Harry Styles in a dress for his Vogue cover-shot
has set some kind of milestone, but Andy Polaris prefers
a dozen other gender-fluid acts who have been
challenging pop stereotypes in recent years
The almost predictable pushback from Republican MAGAstar commentators on Twitter to Harry Styles’s Gucci dress in American Vogue was a last gasp of a culture war from cheerleaders of a brain-dead administration. Bring back “manly men” was the rallying cry objecting to the erosion of masculinity this fashion editorial apparently had caused. “Bring back my girls” is a RuPaul catchphrase to drag contestants reflecting real pop culture. It was a shrewd move for Vogue to tap into a growing trend for gender-fluid fashion especially amongst millennials who like their pop stars to flirt with (sexual) identity and dress up like the pop tribes that preceded them for influence.
As the first male cover star in US Vogue history (yes I was surprised, so many iconic opportunities missed), Harry’s issue was destined to sell out. His 35million followers on Twitter would have seen to that without the faux outrage of commentators his demographic have never heard of and whose views they would probably recoil from. To his credit Harry has released some decent solo music although not my usual taste. I have been impressed with some recent performances notably a live rendition on SNL of Lights Up (by far his best solo song thus far).
Here however are a dozen other artistes, some having been around a few years and others I’ve recently discovered, who are challenging gender roles and stereotypes, have great visuals and recorded some impressive work.
Moses Sumney – Cut Me
A tall dark-skinned striking dreadhead with different coloured eyebrows opens his mouth to a gorgeous falsetto, appearing on stage in a black satin dress and performs some artistic dance in what appears to be an abandoned hospital. A languorous poetic slice of soul, Cut Me includes the line “I guess I’m a true immigrant’s son, no vacancies no vacation”. The image of him riding on top of an ambulance in the desert like a black superhero with chariot robes flowing reminded me a bit of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, only darker. Check out also his videos for Lonely World, Quarrel and Virile, the latter showing his interest in surreal visuals, interpretative dance and fashion. His parents were pastors and he was in a choir in high school. Closer to Bjork than Busta Rhymes.
Vincint Cannady – Save Me
An out gay artist who broke out to millions in the semi-final of US talent show The Four. A standout performance of Radiohead’s Creep and also Monica’s RnB classic Sitting Up In My Room showed his genre flexibility, range and passionate delivery. I was fortunate enough to witness it first hand at a surprise low-key appearance in a Shoreditch bar a few years ago when passing through London for a LGBTQ awards show. A charismatic live performer, he has earned a reputation in LA and constantly delivers. His commercial dance pop bangers should have him embraced by mainstream radio and filling stadiums. Save Me is a prime example with a monochrome video featuring the community friends. Other songs, a beautiful ballad Remember Me (acoustic live version) and Marrow, his duet with friends Matty Boyd and Mario Jose of Brandy’s Have You Ever, has exquisite harmonies and millions of views.
Yves Tumor – Lifetime
This indie non-binary black artiste has more of a goth glamour influence and this could be Bauhaus, although mixed with dance sensibility. More experimenting with genres and edgy on tracks like Applaud, and from his debut album Safe in The Hands of Love. Check for the video Noid with its Nineties rave vibe despite mirroring American police brutality with a repeated 911 refrain.
Shea Diamond – I Am Her
This black transgender singer and activist has a great southern gospel sound highlighted in the powerful autobiographical song I Am Her and accompanying video. Even more honest testament with the shocking statistics of violence against black trans women recently reported in the US, not helped by anti-trans rhetoric and discriminatory laws.
Mykki Blanco – Wavvy
Better known by stage name Mykki Blanco, the rapper, poet, performance artist and activist is well established with several albums and EPs under her belt. I actually bumped into her in Dalston the day she featured on the cover on the Guardian newspaper’s Guide magazine around 2016. They seemed a little startled that anyone would recognise them sauntering around Hackney, at the time she was performing in a trendy local bar. Their gender-fluid forays in art have produced some hi-octane recordings and live performances and graced plenty of influential magazine covers. Put briefly under the label “queer rap”, the attitude is more punk and cites Yoko Ono as an influence. The short documentary about his look at South African queer creatives gives a greater flavour. Above is the viral video that kicked it off, Wavvy.
Shamir Bailey – Call It Off
A breezy non-binary pop-star who broke out with infectious On The Regular over five years ago is continuing to release interesting music as he gets older as showcased in recent single On My Own. I’m choosing Call It Off from a few years ago due to its Eighties vibe, something I think he connects with as he has covered Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf. The video also has animation that pops off the screen.
Bronze Avery – Boys
A more mainstream RnB pop style is included to illustrate an unapologetically gay single, Boys, whereas decades ago this would have been sung by Italian Europop pinup Sabrina bouncing around in a bikini. What a difference the gay makes and 40 years of progress.
Cakes Da Killa – Don Dada
A blistering rap artist who mixes hip-hop, house and electronic music has been at the forefront of “queer rap” and regardless of sexuality is a bonafide contender. Consistently putting out quality music, his albums The Eulogy and Hedonism received critical acclaim. His latest single demonstrates his understanding of club and DJ culture with an earlier stint as an intern for fashionable Paper magazine and promoting nightlife. Don Dada is from a forthcoming EP Muvaland. Check also videos for Talking Greezy and Been Dat Did Dat.
Keiynan Lonsdale – Rainbow Dragon
Lonsdale already has a successful acting career in hit comic-book show The Flash and box-office gay romance Love Simon that endeared him to fans. It was the RnB pop of Rainbow Dragon music video that caught my attention. The confident preppie boy transforms into club kid, banjie girl, techno and goth. A flamboyant parade of costume changes and styles worthy of a Drag Race runway, defiantly staring directly into camera. As he whips something else from the rack, pampered by stylists in pretty braids, raps the lines: I realise I could that I could eat some ass if I want too/ I could smoke some grass if I want to/ I could quit The Flash if I want too/. His debut album Rainbow Boy with songs Gay Street Fighter and Preach celebrates his liberation.
Jessie Ware – What’s your Pleasure?
I’m going to finish with how queer and non-binary aesthetics eventually filter through to the mainstream. Practically every acceptable disco diva and aspiring edgy pop-star will feature LGBTQ creatives in front or behind the scenes in videos. Jessie Ware with What’s your Pleasure? (above) and Rina Sawayama with Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys) (below) are two definite queer allies producing compelling art and choreography with talented featured dancers. Marina (FKA Marina and the Diamonds) is a feminist riposte to patriarchy, a goddess clad in bright Grecian-style robes with dancers and musicians. In her latest single Man’s World (below) she sings: Burnt me at the stake/ You thought I was a witch/ Centuries ago./ Now you just call me bitch/.
Rina Sawayama – Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)
Marina – Man’s World