Opinion

The Golden Age of Sapphic Pop and Gay Dance Floor Solidarity

Fohr
Koby Omansky
June 30, 2024
Updated Jul 03, 2024
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Hello and welcome to my Pride Month Ted Talk, in which I assert that we are in the Golden Age of Sapphic Popa Lesbian Renaissance, if you will. Please, sit criss-cross applesauce on my little gay Internet rug and allow me to explain.

Said golden age first dawned, ever so gently, with Hayley Kiyoko’s stylings, some of girl in red’s poppier songs, G Flip and Lauren Sanderson’s “GAY 4 ME”, and then Billie Eilish’s “wish u were gay”; the full crescendo beginning with King Princess and climaxing with “Silk Chiffon” by MUNA feat. Phoebe Bridgers (these last two achieving a level of “mainstream cool” so inarguable that it was a very straight suburban 16-year-old I know who eagerly pointed out that I shouldn’t forget about King Princess). FLETCHER, Chappell Roan, Janelle Monae, Reneé Rapp, Rina Sawayama, Zolita, MUNA, and more are now dominating the top 40—and they’re not doing it with pronoun-less lyrics and vagaries. We are leaps and bounds from Katy Perry’s 2008 hit “I Kissed A Girl” in which the best we could get was “teehee, oops” in the lyrics “I kissed a girl and I liked it…You're my experimental game.” No, the songs topping the charts right now are so big-leagues sapphic that it’s enough to make a grown man giggle, like Billie Eilish’s Top 10 song “LUNCH,” which leads with the unambiguous “I could eat that girl for lunch/.”” Now That’s What I Call #Progress.

Sapphics are killing the pop scene so well that when a video went viral of two lesbian comics calling Sabrina Carpenter “the straightest woman alive,” Within hours, Carpenter posted a video of herself singing Chappell Roan’s bisexual anthem “Good Luck, Babe!” To me, this implies that being called “the straightest woman alive” is practically a slur in today’s pop landscape (it’s okay to be straight, I promise!). Queerness is so closely associated with talent at this point that hundreds of thousands of Swifties wouldn’t let up on tinfoil hat theories about her sexuality (meanwhile, Sabrina is giving high femme bi icon; don’t @ me). I don’t know how long this golden age of sapphic pop will last (hopefully forever), but ideally without needing to corral everyone into the same stable. A friend remembers when Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed A Girl” (yes, the OG) landed on the scene in 1995, and despite its airplay, no straight woman would be caught dead singing it at karaoke (unless there was a Girls Gone Wild-loving male prospect in attendance)—unlike “Good Luck, Babe!” which has transcended to the universal canon almost as soon as it dropped.

Queer women making incredible music is nothing new—from the vinyl croonings of Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Joan Jett to the technicolor concerts of Tracy Chapman, The Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, Ani DiFranco, Melissa Etheridge, and many others, queer musicians paved the way for not only other queer musicians but the jazz and folk music scene at large. They ushered in a new era of artists like Brandi Carlile, boygenius, St. Vincent, and Courtney Barnett. Although these new artists were rocking distinct acoustic sounds, they followed the tradition of largely slow and soulful folk stylings that’s become the hallmark of lesbian music—you know, ballads to score extended eye contact. Surely, they’re cool—but in a subcultural, popular-among-art-students way, not in a non-stop-on-top-40-radio way. Lesbian music was always subterranean; never terranean.

Historically, the L and G camps of the LGBTQIA penumbra have had little in common culturally. The L's love Alanis Morrissette, rescue animals, fermentation, destroyed Carhartts, 8 hour dates where no one makes a move, and leaving Cubbyhole early. The G's love Madonna, genetically-perfect pedigreed animals, Erewhon, being shirtless, 30 minute hookups where no one talks, and leaving Bossa Nova at 4 am. (The BTQIA's can self-select between this rigid and 100% factual binary.) Everyone involved really loves a white tank top. And yet, these two gay camps have united recently under the glittering banner of Gay Camp. Whereas nightlife, girly-popism, and music-that-makes-you-want-to-take-your-shirt-off was once solidly the territory of gay men, there is now a thriving sapphic pop and nightlife scene to counter the listening-to-NPR-in-bed-by-10-pm allegations levied against the lesbians.

Let’s be real: pop music has primarily been dominated by straight women and the gay men who love them. In fact, the closest we got to lesbian representation in pop music in the past was when Madonna kissed Britney Spears at the 2003 VMAs. The late 90s and early aughts were the heyday of gay male popularity in culture—from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to Will & Grace, it was truly a time of peak fetishization of the "gay best friend.” Could queer men get married, donate blood, openly join the military, or walk down the street of any city without harassment? No, but they were cool. It was obvious that no cultural or creative affair could function without them. It was clear that no party would be fun if they were absent. Any song was simply not a bop until it had been sanctioned and ordained as such on Fire Island by a democratic congregation of shirtless men.

Gay women were a different story. Sure, there was The L Word, but other than a show that was only acceptable to watch at a volume of 2 in your parents' basement when everyone was asleep, the lesbians on display were usually ugly and sad—and if they weren’t, it’s usually because they were sexified for the male gaze as foreplay for heterosexual plotlines. There were notable and iconic exceptions, of course: Tegan & Sara, Angelina Jolie and Jenny Shimizu, Chloe Sevigny in If These Walls Could Talk 2, etc. but these were “niche cool.” No one was like, “gosh, I really hope this event has some lesbians at it” unless you were a) a lesbian yourself or b) referring to a ceramics convention.  When I first realized I might be queer, I cried because I associated liking girls with devastating period pieces and shirts with wolves on them.

I never would have guessed that within a decade, the fastest growing musician in the world would be a lesbian whose songs are explicitly about being gay. The Billboard 100 was always for pop music, and lesbians just didn’t do pop. But a lesbian pop star? Who is a drag queen to boot? Unheard of.

In the past 5 years, we may have achieved perfect musical and cultural convergence in the queer community, and actual transcendence of lesbian and bisexual music from the niche caverns of cool to the aboveground sunshine of the mainstream. Who knew that the answer to everlasting gay peace was pop music this whole time? (Okay, the gay men knew; the rest of us didn’t.) In the end, it turns out that we really did just need to work it out on the remix—and then the dance floor. <3

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