Tegan and Sara’s “Love You to Death” could be their queerest album yet

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Tegan and Sara debuted material from their upcoming album Love You to Death live for the first time last night at The Roxy in Los Angeles. The out twins played their new single “Boyfriend,” the already released “U-Turn,” and two new tracks,  “100x” and “Stop Desire,” as well as several favorites from five of their previous seven albums. No love for their first two: Under Feet Like Ours or This Business of Art, though fans shouted out a few songs from those early works when Tegan asked for requests. In their defense, it’s been 17 years, and they’ve written a lot of material since then, material that likely feels more true to them at 35 than 18. 

Tegan And Sara Perform At The RoxyPhoto by Timothy Norris/Getty Images

Most fans that have been around long enough to remember those early albums have stuck around for the new stuff, too, though, something not all bands are lucky enough to boast. And while the Tegan and Sara audience is not limited to LGBTs, it is undeniably made up of many queer women who find themselves within the themes of their lyrics, and the emotional accessibility of their performance. Whether it’s backed by acoustic guitars or the newer electro-pop direction the twins have gone in, there’s been no loss of the specific Tegan and Sara qualities that brought fans there in the first place, which is probably why it’s never hard for listeners to embrace new songs live, something the performers acknowledged on stage at The Roxy. It can be intimidating to play new stuff live, especially to a crowd who is determined to yell out their oldest request.

But back to the innate queerness of Tegan and Sara, which is ever more evident with “Boyfriend,” a song about falling in love with a straight woman.

You treat me like your boyfriend
And trust me like a… like a very best friend
You kiss me like your boyfriend
You call me up like you want your best friend
You turn me on like you want your boyfriend
But I don’t want to be your secret anymore

In a world where songs about the same-sex female experience are most often the most explicit when sung by straight pop stars (Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, etc.), it is still quite radical for a lesbian-identified artist to sing a song about that experience, an experience that is often ignored by most mainstream musicians. (Tegan and Sara surely crossed into the arena of mainstream once they signed to Warner Bros. Records, were nominated for an Oscar for “Everything is Awesome” and toured with the aforementioned “I Kissed a Girl” songstress.) The confusing relationship a lesbian has with a woman who treats her like a love and sex object but won’t give it the same weight as she does a relationship with a man is a very specific queer experience that many of us have been through. (Goddess bless you all.)

Tegan And Sara Perform At The RoxyPhoto by Timothy Norris/Getty Images

A recent BuzzFeed story pointed out the misogyny and homophobia that has often permeated press about the band, inappropriate and offensive questions from journalists and bizarre references to their gender and sexuality when completely irrelevant. But on the flip side, it’s worth noting and celebrating that Tegan and Sara have also been out and proud not only in interviews and appearances but within their music, the very thing that the public is consuming and singing along to.

One of the first tracks of theirs that struck me as particularly lesbian was “All Messed Up,” which they incidentally performed at last night’s show:

Now I’m all messed up
Sick inside, wondering where
Where you’re leaving your makeup
Now I’m all messed up
Sick inside wondering who
Whose life you’re making worthwhile

While I am aware that it’s not just women who use makeup, it’s quite clear to most Tegan and Sara fans that they are, in fact, singing about another woman, a woman who is breaking their hearts. This is a common theme in many Tegan and Sara songs, the pain of loving someone so hard and so much that the tiniest imaginings can create the biggest wounds. It’s that creative specificity and thinly veiled mentions of something related to a same-sex relationship that are even more incentive for queer listeners who are more often than not forced to identify with lyrics that are about heterosexual love. 

Tegan And Sara Perform At The RoxyPhoto by Timothy Norris/Getty Images

Love is universal, yes, and Tegan and Sara songs can resonate with anyone, but is there anything wrong with wanting to feel wholly understood by an artist? To feel like your hurt and pain and romance and obsession is not something to be adapted or translated but actually straightforwardly sung about? In 2016, it’s still an anomaly to hear these kinds of songs on mainstream radio outside of a few artists: Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, Mary Lambert, Tegan and Sara.

Love You to Death will surely be successful as it doesn’t stay far from the same hook-laden, call-and-response, harmonizing, hit-the-dancefloor worthysongs that an ever-growing audience has come to expect. In even better news, it could also be their queerest album yet. Pre-order your copy now, or grab it on release day, June 3.

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