It’s still happening: Months after Lady Gaga released “Born This Way,” which has quickly become an international gay anthem — despite much of our initial suspicion that it was poorly written, wouldn’t last, or uses degrading language — the song is as strong as ever.
I still hear it everywhere, from drugstores to blaring out of low-rider tricked-out cars, the latter of which I always wonder if they know what they’re blasting from their speakers, if they find it empowering to think of themselves, in whatever identity label claims they might have, as “born this way,” or if they simply hear it as a pop song with a good back beat and leave it at that.
But “Born This Way” isn’t the first gay anthem, and I might argue that it isn’t even the best.
Lately, k.d. lang’s track “Sing it Loud” from her most recent album of the same title has been stuck in my head, and it is as empowering of a gay anthem as any. When I saw her perform it live in April 2011, she introduced it by saying, “This is an anthem for the individual. I think there’s probably a few people who don’t feel like they fit in here tonight.” It’s soft, it’s subtle, but its power creeps up on you and before you know it, you realize that this soft-rock elevator-music song is actually a little wish being sent to you from this badass successful masculine diva, urging you to be your bold, beautiful self.
Of course, this isn’t the first song with that sort of message. Katy Perry’s “Firework” comes to my mind immediately, and despite wanting to be very unimpressed with the way Katy has dealt with statements she’s made about queer folks, I really love this song.
Pink has something to say about this, too, and she gave us “F–kin’ Perfect.” And if you go back a few years, there’s the gorgeous Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” is still one of the most incredible songs with a gorgeous message of self-worth.
Music has always been an amazing place for the outcasts to deeply express our otherness, and the gay anthem goes much father back than simply 2002. Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was released in 1939, and that is certainly an epic queer soundtrack.
And how about “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge? Remember that from 1979? No? Well, I don’t either — I was barely born then — but I certainly know how epically influential to the queers that track has been. Hot on its heels is “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross in 1980 and, really, we aren’t even pretending it’s a metaphor anymore. Let’s just call it how what is: coming out.
I think many of these recent tracks, like Pink’s and Katy Perry’s, have been greatly influenced by the It Gets Better Project’s huge national reach. The It Gets Better Project has also inspired some lesser known but equally amazing artists, like Rebecca Drysdale, aka Beck D, to record their own unique tracks for this project.
I won’t lie: When I came across the LA Gay Men’s Chorus version of “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper for the It Gets Better Project, I cried. A lot. Not just little teeny weeny tears out the corners of my eyes, either — no, there were a few gut-wrenching sobs in there.
“True Colors” originally came out in 1986. I love that it’s still relevant and inspiring. I guess that’s the thing — even though we’ve come a long way (baby), we still have a long way to go, and songs that are still 25 years old can still deeply resonate with all the injustices and struggles that we continue to go through. And we should remember, too, that the original is often even better than the remake. >
See, for example, Jill Sobule’s track “I Kissed A Girl.” That came along years before “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. It’s a simple statement to make, that “I kissed a girl,” but it holds within it some personal, social, and political revolution that has the power to change minds, hearts, and life directions. Gay anthems have many themes, often portraying overcoming hardship, community reassurance that you are not alone, self-esteem or fighting oppression, search for acceptance, and deep belief in love and sexuality unashamedly.
Despite being out for 10 plus years now, I often go back to these gay anthems for kick-ass self-love, energy building, and when I just need a little jolt to my heart to get me going. I think we’ve got plenty more years ahead of us of beautiful anthem-building, for whatever minority you may belong to.