.
Pop music has a pretty good track record of embracing queer culture, it’s been a safe place for some of our most visible queer icons, we have more out and open non-straight stars than ever before. The word queer first started being used in the late 1980’s by members of the community who wanted to reclaim something negative and turn it into a positive. It’s still a painful word for some and lots of people don’t identify with it but for me it’s a helpful and empowering term that unifies an ever growing community.
I LOVE POP (obviously) so, why is it that in 2016, a Pop video featuring people expressing their sexuality who aren’t cis-gendered or heterosexual, feel at all unusual or progressive? Well for a lot of people, it doesn’t- they live and think outside of the societal binary most of us are used to, but for a lot of other people, myself included, it does. It shouldn’t, but it does. I am an openly gay male singer, in a band called Years & Years, we make pop music. We’re not the only queer-frontman-led acts nor am I the only openly gay male singer but all that being said there aren’t that many of us and at times I’ve felt real pressure to hide or to limit my sexuality. Some of that pressure has come from myself and my own internal struggles and some of it has come from the wider world. Most often I see the following kind of attitude – we don’t mind if you’re gay, just don’t be too gay or that’s a bit much; a bit camp; a bit weird; don’t shove it in our faces etc. Well, if “shoving it in your face” essentially refers to the way that lots of straight pop stars get to assert their sexuality then I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna shove it in your face if I want to.
So yeah, gay people have sex, and it’s not just gay people, it’s all kinds of people! All these non-straight people, they’re out there, having sex! Sex, between two consenting adults, can be a healthy, positive, safe and enjoyable thing! Hopefully most of you know this and you don’t need me to give you a sex ed lesson (I didn’t have any sex ed at school so I’d probably be bad at it) and to be fair, not everybody wants to hear me bang on about my sex life. But here’s the thing, I like having sex, being able to assert myself and talk about my sexuality is an empowering thing for me. It’s a difficult road from shame to acceptance and part of making that journey easier is owning and embracing it all. As a teenager I was inspired by stars who I felt were doing just that. They were almost exclusively women; Madonna, Destiny’s Child, Alanis Morisette, Britney and Whitney – they asserted or acknowledged their sexuality in varying and different ways and to me they were ways that felt powerful. They were singing about men and I wanted to sing about men. They were seductive and sensual in their videos – I wanted to be seductive and sensual in my videos (and believe me I made a lot of these kind of home videos). They were so much more interesting to me than the majority of male musicians whose Type A macho masculinity felt completely un-relatable. Now, I feel like it’s important to state here that I will never be Beyonce, I am a white male and that is an extremely large privilege, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I can talk about sexuality all I want but I will never know what it’s like to be a woman. Women in Pop music are expected to be sexy, most of the time they don’t have any choice – I have the privilege of choice. I chose to make this video about sex, to portray myself as a sexual character. I choose this because I do not want to hide or limit my sexuality, I want to make videos and songs and art that celebrate all different kinds of sexuality and queer identities.
What do we expect from pop music? From our pop stars? What do we expect from the ones that are gay? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I for one don’t want to see a narrow representation of gender and identity on our screens or in our music. I want diversity. We shouldn’t have to feel scared about putting our sexualities and identities on display in all their beautiful, interlocking, multi-layered multi-coloured glory. I want to be proud. Proud to shove it in people’s faces if I want to.
Thank you for reading – it’s the support from you guys that has got me to a place where I’m able to say things like this, to not feel so scared to shout about what I believe in. Hope you enjoy the video. Lots of love, Olly xxx