Saturday, 28 December 2013

Review: Queer as Pop: From The Gay Scene To The Mainstream

Channel 4
December 27, 2013
Director & Producer: Nick Vaughan-Smith 
Duration: 1 hour (with adverts), over 45 mins (without adverts) 
Extra notes: contains profanity 

Synopsis: documentary charting the men, music and moments that have bought pop music out of the closet & changed the world along the way. 'Queer As Pop' details how the gay clubs and scene have inspired & affected the music mainstream over the last 40 years. 

The 1 - hour documentary showed how the gay scene and clubs help shape mainstream popular music and its transition from the underground gay scene to the commercial mainstream market. 

Gay culture has not so much infiltrated the mainstream, but rather it has worked its way into pop culture. It was also mentioned on the programme that music acted as a spokesperson for gay liberation. 

The narrator pointed out that homosexuality was legalised in the United Kingdom in 1967, whilst in the United States it was still classified as a criminal offence, as well as classed as a mental illness. 

Probably one of the interesting key pieces of trivia in the show, was regarding The Village people. Pop producer Ian Levine hinted the hit song YMCA's lyrics, was about a man staying in the YMCA having sex in the showers. 

With the death of disco in the late 70s into the 80s, producer Nile Rodgers, who produced hits for Madonna, David Bowie and Diana Ross, says disco was the music for people, who weren't a) heterosexual and b) White. & in a way, he was right. It was pretty much a genre of music catering towards the non-mainstream communities.  

By the 1980s, the gay sub-culture in music, to a degree, became a phenomenon. The likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood shocked the pop world with an in-yer-face video for 'Relax'; taking the homoerotic sub-culture and shoving it in people's faces. Pop music was an outlet for homosexual artists to express their feelings, thoughts through music, in the face of public attitudes towards their own pre-conceived ideas and perceptions of what a pop star should be like, what they should look like and catering towards adolescent & pubescent young boys and girls. 

From 70s Disco came Hi- NRG, the successor to disco & an electronic version of disco that uses synthesizers, keyboards to House music, which was born in a Black gay club in Chicago, Illinois during the 1980s . 

The programme then mentioned Madonna's Vogue, Stock Aitken & Waterman and the terrible Reynolds Girls, - whilst virtually ignoring SAW's other back catalogue of stars and records that have impacted gay and lesbian culture- , as well as Lady Gaga. Speaking of Gaga, it appears that almost everyone in that Lady Gaga segment, bar Andy Bell of Erasure, tore her apart, as she was pretty much derided by those that spoke about her on the programme. 

They said her song and video 'Born This Way' was patronising and offensive to gay people. And yet at the same time, they ignored that the message in that song spoke up for a closeted teenage male, who may be feeling confused about his sexuality & is being constantly harassed and bullied in school over it. 

And it wrapped up with gay hip hop rapper, Mykki Blanco. Which was one of the highlights for me. 

The delivery of the information was so fast-paced, it was difficult trying to keep track of what was being said. I'd concur there was some interesting tit-bits of trivia that was good. The researchers did a good job. But it was so tiny that what we got out of it, was minuscule and thus, the show became a frustrating hotpot of ideas, all boiled together that it ended up as an entangled mess. 

With a theme as big as this, so much ground needed to be covered and whilst it is virtually impossible to do all of this in the space of an hour's air time,' Queer as Pop' would have worked so much better, had it been split into 3 weekly parts. One 1 - hour show is not enough. No Boy George, Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, Elton John & Queen on hand to offer their insights either. 

Another thing that surprised me was the sudden lack of women on the programme, particularly lesbian singers mentioned and featured. It seems as though the producers wanted to focus solely on gay men and pop. Which is good, but the absence of KD Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Dusty Springfield and Tracy Chapman was particularly telling and disappointing. Given the title of the programme, one would imply the documentary would shed light on female gay artists as well, and not just female heterosexual artists that cater to the gay community. 

This was an opportunity by Channel 4 to present to viewers a thorough account of pop music and its impact on gay culture, as seen through the eyes of homosexual artists, heterosexual and gay people and by those within the music industry - only for it to be squandered immensely. 

Informative and insightful in parts, yet unfortunately, Queer as Pop fell short of the mark. 

The good

  • The premise was great
  • Channel 4 making this show happen
  • Interview clips were good
  • The Mykki Blanco segment was one of my favourite parts of the programme, in spite of how short it was. 

The bad 

  • The lack of female stars, especially lesbian pop singers interviewed
  • Too short and too rushed - so messy, it felt disjointed throughout and 1 one hour doesn't do the show, nor the subject matter enough justice
  • The idea is so broad, it needn't have warranted one show
  • The PWL, Stock Aitken and Waterman reference and mention was terrible. Why The Reynolds Girls? The PWL brand's impact on gay culture was immense, yet all the producers got to represent it, was an awful pop duo. What were the producers thinking? Just ridiculous and meaningless really. 
  • Would've been better if it had been a 3 - part series - just as described in the Radio Times 


The show's synopsis had good intentions and the idea sounded promising, it is such a shame however that the end product turned out to be a huge disappointment. 

*rating out of 10: 4

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