2020 is finally over, but any hope that a new year might bring a general lowering of the anger level in American public life had already been dashed long before the clock chimed midnight on January 1.
We knew better, of course; even if the country wasn’t still consumed in virulent debate over political ideologies and an election drama that feels like an assault on our very Constitution, there’s that whole Covid thing – or, more to the point, the fact that the pandemic is surging into an ever-deepening crisis even as an alarming number of Americans continue to deny, dispute, dismiss and defy public health guidelines without concern or regard for the danger to fellow citizens who might be infected as a result.
New Year’s Eve, of course, brought that festering cultural boil to a head, as the pull of tradition combined with “quarantine fatigue” to lure thousands of Americans to “super-spreader” events all across the country – and even some outside of it, like the instantly infamous White Party in Nuevo Vallarta, where a disappointingly large contingent of circuit partiers proved, in the eyes of many, that stereotypes about narcissistic gays who only care about sex and drugs are truer than the community would wish to believe.
While it’s regrettable that so many members of the LGBTQ population are willing to risk spreading disease just so they can dance in their underwear, at least these people (or most of them) are private individuals, who can pretend to themselves that their choices have no influence over anyone else. But there’s a special kind of betrayal involved when allies in the public eye – especially allies whose fame and success have been greatly bolstered by LGBTQ support – choose to participate in, and thereby endorse, similarly irresponsible events, particularly when they do it in the company of the kind of political Covid-deniers who are also known for their anti-LGBTQ agendas.
Those were exactly the kind of people who were in attendance on New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach resort, where a crowded and mask-less party provided an employment opportunity for a whole string of “where are they now?” musicians willing to perform at a celebration that marked not just the holiday, but Donald Trump Jr’s 43rd birthday. Most of the lineup, which included such enduring-yet-long-irrelevant luminaries as Vanilla Ice and Mike Love of the Beach Boys, was unsurprising; but among the evening’s entertainment were also Taylor Dayne and Berlin’s Terri Nunn, two singers for whom the embrace of the gay community was instrumental in catapulting them to whatever stardom they once held – and their participation did not slip by without notice from their LGBTQ fans, who took to social media in droves to express their disappointment and outrage in no uncertain terms.
In a day and age when “cancel culture” has become an inescapable fact of life, it’s hard to imagine that anyone, let alone a celebrity, would be clueless enough not to understand the ramifications of choosing to perform for a crowd of virus deniers who are also serial homophobes. Yet, in their after-the-fact attempts at “damage control” when angry fans called them out for their tone deafness, both singers have latched onto exactly that excuse; worse still, in “apologizing” for their tone deaf decisions, they have even claimed ignorance of the fact those decisions might have even been problematic.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, former not-quite-superstar Dayne offered a not-quite-defense for her actions, writing, “I’m saddened by all this. I have a 30 year careers [sic] … [and] many diverse friendship[s] … I try to stay non political and non judgmental and not preach… I sing from my heart purely…. I wish for all to be who they need to be and find their way.”
Among the hundreds of respondents who were quick to point out that Dayne being “saddened” was irrelevent as an answer to the criticisms being levied at her was author and memoirist Josh Sabarra, who responded, “You’ve no reps who suggested that this may alienate fans?”
“And saying ‘but I have friends who are diverse’ is perhaps the most offensive answer,” he continued. “Not to mention, attending a large, maskless event in these times is a slap to those doing their part to keep others safe.”
“I’m trying to protect my elderly parents while you’re being irresponsible,” said another commenter. “Decisions have consequences and she made a poor decision to play in a super spreader event.”
A third cut straight to the chase by saying, “If you’re singing for anti-LGBTQ people, maybe you need to rethink your life choices.” Yet another went further down that path, telling the 58-year-old has-been pop footnote, “Hope it was worth it. You betrayed us. Good luck booking Pride events after this!”
For those who may have forgotten (or never cared), Dayne has been vocal in the past about her gratitude to the LGBTQ fans that helped to buoy her career. In 2015, she gushed in an Advocate interview about watching the community grow into “families” over her years of performances at Pride events, and in 2017 she joined a number of other celebrities who contributed “Love Letters” to Billboard Magazine in honor of Pride. Apparently, the chance to earn a paycheck in Florida was a bigger priority than her supposed love for her gay fans.
For her part, Nunn – whose 80s hits with Berlin included “Sex,” “The Metro,” and “Take My Breath Away” – seemed to be willing to take on full responsibility for her actions and offered an actual apology instead of just trying to paint herself as a victim.
“I am truly sorry I performed at Mar-a-Lago and would not have done so if I’d known what I learned while I was there,” Nunn wrote in a statement she posted on Berlin’s Facebook page. “My goal in performing was not to support a political party. I see now that that’s not the way it appeared and I am apologetic for that as well.”
She might have stopped there, but she went on to offer some excuses that, to put it bluntly, called either her sincerity or her grasp of reality into question. “The contract stated it was a small Covid-safe event for the members of Mar-a-Lago,” she added. “Unfortunately it was not Covid-safe anywhere in Florida. I had no idea masks and social distancing were not required. I thought I was current on all Covid news everywhere, but clearly I was not. I was shocked by Florida and Mar-a-Lago’s lack of regard for the pandemic, and if I’d known I would never have gone. Once I fulfilled my contractual obligation, I left the event as quickly as I could. It is a mistake I regret. I took a Covid 19 test yesterday and tested negative.”
As the quote goes, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
As many disillusioned fans were quick to point out, Florida’s obstinate refusal to do anything to control the spread of Covid has been an oft-repeated theme in the headlines since almost the very beginning of the pandemic, so claims that she was unaware cannot help but strike most reasonable observers as disingenuous. It’s also worth noting that she left the event AFTER making sure she had done what she needed in order to get paid.
To underscore Nunn’s sole culpability for choosing to perform at the Mar-a-Lago super-spreader bash, her Berlin bandmate and cofounder, David Diamond, had previously posted to his own Twitter account to clear up any confusion that he might have been involved.
“A number of news outlets have reported that ‘Berlin’ played Mar-a-Lago for NYE,” Diamond wrote. “I want to make clear that I was not at this show, nor did I ever plan to attend. I spent the evening at my home in Truckee.”
It might seem harsh to lambast these two once-beloved musicians – or any of the many other celebrities who have made similar missteps – over an error in judgment. But these are not normal circumstances. The Covid crisis continues to devastate America, and the world, rendering literally millions of people vulnerable not only to severe sickness and death but to the economic devastation being ravaged by months of ongoing shutdowns; LGBTQ rights have been under assault for the last four years by a political faction that is, at the time of this writing, still actively trying to subvert the United States Constitution in order to keep its tenuous grip on power despite receiving a resounding repudiation from a majority of the American people. To pretend that it’s even possible to be apolitical when choosing who we align ourselves with, or that it’s “business as usual” when we decide to contract ourselves to people who support irresponsible and harmful policies, is delusional thinking at its most insidious, and we as a society can no longer give out passes to those who are willing to set aside ethical considerations in order to make a profit. We must struggle for unity – but not if it is based on a tacit understanding that we will look the other way when matters of personal gain are on the table. In truth, that is probably the one thing we must not be tempted to do; it might be an easier path, but it will only take us in an endless circle through an ever-worsening landscape of conflict and chaos.
It’s true that both Dayne and Nunn will continue to have fans and supporters; their music will keep getting played, and appreciated, and deservedly so – though they might have some difficulty securing new gigs for the foreseeable future.
Even so, their songs will now, forevermore, be colored by this defining moment in their careers, and we will never again be able to listen to them without feeling a twinge of distaste – like the one we experience when watching a movie by Roman Polanski or a performance by Kevin Spacey. The talent is unmistakable, the work worthy of praise, but the artist is irredeemably tainted.
More than the temporary discomfort of backlash from their fans, that is the true cost of Dayne’s and Nunn’s decision to perform at Mar-a-Lago. For their sakes, I hope whatever boost they may have gotten from it, whether to their egos or their bank accounts, was worth it.