How Pop Music Rejects Binary Ideas of Gender

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Pop music always has been and always will be queer. At least, that’s the argument made in Sasha Geffen’s new book, Glitter Up the Dark, which examines all the ways that musicians have subverted binary ideas of gender.

From the iconic androgyny of Prince and David Bowie, to women hip-hop emcees wearing baggy clothes and adopting stereotypically masculine traits, to the large swaths of gay men obsessing over divas like Cher and Lady Gaga, Geffen’s book tells the story of queer artists and fans carving out space for their self-expression in an industry that capitalizes on pieces of the queer aesthetic, while simultaneously writing off those artists who are deemed too subversive or political.

“People who historically have had the most success in the music industry, who have become a bona fide pop stars, are people who who use gay aesthetics but still cling to models that are familiar and safe to a heteropatriarchal vision of society,” Geffen told Jezebel over Skype.

“There’s just this very fine line that I think any kind of arts industry or just arts business has to tread where you want to give your customers products that are exciting and new and kind of push the edges a little bit, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them or really shake up the status quo too, too much. So, I think Bowie is a great example of someone who falls very neatly on that line, where a lot of what he was doing was pretty revolutionary and he probably was the first man in makeup that a lot of young people saw on TV. But at the same time, you know, he ended up being basically straight.”

Watch the video above for more of what Geffen had to say about whether increased visibility has led to a greater acceptance of queer artists in the music industry, if the world is ready for a mainstream trans pop star, and how queer artists have been able to use music videos as a dreamspace for gender transgression over the last 30 years.

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