Are we crazy or is this year's Lolla lineup a shout-out to queer listeners?
When Lollapalooza first entered the public’s consciousness back in 1991 it was a testosterone-laden event starring the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T and Body Count, and the Butthole Surfers. The following year’s version starred the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube and Soundgarden, among others. But ever since Lolla planted roots in Grant Park, it’s become increasingly gay-friendly.
On the one hand, we can credit trends in music. The early ’90s were dominated by rap and grunge, whereas the Lolla lineups of today replace jam bands with clubbier acts and androgynous indie bands (consider Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem at last year’s fest or Panic! At the Disco and the Killers at festivals past). On the other hand, it’s simply easier to be out in 2008: Rock fans usually greet an artist’s sexual orientation with a yawn. Witness a sampling of this year’s lineup of artists who are gay, gayish or have a gay following.
Bloc Party It’s hard to believe singer Kele Okerekes once worried that fans would tune him out over his sexual orientation. After the media-shy frontman finally came out in 2007, shoulders were shrugged, and we all went back to enjoying the English-based quartet’s two thrilling albums, Silent Alarm (2005) and Weekend in the City (2007). This weekend our queer ears hope to hear homoerotic tracks such as “I Still Remember” and “Kreuzberg.”
Gnarls Barkley Anybody else still wondering about Cee-lo’s sexual orientation? The guy is purportedly straight, but the heftier half of the collaborating duo known as Gnarls Barkley (producer Danger Mouse is the slimmer one) is bold enough to appear in The New York Times sporting a wedding dress and to challenge conformity with lyrics like, “Be free and express yourself_/_ nastiness comes naturally.”
Grizzly Bear Ed Droste, the out indie frontman behind this Brooklyn-based quartet, has never been shy about his sexuality: The band’s first album, Horn of Plenty (2004), was an ode to an ex-boyfriend. Although queer references are much more oblique in the band’s sophomore effort, the stunning Yellow House (2006), dreamy, choir-boy harmonies keep the feyness intact. While Droste isn’t really interested in the gay label—“What is a gay sensibility unless we’re going to dive into clichés and stereotypes?” he once mused—we’re still happy to have him on our team.
Love and Rockets The ’80s band that brought us edgy goth-pop anthems like “Ball of Confusion” and “No New Tale to Tell” returns. Just try not to revel in androgynous frontman Daniel Ash’s spiky hair, oversize shades, fur coat and heavy makeup. Is it true that the sexy women’s legs vaunted in the video for the smash 1989 hit “So Alive” were actually his? No matter. Ash is a sweet reminder that, in the ’80s, it was chic for men to wear eyeliner and flaunt ambiguity—not that Pete Wentz isn’t doing his best to bring it all back.
Office Chicago’s own queer quintet (and 2006 Lolla veterans) tosses off unabashedly sugary retro-pop songs that linger long after their three-minute running times. Not every member of Office (a fave of queer and nonqueer listeners alike) is gay, although both lead singer Scott Masson and drummer Erica Corniel are homos about town. Still, the sensibility is there on the band’s 2007 label debut (Scratchie Records), A Night at the Ritz (dancing drag queens anyone?), and we’re anticipating more queer-friendly lyrics on its upcoming release, The Silent Parade.
Ting Tings Vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Jules DeMartino and Katie White are a smash in their native England. Their debut album, We Started Nothing (2008), charted at No. 1 thanks in part to the success of the band’s first single, the goofy, glam cheerleading-club hit “That’s Not My Name.” Stateside we’re paying attention, too, at least in the gay scene where we can’t seem to get enough of them. Why do we love Ting Tings? Is it their aging-club-kid fashion sense; their willingness to court their queer fan base; or the fact that, when a bartender yells “last call,” we hope the last song played will be theirs?
Lollapalooza rocks Grant Park Friday 1 through Sunday 3.