5 Of Your Favorite Trends Began As Queer Ones
In what was unanimously considered to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, there were few glimmers of pop-culture to lift our spirits. And, as is the case for a great deal of American pop trends, much of the creative inspiration and driving force behind them have their roots in the customs and traditions of the LBGTQ+ community.
Rewinding the clock back a few decades, we can hit the dancefloor to see some of the most prominent examples of an American culture growing from there ...
The Rise of Disco
The disco era of the 1970s may immediately call to mind legendary Black artists like Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summers, and Michael Jackson, who helped elevate the music of this time to its mainstream popularity. However, much of the club-scene movement in the disco-era was borne of gay groups of color, especially in Philadelphia and New York. It was a time of sexual liberation, and through nuclear families wanted nothing to do with the supposed horrors of dance music, disco found a home in the underground club scenes full of queer men and communities of color on the fringes of main society. These club scenes were super diverse, and to quote Alex Rosner, "There was a mix of sexual orientation, there was a mix of races, mix of economic groups. A real mix, where the common denominator was music."
It wasn't long before disco caught on the Motown train and eventually dominated the charts with the legends we now know today. At least one of these legendary disco groups, the Village People, was boldly queer, evidence of just how important gay communities were to the rise of this genre. "Y.M.C.A."'s legacy wasn't left as an homage to Bill De Blasio's favorite neighborhood gym -- it became a long-time gay anthem.
The influence of disco and its queer pioneers has especially made a notable comeback in 2020 with songs like Lady Gaga's "Stupid Love" and Dua Lipa's "Don't Stop Now," both of which were top songs on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts this year. Kylie Minogue, a highly regarded icon for the LGBT community and a celebrity known for her AIDS philanthropy, released an entire album called Disco in November 2020 that pays homage to her disco roots and the genre's original influences.
But what about strong straight tough white dude culture like in Saturday Night Fever? Well, as we've mentioned, that was launched by the bullshit that a lazy writer pulled wholly out of his ass.
The Club Kids
Disco and the underground club scenes then birthed modern-day house music and rave culture. House music and raves are key drivers of how contemporary music is experienced and missed, especially in a year without live music. One of the most influential groups for underground club culture becoming a mainstream phenomenon was the infamous NYC Club Kids.
Made up of club socialites like James St. James, Richie Rich, and Amanda Lepore, the Club Kids were a group that trailblazed the New York party scene in the 1980s. In the Club Kid scene, many, if not most, were queer, and they were notorious for their contributions to art and fashion that broke down boundaries and pushed the limits of experimentation. At their height, the Club Kids reached numbers of around 750 people in the early 1990s. Though national buzzkill Rudy Giuliani (prior to his acting career) cracked down on the NYC nightlife movement during his tenure as mayor, the Club Kids helped the city party scene achieve the legendary status it has today. NYC club life may be past its prime, but modern-day rave and club culture owe much of their rise to this queer-led social movement.
They still maintain a web presence if you're both curious and able to withstand the ugliest website left in existence.
The Ballroom Scene
Around the same time as the Club Kid movement, another queer-based movement was rising to prominence in underground scenes in New York: the ballroom scene. Ballroom was the underground subculture that was mainly spearheaded by young Black and Hispanic LGBTQ+ members. Balls were competitions where "houses" (think dance troops from America's Best Dance Crew or social fraternities/sororities) competed across different categories. These categories ranged from those involving drag, hands performance, voguing, blending in with different genders, and those involving physical beauty standards like Face or Body. The NYC ballroom scene eventually grew and spread to cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Though balls are still primarily held relatively underground, their influence is perhaps one of the most far-reaching out of all queer social movements.
For anyone online, I guarantee you've heard and used many words that originated from ballroom. Words like "slay," "werk," and "fierce" that are used all over TikTok and Twitter weren't just made up by white teenage girls; they were expressions borne of an entire language within the ballroom that was started by queer POC. The word "icon" has been around forever, but many attribute its colloquial rise to ballroom as well. Even the expression "shady" or "throwing shade" came from the practice of "reading" in queer and ballroom culture, which is essentially the queer-version of roasting someone.
To no surprise, ballroom has also influenced entertainment spheres like dance, music, and television. The most clear-cut example, Madonna's 1990 smash hit Vogue appropriated the dance style "voguing" that originated in Harlem in the late 20th century and was used in ballroom competitions.
Fast-forward to today, artists as prominent as Beyonce claim to have been inspired by ballroom culture, like when she said she was struck by the "confidence and fire" of the Black gay men who live their fantasies on the ballroom stage.
Ballroom itself is finally getting the recognition it deserves on the big screen and making the jump from niche to mainstream. Ryan Murphy's acclaimed show Pose shows the realities of queer life in ballroom culture during the 1980s. HBO Max's new competition show, Legendary, invites houses from all over the country to compete for legendary status as the supreme house of ballroom.
Today, lip-syncing has become one of the most popular trends on TikTok, with people giving passionate and weird performances. The practice of lip-syncing began decades ago with live music events and concerts where artists couldn't always deliver the same quality in person as they can in the recording booth (who can forget Mariah Carey's NYE lip-sync fiasco in 2016). It's modern popularity as a social media trend, however, can be at least partially attributed to its role as an entertainment style in drag culture.
Drag queens and kings are well-known for their lip-syncing abilities, and it is oftentimes the most compelling part of a drag show. This has been amplified by the rise of RuPaul's Drag Race, where contestants have to lip-sync for their lives if they want to prove that they should stay in the competition or that they deserve the crown. If you're new to drag lip-syncing, may I recommend starting with the legendary performance of drag queen Sasha Velour lip-syncing to Whitney Houston's "So Emotional."
Lip syncing in drag shows and on Drag Race helped popularize the art form and made it accessible to the masses. Now, anyone can give the lip-sync performance of their life with just their phone camera and make it go viral.
A Sign of the Times
Harry Styles' headline-making Vogue cover where he donned a dress. Styles ignited a firestorm on the internet over his supposed bravery and the statements he was making about masculinity and femininity, but many forget that the practice of cross-dressing has been around way longer than before a white, cisgender British pop singer did it for a magazine cover (unpacking the history of drag is a whole other conversation for another time).
Nonetheless, the fact that Styles was able to make such a statement and be received with such positivity is a testament to where we are as a society today. Queer life is finally being discussed openly and without shame. We've reached a point where it feels weird for a show or movie not to have at least even token gay representation. In music, artists like Megan Thee Stallion are making references to ballroom culture with lyrics like "The category is Body" in her song "Body," and even rappers like Lil Nas X are nodding to gay sex with lyrics like "I might bottom on the low, but I top shit" in his song "Holiday."
We clearly have a long way to go before all aspects of queer culture are not only accepted but appreciated and celebrated. But this starts with recognizing where our trends come from and the trailblazers who were actually responsible for them. All this to say -- 2021 better work on that shit.
Top image: Yuganov Konstantin, Evannovostro/Shutterstock