Straight Acts Headlining LGBT+ Prides: Culture Club With Conor Behan

Conor's musings on all things cultural and a monthly round up of the best TV, books and music.

Writer Conor Began superimposed over double images of Arian Grande

Ariana Grande will return to Manchester this August, headlining their Pride festival. Joining acts such as Years And Years and Kim Petras on the bill, it’s a significant booking as Grande is one of 2019’s biggest pop stars with two hit albums in six months. This will also be her first time performing in the city since the One Love Manchester concert. That show was a response to the terrorist attack at her 2017 gig where fans were killed and injured. Despite its significance to the city, Grande’s slot fed into a wider conversation that emerged online – should straight cis performers be headlining Pride line-ups?  

Viral tweets questioned whether Grande’s appearance was an exploitation of LGBT+ audiences and whether headlining slots should only go to performers from the queer community. Grande seemed willing to listen and responded to one particular comment saying, “I want to celebrate and support this community regardless of my identity or how people label me.” She also commented, “I do think there’s room for us to talk about these issues without equating a performance for an LGBT+ audience with exploitation of the LGBT+ community”. She ended by saying, “I’m not claiming to be the hero of the community or the face of the LGBT+ rights movement – I just wanna put on a show that make my LGBT+ fans feel special and celebrated and supported.”

It’s important to find the nuance and context in these conversations in order to move the needle forward. In order to reach a point where Pride festivals can be filled up with LGBT+ acts that still have music-festival-sized, headlining, mainstream, pulling power, much work has to be done in allowing those acts to flourish all year round. 

In the streaming era it can be harder for artists to make money through record sales but it can also democratise who has access to audiences. There are practical ways to support LGBT+ musicians: streaming their songs, buying music (physically or digitally), buying merch, or even getting in touch with local promoters to let them know you want to see your favourite act. When Olly Alexander talked about this topic, he ended his post by saying “can’t stress this enough – if more people listened to and supported LGBT+ artists – they’d get more slots.”

Grande’s intention to make her LGBT+ fans “feel special and celebrated and supported” at the gig is a noble one. And it alludes to the healing power of music for many people. It’s important to balance the protest roots of Pride while acknowledging the power in escapism and release. The day to day life of being LGBT+ isn’t an easy one. And we can allow ourselves the room to do better by our artists in the community while also enjoying music from allies who make us feel good. The right Pride party can allow us to recharge and replenish ourselves to continue to push for a better world.

MUST READ: I was lucky enough to get an early proof copy of Irish writer Sarah Mariah Griffin’s stellar new fantasy novel Other Words For Smoke which is out April 2. Dripping in mystery, tension and beautifully surreal imagery, it’s a story that gets under your skin. Weaving in queer themes and nods to Ireland’s treatment of women, it creates its unique fantasy world with aplomb.

MUST LISTEN: Soulé’s been releasing some stellar pop singles since 2016 and her debut EP Love Cycle shows why she is one of the most exciting Irish pop acts in some time. Filled to the brim with bold, vibrant hooks and slick production, it’s a terrific introduction to a terrific pop star.

MUST WATCH: I caught a screening of the critically acclaimed drama Eighth Grade at DIFF last month. Bo Burnham has achieved something incredible with his directorial debut – a witty story of a 13 year-old American teen trying to navigate friendships and a life lived online. Eighth Grade packs in laugh out loud comedy with quiet, tender moments that will stay with you long after viewing. It’s out here April 29.

Along with Holly Shortall, Conor is the co-host of Popsessed – the unmissable pop culture podcast. Check it out here.

This story originally appeared on GCN’s April 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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