Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Queer Cinephile(s) #4: Some Like it Hot

I'm a cinephile. Studied film in college and got to review movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). My Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles in 2013, so, for 2014, I gave myself an assignment: watch 50 films that I've never seen before and write something about them. I'll be watching a little bit of everything -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, cult flicks, blockbusters and weird shit my friends have been recommending for years.

Some Like it Hot (released March 1959)

Left to right: Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon

Here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: A little research revealed that Some Like it Hot was an updated American version of a 1935 French film (Fanfare d'Amour) that had already been remade by a German filmmaker in 1951 (Fanfaren der Liebe). The funny thing about the trailer for Some Like it Hot is that it doesn't even bother explaining the plot to you. It simply promises action, comedy and Marilyn Monroe. And if that's not good enough for you, the overzealous narrator emphasizes: "You've never laughed more at sex, or a picture about it." I was genuinely surprised to hear the film promoted that way for audiences in 1959. I mean, the guy actually says sex, and suggests that it's perfectly okay for you to bust a gut over the subject. Radical.

How popular was Marilyn Monroe? In the '50s, Marilyn Monroe made 21 films and appeared on dozens of magazine covers. Her career even survived the notoriety of appearing nude in the first issue of Playboy magazine in 1953. She gets top billing for Some Like it Hot despite the fact that she shows up almost a half hour into the picture and co-star Jack Lemmon was already an Oscar winner.

The plot goes like this... It's February in Chicago, 1929. Two hungry, broke, indebted musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) need a job. The situation is so bad that when Lemmon's character, Jerry, learns of openings for sax and bass players in an all-girl band headed to a gig in Florida, he momentarily considers donning women's clothes as a plausible way to make money. Curtis, as Joe, calls him crazy. But after they accidentally witness a mob hit, better known historically as the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, and narrowly escape death themselves, Joe becomes desperate enough to believe that disguising themselves as women -- Josephine and Daphne -- is the perfect way to evade the mobster who wants to kill them. So, they head to a Florida resort by train with Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators, a band that includes vocalist Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Joe and Jerry are both attracted to Sugar, rivalry builds, complications ensue and the mobster who wants to kill them them -- "Spats" Colombo -- coincidentally winds up at the same resort. Yes, it's a farce.

Some Like it Hot was nominated for six Academy Awards and landed on top of the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest films of all time back in 2000. Another cross-dressing comedy, Tootsie (1982), is one of my top ten favorite films ever, so I approached this film with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism. In the first 20 minutes of Some Like it Hot we're simultaneously introduced to Joe and Jerry as well as the mobster and his gang. When everyone ends up in the same parking garage and the submachine gun massacre of seven men happens, it felt like a tonal shift upon which no comedy could survive. Wrong. Within minutes, the guys are in dresses. Marilyn Monroe makes her entrance and director Billy Wilder deftly crafts a lively farce.

Jack Lemmon has quite a bit of fun as Daphne, courted by daffy millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown in the film's best supporting role). Monroe is remarkable -- funny, sexy and clueless, but then surprisingly vulnerable and genuinely touching. She gives a pitch perfect performance here, managing to still be the one you want to look at even when she's talking to two men in dresses. Tony Curtis, who never achieved the fame or popularity of his co-stars, is great. He's Joe, a bit of a womanizer, then the classy Josephine, and finally Junior, a phony oil tycoon persona he adopts (complete with preposterous Cary Grant vocal inflections) in order to chase Sugar. Lemmon may have gotten a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role, but I'd argue that Curtis does comparable work.

Stray Gay Observations: Miss Monroe's gowns were designed by someone named Orry-Kelly. No kidding, the opening credits say, "Miss Monroe's gowns designed by Orry-Kelly." He won the films's only Oscar.

On the train to Florida, Sugar rehearses a song with the band. When she sings the lyric, "Feelin' gay, reckless, too," I was reminded that once upon a time, gay meant something else entirely.

Tony Curtis is pretty convincing as a woman. Lemmon, not so much. I got a kick out of the way Curtis kept puckering his lips in an attempt to give his mouth a more feminine appearance.

Considering the amount of gender flip-flopping and drag in this film, plus one ostensibly same-sex kiss, it's rather amazing it got made in America in 1959. And I wouldn't dare spoil the ending -- you need to see that for yourself -- but it must have surely befuddled plenty of moviegoers.

After the mobsters show up at the resort and share an elevator ride with Josephine and Daphne, the two scurry back to their room in a panic. Lemmon delivers his best line: "...the cops are gonna find two dead dames, and they're gonna take us to the lady's morgue and when they undress us, I tell you, Joe, I'm gonna die of shame!"

The Lust Factor: Someone has to say it: Tony Curtis had a nice ass. In pants or a dress.

Should You See It? Screwball comedies and farces aren't for everyone. If you're the kind of person who spends two hours tugging at the loose threads of a movie, this one will unravel pretty fast. If it's going to bother you that these two broke musicians show up at the train station in dresses, wigs and full makeup carrying suitcases full of women's clothes with no explanation for how they could possibly afford any of that, then skip it.

However, if you've heard of Marilyn Monroe, but haven't seen any of her films, this is a good place to start -- it's a quintessential role and she's magnetic. In interviews, Jack Lemmon has confirmed that many people advised him to pass on the role because putting on a dress would ruin his career. Watch his performance knowing that and you will see a man doing something pretty fearless in 1959. He looks like he's having a blast.

There had been cross-dressing comedies before (Cary Grant's I Was a Male War Bride in 1949, for instance), but this is the one that really upset people in Kansas (who wanted it banned not for the drag, but for the lusty interplay between Curtis and Monroe). And along with a handful of other films around the same time, Some Like it Hot contributed to the eventual demise of Hollywood's restrictive production code that forbade a variety of scenarios and subjects from ever being depicted. Initially voluntary, the code was ultimately mandatory... and a pain in the ass for screenwriters and directors. To read a short article about the code -- it's history, implementation and abandonment -- go here.

Bottom line: To a 21st century viewer, Some Like it Hot will probably feel occasionally labored (as many farces tend to be), but when it works, it's snappy good entertainment. Few movies can be described as cynical, sweet, sexy, broad, silly, sophisticated and optimistic all in the same sentence.

Next Week: Harold and Maude (1971) 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Queer Cinephile(s) #3: Valley of the Dolls

I'm a cinephile. Studied film in college and got to review movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). My Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles in 2013, so, for 2014, I gave myself an assignment: watch 50 films that I've never seen before and write something about them. I'll be watching a little bit of everything -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, cult flicks, blockbusters and weird shit my friends have been recommending for years.

Valley of the Dolls (released December 1967)

Left to right: Sharon Tate, Barbara Parkins & Patty Duke

Here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: Arguably, 1967 was an extraordinary year in film, offering moviegoers a diverse slate of classics and beloved pictures like The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, The Dirty Dozen, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Wait Until Dark. As a wee boy I heard stray references to Valley of the Dolls. Before I realized the neighborhood mothers were talking about Jacqueline Susann's infamous book and the subsequent movie, I believed there might be an actual valley filled with dolls somewhere. And since I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is situated in the Tennessee Valley, I hoped it was only a short trip there by car. Nope. Dolls, as the trailer so portentously explains, are prescription pills. There are so many things wrong with this movie, let's just begin with the trailer itself. The narrator tells us what we need to know about our three young female stars: "Anne, good girl with the million dollar face and all the bad breaks... she took the green pills;" "Neely, who was such a nice kid and then someone put her name in lights and turned her into a lush... she took the red pills;" "Jennifer, international sex symbol, victimized by everyone... she took the blue pills." Spoiler alert! They all take the red pills, handfuls of them. There isn't a green or blue pill in the entire movie. Why, it's almost as if the guy narrating the trailer never even saw the picture. And that's a pity, because it's simultaneously terrible and terrific. Seriously, Hollywood can only accidentally make a movie this astonishingly bad and wildly entertaining about once a decade. (See also Exorcist II: The Heretic, Mommie Dearest or Showgirls.)

Now, about the ladies. Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) -- the one with the million dollar face and all the bad breaks -- arrives in New York City on a snowy winter day, has one interview, gets a secretary job at a theatrical agency, and is discovered by a cosmetics mogul midway through some dictation. That leads to one of the bad breaks we were told about... a supermodel career. She also has the misfortune to fall in love with an attorney named Lyon. Because in this movie, the men all have names like Lyon Burke or Ted Casablanca or Tony Polar. Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) -- the nice girl -- is fired from her first Broadway role after the show's aging star, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), determines that she's a threat. After that, Neely sings on a cystic fibrosis telethon... which somehow manages to propel her to musical superstardom as if she'd won American Idol. She even receives a Grammy award, not for a specific song in any particular category, but for her "warm contribution to the recording industry." Neely eventually ends up in Hollywood, living with fashion designer Tony Casablanca, whom everyone gets to call a queer, a faggot or a latent homosexual at some point. Finally, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) -- the international sex symbol, victimized by everyone -- falls in love with and marries nightclub singer Tony Polar... whose rare hereditary disease pops up inconveniently and indirectly forces Jennifer into a career in French "art" films, otherwise known as soft-core pornography with subtitles.

Here are some random examples of what makes this movie so bad it's good...

Anne, Neely and Jennifer are all supposed to be friends, but the three of them never even share a scene together. There's not a single expository scene that might explain why they would even care about each other -- and that surprised me quite a bit since the book and the screenplay were written by women!

The musical numbers -- and there are no fewer than five of them for some reason -- are memorable not for the songs, but for the awkward staging. When Patty Duke belts out that tune on the cystic fibrosis telethon, her necklaces are swinging all over the place because the choreography makes her look like she's frantically trying to stomp out a fire. Susan Hayward is inexplicably surrounded by a gigantic, multi-colored plastic mobile as she unconvincingly lip syncs a song about planting her own tree and watching it grow.

Apparently, people with addictions didn't go to rehab in the 1960s. They went to a "sanitarium." So that's where Neely ends up for the movie's most hilarious sequence. One minute she's restrained to a bed screaming, "I need a doll!" -- a line that absolutely no one, including Meryl Streep, could successfully deliver -- and within minutes she's at the sanitarium's social hour, asking the band (the band!) to accompany her on a tune that will eventually turn into a duet with Jennifer's husband, Tony Polar, who's living in the same sanitarium... because in this movie people with addictions and people with debilitating hereditary medical conditions would certainly be treated at the very same institution.

Speaking of Tony Polar, when his sister sees him lusting for Jennifer early in the film, she says the kind of thing any sister who's been hiding your rare hereditary condition from you your entire life would say: "At night, all cats are gray." That's some wisdom, right there.

Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker) and Susan Hayward (I Want to Live!) both had Oscars when they made this film. It's almost like the director said to himself, "Well, they have Oscars, so I should just let them act." Hayward, 30 years older than Duke at the time, stepped into the role of Helen Lawson at the last minute when Judy Garland was fired. She's so bad, it's almost breathtaking. Perhaps the lack of preparation time combined with tone deaf writing and direction undermined her performance. I can't imagine Judy Garland making this work either; it's a one-note, unsympathetic role. But Patty Duke, all of 20 when she made this movie, chews the scenery like some kind of hybrid woodpecker-termite freak of nature. Somewhere around the hour and a half mark, she barges into Anne and Lyon's California beach house, tosses off a number of insults and heads to the liquor cabinet for a doll chaser. In the film's one singular moment of incontestable authenticity, long-suffering Anne tells it like it is: "Neely, you're being obnoxious." It might just be the greatest understatement in cinema history (and there were 30 more minutes of crying, screaming, boozing, pill-popping and wig-snatching to go for Neely).

And about those dolls. Pill bottles show up everywhere, magically. None of these characters ever see a doctor or visit a pharmacy to fill a prescription. The same generic-looking red pills they take in New York are just as freely and wondrously available when everyone relocates to California.

One last thing: Sharon Tate. Poor Sharon Tate. If you don't know what happened to her, Google it. Heartbreaking.

Stray Gay Observations: Many of the hairstyles are works of art. At times I was so mesmerized by the hair, I had to back up the disc to catch the dialogue. The costumes were designed by someone named Travilla, a multiple Oscar nominee (but not for this movie). If you've ever wondered what inspires a young gay boy in Ohio to put on a wig and a dress and steal his mother's makeup, this movie is your answer. It's like a tutorial for drag queens.

Valley of the Dolls does something interesting for its time: it acknowledges the existence of gay men over and over again, a revolutionary thing in 1967. One male character snorts, "Only in Hollywood do women faint because some queer deigns to design their clothes." Another remarks, "You know how bitchy fags can be." You can't even be offended by a line like that because the screenwriters have apparently forgotten that their movie contains the Helen Lawson and Neely O'Hara characters, two unadulterated bitches. In fact, the movie fails to present us with even one bitchy fag. Late in the film, Neely stumbles around San Francisco and still doesn't run into a single bitchy fag.

Oh, and if I died and had the opportunity to return to Earth as a woman, I'd be Barbara Parkins. At the very least, I'd want to have her voice. The way she pronounces obnoxious is so civilized.

The Lust Factor: I wasn't particularly attracted to any of the men in this film. Your results may vary. 

Before They Were Famous: Toward the end of the film, Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl) turns up briefly as a theater stagehand. Unfortunately, he doesn't do or say anything memorable at all. He's just really cute.

Should You See It? Immediately. With friends of any gender or sexual orientation. Scandalous, critically reviled and hugely successful in 1967, it's a renowned camp classic today. For anyone who doesn't know what camp is, here's a simple explanation. Camp is what happens when a bunch of creative people come together to make a serious drama, but something goes monumentally awry in the process and they unintentionally make a comedy... and they don't know it until the audience starts laughing in all the wrong places.

Next Week: Some Like it Hot (1959)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Divas vs. Queers

What happens when openly gay singers dare to cover songs made famous by divas?

The Song: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"

It was the first single from Whitney Houston's second studio album, Whitney, released in 1987. Topping the charts in over a dozen countries, the recording also won Houston a Grammy and an American Music Award. Despite widespread commercial success, critical response was mixed. While the Los Angeles Times called it "a deliciously raucous tune," The New York Times declared that listening to it was like "watching television while someone fiddles with the color controls." But a quarter of a century later, lots of people consider it to be a definitive example of '80s dance-pop. Frankly, I hate her version (and the video doesn't help). Loud and feverish, it sounds like the aural equivalent of a convulsion rather than a sincerely expressed desire to dance with someone. But I realize I'm in the minority there.

At the time of it's release I remember telling a friend that it might be tolerable if someone besides Houston turned it into a ballad. I got my wish in 2012 when openly gay singer Matt Alber took the song in a whole new direction. Haunting and elegant, Alber grounds it in recognizable, relatable emotion.

His cover of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is available on iTunes or cdbaby.

I saw Matt Alber live in 2013. If you ever get the chance to see him perform, go -- he's sexy, affable and truly gifted.

Matt Alber (photo courtesy of his official Facebook page)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Queer Cinephile(s) #2: Rebecca

I'm a cinephile. Studied film in college and got to review movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). My Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles in 2013, so, for 2014, I gave myself an assignment: watch 50 films that I've never seen before and write something about them. I'll be watching a little bit of everything -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, cult flicks, blockbusters and weird shit my friends have been recommending for years.

Rebecca (released April 1940)

Joan Fontaine (left) as the second Mrs. de Winter; Judith Anderson (right) as Mrs. Danvers

And here's the trailer that was created after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and was re-released to theaters...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: In 1939, legendary producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) brought English director Alfred Hitchcock to the U.S. and handed him his first American movie project, Rebecca. The film, based on a best-selling novel by Daphne du Maurier, is about a wealthy man, Maxim de Winter, who lost his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident. Vacationing in Monte Carlo, he meets a self-effacing young woman who makes her living as the paid companion to an obnoxious rich widow. There's a whirlwind romance, a quick wedding and then the second Mrs. de Winter is whisked off to Manderley, an insanely gargantuan and foreboding seaside estate (we're talking east and west wings) to live happily ever after. The staff is welcoming, with the exception of a creepy and formidable head housekeeper named Mrs. Danvers. Laurence Olivier plays Maxim, a brooding man with a funny mustache and a big secret. Joan Fontaine is the second Mrs. de Winter -- her character's name is never revealed otherwise -- a new bride who quickly discovers that Manderley is run by the menacing Mrs. Danvers and seething with pervasive memories of Rebecca.

I loved a lot of things about this movie right from the opening credits: "Selznick International presents its picturization of Daphne du Maurier's celebrated novel." Yeah, picturization. My spell check assures me that's not a word. The casting of Joan Fontaine is terrific, and while Judith Anderson steals the picturization with her performance as Mrs. Danvers, George Sanders comes pretty close to snatching it away from her himself in his role as "Rebecca's favorite cousin." I also like the screenwriters' decision not to ever show us the title character -- Rebecca is revealed through details shared by the movie's other characters as opposed to a bunch of flashback trickery. Thus, she remains enigmatic.

Nominated for eleven Academy awards, Rebecca won Best Picture (there were ten nominees at the time), and for it's wonderful black-and-white cinematography, which featured some early film noir touches. It also marked the first of five Best Director nominations for Alfred Hitchcock; shockingly, he never won. See this, then watch Psycho, a film he made twenty years later. I'm not sure there's ever been a director who poked around in the moral darkness of humanity quite like Hitchcock.

Stray Gay Observations: I counted three different instances in which one of the characters referred to someone else's behavior as "queer." It was never used in a disparaging way, just as a rather ordinary adjective suitable for everyday conversation. The film reminded me of the first time I was ever called queer -- as a 9-year-old fourth grader -- and how I knew it wasn't a compliment, but I rather liked the sound of it anyway. I know plenty of gay men around my age who loathe the word, but I've grown very fond of it over the years and I'm pleased to see it frequently (and affectionately) embraced by younger people.

I'm not sure straight men ever notice things like this, but I enjoyed the subtle way Fontaine's clothes gradually shifted from dowdy to assertively sophisticated as her character lost its innocence, becoming more enlightened and mature.

Okay, let's talk about Manderley's sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. It won't take modern audiences long to understand that she was in love with the deceased Rebecca. What's unfathomable today is how audiences in 1940 and the people behind the motion picture industry's restrictive production code didn't get it, missing the romantic/sexual overtones and apparently interpreting her behavior as simply some kind of obsessive devotion to the first Mrs. de Winter. Mrs. Danvers has no backstory (also no husband); she exists to preserve the memory of Rebecca at Manderley. Australian-born stage actress Judith Anderson is unforgettable in the part -- only her second Hollywood film. The sequence where she gives the second Mrs. de Winter a tour of Rebecca's opulent bedroom -- complete with drawers full of underwear sewn by nuns! -- is riveting (and now one of my favorite film scenes of all time).

The Lust Factor: It is my understanding that Laurence Olivier was considered handsome and dashing around the time this film was made. I wish my mother was alive to confirm that for me. Unfortunately, none of the actors in this film caused a stirring in my groin.

Before They Were Famous: English character actor Leo G. Carroll has a small role here, as he did in a half dozen Hitchcock films. In the 1960s he became famous on TV as the man who bossed around the title characters of The Man from U.N.C.L.E and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Should You See It? Absolutely. It's a smashingly good gothic mystery richly deserving of its status as a classic.

Next Week: Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Queer Cinephile(s) #1: Love Actually

I'm a cinephile. Studied film in college and got to review movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). My Netflix queue swelled to over 400 titles in 2013, so, for 2014, I gave myself an assignment: watch 50 films that I've never seen before and write something about them. I'll be watching a little bit of everything -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, cult flicks, blockbusters and weird shit my friends have been recommending for years.

Love Actually (released November 2003)

Bill Nighy as "Billy Mack" in Love Actually

And here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: The trailer, with its sassy pop music trimmings, is cleverly edited to make you think you're going to see what lazy critics like to call "the feel good movie of the year!" For a decade now I've been listening to friends sing its praises, even watching it every year as an annual holiday tradition. (Well, there are only so many times you can sit through It's a Wonderful Life.) I finally scheduled it for a New Year's Day viewing myself. Love Actually boasts an insanely appealing ensemble cast navigating nearly a dozen love stories set in the five weeks leading up to Christmas. Do all these stories work? No. But writer/director Richard Curtis skillfully handles it all, even if it sometimes feels like he's a little too much in love with his own script. He's also lucky to have the estimable talents of actors like Colin Firth (convincing in the most naive tale), Emma Thompson (going through an impressive range of emotions) and Laura Linney (heartbreaking in a setup that's not feel-good-movie-of-the-year material). And then there's Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a truly inspired bit of casting. But for my money, Bill Nighy steals the picture as a cheeky, lewd, over-the-hill pop star attempting a comeback by re-recording one of his old hits as a Christmas tune. Finally, there are two splendid cameos: English comedian Rowan Atkinson excels as a fussy jewelry counter associate; Billy Bob Thornton is shockingly perfect as the American president, a sleazy, swaggering amalgam of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Stray Gay Observations: Weirdly, there are no LGBTQ characters featured prominently in a film with this many love stories. If you get a DVD with extras, you can see the director talk about how the original running time of Love Actually was over three hours. He had to trim things somewhere. The lesbian couple didn't make the cut. You can still see them in the extras.

The Lust Factor: There's Andrew Lincoln with his English accent, long before he became the scruffy, mentally unbalanced southern-accented sheriff trying to survive a zombie apocalypse on The Walking Dead.

Before They Were Famous: Look for January Jones in a bar scene, having a lot more fun than she ever does playing Mad Men's Betty Draper.

Should You See It? Yes, actually. It's flawed (glib at the expense of depth;  manipulative musical score), but irresistible.

Next Week: Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Sound of Queer Music 2013

2013... it was a great year for queer music.

That's JbDubs. He raps and dances. I think he stole that heel from Beyonce.

Here are ten artists or bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in a variety of enjoyable ways during 2013.

Matt Alber - "Tightrope"

I had the pleasure of seeing this guy perform live at a small venue in Portland, Oregon, last July. Just a guitar, a keyboard and his truly amazing voice. He's having some fun here with a splendid dance mix of a lovely, hopeful ballad. Also, he may be the most adorable man on Earth. Want more? Go here.

Pet Shop Boys - "Thursday"

Without question, they are my favorite duo of all time. It's hard to believe these guys have been queering up pop since the mid '80s. In 2013, they toured the world and gave us a savvy, often inspired and largely dancefloor-ready release entitled Electric. Here's one of the album's highlights, featuring a guest appearance by rapper Example.

Conquistador - "I'm Alive"


After the release of a brilliant single and experimental video in late 2012, I couldn't wait for more Conquistador. A confident and trippy four-song EP entitled IIWII eventually followed. Nylon magazine described it as "woozy psychedelic rock... roller skating past tech wreckage under the lights of a spinning disco ball." And I can't stop listening to it. Love. This. Man.

Mary Lambert - "She Keeps Me Warm"

Mary Lambert

She was the guest female vocalist on the unexpected Macklemore and Ryan Lewis marriage-equality anthem, Same Love. That collaboration led to this song, a beautifully intimate extension of the original composition. Her debut EP dropped in late 2013, too. Wanna know more? Go here.

Big Dipper - "Dick Hang Low"

As white queer bear rappers go... wait, Big Dipper is pretty much filling that particular musical cubbyhole all by himself right now. Anyway, his music is raunchy and in your face, so it's not for everybody, but dude can write a hook. Also, it's incredibly refreshing to witness how comfortable he is in his own body. And after you see this video, you'll probably accuse me of making the understatement of the year. (Do I really have to say it? This is so not safe for work.)

Boy George - "King of Everything"

After sporadically dropping singles for a while, the inimitable Boy George chose 2013 to release his first studio album in nearly 20 years. This Is What I Do is more than a comeback -- it's a damn good, highly personal record. His voice, deep and husky now, has the discernible gravitas of a man who's lived a tumultuous life and made a successful course correction. Check out the album's opening number below.

AVAN LAVA - "Feels Good"


They are TC Hennes, Le Chey, Ian Pai, Andrew Schneider, Drew Citron, and Jo Lampert. The goal of this band is simple: Get the audience dancing. And the consensus about their live shows is that they're over-the-top, energetic, celebratory dance parties. By the end of 2013, they'd released two EPs, played a string of sold-out shows in New York City and toured the U.S. with English disco diva Little Boots. "Feels Good" is a terrifically upbeat song; the video captures the essence of a live performance.

Eli Lieb - "Young Love"

This native Iowan became a YouTube sensation in 2013, astonishingly wracking up millions of views for videos of his original songs and covers of everybody from Imagine Dragons and Adele to Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. In fact, his cover of the Cyrus hit, "Wrecking Ball," is strikingly excellent -- and he wisely chooses not to lick a sledgehammer in the video (through I suspect quite a few people would like to see him strip naked like Cyrus). You can check out his YouTube channel here, and his website here.

JbDubs - "Dirty Mouth"

JbDubs (born James Whiteside) became a viral sensation in 2011 with the video for his first song, "I Hate My Job," in which he put his background as a ballet dancer to good use and proved to have some extraordinary legs. And moves. Two albums of fierce pop/dance/rap followed and so did more videos. His latest, "Dirty Mouth," popped up on his YouTube channel in late December. The man knows how to put on a fiercely choreographed and comically perverse show.

John Grant - "GMF"

Back in 2010, Grant released a critically acclaimed album entitled, Queen of Denmark, which was named Best Album of 2010 by Mojo magazine. The following year he found out he was HIV+ and subsequently disclosed his status to an audience at London's Meltdown Festival. In the summer of 2013, he told HIV Plus magazine: "I talked about it because I was about to sing a song that I'd written about it, and I didn't know if I should say anything. And at that moment, I was like, you know what, it's no big deal. There's millions of people dealing with this... I don't feel like I should be ashamed of it." Next came his sophomore release, Pale Green Ghosts, a collection of gorgeous, folk/alternative/electronica songs that was easily one of the best albums of the year. It's an intoxicating mix of visceral truth, fascinating intimacy and devilish wit. "GMF" is a not-particularly-safe-for-work little masterpiece. (Hint: GMF stands for greatest mother fucker.)

Now, let's see what 2014 has in store for us. Happy Queer New Year!

Peace out,