Queer music has seen something of a resurgence in the last few years, with acts like Years & Years, Sam Smith, Troye Sivan and Sia dominating the charts, their tracks and their accompanying visuals often featuring strong queer themes. Elsewhere, non-queer acts are getting in on the action too, including same-sex couples in their work (Alicia Keys and Beyoncé are two of the most recent), depicting them as regular, happy, commonplace and – dare I say it – even a little dull.
But sanitising queerness can be dangerous. Queer history and queer culture are intrinsically linked to non-conformist, radical and deviant behaviour. Cottaging, cruising, saunas, public sex, fisting – this is just some of the inherently queer stuff that forms part of our collective culture, whether we’re into it or not.
Someone who understood this was George Michael. In 2005, he told The Guardian “Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable, and automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it.” Michael understood that queerness in its purest sense was incompatible with the mainstream and made no effort to bleach his own homosexuality to conform to societal norms. There are many examples of Michael proudly flaunting the queerness so intrinsic to his identity, but perhaps the best is his music video for ‘Outside‘, in which he references his arrest after being caught cruising for sex in a public bathroom in 1998.
So with George Michael dead, who is there to pick up the baton and bring us real, uncensored, fearless queer art?
Brendan Maclean is an Australian musician. Through his music, his videos and even his tweets, he exhibits the same unapologetic attitude as Michael, refusing to play down his queerness to appeal to a straight audience. His latest video for the track ‘House Of Air’ goes one step further, featuring graphic depictions of gay sex acts, from the vanilla to the hardcore, with the video culminating in a man defecating on Maclean’s face.
Presented in the matter-of-fact style of Hal Fischer’s ‘Gay Semiotics’, the video is framed as an educational guide, offering definitions of gay sex acts in a deadpan, dictionary tone. The video shows the most shocking and – to some – vulgar sex acts as routine and ordinary which, to many gay men, they are. In a sense, it can be compared to the far tamer work of Maclean’s contemporaries, such as Troye Sivan and Years & Years. Just as in Maclean’s video, the gay experience in the work of Sivan et al is depicted as nothing out of the ordinary, where two men kissing is framed no differently to a hetero couple making out, where queerness is shown as everyday and commonplace. The difference of course is that Maclean’s video comes with a delicious irony that might fly over the heads of pearl-clutching hets, in which the most deviant of sex acts is offered as routine and regular despite the huge social taboos still surrounding them, even in queer circles.
The video can be read as a dig to the queer artists who colour their queerness with heteronormativity, offering only the most sanitised version of what it means to be queer. In reality, Maclean, who is consistently supportive of other queer musicians, is likely doing nothing of the sort, but it’s interesting to compare his work – daring, offensive, radical – to the stuff by more mainstream queer artists that shy away from bold depictions of their sexuality. And that isn’t to take away anything from artists like Olly Alexander – a vocal champion of all aspects of queer identity – but it’s nonetheless nice to have someone willing to go that little bit further. As the world becomes ever more conservative, it’s refreshing to see an artist keen to deliver such a hard slap in the face to heternormative culture.
With ‘House Of Air’, Maclean is in many ways picking up where George Michael left off. Delivering queerness in its most unapologetic and honest form, it aims for the heart of a beige hetero-society and scores a direct hit.
Watch the extremely NSFW video here.