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David Archuleta may have lost masked singer but he’s winning life

David may have come in second in the highest profile singing contests on the planet, but he refuses to come in second in his own life now

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David Archuleta (Photo by Zach Schmitt)

HOLLYWOOD – David Archuleta is easily the sweetest of crooners. His warm romantic sweet voice has charmed a breadth of audiences for over a decade, first as a top contender on American Idol, and most recently with his boyish face completely hidden on the Masked Singer. In both competitions, he beat out dozens of massively talented singers to land in the #2 slot. 

When he came in second on Idol, he got lost within the sea of confetti heralding David Cook as the winner. On the Masked Singer, when he lost to Bishop Briggs, he was all anyone was talking about, including by the winner herself. 

When he was revealed as The Macaw, usually comedic judge Ken Jeong was brought to tears. David Archuleta’s voice was personal to Ken. His American Idol rendition of Imagine had gotten the Jeong family through tough times. Reminding the world that David’s was the voice of an “angel” Ken told him, “You are a ray of light to me, my wife and to my kids– thank God for you!”  In response, David shared his walk back from suicidal thoughts to coming out as queer. Then the rest of the audience, and winner Bishop Briggs, were also brought to tears. The Macaw may not have won the night, but David did.

David has always had his eye on love and compassion for all, even when he could not extend that courtesy to himself. His consideration came into play in his choices on how to present Imagine lo those many years ago. He had to decide which of the three verses of the song to perform.

He told me why he chose the third verse. “If I was only going to have one verse, and it was my last time being in front of an audience of that magnitude, I thought the song’s message was a lot bigger in that verse, avoiding lyrics where people usually get stuck on the words. I didn’t want them focusing on what the words were saying, I wanted them to see that the song talks about looking past differences, and just being one. Imagine a world of peace where there wasn’t fighting, there weren’t differences, there wasn’t division. That’s what I wanted to emphasize, and I felt the third verse did the best with that message, and was not going to turn people away, turn people’s hearts off, hearing trigger words like ‘Imagine there’s no Heaven’ it’s easy if you try.”

David is not about “no Heaven,” he is about bringing it to everyone.

Courtesy of David Archuleta

David may have come in second in the highest profile singing contests on the planet, but he refuses to come in second in his own life now. There, he is and will be, the hands-down winner. He makes that clear in his newest song release Up. Rising back into popular view from his period of darkness, the song declares that he is headed “Up, up, up up.”

David talked to me on a recent episode of Rated LGBT Radio.  We discussed the religious and mental health crisis from which he has emerged. He told me, “Religion gives you a very structured view of life and of purpose…why you are here, and where you are going to go, who God is, and what God expects of you. Being raised and being told ‘what God thinks of homosexuality and gay people’ and that if you succumb to it, you are distancing yourself from Him. I tried so hard to do what I was told I needed to do and growing up a Mormon, I was told to call it ‘same sex attraction’ acknowledging that I had a ‘weakness’ or ‘challenge’ that I needed to overcome, and if I did not give into it, I would be OK. 

When I realized that I was never going to ‘overcome this challenge of same sex attraction’ I looked at myself as not just inauthentic, but as a failure. Clearly, I thought if I was truly a righteous person, I would be able to change myself from this ‘wicked’ state. When I realized I couldn’t, I thought ‘I’m wicked’, and there was nothing I could do about that. It made me afraid of myself, and I did not want to be a ‘wicked’ person walking the earth. No matter how many times I tried, no matter how many times I tried dating a woman, I went to church and fasted, never looked at pornography, and despite that, I realized it was just my nature. It was not even that I was trying to have sex with anyone, I just felt a bond and attraction to other guys—falling love or having a crush on someone. It led me to wanting to terminate my life. That ideology came from the way I was raised, from my religion, my spirituality as I saw it at that time. “

During his time of struggle, he even hid himself musically – he put out several outstanding Christmas albums. He released an album called Therapy Sessions, which highlighted, albeit veiled, his thoughts and struggles trying to suppress his sexuality.

He finally ended up throwing himself to God in a final prayer of desperation. 

He recounted the experience, “When I tuned into that Higher Connection, I heard God say, “David, you need to stop asking me this, because you’ve been asking me this for over half your life and you can see, it’s not changing. You need to understand, I do not intend it to change. This is what I meant for you. You are supposed to be this way. You are meant to be happy the way you are. You are meant to connect with the people I designed you to connect with. It is not an error despite what well meaning religious people say, and understand.” 

David realized once and for all that he was not evil, that gay people were not evil. “There was an absolute clarity and assurance, absolute confidence, so loving support from a Higher Power greater than me, that showed me how to love greater. It taught me to love myself and allow myself to be loved.  It was pure, it was healing.”

The revelation gave him the confidence to confront Church leaders, to see through their “suggestions” and stand alone as his true authentic queer self.

David Archuleta, THE MASKED SINGER, courtesy of FOX Alternative Entertainment

While cloaked in the Macaw, he could demonstrate to himself that the talent that he was, he still is. He walked the stage clearer and truer than ever, and at the unmasking, the world was seeing not just David Archuleta, but a David Archuleta it had not known before.

Now he is singing a new song, literally. The song is an anthem that can speak to every trans, LGBTQ+ kid or adult in the community.

More, it is a declaration of who David Archuleta is, and what we can expect from him.

The only place I’m goin’ is up
Only make room for love
‘Cause my story’s far from over
It’s only begun
I’ma throw it all away
Every last piece of your hate
And though my story’s far from over
I’ve already won
I’m goin’ up, up, up, up, up, up, up

Yes. Archuleta is back, winning, and this time, he is taking us with him.

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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

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.”

Photo by Noah Christiansen

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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Swedish indie-pop star on the rise, Oscar Stembridge debuts in LA

Stembridge is very much his authentic self. His intelligent but easy-going nature was natural & unrushed as he moved slowly through the crowd

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Oscar Stembridge made his Los Angeles debut at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, August 2, 2023. (Photo by Simha Haddad)

HOLLYWOOD – Swedish indie-pop star on the rise, Oscar Stembridge, made his Los Angeles debut Wednesday at Hotel Café in Hollywood. 

An intimate crowd gathered in the cozy room, filling the dimly lit space with anticipatory buzz. A group of ladies ordered cocktails and wine at the full bar while chatting excitedly with the bartender about the 15-year-old indie-pop rocker. Audience members seated in the scattered chairs around the half-moon stage waited expectantly for the young winner of the Swedish pop awards to appear.

Promptly at 9:15, Stembridge stepped on stage, guitar slung over his shoulder, his signature floppy blond hair covering half of his boyish face. His demeanor was immediately likable, modest yet confident, and grateful for the chance to play for his first-ever Los Angeles audience. 

“Thank you all so much for being here,” said Stembridge, his smile a mix of young Harry Styles and his own unique brand of innocent teenager. 

While Oscar may look even younger than his fifteen years, his originally composed songs cover weighty adult topics like climate change and the Russian-Ukraine war. Topics that Oscar told The Blade were as close to his heart as his teenage woes, like breakups and being dumped. 

“With the Russian-Ukraine war starting and with the climate and food crisis getting worse, it all felt like too much for me,” Oscar told the crowd. “I thought, what if I wrote a song where the world didn’t have all these problems?” 

“If I’m a fool for dreaming, then what is left for me?” 

The song entitled “What If” resembles a modern-day “Imagine” by John Lennon and describes a similarly idealistic alternate reality followed by the particularly poignant question, “If I’m a fool for dreaming, then what is left for me?”  

The audience applauded heartily throughout the set that weaved between released and unreleased original songs and covers by well and lesser-known artists. The crowd was particularly moved by Oscar’s intermittent speech about “being your authentic self.”

“If anyone here feels like they have to put up a façade, you don’t have to do that,” Stembridge said before performing his song “Fake Front.” “People will like you if you are being authentic to yourself.”

True to his song, Stembridge is very much his authentic self. His intelligent but easy-going nature was natural and unrushed as he moved slowly through the crowd after his show, taking time to give each person a turn of his full attention, engaging every fan in easy and flowing conversation.

Oscar Stembridge performing at the Hotel Café. (Photo by Simha Haddad)

Hotel Café was a first stop on a long list of to-dos for Stembridge’s one week in the US. Between being featured in a documentary, an exciting new collab with YouTube violinist Karolina Protensko, and several other professional engagements, Stembridge’s short trip to the States is jam-packed with projects aimed at increasing his presence in the US. 

“I feel amazing,” Stembridge told The Blade after his performance. “As an indie artist, I was able to come here and do my first gig in Los Angeles. It’s a dream come true.”

After LA he travels to Austin, Texas where on August 9th, he’ll attend the world premiere screening of Primitive Planet Director Brian Gregory’s film, ‘Trust Your Wild Side with Oscar Stembridge,’ a captivating documentary that follows the incredible journey so far of Stembridge. 

After the screening, he will perform his first headlining concert in the USA, playing to thrill the audience with his catchy melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

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It is Grace Jones v. Carly Rae Jepsen in the clash of musical titans

This year’s OUTLOUD WeHo Pride festival features a free concert on Friday with paid-ticket events on Saturday and Sunday

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West Hollywood Brings You the Ying and Yang of Divas (Original artwork concept executed by Max Huskins)

HOLLYWOOD – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”  So begins the classic A Tale of Two Cities. The line seems to accurately describe our current times of queer triumphs and tragedies. It characterizes both the progress and the pain being experienced by the LGBTQ community as Pride Season opens.

This, however, is not the tale of two cities. It is the tale of one city, and two divas. Specifically, two divas who are putting their talent and their voices out to inspire our personal age of wisdom and drown out all the foolishness.

That city is West Hollywood and its Outloud music festival in conjunction with Pride. Launched in 2020 as a ten-episode series on Facebook, Outloud then created a weekend-long event in 2021 celebrating LGBTQ+ artistry and music. This year’s festival features a free concert on Friday with paid-ticket events on Saturday and Sunday.

Before the weekend of contrasting LGBTQ+ significances, Broadway and Disney Queen Idina Menzel headlines the roster on Friday Night.  With an LGBTQ fan favorite pedigree with hits from the show Rent, to defying gravity as the marginalized Elphaba of Wicked to the Ice Queen who “Lets it go”, Idina has been showstopping with LGBTQ themes that have spoken to a wide range of generations.

On stage at the Saturday and Sunday concerts will be the fascinating juxtaposition of two divas, each carrying her own LGBTQ significance, but who could not be more different from the other if they tried. It is Jones, as in Grace, versus Jepsen as in Carly Rae.

They are the Yin meets Yang of divas.

Grace Jones on the one hand, is legend, she is our origin. She rode an arc from Jamaica, to America, to Paris and beyond. Her voice reverberated from gay discos crying that she “wanted a man” in the first days when gay discos spun their mirrored balls. She, in many ways, defined us. She exuded non-binary before there was such a term and people just called her androgynous. She has stated, “Some people are both genders. I think you just come out the way you come out, and you have to embrace it honestly.” She is the diva quite at home in form fitting black leather with whips and fire. “I go feminine, I go masculine. I am both, actually. I think the male side is a bit stronger in me, and I have to tone it down sometimes. I’m not like a normal woman, that’s for sure.”

Carly Rae Jepsen is our sweet, affection seeking, secret diva. To much of the popular world she is a “one-hit” wonder, but to many LGBTQ folks her ongoing catalogue speaks to, and of, our hearts and the ongoing search for love. In terms of black leather, she has been heard to say, “I’ve never been an all-black girl. I like pinks and blues and greens, If you come over to my closet, you’ll be able to find a rainbow of things to wear.”

This diversity can be heard in the music each makes as well.  Grace Jones owns the edge, and has remarked, “Music has its own depths, and I let it take me where it takes me, even if it means stripping all my clothes off.” Grace’s music is known for its unique style and sound, influenced by reggae, funk, post-punk, pop and New Wave. It has traditionally resonated with the LGBTQ+ community as anthems for self-expression, liberation, and nonconformity.

Carly Rae Jepsen, on the other hand, has described her music as “Bejeweled. It’s colorful. It’s romantic. It shines.”

While Grace is global and created a worldwide fabric in fashion and music, Carly Rae is decidedly Canadian with a hometown girl kind of flair. “Canada was my whole world and my whole reality, and now I meet people who’ve never been there, and it’s like, ‘You’ve never been to my whole world?” she says.

Entertainment Tonight Canada called Carly Rae “the queen of the Gay Community.” She has been active in the music industry since 2007. She has released six studio albums, two remix albums, four EPs, 28 singles, 10 promotional singles, and 24 music videos. Her song “Call Me Maybe” became the biggest-selling song in the world in 2012 and the best-selling domestic Canadian single in history. She is known for her support of the LGBTQ community and her music has been embraced by the LGBTQ community for its inclusive messages of acceptance and self-love. She has said, ““I have so many gay friends that I love. It is a regular thing. And if my video is encouraging that mind frame with other people—well it is about time…”

“I WOULD much rather have a small and mighty group of people who are getting what I love about music and connecting than a ‘Call me Maybe’ ever again.”

Grace has said about herself, “I like conflicts. I love competition. I like discovering things for myself. It’s a childlike characteristic, actually. But that gives you a certain amount of power, and people are intimidated by that.” So if there were to be a Jones versus Jepson competition, who would win? Grace has sold more records than Carly Rae. Grace Jones has sold over 738,614 albums and had four songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Carly Rae Jepsen has sold over 521,000 albums and had six songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Carly Rae Jepsen has also sold over 25 million records worldwide, which includes singles and streams. Grace Jones’ total record sales are not clear, but she has been active since the 1970s, and relatively few streams. It cannot be ignored however, that she is the one who has  a significant influence on pop culture and music.

Calling her out as a culture creator himself, Andy Warhol said, “Grace Jones is one of the most creative and brilliant people I have ever met. She is always pushing the boundaries of art and expression. She is a true original.”

While lack of acknowledgement has been a bone of contention from Grace for divas that followed and copied her (Hello, Madonna, she is speaking to you…), several have paid their homage. “Grace Jones is a force of nature, a wild spirit, a rebel. She inspires me to be more fearless and outspoken. She is a role model for women and men alike, “ stated Lady Gaga. Rihanna has similarly paid tribute, “Grace Jones is a trailblazer, a pioneer, a visionary. She has influenced generations of artists with her music, fashion, film and performance. She is a living legend.”

Carly Rae has been treated more like a kid sister diva, on the other hand.  When she broke Gaga’s record for longest duration at #1, Gaga teased that she would be “coming for her.”

Neither is a stranger to Pride stages. In 2019, they each owned rainbow tinted spotlights. Carly Rae served as Grand Marshal of Toronto Pride. Grace headlined at New York City Pride.

Now their talents combine on a stage in West Hollywood for Outloud. “Outloud is a show created for queer people in queer communities. It was born out of a need to support a struggling community of queer artists. While the top of our bill celebrates industry titans who each champion or represent LGBTQ causes, our drive comes from the diverse, eclectic assortment of established and emerging talent who represent the very best of queer music today,” Outloud founder and CEO Jeff Consoletti told Rolling Stone. To that point, the full roster of the three nights is choc full of incredible talent. 

Friday Night @ OUTLOUD Presented by WeHo Pride will kick-off WeHo Pride Weekend with a free-ticketed experience on Friday, June 2 with a lineup that includes headliners Idina Menzel, Jessie Ware, Shangela, and Tinashe, as well as additional performances by JORDY, Tolliver, and DJ Venessa Michaels. RSVP is required for Friday night free-ticketed entry. Saturday Night @OUTLOUD on June 3 features Grace Jones, and Sunday, June 4 features Carly Rae Jepsen. Both require paid-ticket purchases.

The full weekend lineup also includes performances by Passion Pit, Orville Peck, Santigold, Princess Nokia, Yung Bae, DRAMA, Meet Me @ The Altar, Kat Cunning, Rubio, Cub Sport, and Black Belt Eagle Scout. Register or get tickets at www.weareoutloud.com.

Which diva should the community support? The legend or the lover? Our legacy, or validation of our emotions? The ying or the yang of queer musical culture? 

Looking to the deeper meaning of Yin/Yang holds the answer. 

It is the Chinese cultural principle that the universe is governed by a cosmic duality, sets of two opposing and complementing principles and cosmic energies. 

We need them both.

Therefore, get multiple sets of tickets. Both your soul, and your heart, need the nourishment and will thank you. And you will have a damned good time.

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

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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Bowie-inspired Tripping Jupiter elevates both music & gender

The personal and the cosmic collide in beautiful paradoxes elevating both music and gender out of this world

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Tripping Jupiter aka Madstone Rowan (Photo by Andrey Strekoza)

HOLLYWOOD – Revolutionary new musical artist Tripping Jupiter is not looking to be defined by you. They are not interested in fitting into a binary gender picture.  They are, by their own definition, “beyond the binary.”

Likewise, they are not looking to be neatly defined by a musical style either. They create a ”transcendent view of art and of music and presents it without societal restrictions or self-imposed limits. The result is barrier-free freedom presented within the sonics and visuals of modern rock and retro-pop sensibilities.”

The face of Tripping Jupiter is that of Madstone Rowan (they/them, he/them), a vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter based in New York City. They are “two parts groove, one part empowerment, plus just a spritz of glitter.” 

Their latest album, Lipstick of the Brave, boasts contributors with a rich music heritage of having worked with legends from David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright to Blondie. 

Tripping Jupiter’s most recent release from Lipstick is a song, with very Bowie-like vocals, and a video called Torn America. The video presents footage of recent protests of movements from Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ marches to global climate change. The song itself is somewhat of a paradox. It promotes change that happens when groups all moved together. It states “From our slumber, we will rise,” which alludes to a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Rise like lions after slumber in an unvanquishable number.” At the same time, the song does not push change, but as Madstone describes it, its goal was “not to be preachy or tell anyone what to think or to believe.” 

Paradox is consistent with the Tripping Jupiter brand. It is described as “a transcendent view of art and music created and presented without social restrictions or self-imposed limits.” 

That is not to say that Madstone is without opinions or passion. In a conversation we had on Rated LGBT Radio, Madstone was just coming off an encounter with law enforcement. (The cop chose not to give input to our conversation however.) We launched into a discussion on the current persecution of drag expression. “The recent attacks on Drag have hit me on a personal level, I have friends who are amazing drag queens, they have brought so much love and beauty to this world, their presence should be celebrated, not vilified, “ Madstone said. “I feel like we are in the Upside Down. It is 2023. We are supposed to all have jet packs and life is supposed to be wonderful, yet here we are—we fought this oppression 50 years ago. This is one massive distraction from having to come up with solutions to our real problems. It is so frustrating.”

The issue is reminiscent of Tripping Jupiter’s award-winning song and animated film Lipstick of the Brave. “That was inspired by the glam rock of the seventies and eighties and Bowie. That music told me it was ok to be ‘weird’. That was my story. There was something in me to be ‘weird’ and I did not want to NOT do it, but I did not know how to connect with other people.  What inspired me was artists that pushed gender boundaries. That is where Lipstick of the Brave came from.  It was a personal little song, but I am so glad it connected with many other people and inspired them as well.”

Madstone acknowledges the enormous influence of Bowie—not just on their music creations, the similarities in their singing voices, but in the total art of Tripping Jupiter.  “He sang about stuff they did not even have a name for back then. He was phenomenally talented. You are right, he is an influence on my music, but more so on my art . He was — Honor yourself. Speak your truth. — There is something about being authentic. This project is my authenticity.  It is not gee, what is the next ‘big thing’ people want to hear, just honor the authenticity. My muse is definitely connected to Bowie somewhere out there in the ether, but when songs come to me, I write them and I don’t ask questions.”

Many of the songs on the Lipstick album speak directly to the nonbinary identity.  “I see my identity as ever-evolving. I am not a person who likes to get stuck into little boxes. Society tends to want to do that. If the labels we had for ourselves up to now worked, we would be fine with them fight now. We clearly are not. My art is therapy for me. I am coming to terms with ‘who am I?’  When we push past the societal expectations of gender, there is a certain sense of liberation that it can bring anyone regardless of how they identify. Racial equality and liberation will lift everyone, likewise gender identity and queer liberation will lift everyone as well. So, I do ask people to question themselves on whether they are really a woman or a man. How you see yourself.”

We ended our conversation discussing more paradoxes of the principles behind Tripping Jupiter. We as individuals are very unique, and yet we are also very similar to each other. The album’s song Starlight alludes to our self-ownership and the paradox that we are made up of shared atoms from the universe’s supernova explosion years ago. The iron in our blood belongs to the stars that preceded us and is so much bigger than our sole personages.

Yet we all bleed the same.

Thus is the magic of Tripping Jupiter. It is the soul of earth-bound Bowie of the past, yet it is the mind-expanding out-of-our-current-world thinking of the future. It is you. It is me. Yet it is beyond all of us.

It is something you can just imagine, or it is the reality you can have when you go download the album.

Do that. David Bowie would approve.

Listen:

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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 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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Don we now our gay apparel: Bryan Ruby’s new Country Christmas

From a gay man in love, comes a country Christmas carol – no longer just in him, but out, ready for us to use it however we want to

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Bryan Ruby - Christmas With You (Screenshot/YouTube)

HOLLYWOOD – Ever since Gene Autry warbled “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” in 1949, country music artists have tried to lay claim to the Christmas carol. Of the various musical genres, country artists seem to be the ones that want to show that they “get” Christmas the most. They can make a case for it right from that very first hit, thanks to Gene Autry’s country song, Rudolph DID become the most famous reindeer, after all. 

Country music exudes down home feels, some melancholy and an achy breaky backstory. Perfect for a Christmas carol.

Recently, in losing her trademark bid to be named “Queen of Christmas”, Mariah Carey embraced the truth and called country diva of all divas,Dolly Parton, “The Queen of the World, the Queen of Christmas, The Queen of Mine.”

So, when one queen names you the real Queen of Christmas, you win. Long reign Dolly Parton… and with her, country music Christmas.

Enter gay singer, and professional baseball player, Bryan Ruby. He has just thrown his cowboy hat into the country Christmas ring. Bryan just released a new Christmas song called Christmas With You dedicated to his boyfriend.

Let that sink in. A male Country Music artist released a Christmas love song dedicated to his boyfriend. Move over Gene Autry, some new trails are being blazed.

This is not his first ride in the rodeo, either. Bryan Ruby is a trailblazing professional baseball player and rising Country music artist. In 2021, he became the only active professional baseball player to come out as gay, and his story was featured on the front page of USA Today, in The Los Angeles Blade & in hundreds of other media outlets around the world. 

 He is an avid songwriter, and a success in a genre that historically has not been LGBTQ friendly. His first single, Left Field, was featured on The TODAY Show and added to rotation on SiriusXM Country Pride, as well as the Academy of Country Music’s Ultimate Pride Playlist.

The song Christmas With You would fit nicely in a playlist that features Carey’s All I Want for Christmas and the classic Carpenter’s hit Merry Christmas Darling.  All three focus on a missing very special someone. That absent person is more important than any material Christmas trapping, and is yearned to be present for cuddling in front of a romantic fire.

For Bryan, that someone is Max, his love of three years. They met while Bryan was recording a commercial in a nearby studio. Their best times have been the times together alone. A while back, they took a road trip from Portland to LA. Bryan was on his way to sing the national anthem for the Dodgers. They sailed down Pacific Coast highway, the wind in their hair and deep affection in their hearts. They stopped at all the sights—the Castro, through the redwoods, strolling romantic Santa Barbara. “I’d just come out publicly,” Bryan shared. “It was great to get some time together and ground ourselves before we got to LA and my life started to change.”

This year, Bryan has been on the road a lot. He had clocked 75,000 miles doing music gigs, playing baseball, promoting LGBTQ acceptance in sports and representing his non-profit  Proud To Be In Baseball

While on the road, he thought of Max and it inspired a song.  “It was written over the summer on a day where I was several time zones away from him, alone in a hotel room, and truly just missing him. For some reason I thought ‘Christmas, that’s our moment’. It’s a moment we’ve shared in years past and we’re slated to have a very low-key Christmas again this year,” Bryan remembers. “They say the best songs come from true lived experiences and this is as true as you can get. I have always dreamed about writing country music that is real and authentic to my life, and I’m proud to be someone in the LGBTQ+ community who can do that.”     

When he got home, he sat quietly in front of the fire and played it for Max. “It was a nice moment for us.”

Songwriters give us their private moments. As singer/songwriter Anna Nalick shared eloquently in the song “Breathe”: 

“Two am, and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to”

So, from a gay man in love, comes a country Christmas carol, all down on paper, and into the air, no longer just in him, but out, ready for us to use it however we want to. 

LGBTQ+ lovers out there, in front of your own fires, with your own Christmas romances, this one’s for you.

Bryan Ruby – Christmas With You:

Country Songwriter By Day & Professional Baseball Player By Night

Keep up with Bryan on Facebook, Instagram & YouTube or visit his Website

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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 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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Streisand’s ‘Live at the Bon Soir’: Birth of a diva

Album finally released 50 years after being recorded

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Album cover for 'Barbara Sreisand: Live at the Bon Soir.'

Happy days are here again!

Sixty years ago, for three nights in November 1962, Columbia Records recorded a young (20-year-old) singer as she performed at the Bon Soir, a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. The singer’s name was Barbra Streisand, and the recording was slated to be her debut album. Streisand wasn’t that widely known then. But as (the character) Miss Marmelstein, Streisand was stopping the show nightly in the Broadway production “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.” After the show’s curtain call, she took a cab to perform at the Bon Soir club, according to the website barbra-archives.info.

But though the recording of Streisand live at the Village club was talked about the way you’d chat about an awesome legend, the album was shelved for more than half a century. Instead of releasing the “Live at the Bon Soir,” Columbia in 1963 released “The Barbra Streisand Album” (which was recorded in a studio) as Streisand’s debut album.

If you’re queer, you know Streisand rules! To the delight of critics, fans and mid-century history aficionados, on Nov. 4, six decades after it was recorded, “Live at the Bon Soir,” wonderfully remastered, was released on vinyl and SACD. It is also available on streaming services.

If you’ve fantasized about spending an intimate evening with Streisand (Barbra singing and engaging in witty repartee for just you and your intimates), “Live at the Bon Soir” is a dream come true. When Streisand says, “I wish there were another word for thank you…I mean, like, anything, you know” and introduces the club audience to her “boyfriend’s suit,” you feel that she’s talking directly to you.

Streisand’s voice is at its youthful, gorgeous best and her one-of-a-spectacular-kind personality comes through in her banter between songs. Listening to the album is an immersive experience. You’re witnessing the birth of a diva.

The album’s 24 tracks range from an indelible version of the torch song “Cry Me a River” to a playful rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

One of the best things about “Live at the Bon Soir” is its comprehensive, illuminating liner notes. Produced by Streisand, Martin Erlichman and Jay Landers, the CD of the album is packaged in a hardcover book with 32 pages of historical notes, photos and a message from Streisand. The vinyl version comes with a 12-page booklet. The notes provide insight into not only the making of the album, but of most interest to Streisand devotees, what it was like to perform live at the beginning of her career.

“I had never even been in a nightclub until I sang in one,” Streisand writes in the album’s liner notes about performing at and recording “Live at the Bon Soir.”

“I sang two songs in a talent contest at a little club called the Lion and won,” Streisand adds, “which led to being hired at a more sophisticated supper club around the corner called the Bon Soir, with an actual stage and a spotlight.”

The sound on the restored version of “Live at the Bon Soir” is much better than it was on the original recording.

“The science of recording has made quantum leaps since 1962,” writes Landers on the album’s liner notes, “Grammy Award winning engineer, Jochem van der Saag, has subtly solved audio issues in ways his predecessors could hardly have fathomed.”

Streisand has recorded albums with political and contemporary songs. These recordings are often superb. (Is anything by Streisand ever remotely bad?)

But “Live at the Bon Soir” is a gift to anyone who loves standards from the American song-book – from “I Hate Music” (Leonard Bernstein) to “Right as the Rain” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg) to “Come To The Supermarket (in Old Peking)” (Cole Porter) to “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellen/Milton Ager).

Even if you’re allergic to show tunes, you’ll be entranced by “Live at the Bon Soir.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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From Gay Old Time to Proudly Queer: the Grammy Noms Deliver

The short list contains two major LGBTQ icons Beyonce and Adele, plus queer artist superstar Brandi Carlile & Kendrick Lamar

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

HOLLYWOOD – The 2023 Grammy Award nominee list is here!  As it unfurled, so apparently did a broad swiping rainbow flag of love. One thing is for sure, this list represents.

It has someone for everyone with a queer interest. It has new queer icons, and old gay icons. It has the sexually fluid, the queer, the mysterious and the allies. Queer newbies will see, and hear, the artists that sing for them, and amazingly, so will the LGBTQ seniors. The queer music vibes range from the camp, to the rocking, the sultry, to rap.

Going right to the top four nominated acts, that short list contains two major LGBTQ icons (Beyonce,9, and Adele,7), queer artist superstar Brandi Carlile ,7,and Kendrick Lamar,8. whose song “Auntie Diaries” was received as rap embrace of the trans community.

Fully out queer artists fanned out through the various genre categories. The aforementioned Brandi Carlie in rock, sweet-toned Sam Smith & Kim Petras in pop, Steve Lacy giving sultry in r&b, the brothers Osborne in country, Big Theif in alternative, and Randy Rainbow in comedy. 

That list doesn’t even count the artists who we might call “queer adjacent.” Lizzo, Harry Styles and Bad Bunny certainly have wrapped their talents in being culturally queer, even if their sexualities are not (that we know of anyway…)

For those who moved to the rhythm of the gay discos in the eighties and nineties, you may feel like time-travelers. Abba, Diana Ross, Ozzie Osborn, Mary K. Blige, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt – all with serious LGBTQ icon or ally creds—are all nominated. Queer friendly, and nominated, Cold Play seem like the youngsters with that crowd.

Abba was nominated for the very first time ever last year for the first song off their album Voyager. This year, the album, and arguably the best song from it Don’t Shut Me Down, are nominated, showing that the original nomination was not a fluke or nostalgic gesture. No, Abba, the industry really, really likes you.

Similarly for the legendary Miss Ross. This nomination is her first in 40 years for a competitive grammy.

Whether she wins or not (and lets face it, wouldn’t it be cool if she does?), there is no doubt about it, this year’s Grammys are COMING OUT.

Here are the nominees:

Record Of The Year

 Don’t Shut Me Down …………………………ABBA

 Easy On Me ……………………………………….Adele

 BREAK MY SOUL…………………………………Beyoncé

 Good Morning Gorgeous ……………………Mary J. Blige

 You And Me On The Rock…………………….Brandi Carlile Featuring Lucius

Woman………………………………………………………Doja Cat

 Bad Habit………………………………………………… Steve Lacy

 The Heart Part 5 ……………………………………….Kendrick Lamar

 About Damn Time ……………………………………..Lizzo

 As It Was ……………………………………………………Harry Styles

Album Of The Year

Voyage                           ABBA

30                                   Adele

 Un Verano Sin Ti        Bad Bunny

 RENAISSANCE             Beyoncé

Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)     Mary J. Blige

 In These Silent Days            Brandi Carlile

 Music Of The Spheres        Coldplay

 Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers          Kendrick Lamar

 Special                      Lizzo

 Harry’s House           Harry Styles

Song Of The Year

  • abcdefu
    Sara Davis, GAYLE & Dave Pittenger, songwriters (GAYLE)
  • About Damn Time
    Melissa “Lizzo” Jefferson, Eric Frederic, Blake Slatkin & Theron Makiel Thomas, songwriters (Lizzo)
  • All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (The Short Film)
    Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
  • As It Was
    Tyler Johnson, Kid Harpoon & Harry Styles, songwriters (Harry Styles)
  • Bad Habit
    Matthew Castellanos, Brittany Fousheé, Diana Gordon, John Carroll Kirby & Steve Lacy, songwriters (Steve Lacy)
  • BREAK MY SOUL
    Beyoncé, S. Carter, Terius “The-Dream” Gesteelde-Diamant & Christopher A. Stewart, songwriters (Beyoncé)
  • Easy On Me
    Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
  • GOD DID
    Tarik Azzouz, E. Blackmon, Khaled Khaled, F. LeBlanc, Shawn Carter, John Stephens, Dwayne Carter, William Roberts & Nicholas Warwar, songwriters (DJ Khaled Featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, John Legend & Fridayy)
  • The Heart Part 5
    Jake Kosich, Johnny Kosich, Kendrick Lamar & Matt Schaeffer, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar)

Just Like That
Bonnie Raitt, songwriter (Bonnie Raitt)

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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 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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Riding the joy train with Amy Ray

New solo project ‘If It All Goes South’ focuses on healing

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Amy Ray’s new solo album ‘If It All Goes South’ is out now. (Photo by Sandlin Gaither)

Whether out singer/songwriter Amy Ray is performing with longtime musical partner Emily Saliers as one half of the Indigo Girls, as she has since the mid-1980s, or going solo as she did with her solo debut “Stag” in 2001, you recognize her instantly. Her distinctive vocal style, which suits whatever genre she’s performing – folk, punk, Americana, or gospel – has become as much her trademark as the outspokenness of her lyrics. 

“If It All Goes South” (Daemon), Ray’s exceptional seventh solo album is a welcome addition to her singular output, touching on themes of queerness and social issues, all performed in her warm and welcoming manner. Amy was gracious enough to make time to talk about the new album around the time of its release. 

BLADE: Before we get to your new album “If It All Goes South,” I wanted to go back in time a little bit. Your 2001 solo debut album “Stag” and its 2005 follow-up “Prom” are firmly rooted in a punk rock/riot grrrl aesthetic. While the Indigo Girls are more than capable of rocking out, did you feel that the songs on those albums wouldn’t have been a good fit for what you do with Emily (Saliers)?

AMY RAY: Yes. I think it was because of two things. One was the collaborators. Those were people I’m a fan of, most of them are people that Daemon Records (Ray’s record label) had an association with, in some way or another. It was kind of like this other camp of people that were different from the collaborators that the Indigos would typically play with. It tended to be more studio accurate, in some ways. As opposed to that punk rock ethic which is music being from a different place, and accuracy maybe being less important than technical prowess.

BLADE: A little more DIY.

RAY: Yeah! And I also think the subject matter, the songs were just a little more singular in a way that was hard to do them as the Indigo Girls and not dilute the message. As soon as you get us together, we really shift the other person’s song, it becomes a duet. The subject matter to me was so specific and gender queer and punk rock edge that it didn’t feel like it would work. At that time, when I wrote (the song) “Lucy Stoners,” Emily wasn’t interested in doing some of those songs. She wasn’t down with the attitude. Now, she would say, I’m sure just knowing her, that [laughs] she’d do it now. Because her attitude has changed. I was hanging out with and influenced by people that were from that DIY movement, and there was lots of gender queer conversation. It was a different place than Emily was in as a gay person. Now, I look back on all of it and I think I was, all the time, reaching around to different collaborations because I love collaborating with different kinds of people. It always teaches me something. It’s also a different itch that I get scratch.

BLADE: In terms of trajectory, to my ear, your most recent three solo albums – 2014’s “Goodnight Tender,” 2018’s “Holler,” and the new one, “If It All Goes South” (Daemon) – in addition to being alphabetically titled, feel like an Americana trilogy. Do you consider them to be linked?

RAY: Yeah. I mean I didn’t say to myself, “This is the third one and then I’ll stop.” But “If It All Goes South” was definitely a record where there was a thread from the other ones and some things that I wanted to achieve that I didn’t feel like I was able to do on the other ones. I think I didn’t even know that until we started making this one. This is more successful at combining a few of my punk-abilly influences into an Americana world. Also, some of that spontaneity we were starting to get on “Holler.” Now that we’ve played together as long as we have as a band, it was at its peak on this record. I think we just needed to make a couple of records to get to that place. I like them all, but for different reasons. They do different things for me. This one gathers up all the loose ends of “Holler” and “Goodnight Tender” musically and ties them up and puts them in a different context, and almost raises the bar. Lyrically, I wanted to have songs that were about healing, a “you’re not alone” kind of vibe, because of the time period that we had just been through. It’s also the same producer (Brian Speiser) on all three, and we’ve worked together on projects. It started off casually – “Hey, I’ve been wanting to do this country record with these songs. Let’s do this together.”

BLADE: Am I reading too much into the album’s title “If It All Goes South,” or is it a play on words, as in “goes south” as a direction and as deterioration?

RAY: You’re not reading too much into it. There’s even more you can read into it, politically. When I was writing (the song) “Chuck Will’s Widow,” Georgia was the epicenter of some big political movement. When Warnock got elected and Abrams declared running for governor again, I was like, “Oh man, I’m in the right place for once.” But we knew it wasn’t always going to be easy. My perspective in that song was a couple things. “If it all goes South, count it as a blessing, that’s where you are.” Yes, it’s directional, and also like, if things get really shitty, try to make the best of it, of course, it’s what you tell your kids all the time.

BLADE: As any Indigo Girls fan or follower of your solo output knows, you have a history of playing well with others, in addition to Emily (Saliers), “If It All Goes South” is no exception with guest vocalists including Brandi Carlile (“Subway”), H.C. McEntire (“Muscadine),” Allison Russell (“Tear It Down”), Natalie Hemby (“From This Room”), and the trio I’m With Her (“Chuck Witt’s Widow”). When you begin the recording process for an album do you have a wish list of musical guests or how does that work?

RAY: I usually have a wish list when I’m writing the song. Alison Brown, she’s part of the band, so I always think about her banjo playing when I’m writing. She doesn’t tour with us, but she’s in the band. I started writing “From This Room” a long time ago, and I started writing it as a duet. I didn’t have anybody in mind at that point, but I hadn’t finished it yet. When I was finishing it for the record, I had just seen Natalie Hemby with The Highwomen and had also just had met her and Emily writes with her sometimes. So, I knew her and I was thinking about her voice. When I wrote “Subway,” in part, in tribute to (the late DJ) Rita Houston, who had been so crucial. She and Brandi Carlile were super close. She really helped develop Brandi’s career in being such an indicator station, getting other people on board. So, I was thinking about Brandi and the chorus vocals that would be there because I was writing kind of an ambitious chorus for me [laughs]. I’m like, “I’m gonna have to have Brandi in here!” For “North Star,” that kind of gospel song at the end, when I wrote it and Jeff Fielder, the guitar player, and I were demoing it, I was like, “This is not right. There’s another ingredient. I don’t know enough about the kind of music I’m trying to write to do it.” I got Phil Cook to come in, as a co-writer really, to finish the song musically. Fill out the chords and make it the gospel song I was trying to write. The only person I wanted to do this was Phil Cook. I am just very specific. Like Sarah Jarosz, on this record in particular I wanted to get a mandolin player and I wanted Sarah to play mandolin. We’re always covering the parts ourselves. Jeff’s a great mandolin player, but Sarah Jarosz is a fucking prodigy [laughs]. … It’s never like a wish list of, “Who’s famous? Who can we get?” It’s more a case of who are these songs geared towards, so that when they come into the studio, you don’t tell them anything, really. They just do what they do great, and it works.

BLADE: You mentioned the late, queer, influential WFUV DJ Rita Houston, and I was wondering what you think the loss of Houston means for new artists?

RAY: It’s a huge hole in the universe of people that would take a new artist and sort of help develop them, take chances at radio, and give people that space. She also was a mentor to artists. She wasn’t ever judging your art by whether you were gay or not, or what color your skin was. … She was a mentor in shared musicality. Being able to trust her and understanding how that taught you about the terrain that you’re in and who you can and can’t trust in that way. 

BLADE: “Subway” ends with the line “This Georgia girl has got it bad for New York.” With that in mind, could there be an Amy Ray or Indigo Girls musical on Broadway at some point in the future?

RAY: [Big laugh] That’s Emily’s territory. She’s working on some things. A couple of different musicals, and I’m not working on them with her. She’s developing two different ones, and I think one of them has actually gotten some traction and some workshopping that’s pretty important. There is a musical that a friend of mine from high school has been writing that’s really interesting and it’s gotten a lot of workshops. It’s still in the early stages. It uses Michelle Malone’s music and my solo music. Then there’s a movie coming out called “Glitter and Doom” which is a movie musical that’s just Indigo Girls music. It’s coming out next year, I think. We’re still working on the final credits song.

BLADE: After the current Indigo Girls tour wraps up, is there a possibility of an Amy Ray solo tour?

RAY: Yeah. We’re booking dates in February for the South. I’ve tried touring in cold places in February, and it’s hard [laughs]. We’ll head up to the North in May.

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Music & Concerts

Sammy Rae & The Friends bring musical effervescence to LA

Sammy Rae & The Friends are bringing their undefinable act to an evening of queer musical delight at The Fonda Theater on November 12th-13th 

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Sammy Rae (Photo Courtesy of Stunt Company Media)

HOLLYWOOD -Is it jazz, is it classic rock or is it a raucous evening of world-music tinged excitement? And whose is the angelic voice tying it all together?

That would be Sammy Rae and Friends. They just released their new single If it All Goes South and are bringing their undefinable act to an evening of queer musical delight at The Fonda Theater on November 12th – 13th

Lead singer/songwriter Sammy Rae never intended to be a solo artist, but rather was more inspired by huge talents like Springsteen who shook up the music world by fronting the E Street Band. Sammy Rae is no Springsteen in style, but stuns as much in her own way.

She is unabashedly queer.  She paid homage to her sexuality and the pride in her gender a few years ago in a song called Jacqueline Onassis. She shared on my Rated LGBT Radio show recently, “I was a young queer teen trying to figure out what does my Womanhood look like? What does my queerness look like?  … Nobody has to be the same. Anything, you can be authentically yourself and you can still honor your femininity in that. The Jackie O is a love song to my first crushes and it’s also a love song to all young women.  It was my embrace of my Womanhood in the context of my queerness and not feel like either of them had to be muted to help the other one make sense.  I love seeing the way that song has been received as a queer anthem and a women’s empowerment anthem.”

The music of Sammy Rae and Friends is addictively effervescent and builds in momentum. Just as their new song pulls at the theme to have raucous fun even “if it all goes south,” Their music reflects that sentiment. While the lyrics display some heart break and a little darkness, the infectious thrill of the music just wants to make you dance your heart out. “A big theme in our music is there’s always something to be learned, right? Doesn’t even matter if it hurts, there is something to be learned.  If it works out the right way, there’s something to be learned, that’s a huge theme,” Sammy Rae explains.

Inspired by Paul McCartney and Wings, and Freddie Mercury and Queen, Friends weaves their multiple musical influences into boundary breaking compositions that swing, rock and drive to a satisfying crescendo.  “We put a couple different sounds into one song and chaos just seems to be overarching and then we bring it back with that grand piano moment and kind of calm things down. It all comes down to, we are more concerned about being our authentic, selves and making music, which feels authentic to us,” Sammy Rae says.

“The Friends” describe themselves as “flourishing in any spotlight with a combination of all-for-one and one-for-all camaraderie, palpable chemistry, deft virtuosity, and vocal fireworks.” Sammy describes them this way, ”We’re seven people who come from different states, different countries and all different studies of music …and somehow we figured out how to collaborate and create one cohesive sound The thrill is not just the combined talent, but even as much as the talent, we became a long-term thing that could grow.”

Sammy Rae & The Friends (Photo Courtesy of Stunt Company Media)

“Friends” does not stop at the name of the band. True, they are the “7 faces of The Friends,” but their friendship aura is extended to their fans and their audience as well. They advocate for the importance of community. 

Their fan base has been built by grass-roots word-of-mouth. “Friends” to the group, are all who share their vision of love and acceptance. The shows are like a shot in the arm of affirmation of individuality. They are safe spaces to feel overwhelmed. 

So come. Dress as you like, be who you are, and let your spirit dance on the musical bubbles of freedom. While Sammy Rae gives it her all the Friends will leave it all on the dance floor, and in the end, will be very glad you came.

As will you.

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

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 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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