Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 2

This is the second in my series of blog entries featuring openly LGBTQ musicians. It's all about the sights and sounds of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

AB Soto. This visual/performance artist and musician has made quite a splash over the past year, releasing music and a flurry of can't-look-away videos. He appeared at San Francisco's annual Folsom Street Fair in 2012 and the official bio states that he was born in East Los Angeles. What you see in his work is an amalgamation of his Latin roots and a background in professional dancing and fashion design.

AB Soto
His bio also says AB's aim is to show the diversity of the more marginalized members of the gay community and bring them to a wider audience. As if that wasn't a large enough goal, his work challenges mainstream gay culture and norms. Serious stuff. Good thing he has the energetic swagger and cocky sense of humor to pull it off. And here's proof -- the sassy and smashingly art directed video for "Keep it Movin'."

AB Soto's music is available on iTunes. For more videos, check out his YouTube page here.

SSION. Part band, part art project, it's the creation of Cody Critcheloe -- and it's pronounced "shun," as in shunning day jobs and making art for a living. Critcheloe has made music videos for artists like Santigold, Peaches, Gossip, MNDR and the Liars, but SSION has really started to get some well-deserved attention the last couple of years.

Cody Critcheloe, creator of SSION
SSION's sound has been called sultry pop with a disco backbone. And Critcheloe's videos are wildly entertaining, nonsensical blasts of absurdity. Take the video for "Earthquake." Critcheloe describes it as "a coming of age love story between an enigmatic instigator and and alien-brother-lover resulting in the purest form of magik, with a bit of feminism and Las Vegas showmanship thrown in for good measure."  Oh, and it was all filmed in Kansas City.

To check out SSION's website, go here. The music is available on iTunes.

Jonny McGovern. He burst onto the scene in 2000, mixing satire, bawdy comedy and music in his nightclub acts. Albums, music videos and a podcast (Gay Pimpin' with Jonny McGovern) followed. The man has a big personality and a raspy I-smoke-3-packs-of-Marlboros-a-day voice that make for some rollicking good songs and videos.

Here's Jonny McGovern. Just look at the mischief in those eyes.
Here's the music video for "Dickmatized." Which is exactly what you think it's about. So do I really need to warn you that this video is not safe for work? Or for the faint of heart? Or anybody who's easily offended?

McGovern's music and podcast are available on iTunes. You can check out more of his videos -- including "Sexy Nerd" and "Bossy Bottom" -- on his YouTube channel. Just click here. And if you just can't get enough, his website is a lot of fun, too. It's here.

Kele Okereke. He was born in Liverpool to immigrant (and very Catholic) Nigerian parents who kicked him out of the house in 2000 when he told them he was gay. He moved in with friends, got serious about his music and ended up the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of British indie rock band Bloc Party. Okereke came out in several 2010 interviews while promoting a solo album entitled The Boxer. Although he says he was already out and open about his sexuality before the interviews, he finally talked about it publicly because he was tired of having journalists and critics describe him as closeted.

Kele Okereke
Today, Okereke lives in New York but communicates with his family regularly even though they still don't get his homosexuality. In 2012, he told The Advocate, "They weren't into it all, and they are still very Catholic and from a place where there are no visible gay people. They don't quite understand. But they love me, and they understand that I'm happy, and we're finding a way."

Here's the music video for "Everything You Wanted," a great track from The Boxer, his well-reviewed pop-rock album with driving dance beats.

Most of his music, solo and with Bloc Party, can be found on iTunes. Check out his website here.

Drake Jensen. In early 2012, this Nova Scotia-born country singer came out in a big way -- by releasing a music video that featured the man he'd married and dedicating it to a gay Ottawa teen who committed suicide after being bullied. Jensen told the music publication Cash Box Canada, "I'm a homosexual musician telling my story through songs and spreading the message of love. In a perfect world, what could be wrong with that?"

Drake Jensen. Better than anything in Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.
Jensen has an earthy, world-weary voice that's going to remind you of a handful of country stars (Alan Jackson, George Strait and Charley Pride come immediately to mind). He can nail a country ballad. And here's your proof, the single "When It Hurts Like That" from his cleverly titled second album, OUTlaw

Jensen's music is available on iTunes. To check out his website, go here.

Until next time...

Peace out,

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest 2013!

For my European friends, no explanation is necessary. So here's the scoop for everyone else: In 1955, the alliance of public service media entities known as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) came up with the idea of an international televised song contest. Without interruption, the Eurovision Song Contest has been broadcast every year since 1956, making it one of the longest-running television programs in the world. Since satellite television didn't exist when it began, only viewers in Germany, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland saw the early contests. These days the competition is broadcast throughout Europe, but also in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, New Zealand and the United States, even though those countries cannot participate. It's wildly popular, pulling in an audience of about 600 million annually.

All active members of the EBU can take part and this year 39 countries are sending artists to compete. For everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Eurovision Song Contest, including this year's event, click here. Who became the most successful Eurovision Contest winner of all time? A little Swedish pop quartet called ABBA. (Although Celine Dion didn't do too badly either.) The 2013 winner, chosen via a combination of televoting and juries, will be announced May 18th. It's all done live for the contest, but a lot of the performers make music videos to promote their songs internationally, too. I can't show you all 39 acts here, so I picked five that are likely to end up in the top ten based on buzz and momentum. Have a look...

Robin Stjernberg - Sweden. Sweden's Loreen won last year with an irresistible dance-pop confection called "Euphoria." Can cheerful, energetic former boy band member Robin Stjernberg take Sweden to a second consecutive win?

Robin Stjernberg

I don't think Stjernberg has the winning tune here, but he's adorable and lots of fun to watch. I can imagine every teenage girl on the European continent voting for him. And maybe a few gay guys, too.

Cascada - Germany. It's a band -- and a pretty successful one -- known for bombastic electro dance-pop. Vocalist Natalie Horler is the one featured prominently in all their videos... because, well, look at her. And she can sing.

Natalie Horler of Cascada

Cascada's entry is called "Glorious." It's enjoyable, despite the utter banality of it. In the music video, unfortunately, she's wearing a tacky dress with a silly train and unflattering bustier that is precisely the kind of garment that gets you kicked off Project Runway. Psst... Natalie... please don't show up at the contest in that thing. I'm begging you.

Krista Siegfrids - Finland. There are usually a couple of novelty tunes in every Eurovision contest and some of them fare pretty well. Buranovskiye Babushki, an ethno-pop group of Russian grandmothers came in second last year with a song called "Party for Everybody." Krista Siegfrids has perhaps this year's liveliest tongue-in-cheek entry, "Marry Me."

Finnish beauty Krista Siegfrids
There's a lot of buzz about this song, perhaps because Krista is ridiculously watchable and the lyrical hook is, I kid you not, "uh oh uh uh a ding dong." It has the same stuck-in-your-head quality as last year's "Call Me Maybe." You have been warned. And here's the nutty video for "Marry Me." Side note: for those of us who are not drawn to beautiful Finnish women, there's some male eye candy here, too. The object of her affections is handsome, but I'll take either of Krista's campsite buddies.

Margaret Berger - Norway. She's a Norwegian Idol runner-up with two successful albums and a growing fan base outside her home country.

Norway's Margaret Berger
Berger's song -- "I Feed You My Love" -- is a big electronica anthem with teeth. I don't recall anything sounding like this at all last year. I think she'll easily end up near the top, but won't win because this is not a love song, an obvious dance track or a song with a discernable feelgood message. In other words, it sounds like a song that was not written to win a contest. It's solid; I like it. Side note: the majority of artists sing in English rather than their own language even though there's no requirement to do so. There's a certain whimsical charm in hearing Berger's pronunciation of words like cocoon and reward.

Emmelie De Forest - Denmark. First things first: she publicly claimed that her great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria of England. When that was disputed by various genealogists, she just dropped it. So, there's a chance she's crazy, which at least helps you differentiate her from all the other attractive young women in this contest (and there are scads of them).

Denmark's Emmelie De Forest
According to virtually every gambling site out there, De Forest's "Only Teardrops" is the favorite. Even I have to concede it has winner written all over it. Cloying and melodramatic, it sounds exactly like something Celine Dion would have recorded at her chest-thumping My-Heart-Will-Go-On peak. Yup, this is one of those songs you pretend to loathe, but secretly sing in the shower or alone in your car. You'll put this on your iPod and tap your foot right along with it. So, just surrender.

Here are five more songs with good odds of getting into the top ten. Just click on the link to take you to the video.

Zlata Ognevich - Ukraine (This has a kicky show tune quality about it.)
Dina Garipova - Russia (Includes the remarkable lyric, What if we chose to bury our guns.)
Marco Mengoni - Italy (He sings it in Italian; has the wickedest hair in the competition.)
Anouk - Netherlands (This has a certain melancholy charm -- it's a favorite of mine.)
Nodi & Sophie - Georgia (Nodi is a bit of a hunk.)

And finally, If you've been wondering whatever happened to '80s diva Bonnie Tyler ("It's a Heartache," "Total Eclipse of the Heart"), she's representing the UK with "Believe in Me."

Peace out,