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Brian Justin Crum brings Freddie Mercury roaring back to life

‘America’s Got Talent’ star joins the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for the ultimate rock show on April 2 and 3

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Graphic via the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – They will be nights to remember. The regal Royce Hall of UCLA will be transformed as the extravaganza venue spotlighting QUEEN of the Night. QUEEN will literally “rock you” on April 2 and 3 by weaving together an incredible meld of talent.

The production features the bright new talents of Brian Justin Crum, the breakout star from “America’s Got Talent” and LA Opera’s rising star, the stunning Alaysha Fox. They will be entwined with the classic magic of the iconic powerhouse, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and united in spectacle, they will channel forth the spirit of Freddie Mercury and Queen with a dozen sense erupting anthems.

Brian Justin Crum ascends into the production he seems destined to embody. He has reincarnated Freddie before. He is a Broadway veteran of the theatrical production “We Will Rock You,” and in it, sang alongside Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor.

With piercing aqua eyes against a beastly furry chest, Crum is definitely a “thirst” inducer. Match that with a powerhouse voice that rivals Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, it is easy to see how he achieved a viral sensation with his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” That performance resulted in 100 million views while his versions of “Somebody to Love” and “Never Enough” soared on iTunes.

Crum exercises his singer-songwriter talents currently in Los Angeles. With soaring vocals and emotional storytelling, his first single “Show Me Love” reached #2 on the Billboard Dance charts. His career did not start by working its way to Broadway and the show “We Will Rock You.” By the time that show came around, he was already Broadway ensconced having walked on his first stage at the age of 17. His theatrical successes have led to sold out worldwide concert tours and to his ongoing studio work. 

It is small wonder that the Gay Men’s Chorus has been pleading with him for years to come do a Queen-infused production. “It has finally happened!” declared GMCLA executive director and producer Lou Spisto. “He has a monster voice and in the Queen canon, he has few equals.”

Besides his stunning talent, Crum’s life experience as a gay man made him an inspiring extension to the Gay Men’s Chorus activist artistry. 

The GMCLA is renowned for artistic excellence while remaining deeply rooted in service to the Los Angeles community and beyond by promoting civil rights, tolerance, and acceptance through music. Founded in 1979 during the emergence of the gay rights movement, GMCLA has spread its message of love and acceptance with concerts across the globe and has raised its collective voice in the struggle for equality, social justice, the fight against the AIDS crisis, the fight for marriage equality, and all those seeking to find their own voice.

Crum was one of those voices. Crum came out in elementary school and was bullied for it. He shared the experience from the “America’s Got Talent” stage, which further endeared him to audiences, but also furthered the awareness of pain that LGBTQ youth face. “His speaking his truth on one of the biggest shows on television seen around the world was huge for the LGBTQ+ community, and that makes his appearance with GMCLA even more significant,” states Spisto.

Crum is not stuck in his past however. “I don’t live in a place of victimhood,” he has said. Of his animal magnetism and how he has expressed it in his music, he has stated “Something that was super important to me was for people to see me take my power. A lot of my power comes from sex. I’m very sexual. Why wouldn’t I be proud of that?”

Crum is not alone on the QUEEN stage as one of the great Los Angeles talent breakouts. Lending her own brand of artistry to the extravaganza is award-winning soprano Alaysha Fox.

Fox is a stand-out member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program where she performed recently as Dorothee in The Anonymous Lover. Having also recently been featured with the LA Philharmonic, this fall she makes her LA Opera mainstage debut in Verdi’s Aida as the Priestess. She has fond memories of the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Program for Singers, where she sang the role of Bridesmaid in Le Nozze di Figaro.  

Fox has been honored with several awards including: Winner of the Palm Springs Opera Guild Vocal Competition, Loren L. Zachary Finalist, HGO Concert of Arias Finalist, Grand finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, winner of the Joan Taub Ades Vocal competition, semi-finalist in the Elizabeth Connell dramatic soprano competition, and the Lotte Lenya emerging artist award.

Her contribution to QUEEN of the Night will be encircling the mash-up productions with gorgeous arias.

QUEEN of the Night will be presented Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. Tickets are available at GMCLA.org starting at $30. Intermission refreshments will be on sale at Royce Hall’s beautiful West Terrace. For detailed venue information go to RoyceHall.org/visit.

It will be a night where Freddie Mercury rises through the voices and energies of Los Angeles’s newest and brightest. It is a night where an artistic and activist choral institution explodes into jaw dropping fabulousness. It is not a night for mere mortals, it is a night for queens.

Be a queen.

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Music & Concerts

The Voice crowns its very first LGBTQ winner with Asher HaVon

After 25 seasons, The Voice has crowned Asher HaVon. Asher is more than a voice, he is the spiritual representation of equality itself

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Asher HaVon (Screenshot/YouTube COMCAST-NBC Universal The Voice)

HOLLYWOOD – So, the LGBTQ pundits and culture watchers were… wrong. Or at the very least, anticipating “history” way before its time. After frustration over American Idol’s inability to crown an LGBTQ winner, they held high hopes for a new competing star-making vehicle, The Voice.

In 2011, The Advocate burst with excitement saying “There’s no need to wait on NBC’s new vocal competition, The Voice. The show boasts four gay contestants — two men and two women — heading into the battle round, where they will be coached by the likes of Blake Shelton, Cee Lo, Christina Aguilera, and Adam Levine. And while a couple of them might be eliminated in the next few weeks (in the battle round, teams of eight are whittled down to four when teammates face each other in a sing-off), chances that there will be a lesbian or gay singer competing to become the first “Voice” are strong.”

Well. Not so strong. All of the LGBTQ contenders were eliminated. As were others over the years that even included a young transman singing with his father as one of the show’s few duet contestants. American Idol did end up crowning an LGBTQ winner in its 18th season.

That was then… and this is now. After 25 seasons, The Voice has crowned Asher HaVon its winner. It is no wonder, as Asher’s vocal tone is hypnotic, rich, and blows through your auditory senses. Listening to him hit certain notes in his vocal runs can bring you to a flood of emotional tears. At least, it did for me.

It did for coach Reba McIntire as well. 

The significance of Asher HaVon’s win goes beyond just a queer identity. It is adorned with a depth of representation and visibility. When Asher stepped on stage, he brought culture, diversity, history, and identity. 

Like many incredible vocalists, he comes from a church foundation. Reba McEntire was a wise coach choice, relating to a broad reach of American sensibilities. She is one of the rare entertainers who is beloved by fans across the broad political spectrum. She is traditional, but an ally. 

In a bit of irony, there is a segment of his hometown that still are keeping his LGBTQ status in the closet. The Selma Times Journal brags about his “historic win”, but when they write about it, they are referring to the fact that he is the first winner from Alabama. They do not mention his LGBTQ identity at all.

Not sure how they could miss it. Asher presents in full-beat makeup with gorgeous nails to diva quality eye makeup and lashes. His costuming was never anything less than fabulous. His song choices placed him in a pantheon of LGBTQ-worshipped goddesses that included Adele, Beyonce, Whiney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, Tina Turner, and Donna Summer. He was not only courageous to take on their groundbreaking hits, but did so with the talent to impress with his own versions of them.

As Asher stands on stage, he also represents a proud black man living in the spirit of America’s civil rights movement. He truly does represent Selma Alabama, and its fight for equality significance is part of his DNA and his history. In 2015, when President Barack Obama visited the city, Asher sang for him in front of a crowd of 200,000 at the famed Selma Bridge crossing.

While the significance of that event is not lost on him, Asher calls it one that he “will never forget”, he tells the Montgomery Advertiser that The Voice “is different because it is the Asher HaVon that most people never got a chance to see. I am free. I am walking in the authenticity of who I am, while sharing my gift. That means so much more to me than any other experience than I’ve ever had in life.”

While Asher carried his legacy, the history he represented, and his authenticity into every performance he gave over the show’s run, it was his pure talent that put him on top.  It was so impressive that it even broke through the show’s premise of four celebrity coaches battling it out for a win. Under that guise, each of the coaches pleads with America to vote for their protégés.

Asher had most of them pleading for him instead. He initially received three “chair turns” at the outset where Chance the Rapper, Dan & Shay, and Reba were the celebrities campaigning for him to pick them. John Legend was the hold-out. Asher, ever the diva connoisseur, had already picked Reba in his mind and would have picked her no matter what anyone else had said.

Legend, later in the season, shared that he received a phone call from his dad who declared not only that he was rooting for Asher, but that Asher was “THE” voice of the season. Both Legend and Chance declared Asher to be “the best vocalist on the show” several times in their feedback statements.

While Asher’s win and authenticity should bring a source of joy to LGBTQ fans, it also is a big boost for his coach and main champion, Reba McEntire. While the show has put a full-throttle on Reba as the “queen of country” and showered her with adoration, she has had some difficulty in wowing many of the auditioning singers onto her team. Asher represents a significant win for her, as well as her being also the coach for first runner-up Josh Sanders, when she starts the next season against Gwen Stefani, Michael Bubble, and Snoop Dogg. The latter two are newcomers and Stefani boasts only one previous win years ago, but a loss in her one previous match-up against McEntire.

For the future Voice contestants, Reba has some serious creds to play. 

For the rest of us, in the LGBTQ community, in the dance clubs, and in the hearts of ones needing a new diva to love, Asher has arrived.

Asher HaVon and Coach Reba perform Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald’s “On My Own” during The Voice finale.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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Music & Concerts

Here is the Earth Day anthem we forgot we needed

Singer/songwriter Anne Stotts releases Water to Blood as our collective call to action as we mark Earth Day

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Anne Stott/Los Angeles Blade

HOLLYWOOD – The evolution of Earth Day, from its inception in 1970 to the global movement it is today, has been accelerated by dire and extreme climate change events that do not seem to have garnered the political attention they deserve. Cataclysmic events have underscored the reality of global warming in the face of industries and populists who want to deny it. 

Earth Day 2024 is a day that united millions in the past and continues to inspire action towards environmental sustainability and conservation today.

As glaciers melt and weather systems buckle, we need a call-to-action anthem. Just as We Are the World unified hearts and minds against famine and starvation, we need to blast the climate change cause to reach souls where other agendas may be keeping their minds in the dark. Music transcends barriers, connecting with people on an emotional level and inspiring change in ways that statistics and reports cannot. 

Anne Stott’s Water to Blood is the anthem we need this Earth Day. It strives to inspire us all, and the powers that be, to address the climate crisis NOW.

You can squeeze the earth til it’s dry and the people til they’re weak, build a wall so high you can’t hear the screams, but so far we’ve had fires, floods and now the plague. This empire’s dying cause it can’t face change. The time’s here now, it’s not coming… it’s come.           Water to Blood

Incisive. Vibrant. Dramatic. Anne Stott is a singer/songwriter of cinematic alt-rock, an actor, and an apolitical rabble-rouser. Her “bad girl to the good girls and good girl to the bad girls” energy infuses her music and live performances with edgy compassion while her elastic style embraces eighties pop and nineties grunge infused with a modern moody atmosphere.

Produced by Blondie/Rufus Wainwright producer Barb Morrison, the Water to Blood anthem smashes the psyche to its core, leaving the listener energized, motivated, and with a sense of urgency that too much time has passed to ignore our collective environmental crisis any longer.

“The Right Wing is so GOOD at spinning,” Anne Stott tells me when we sat down for the Rated LGBT Radio podcast. “My hope for this song is that it will motivate people who haven’t been engaged in climate change to get more active and it will be a comfort and it will help rejuvenate and energize those who have been devoting their lives to make change. I think the production of the song combined with the lyrics creates a nice synergy of political takedown and an optimistic, motivational vibe. And I definitely have both of those sides. I am always deeply moved by people standing up for what is right and if this song can contribute to people’s struggle to protect our future on this planet that would make me really happy”

As a quirky queer singer-songwriter and film actress that splits her time between Cape Cod and New York City,  Anne wields a unique worldview as someone who was formed by growing up internationally.

Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Luxembourg and moved to the UK, then Minnesota and New York City.  She moved to Provincetown in 2007 for a writing retreat for a few months and ended up staying. She busked in the street outside of the town hall and got discovered by director David Drake, who cast her in a play at the local art house. 

She was involved in political activism (she was a member of the Lesbian Avengers) but “hit a wall” because she wanted to do something more creative. She has released two albums of original music, Love Never Dies and Pennsylvania.

Who does she see as the biggest villains against a climate change solution? Big Plastics, and Big Oil. “The plastics industry and the oil industry are going to hold on to their propaganda until they can milk every penny they can from the planet,” she says.

Being in New York City when wildfires in the east clouded the sky, Anne was impacted. “It was like something out of a horror movie,” she recalls. “We HAVE to stop calling these things anomalies. The anomalies are no longer ‘anomalies’. I have to stop myself from calling these ‘distinct events’, no, this is the normal now and it is really scary, and it is really hard to own that.”

Is there hope? “I am very inspired by the youth movements around climate change. They are not as big in the news right now, but there is a lot of engagement with people in their 20s and their teens, and that is very inspiring.”

“I think of the government coming together for the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. We need that level of commitment, drive, and expertise to come together to look at this from all angles. People want to do more, but we have shaped this culture around convenience, and it is hard to walk that back individually,” she adds.

 When she is not saving the world, Anne and her music is a bewitching synergy between Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde, performing sincere and engaging personal songs as well as those about social change and political takedown.

The Water to Blood climate change track launches today to coincide with Earth Day. It will be also on her upcoming album Watershed Synapse Experience which comes out in September. (Also produced by Barb Morrison).

In the meantime, she will be releasing more singles from thought-provokers on racism, to a hot dance track. While you wait, download Water to Blood, turn up the volume and wake up everyone in listening distance.

Literally and figuratively – because the crisis isn’t coming, it’s come.

Watch:

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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Raw & resolute, Damez brings the intersectional image we need

He showcases his talents & versatility through an eclectic catalog of self-penned songs, choreography-heavy visuals & performances

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Courtesy of Damez

    ATLANTA, Ga.  – In ancient times, to refine gold, a craftsman would sit next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible, and he would skim out the dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. Like that fine, purified precious substance, hip hop star Damez is ready for the trial by fire to end, and the golden life to begin.

    He says as much in his new album Hell Now, Heaven Later. Over the course of the 17 tracks, in a cavalcade of street poetry, Damez empties his closet of tragedy, racism, homophobia and struggles he has experienced in his young life. 

    “I am intentional on everything I do,” he tells me on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio. “Life was putting me through things I couldn’t ignore, I needed the record to serve … I needed to address the issues, the pain the trauma head on.”

    At times raw, at times resolute, at times angry, the album stuns in its honesty. It is a testament to both being defeated, and also resolving to moving ahead with hope. Thus, the name Hell now, Heaven later.

    His family moved to Atlanta when he was 6, born in Mississippi. Life was great, and his childhood was perfect. He was the kid with a thousand questions and wanted to know everything. He already adored Destiny’s Child even at that age– “I was a music kid,” he says.

    His parents were divorced when he was in high school, but as difficult as that was, it was nothing compared to the horror coming. When Damez was a senior in high school, his brother, Ryan, close to him in age, and his best friend, was murdered. “They were back-to-back traumatic experiences that did a lot of damage to my soul, my happiness and my confidence.”

    He describes his brother to me. “He was just the coolest, most down to earth, precious soul. He made you feel like you belonged, he had your back. It is a void I have been trying to fill for 12 years. No one knows you like your big brother does. No one has your back. That kind of loss changes the chemistry in your brain.”

    His greatest champion was gone, but music was still there for him, however, as it always had been. He came out sexually to his family, which was not met at first with great acceptance.  Depressed, lonely and defeated, he pulled through by creating songs.  He loaded his closet, now that he was out of it, with studio equipment, and the rest, as he says, “was history.”

    He is now a rapper, singer, dancer, songwriter, editor, creative director, and a rising star in music. With a focus on rap and R&B, he showcases his talents and versatility through an eclectic catalog of self-penned songs and choreography-heavy visuals and performances.

    His world has been exploding with possibilities ever since.

    He was named the “New Face of Atlanta’s Music Scene” by Out Magazine’s Pride edition in 2020, as well as Atlanta Magazine.

    Out Magazine Pride Issue, June 2020.
    Photo of Damez by Alex D. Rogers

    Out Magazine, in fact, put him on their cover.

    In 2022, MTV News said Damez was ready to take the throne. He was featured on Billboard.com twice, as part of their ‘Billboard Pride’ playlist for his 2019 singles “Pull Up” and “Big Mood.” He’s performed for Atlanta’s Black Pride Festival in 2019, 2021, & 2022, as well as other notable performances such as 2021’s MOBI Fest, Human Rights Campaign’s HBCU Summit in 2019, and opening for original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday during NAESM’s 2020 Leadership Conference.

    An advocate for equal rights and healthcare, he has participated in numerous campaigns for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gilead’s Truvada for PrEP Medication, among others.

    More recently, he was featured in a 2022 campaign alongside Tina Knowes-Lawson and others for British multinational pharmaceutical ViiV Healthcare’s HIV campaign, ‘Me in You, You in Me’ to end HIV stigma and raise awareness on preventive medication.

    His earliest work, that gained great popularity and play time in clubs, was full of tough talk, attitude and made him untouchable. It was, he now says, an armor that he has become willing to drop. “Today, that is not who I am and what I want my music to reflect.”

    The album also does not hide his queerness, he is autobiographically vivid in who he is. “I had to analyze and accept that I was very different from my brothers at a young age. I could not go through life being someone I am not, but I did know it would not be easy.”  He depicts the evolvement of his family accepting him from within an African American community that often did not. 

    He met with a lot of pushback in the Hip Hop world by being open about who he was. “I was told ‘no’, and certain artists would not work with me. Performance opportunities were being withheld even though I had better numbers than those on the bill. It was not something new. I had met these challenges before—in school and dealing with my family, so I knew I would be told ‘no’ a lot. Then there was the flip side. People are writing from all over the world. Kids are being inspired. Kids from different countries in Africa.”

    “In the LGBTQ space, I am bringing Hip Hop—which is a widely multi-dimensional genre, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way, and don’t know it to be that.”

    When Out Magazine put him on its cover, he was both thrilled, and scared being so revealed. “It came at an important moment for me, “ he says now. “I was struggling mentally at the time, and that cover was encouraging and gave me drive. My work was not in vain. It was a sign to not give up. I got right back in the studio, and my next EP was called COVER BOY. I suddenly realized that I had more influence than I thought I had. It all became bigger than me.”

    “In the LGBTQ space, I am bringing Hip Hop—which is a widely multi-dimensional genre, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way, and don’t know it to be that. They have not heard enough Hip Hop in their lives to know how expansive it can really be. So that is another aspect I wanted to bring, the music I grew up with, introducing , exposing and showcasing the nuanced many different kinds of Hip Hop, the kinds that are embedded in my soul. There are so many different facets.”

    As he brings Hip Hop to an audience that may feel the industry behind that genre doesn’t even like them, he is also introducing his R&B talents to the world. One cut, Stay Afloat, on the Hell Now album is Damez delivering sweet soulful melody.

    It provides the silver lining to the fights depicted throughout the rest of the album. It is a song of vulnerability, and hope. 

    There is a point in the purification process where the fire has done its job. The imperfections are removed and the gold stand pure, shiny, glorious and ready to crown a regal head.

    With all the power and good will Damez is generating, the bridges he is building, and all the new projects that are coming (“Things I can’t even talk about,” he tells me.), we can only hope that the hell he has experienced is slipping away and over.

    Heaven does not have to wait, and if the inspiration from the album is an indication, it is not later.

     It has arrived.

    ******************************************************************************************

    Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

    He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

    He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

    He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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    Music & Concerts

    Bold and beautiful, R&B’s Idman gives us a risk we want to take

    Idman’s newest release, the EP Risk, and the extended Risk-Reloaded version, is about the complexities and codependence of relationships

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    Photo courtesy of IDMAN/Arista Records

    HOLLYWOOD – Idman, the gorgeous R&B toned singer/songwriter from Toronto, knows that the ability to be a safely out LGBTQ person is a privilege. 

    In a recent Los Angeles Blade opinion piece, they cautioned those progressives who are cavalier about the outing process. They became a spokesperson for those who are susceptible to its dangers.  “I wish we told queer and trans youth more often that there is no standard within which to measure the authenticity of one’s identity, and that they’re valid whether they decide to come out or not. That the world’s reactions to their truths are not their fault, and that they are no less valid in their identities for deciding to withhold it from those they believe cannot honor them,” they write, fully conscious that teens coming out can spark abuse, depression and in some cases homelessness. They observe, “Statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth, especially those of color, are disproportionately affected by homelessness… It’s crucial to challenge the idea that queer and trans people owe intimate details of their lives to others.”

    The risk of coming out is one that they, themselves, have been willing to take however, and they do so in a new EP aptly titled “Risk.”

    “I know that I get to live in a world and have an experience where I have the privilege of figuring that out for myself… I have the opportunity to explore.  I think I have more of a sadness now in me for my parents and for my relatives in the fact that I know that there are parts of them that they might not ever get to explore in this lifetime, and I know that it’s not their fault.” Idman tells me on the Rated LGBT Radio podcast

    Born in Toronto within a very close-knit Somali immigrant community, Idman seems an unlikely candidate to stand courageously as a non-binary sexually fluid musician. They were raised fluent in their parents’ mother tongue . “They really instilled a love for my culture. I was really prideful for my heritage… we come from a religious Muslim community, but my parents were super unorthodox and open minded.” Their mother was a wedding planner and part of that gig was to have the house constantly filled with musicians, leaving an aesthetic impact on the talented Idman.

    Even though musically, Idman was initially exposed to the “love is forever” style wedding music, their relationship-oriented songs exhibit a deeper complexity. The songs do not depict a heroine and a villain, but rather two humans trying to figure things out. “When I was challenged to write about love, I was confronted with the fact that the R&B space was really in this energy of toxicity, that we are in an era of ‘ghosting’ and that you need to leave before you are left. I found this genre could only be done through honesty and I wanted my music to be the place where people can tap into the depth where it is not always black and white, and the other person isn’t always in the wrong.”

    Idman leapt into the music scene in 2020 with their debut single Down for It. Right from the get, they seemed to signal that they were prepared for the challenges, confrontations and potential fight for individuality that lay ahead. “Feel like I was born for this (this), feel like it was calling me
    Never been down for the comfortable, that’s just impossible Never walked the road that was paved for Me,” they sing. The song also projects Idman’s attitude towards those who are trans- and homo- phobic. “Have you ever met a hater, If you know (one) play this loud as hell, I can not hate you for not seeing for me what you can not see for yourself And I cannot hate me,
    blessed highly favored while you sit o’ there by ya self.”  It is an attitude that they also reflect in their Blade article when they say, “It’s a shame, it’s a stain and it should be the regret of a lifetime for someone to deny themselves the love of a queer or trans person because they can’t see beyond their own projection. What a flop. It is always their loss. I promise.”

    Idman’s newest release, the EP Risk, and the extended Risk-Reloaded version, is about the complexities and codependence of relationships. From the prominent track Hate, which is an ode to hating one’s own feeling of longing for the object of one’s desire, to In My Feels, which laments the inability to let go, Idman examines the layers that could bring emotions in any Romeo and Juliet style romance gone afoul. 

    It is in the songs and videos for the tracks Beach and Still where Idman takes their own “risk” by truly revealing themselves. The object of affection in Beach is spelled out in the first line of the song. “I know you’re somebody’s girlfriend but I know you ain’t innocent, I can tell by how you lookin’ That you’re likin’ what you’re seein’ I can show you something better baby all you gotta do is say when.” Idman realized that when that song came out, they had essentially outed themselves as being LGBTQ. Their article that appears in the Blade was meant to be a letter to accompany that event, and to fully underscore what she was saying, and why.

    The video for Still took things to a whole new level of representation. The video and song depict a fighting couple who are clearly not straight cisgender. It could be, in fact, a musical video first, showing a song featuring two trans people in a relationship, fighting emotions and attachment just as any other couple might.

    I asked Idman if they felt brave in making the video. “I was scared. I tried to back out of it a couple times like the week before I called the director and was like actually can we switch? If you switch the lead out with my trainer, he’s 6’4…”  but they did not switch. “I wanted to use it as an opportunity to show some love on the screen in a different way. I think it is often depicted in a really hyper sexualized way, and I wanted to show the romantic nature of this love, that there are arguments and break ups hurt as much as anyone else’s…I have this opportunity to show that we are here. I’ll take this shot for all the younger kids who need to see themselves in that.”

    In 2022, Idman released the single Look at What I’m Doing to You, an ode to the heartbroken who turn tables and choose happiness instead. In it, she coyly teases us, “Look at what I’m doing to you. Told you that I’m trouble times two. It is what it is. So influential. It’s my effect on you.”

    It is perfect instruction for those who are listening and vibing on all music Idman.  From the self-talking “Down for It” through to the going for it “Risk”, Idman dares us to look at what they are doing to us.

    They are pushing our consciousness on gender identity, and releasing our need to label and judge. They bathe this principle in rich rhythmic music and Somali poetic cadence, which speaks to our hearts and our souls.They are indeed “trouble times two”. 

    The effect, if you listen and absorb, is that Idman is “so influential.” We can only hope that influence explodes, and inspires strength for the vulnerable who need its confidence. 

    If that happens, the Risk will have been worth it, and that will be Idman’s legacy:

    The ultimate effect on us.

    ******************************************************************************************

    Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

    He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

    He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

    He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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    Music & Concerts

    Tyler Childers’ sweet gay love story: 5+ GRAMMY nominations

    “For all the ugliness that it’s going to bring out, that just can’t be helped. This is going to make real conversations possible”

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    Openly gay star James Scully, appears in a video for Tyler Childers - 'In Your Love' (Screenshot/YouTube-Vevo)

    HOLLYWOOD – Tyler Childers has been at this rodeo before. He is not unaccustomed to receiving ire from the Bud Lite boycotting crowd. He caught hell in September 2020 with his album Long Violent History which revolved around the themes of racism, civil unrest and police brutality.

    This time, the controversy is around a song on his hit album Rustin’ In The Rain. Rustin’ leads with a hit song titled In Your Love.  In should be safe from controversy on its face.  The lyrics, written by poet laureate Silas House, and are deeply romantic about a love both fought for, and lost, with no regrets.

    Had the team of Childers and House stopped there, the cheap beer guzzling neanderthal crowd would have been happy.

    They didn’t. Instead, they created a gorgeously acted, poignant music video about two gay miners in Kentucky. In the video, one of of the lovers is taken down with black lung disease, a common and undiscussed killer. The video was written by, and creatively directed by House. He stated bluntly about the project, “These are human stories, not political stories.”

    The concept was Childers’s idea. He sought to tell the world about his LGBTQ family members’ life experiences. He had been particularly impacted by his gay cousin who fled Kentucky and never came back. Childers was particularly bothered that his cousin had never seen any kind of country music video that spoke to him. 

    Now one does. The video stars openly gay stars Colton Haynes and James Scully. The couple fall in love in the coal mines and move on to become sustenance farmers. Along the way, they encounter violent homophobia, but stand strong and go to parties, host loved ones, and work their land to establish a simple life.  Their romance comes to a tragic end when one dies from coal miners’ pneumoconiosis, and his widower stays alone for the rest of his life.

    “I wasn’t expecting to come here and bawl my eyes out but here we are. So beautiful and so sad all at the same time,” fan Trey Tackett writes on YouTube. Trey was not alone. The video has brought together many people from various walks of life who are reacting to the pure humanity of the story, and to the specifics of Appalachian life, rarely depicted.

    From scared mothers like Monica Carmon, “I just heard this on the way home from work and immediately searched for it because of the way it touched me. Sitting outside in my car sobbing watching the video. This hits so close to home. My youngest son is openly gay and my greatest fear as a mother is that someone full of hate will harm him. Love is love. Please never forget that,” to another fan who has lived life without the inspiration that Childers has given, “I can’t properly quantify what a difference it would’ve made if people like you stood up for people like me when I was a kid. I’m so grateful younger people now have you. Thank you and the actors, team for a beautiful video,” he says.

    Others have shared how the fight for love, even when ill-fated, is worth it. K C Geno stated, “This hits home. I lost my soulmate of 42 years to leukemia in November of 2019. Thank you so much for going out on a limb to recognize the beauty of love.”

    The universality of the song even reached those who were not particularly moved by the fight against homophobia, “Dude I don’t care about the two men in love! This song is a beautiful testament of finding true love and the inevitability of having to watch it leave you! This life whether gay or straight we all face this! Beautiful song and video! Tyler thank you so much for this song! We all need this kind of love in our lives to prove it wasn’t all for nothing!” stated “Dark Fanged Sword”.  

    Some shared how much this dramatic depiction has been lived by them in real life. Arnold Tucker related, “This is a great video, it shows what some of us have had to live daily… the hate and non acceptance. I am now a retired police officer and my Partner was a EMS Paramedic for the Texas County we lived in. My Jim died August 5th, 2000, and it still a hard thing to deal with. The Love we shared was wonderful, and I [will] probably never have that feeling again. Thank You Tyler for showing this side of life that most still hide and deal with.” 

    Another man named Jeffrey found the song timely, as he was in the throws of losing his husband. Just after his husband died, Jeffrey posted, “My husband just passed and this song is my song to him. I put my phone to his ear so he could hear it. In my darkest time this young man’s music is getting me through it.”

    No one seems to care much about the haters. Childers was ready for it at the outset. “For all the ugliness that it’s going to bring out, that just can’t be helped. This video is going to make real conversations possible.”

    As for his fans, they welcome the adversity from the close minded. Their attitude is “Don’t let the concert venue doors slap you in the ass on the way out.” The new Childers’s fans are more than eager to buy up any concert tickets that haters want to leave behind.

    The GRAMMY awards seem equally unfazed by the “anti-wokers.” They showered Childers with five 2024 nominations. He is up for Best Country Solo Performance for In Your Love, Best Country Song for In Your Love, Best Country Album for Rustin’ in the Rain, and Best Music Video for In Your Love. House is nominated for one, Best Music Video for In Your Love.

    The fans agree.  Per “mmjsstav”, “Wow. Video had me absolutely in tears.  And what a terrific, incredibly well written and composed song. The Grammy nominations are so well deserved!! Hadn’t heard of you before this, but now I”m a huge fan and will be buying your records.”

    Now, we have to wait until early next year to see if Childers and House win, as many think they should. Fan after fan declare the video not just to be great, but to be the “best video they have ever seen.”

    It actually does not matter what happens for Childers and House February 4th at the Crypto.com Arena. 

    For all the conversations they have started, the real life stories that they inspired to be told, for lovers motivated, and tears shed…. 

    In the most consequential ways, they have already won.

    Tyler Childers – In Your Love (Official Video):

    ******************************************************************************************

    Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

    He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

    He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

    He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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    Music & Concerts

    Gay Country artist & sibling win Vocal Duo at 57th CMA awards

    In addition to the Brothers Osborne winning Vocal Duo of the Year, Country singer Lainey Wilson took home 3 of the top awards of the night

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    John and TJ Osborne at the 57th annual Country Music Awards held in Nashville, November 8, 2023. (Photo Credit: Brothers Osbourne/CMA)

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The biggest names in Country music gathered Wednesday evening at Music City’s Bridgestone Arena for the 57th Annual Country Music Association Awards, hosted again this year by Country star Luke Bryan alongside former NFL star Peyton Manning.

    Walking away with Vocal Duo of the Year were sibling musicians John and TJ Osborne.

    The Brothers Osborne as they are known by, in previous years have won in this category, this year making it their sixth win.

    T.J. Osborne, lead singer of the country duo, came out as gay in an exclusive interview with Time Magazine, which was published February 3, 2021.

    While other ostensibly country artists are openly LGBTQ (such as Orville Peck, Brandi Carlile, Lil Nas X, Chely Wright and Billy Gilman, Osborne’s revelation makes him the first – and so far, only – openly gay musical artist signed to a major country label.

    John and TJ Osborne grew up in the small Chesapeake Bay bayside town of Deale, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, writing and playing songs for friends and family in their father’s shed. T.J. with his brother John formed the Brothers Osborne duo in 2012. Signed with EMI Records Nashville, they’ve released seven country Top 40 singles and three studio albums, to date. Their platinum hit “Stay a Little Longer,” was a crossover to mainstream radio.

    Photo Credit: CMA Awards

    The siblings took home their first GRAMMY in 2022, winning Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their song “Younger Me,” inspired by TJ’s coming out. The band has been nominated for 10 GRAMMYs in total, standing as a now six-time CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, and are three-time ACM Duo of the Year.

    Overall, they have collected six CMA awards, six ACM trophies and received the ASCAP Vanguard Award in 2019. Their critically acclaimed hit songs have tallied multiple RIAA Gold and Platinum certifications, while surpassing more than 2.5 Billion global streams. 

    In addition to the Brothers Osborne winning Vocal Duo of the Year, Country singer-songwriter Lainey Wilson took home three of the top awards of the night, including the coveted entertainer of the year award, as well as female vocalist of the year and album of the year.

    This is also the first time in CMA history that two women have been nominated for Entertainer of the Year in four consecutive years.

    Complete list of winners and nominees:

    Entertainer of the YearAlbum of the Year
    Lainey Wilson (Winner)
    Luke Combs
    Chris Stapleton
    Carrie Underwood
    Morgan Wallen
    (Nominees)
    Bell Bottom Country — Lainey Wilson (Winner)
    Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville — Ashley McBryde
    Gettin’ Old — Luke Combs
    One Thing at a Time — Morgan Wallen
    Rolling Up the Welcome Mat — Kelsea Ballerini
    (Nominees)
    Male Vocalist of the YearFemale Vocalist of the Year
    Chris Stapleton (Winner)
    Luke Combs
    Jelly Roll
    Cody Johnson
    Morgan Wallen
    (Nominees)
    Lainey Wilson (Winner)
    Kelsea Ballerini
    Miranda Lambert
    Ashley McBryde
    Carly Pearce
    (Nominees)
    Vocal Group of the YearVocal Duo of the Year
    Old Dominion (Winner)
    Lady A
    Little Big Town
    Midland
    Zac Brown Band
    (Nominees)
    Brothers Osborne (Winner)
    Brooks & Dunn
    Dan + Shay
    Maddie & Tae
    The War and Treaty
    (Nominees)
    Single of the YearSong of the Year
    “Fast Car” — Luke Combs (Winner)
    “Heart Like a Truck” — Lainey Wilson
    “Need a Favor” — Jelly Roll
    “Next Thing You Know” — Jordan Davis
    “Wait in the Truck” — HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Nominees)
    “Fast Car” — Tracy Chapman (Winner)
    “Heart Like a Truck” — Trannie Anderson, Dallas Wilson and Lainey Wilson
    “Next Thing You Know” — Jordan Davis, Greylan James, Chase McGill and Josh Osborne
    “Tennessee Orange” — David Fanning, Paul Jenkins, Megan Moroney and Ben Williams
    “Wait in the Truck” — Renee Blair, Michael Hardy, Hunter Phelps and Jordan Schmidt
    (Nominees)
    New Artist of the YearMusician of the Year
    Jelly Roll (Winner)
    Zach Bryan
    Parker McCollum
    Megan Moroney
    Hailey Whitters
    (Nominees)
    Jenee Fleenor (Winner)
    Paul Franklin
    Rob McNelley
    Derek Wells
    Charlie Worsham
    (Nominees)
    Music Video of the YearMusical Event of the Year
    “Wait in the Truck” — HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Winner)
    “Light On in the Kitchen” — Ashley McBryde
    “Memory Lane” — Old Dominion
    “Need a Favor” — Jelly Roll
    “Next Thing You Know” — Jordan Davis
    (Nominees)
    “Wait in the Truck” — HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Winner)
    “Save Me” — Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson
    “She Had Me at Heads Carolina (Remix)” —Cole Swindell and Jo Dee Messina
    “Thank God” — Kane Brown and Katelyn Brown
    “We Don’t Fight Anymore” (feat. Carly Pearce) (Nominees)
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    Music & Concerts

    Alis Vibe delivers self-enlightenment with an infectious pop beat

    Your newest pop princess has arrived with a message infused inside an infectious pop beat and her new EP is called Reborn

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    ALIS VIBE - REBORN (Screenshot/YouTube)

    HOLLYWOOD – Your newest pop princess has arrived with a message infused inside an infectious pop beat. Her name is Alis Vibe and her new EP is called Reborn.

    Vibe’s work is exciting. She originally hails from a small village outside of Milan, Italy. After getting some recognition in her native Italy, she made a spontaneous move to American music hub, Nashville.

    Do not look for her to be channeling any country music queens, however. That is not Vibe’s vibe. Her music is decidedly danceable pop with folk, soul and blues undertones. She claims as her influences artists ranging from Etta James, to Freddie Mercury, to Lady Gaga to Dua Lipa. Still, her anthems would be right at home in a Kylie Minogue playlist.

    “I would do an album tomorrow with Etta James, if she were alive,” Alis confides.

    While her pop music layers are seductive and full of pulse-pounding rhythm, her lyrics weave in non-specific eastern spiritual traditional concepts. She projects a theme of reincarnation, even as she launches debuts into the public mainstream. “All the songs in this project are reflections of what I went through in this past year when I wrote these songs. I literally feel ‘reborn’ after pouring all my emotions into this. I feel reborn, and that is why this is the name for my first EP project,” she says.

    While many in the pop sphere sing of current and past romantic entanglements, Alis’s music is more about her beliefs and life perspective. She feels the way trans and non-binary teens are treated is horrible and is happy to provide spiritual guidance on paths of self-determination.  She highlights the idea of life’s preciousness. She wants to inspire freedom of expression, universal love, self-confidence, divine timing, and self-belief. Her songs are meant to speak to the hearts of those who respect and seek their own spiritual paths, promoting a sense of community and shared understanding.

    Reborn, her first EP, introduces her music with an ethereal chant of self-empowerment, “Shakti the mother, universal power, prana, vital force, moon, planets, trees and flowers, energy, divine guidance, embracing changes, manifesting deep dreams, attracting abundance… releasing fears and rising again, stronger and wiser” she intones before the song Surfing the Light invites us into spiritual expansion.

    Vibe sat down with me on Rated LGBT Radio and talked about her journey. She credits a yoga discipline as waking an intentionality in her, that she then integrated into her music. “It is amazing to see the outcome after that,” she tells me. “I realized who I wanted to be in my life.’

    Amongst the anthems on the album, the song Ecstasy stands out as a more introspective ballad. “It is a song about the purest love you can experience,” she tells me. The song pre-dates the others. “It was on my USB drive for three years,” she says, but felt it was a perfect companion to the new material.

    The pop nature of Vibe’s music is familiar, and its message can be bold, inspiring and affirming. For a young audience craving self-love, acceptance and a spiritualty they can trust, Vibe offers escape and warmth. 

    Vibe is assertive in her admiration for other pop stars. Gaga’s Joanne album is a favorite, and Miley Cyrus is a role model.

    I asked her what it was about Miley that she admired, and Vibe told me it was because Cyrus “does what she wants when she wants to do it.” Vibe apparently reflects this herself and does what she wants, when she wants to do it. We are all the better for it.

    Best of all, she wants you to do, and be, your unique you, and dance to her music while you are doing it.

    *****************************************************************************************

    Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

    He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

    He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

    He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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    Music & Concerts

    Sophie B. Hawkins’ new anthems- exactly what LGBTQ youth need

    The woman who stunned audiences in the 90’s with her fresh music & fresh take on sexuality, has released her first new music in a decade

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    Courtesy of Sophie B Hawkins

    HOLLYWOOD – Sophie B. Hawkins is back. Renowned as a singer-songwriter, musician, painter and a unique voice of social consciousness, she achieved critical and commercial success with her first two albums, Tongues and Tails (1992) and Whaler (1994), producing a string of single hits including “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover“, “Right Beside You“, and “As I Lay Me Down“.

    Her musical sound is unique with a blend of rock, pop, jazz and soul delivered with her distinctive vocal growl and heartfelt lyrics – ones that often herald a fluid sexuality.

    Aside from GRAMMY award nominations, New York Music awards, the ASCAP award for longest running single, for starring on stage as Janis Joplin, paintings appearing in galleries around the world and her songs being featured on shows such as Stranger Things, Euphoria and Ozark, she is often thought of for her candid and outspoken take on sexuality and gender expression.

    Queerness is awareness of all the things I can feel and express, and how unique each one of us are. I’ve always been at home with my Queerness, it opens doors inside that fuel untethered creativity.”
    (Photo: Sophie B. Hawkins opposite the USS Intrepid (CV-11) in New York Harbor.)

    Long before Ron DeSantis was whining about “wokeness” and mental health experts saw the importance to embrace the concepts of fluid identities, Sophie self-identified as an “omni-sexual” in the 90s. While others scratched their heads at the term, she embraced concepts that are just now being understood and lived. Her new album, Free Myself, underscores the theme of authenticity and taking the freedom to be yourself as you are, and want to be seen.

    We talked about her coming out moment, the one she defines as “the most important one of her career.” “It always makes me laugh when you talk about it, and smile,” she commented to me on my Rated LGBT Radio podcast:

    “It was a moment of enlightenment for me to be faced with John Pareles of the New York Times in this diner in downtown Manhattan … prefaced by Columbia (Sony) that this was the most important interview and you had to get everything right. They did trust me to give an intelligent interview and did not give me any media training whatsoever. So I showed up and he asked me a bunch of questions about my upbringing and my musical influences, and then he just said ‘Are you a lesbian?’ At that moment, I thought, well, I have to tell the truth.”

    She continued, “For me, telling the truth is telling the accurate truth. I knew my history was sort of diverse. I had never had a moment where I said ‘I am a lesbian’ or ‘I am a heterosexual’, in fact, there were moments of growing awareness at 9 years old when I thought ‘I love Paul Anacomb’ who was on the beach in Long Island one summer, he was older than me, I love him so much and had a crush on him, and then I literally looked at his mother and went ‘but I love her too.’  Then I said to myself ‘I have the LIBERTY and the great pleasure to love anyone I want. I can love both of them, and I do not have to choose. It was a great feeling—I was so young.

    “Years later, I had an amazing affair with a man who was my teacher, my mentor, that lasted ten years. Then at some point, a woman seduced me, and I thought that was the most amazing thing too. It opened me up a lot emotionally… it opened up my song writing intuition… took me deeper. But when I was looking at John Pareles, I could not tell him all of that. So I took the word “omni” which means all, also ‘one’ and sexual, and said ‘I’m omnisexual’. He said, ‘What does THAT mean??’, I said, well John, it means my sexuality is not limited by my gender, or your gender…my sexuality is my creativity, my spirituality, my consciousness –it’s tied to me, my soul.”

    Sophie’s debut album, Tongues & Tails

    Pareles had written a review of Sophie’s debut album, Tongues and Tails, in 1992, and the interview was a follow up in 1993. He said of her, “Sophie B. Hawkins is a pop singer with a rock-and-roll attitude, a jazz singer’s improvisational skills and a blues singer’s soul. She’s also a songwriter with a knack for melodies that are both catchy and complex.” Sophie was the first musician to come out as omnisexual in the mainstream media, and Pareles’ interview with her was groundbreaking for its time.

     Thirty years later, her son’s friends are freely identifying as “omnisexual” without an inkling that she was the one who first coined the term. 

    “Don’t care what people think, You know you are on the brink, Of breaking the chain…baby love yourself, ain’t nobody else gonna carry your soul.”  Lyrics from Love Yourself, from the album Free Myself

    Since the start of her musical journey, Sophie has shown an uncompromising devotion to her singular truth, endlessly transcending boundaries and offering up new ways of experiencing the world around us. Her truth is the roots of Free Myself and Sophie’s raw yet poetic lyrics as well as her captivatingly distinctive vocals.

    Free Myself features some of her most emotionally powerful material to date and contains anthems that LGBTQ youth need especially now. Tapping into the same passion-filled storytelling and colorful eclecticism that inspired her previous work, Sophie embarks on a new creative chapter of independence and positivity in Free Myself.

    Certainly, LGBTQ youth working to express their uniqueness and self-definition will hear themselves in the lyrics of the album’s title track and its nascent omnisexuality:

    “I want to free myself with you. Let my soul fly. I can’t lift these feelings, too big for me to carry. Why does it matter what we’re born. Aren’t we supposed to become mind, soul and body, who we love and who we want to marry?”

    As Sophie talks to television personalities, she gets reductive questions such as “how has your music evolved?” The truth is, her music has not been on a path of development, but rather, has entered a new era. It is an era where society has caught up with her. It is an era where she has lived life. It is an era where she folds in decades of life experience that includes motherhood, oppressive relationships, codependency, deconstruction of dreams to their experienced reality and the ability to be guided by and appreciate, a hero.

    ‘Love Yourself’ single release cover

    “I wanted this to be a new beginning for me, for my family and my fans,” she says. The song Love Yourself is a confession. Sophie had been to a party and drank red wine and ate cake. Later as she lay in bed, she wanted to berate herself for such indulgences. She wanted to lament, “I hate myself for that.” But she didn’t. Instead the words to her incubating song filled her mind, “Baby, love yourself.” That had never happened, the allowance to love herself, before. Her unconscious mental health work had suddenly taken hold and was now carrying her.

    For the Miley Cyrus Flowers generation, there is the Sophie B. Hawkins Better Off Without You. “You got what you planned for, but I got so much more,” she sings.

    Of the song, she shared with me:

    “When I perform that song, I tell the audience that there is nothing better than ‘breaking up’—it can be so freeing, that you can weather and endure, and that it makes you feel more alive. If you can relate to the story in this song, then you are going to have the triumph when I sing it, and if you can’t relate to it, you haven’t lived enough yet. It is release from the fear that you cannot survive without this relationship, or this person superstructure. Whether we are gas-lighted or whether we are in a position of unknowingly controlling someone, whatever your story is, when you are released from it … you can go, ‘wow, I have my whole life to begin again.’ The story behind the song was really painful, and I was trying to survive the lies and the way that it happened. However, if it had not happened that way, I don’t think I would have left it behind. It had to be that painful for me to really take a look.”

    She adds, “Betrayal is common and human. This is actually the story of redemption.” Whether the listener is a person ending a toxic relationship, or whether it is a young LGBTQ person getting away from a toxic web of a hostile community or family relationships, the song speaks to self-actualizing introspection and hope.

    Besides her fans, Sophie inspired and gave permission to a whole new generation of artists. On my last Rated LGBT Radio podcast, Andrea Walker from Glitterfox, the singer/song writer band from Portland that was recently named one of the Best New Bands of Oregon, commented about my conversation with Sophie, “You said Sophie B. Hawkins was your guest last week? I wish you could have seen my face when you said that. My jaw dropped to the floor. I was remembering being in the 90s listening to Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover. That song specifically was the one that helped me to come out as gay. Honestly, I owe such a huge debt to Sophie B. Hawkins. I really mean it.”

    The Sophie B. Hawkins album Free Myself concludes with a song called You are My Balloon. It speaks to a spirit that is a “shoulder on a cloud, between the sun and moon, climbing very high, acting very proud.”

    It turns quickly into a plea, “Above a sea of dreams, my lantern in the night, making up a tune, on your own jet stream, in and out of sight. And I love looking at you more than anything, I hope you’ll always stay my dancer on a string. I will hold your hand and carry you as far as I can. You won’t need me long but I’ll hold on ‘Cause you are my balloon.”

    The song makes me think of Sophie B. Hawkins herself. The Lantern in the night who made up her tunes and created her own “omnisexual” jest stream definition. It was a definition that today’s LGBTQ youth have embraced, lived and given us all insight about, even as a conservative establishment attacks them. 

    Sophie B. Hawkins has delivered to them a package of anthems, one to remind them that they carry their own definitions,  and they need no one else’s permission or approval. Just as a lone singer once carried the message to the biggest newspaper in the country as she sat in a New York diner, it has now grown to be the understanding of a generation.

    So, with that message in hand, we carry Sophie as far as we can, and hope she always stays our personal dancer on a string.

    *****************************************************************************************

    Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

    He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

    He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

    He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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    Music & Concerts

    Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

    At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion

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    Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

    I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

    The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

    I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

    Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

    Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

    My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

    As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

    A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

    “Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

    The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

    “Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

    Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

    “Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

    This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

    And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

    “‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

    “Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

    This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

    Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

    Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

    “You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

    Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

    In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

    In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

    “Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

    So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

    Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

    “We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

    “More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

    (Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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    Taylor Swift’s Eras: Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium exuded excitement

    As Swift effortlessly sings in her song ‘August’, “August slipped away into a moment in time’ – and she was right

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    Taylor Swift and her acclaimed Eras Tour performing at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

    LOS ANGELES – After six nights – and upwards of half a million people – fans can still not get enough of legendary pop icon, Taylor Swift, and her acclaimed Eras Tour.

    Performing at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, Swift’s six night mini-residency proved to not be enough for Swifties. With Taylor selling out stadiums nationwide within minutes, it comes as no surprise that people have paid thousands of dollars to attend this once in a lifetime experience. 

    The openers for Swift were Gayle and HAIM. Gayle, a pop singer who released the hit song “ABCDEFU” in 2021, sang at the top of her lungs leaving those entering the stadium impressed with such a strong opening performance. HAIM, an alternative-indie-rock-band composed of three sisters – Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim – appeared comfortable opening for Taylor in their hometown of Los Angeles. HAIM’s band members appeared in Swift’s music video ‘Bejeweled’ and are featured on Swift’s song ‘no body, no crime’.

    Photo by Noah Christiansen

    Swifties (the colloquial term for Swift’s fanbase) erupted with roars, laughter, shock, and happy tears as Swift dramatically made her appearance on each night of the Eras Tour.

    The Eras Tour is unlike any other concert you’ve ever been to. With dozens of outfit changes, set designs, and various props the Eras Tour is more than a concert – it’s a life experience… and it’s three and a half hours long. Usually when an artist performs, they mainly perform songs from a recent album. But, with Swift’s Eras Tour, Taylor performed songs from each of her albums.

    As the stadium was filled with both nostalgia, expectation and desire, people of all ages gathered to see Swift’s various genres and styles of music. Regardless of whether one appreciates Swift’s country style, pop style, or acoustic singer-songwriter style, there was not one person in the stadium who was unhappy with the music.

    During her performance, Taylor effortlessly incorporated politically charged messages through her music. As the crowd engaged in their usual endless scream, Swift stated that the crowd made her feel like ‘the man’ – a reference to her song ‘The Man’: “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can // Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man // And I’m so sick of them coming at me again // ‘Cause if I was a man // Then I’d be the man.” Per usual, irony prevails as Swift gets notorious amounts of criticism from the music industry whilst being one of the most successful artists.

    In fact, the Federal Reserve of the United States commented on the amount of money brought in by the Eras Tour with some research firms estimating that this tour could add $5 billion dollars to the U.S. economy.

    Photo by Noah Christiansen

    Other examples of Swift’s activism – and on-stage advocacy – includes her pro-LGBTQ+ messaging. In her song, ‘You Need to Calm Down’, Taylor tells homophobic individuals to “calm down” and that they are being “too loud.”

    This especially rings true with a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being forwarded in the United States. In the same song, she brings awareness to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation by singing, “Why are you mad? When you could be GLAAD?” 

    Although Swift’s fanbase is welcoming and accepting of individuals of all kinds, that did not stop individuals from protesting Swift’s performance.

    A protestor outside of the stadium holds a sign that says “CHILDREN OF DISOBEDIENCE: Fornication = Prostitution, Abortion = Murder, Drug Use = Suicidal Minds, LGBTQ = Total Deprativation.” Thankfully, a counter-protest ensued directly next to those protesting the Eras Tour.

    A Swifty used this opportunity in a creative manner: they used references to popular culture and Swift’s lyrics to contest the protestor’s message. In this case, a lyric from ‘You Need to Calm Down’ – which was screamed by everyone at the concert – rings true: “And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate ’cause shade never made anybody less gay.”

    Regardless of the negative energy outside, the stadium exuded excitement as Swift presented each of her eras in a different manner. After each of her eras (defined as a set of songs performed from a single album), Swift changed outfits and changed set designs. When Swift began the Evermore Era, named after her Evermore album, she brought the Haim sisters out to perform ‘no body, no crime’ on stage. As Swift’s sound has evolved over time, some eras had complicated set designs and bright outfits while other eras appeared more simple. 

    Although Taylor follows her setlist, at each show she carved out a small amount of time to perform two surprise songs, leaving everyone in the audience with feelings of anticipation regardless of whether or not one looked at the previous setlists.  

    Photo by Noah Christiansen

    With Swift’s shows drawing to a close, we can all agree that the month of August was one to remember. And although she performed for three and a half hours at each show, it was still a performance gone too soon. As Swift effortlessly sings in her song ‘August’, “August slipped away into a moment in time’ – and she was right.

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    During the singer’s final show at SoFi Stadium, she announced to fans she was re-releasing her popular album “1989,” as she wrapped her six-day Eras tour concert dates in Los Angeles.

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