Were Melissa Etheridge’s Biggest Hits a Little Stalker-y?

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Lesbian community, please, forgive me. I swear I think Melissa Etheridge is great. I own both Yes I Am and Your Little Secret (right now they’re probably somewhere in my parents’ basement). I’m also pretty sure I saw her in concert in Boston in the late ’90s (although now I really think about it, it might have been Melissa Ferrick), and to this day I’ll occasionally throw her greatest hits onto a Spotify playlist when I’m feeling nostalgic. Melissa rocks so hard and so consistently that I’ve even been known to bond with straight Southern dudes over our mutual Etheridge admiration. But is it OK to say, in 2015, now we’ve got marriage rights, social acceptance, and an ever-increasing number of out celebs to choose from, that there was always something just a little stalker-y about her music?

Now, it could be that I’m just getting older, but lesbians in the new millennium seem markedly less psychotic than the early-to-mid-nineties variety I remember, when having an ex-girlfriend harassing my new girlfriend on AOL Instant Messenger and lyrics like, “Stop playin’ those eyes if you want me to keep your little secret” both seemed acceptable. Back then, when our outsider status made us angry and our closets made us vulnerable, being a lesbian seemed super edgy—maybe even a little frightening—and a growling, brooding, slightly menacing rock sensibility fit our people perfectly. Or, perhaps it just seemed that way because I was still in high school.

The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards - GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert

Either way, a whole lot of ME’s lyrics make her sound like she’s not just a Dyke to Watch Out For, but a dyke to actively cross the road in order to avoid. Seriously. Have you ever really listened to “I’m the Only One”? I mean, I’m sure we’ve all had trouble accepting breakups—but it takes a true creeper to insist that their devotion and passion entitles them to continue a relationship with someone who has clearly moved on. For goodness’ sake, the last line of the song is “Nobody else will ever love you” which is exactly the sort of cheesy dialogue you get from the abuser in Lifetime movies and public service announcements warning about domestic violence.

Don’t get me wrong: That song totally rocks. I’ll turn the volume up and sing along at the top of my lungs whenever it comes on to Mix 98.7 (the best music from the ’80s, ’90s, and today). But if Etheridge was actually coming to my window, I’d lock the doors, pull the shades down, and make sure the aforesaid window was latched closed as securely as possible.

This subtly stalkerish vibe seems to have spanned her whole career. In song after song the object of her affections is portrayed as running or fighting as opposed to, ya know, hugging, enjoying long walks on the beach, or kissing her back. The song “You Must Be Crazy For Me” in Never Enough (a late ’80s album from before she was out as a lesbian) is a prime example of this. In it, the object of Melissa’s romantic attention doesn’t want her to call and dislikes everything about her, all of which is presented as proof that this person wants her desperately. To my mind, the more likely interpretation—especially since, after ME kissed this other person “ran so far” and “fought so hard”—is that Melissa is continuing to push her advances on someone who is desperate to escape.

Melissa Etheridge

Of course, we must remember that this music comes from back in a time when hiding from one’s own desires had a lot more cultural resonance in the lesbian and gay community. It can be surprisingly easy to forget about all that in these heady, rainbow-spangled days of inclusiveness, tolerance, and matrimony. So, perhaps I’m over thinking all this. After all, between my high school Melissa Etheridge listening days and now came a run in I once had with a fast talking, crew-cutted butch heroin addict which left me older, wiser, and more than a little paranoid about the intentions of magnetic, gravelly voiced older lesbians. Still, queer women are far from immune from creepy, predatory sexual behavior.

I have no doubt that Melissa Etheridge is a kind and gentle person, one who wouldn’t dream of kidnapping and murdering me because if she couldn’t have me, no one could. But man, do her lyrics ever tell a different story… Don’t get me wrong—I’m not going to stop listening to all those great, nostalgic ’90s era dyke-rock songs. But, when I do, I think I’ll keep my door locked.

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