It all sounds so sexy and grassroots and groundbreaking when Matt Farber talks about it. Gay media is the wave of the future! (Cue astounding applause.) It sure sounded like progress at first.
Last week, Sony Music Label Group announced that it would create a major music label dedicated entirely to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered artists. Named "Music with a Twist," it will be the newest venture from Farber, the gay marketing mastermind who founded MTV's gay channel, LOGO.
I want to enjoy the development of LGBT niche media, I really do. But I can't help but feel that Sony is hanging gay artists out to dry here. It seems like a crowbar cranking a wider rift between gay and straight with us-versus-them economics. Signing gay artists purely for their gay audience seems like a divisive form of progress.
Mercury Records tried the same move a decade ago and failed. Granted, the gay market wasn't nearly as visible (or profitable) in the '90s. The post-Queer Eye rule of thumb-"any exposure is suuuper exposure"-changed all that.
Sony estimates that there are 15 million self-identified LGBT adults in the United States who represent an estimated $610 billion in annual buying power. I have no reason to doubt those statistics. And, barring 10-year-old skeletons in the closet, most of my gay friends are the kind of DINKs (Dual Income with No Kids) who fuel this market. But they're also the sort who would be skeptical of someone like Farber manipulating their sexual identity for corporate profit.
This is not a small ma-and-pa venture that just happens to support queer and queer-friendly artists. And it's very suspect as to whether it has anything to do with music or talent. It's about "tapping markets." Sony is systematically seeking LGBT artists in a nationwide A&R search to tap into the niche cash of a historically abandoned cultural minority.
"Only now are media and entertainment brands being created for the gay and lesbian audience following the success of brands for other minorities," Farber told The New York Times last week.
This man would brand his own semen if he thought it would sell.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Farber's intentions are driven by virtue, not cash. Maybe this is a gay victory, just as the importance of Brokeback Mountain lies in its mainstream nature-a major-studio film about gays with top actors is a victory in the war for acceptance. It is possible that the artists on Music with a Twist will bring recognition and admiration to the subculture. If anything, the label has a chance to help queer musicians finally escape the Village People stereotype.
Then again, Twist could release hours of lesbo folk singers and faggy club bombs and I would hit the fucking ceiling.
And get this: Disney wants in on the gay market.
Last week Farber launched a nationally syndicated radio show, also called Twist. The show targets gay audiences, of course. Disney-the staunchest of the staunch in the moral-retentive category-and its New York radio station signed on to broadcast the show. Go figure.
I'd bet a few Benjamins that this move puts Sony in the line of right-wing, gay-hating fire. When Susie Q. Lesbian gives interviews about the elusive female ejaculation, Bill O'Reilly's Midwestern mafia is going to blow a gasket. And the residents of the moral backwoods who treat Bill's educated hate speech as fair-and-balanced insight will no doubt grab their torches and head for the Castro District.
Granted, no single person-gay, straight or Morrissey-is allowed to make the gay game plan: The gay community will cast its own vote on the merit of Music with a Twist, and society will spend countless more decades negotiating what the hell we should do with all these citizens who aren't strictly hetero.
One thing is certain: There will never be such a thing as gay music. Just as there is no "feminist music" or "race records" (a real term used by the music industry not so long ago). The transgender version of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" is still, at its artistic core, a snappy dance hit.
And isn't the artistic core-not the marketing tool of sexuality-what music is all about?