Adam Lambert, George Michael, Lgbtq, Lil Nas X, Ricky Martin, Troye Sivan

Adam Lambert, George Michael

What Makes a 'Gay Icon'?

How George Michael’s struggle with his sexuality helped nudge the closet door open for today’s openly queer artists

7/31/2021 7:10:00 PM

How George Michael ’s struggle with his sexuality helped nudge the closet door open for today’s openly queer artists

How George Michael ’s struggle with his sexuality helped nudge the closet door open for today’s openly queer artists

performers who have come of age in an era where increased connectivity and visibility has arguably saved them countless lost years. “Seventeen” is clearly about sex, but it’s also about the kind of self-discovery that gay men of Michael’s generation were frequently deprived of in their formative years.

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It wouldn’t be until the release of 1990’s under-appreciatedListen Without Prejudice Vol. 1that Michael’s ambivalence about his identity became more evident in his work. The swapping of pronouns in “Cowboys and Angels” results in an ambiguity that served to both obfuscate and authenticate his sexual fluidity.

“Freedom ‘90,”in particular, conflated Michael’s personal and professional struggles, not simply because they were happening simultaneously, but because they were inextricably bound. When he declares, “There’s someone else I’ve got to be,” it’s both a bald-faced rejection of the pinup image he’d cultivated and a desperate plea for self-actualization.

Ultimately, Michael’s vow of loyalty in “Freedom” — “I won’t let you down/So please don’t give me up/‘Cause I would really, really love to stick around” — wasn’t fully reciprocated by the American public or his record label, with whom he famously tried to break ties. The dispute put Michael’s career in a legal purgatory that led to several years of only sporadic musical output, including the AIDS awareness compilation

Red Hot + Dance. One of the songs he contributed to the project, “Do You Really Want to Know” is a deceptively buoyant pop-house anthem about safe sex that boasts more of Michael’s wooly wordplay: “If you knew every woman and I knew every man, we never would have made it past holding hands,” he sings, before later reversing “man” and “woman.”

Sivan, who’s 26, has saidhe couldn’t relate to Michael growing up, and the unapologetic, joyous portraits of queer desire that he and Lil Nas X convey in their music feel far removed from the scarce, thinly veiled songs about the gay experience that existed around the time they were born. Michael’s long-awaited third album,

1996’sOlder —the release of which coincided with my own sexual awakening at the height of the AIDS epidemic — reinforced the myopic vision of gay life as one of danger, sadness, and misery that my generation was taught in school and by the media. Michael’s lover, a Brazilian fashion designer named Anselmo Feleppa, had succumbed to the disease in 1993, and the singer’s grief seeps into nearly every grim note of dirges like “Jesus to a Child” and “You Have Been Loved,” which contrasts Anselmo’s mother’s loss with Michael’s own mortality: “Well, I’ve no daughters, I’ve no sons/Guess I’m the only one living in my life.”

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Many of the gay men who survived the plague have invariably suffered a form of PTSD, triggered by the nagging suspicion that they unjustly escaped death while their lovers and friends perished. Two highlights fromOlder,“Fastlove” and “Spinning the Wheel,” depict starkly different responses to that collective trauma. An ode to one-night stands nostalgically dressed up in the sultry disco stylings of a period when such behavior couldn’t yet kill you, the former song pushes back against the oppressiveness of heteronormativity — “My friends got their ladies, they all have babies/But I just wanna have some fun” — but ultimately exposes Michael’s pursuit of pleasure as an attempt to mask his pain: “In the absence of security, I made my way into the night/Stupid Cupid keeps on callin’ me, but I see nothin’ in his eyes.”

In “Spinning the Wheel,” wherein every act of sex is a game of Russian roulette, Michael puts himself in the position of the lover left at home, waiting and wondering: “You say, ‘Give me time, and I’ll do better, I swear/Give me time and I’ll lead you back to despair’/And I don’t wanna go back there.” On the next track, “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” Michael — born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou — circles back to his rejection of so-called traditional family values, acknowledging the irony of his desire for stability when he confesses, “I changed my name to be rid of the things that I want from you.”

Read more: Rolling Stone »

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