No more than a few decades ago, experimentation with sexuality for personal gratification or a sense of identity was nearly unheard of. Even the mere suggestion of queerness was completely taboo and seen as unnatural. This meant that many LGBTQ+ individuals dealt with utmost struggle to express themselves. It also meant that forms of entertainment such as movies, television, and music were overwhelmingly heteronormative.
So, naturally, it came as a shock to most when glam rock, a musical and cultural movement based on gender blurring, began to manifest itself in Britain in the 1970s. A rebellion to mainstream rock of the ‘60s, it was a direct rejection of the music scene’s lack of LGBTQ+ representation. The term technically refers to a genre of music which combines elements of art rock, pop rock, and punk. It was typically associated with eccentric elements of performance; flashy costumes, hairstyles, and the concept of playing a “character” onstage became common within it.
The first main presence of the rebellion came with David Bowie. With the creation of his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, he began to perform wearing makeup, costumes, and bright red hair. He was essentially trying to represent androgyny, or a lack of specific gender or sexuality—simply labelless exploration. This would continue to influence artist upon artist in their ideas. Although the movement began in the U.K., artists based in New York like Lou Reed and Alice Cooper began to approach their music in a similar way. While the scene within the US was never as prominent, it led to the creation of timeless projects such as Lou Reed’s Transformer, co-produced by Bowie. Down the line, artists like Freddie Mercury and Iggy Pop would adopt similar approaches.
Throughout the history of music, few trends have had more impact on our societal progression towards tolerance than the glam rock movement. Similar sexual expression within entertainment would be impressive and forward-thinking today, making its early date all the more remarkable. Such phenomenons are a crucial factor in understanding how we’ve gotten to this point, although there’s still much more to be done in the fight for representation and equality.
Continuing to support queer artists today is a great first step; pop artists such as Perfume Genius and Tegan and Sara, hip hop artists Kevin Abstract and Frank Ocean, and rapper Tyler, The Creator are among a myriad of musicians that choose to incorporate their sexuality into their material. Underground artists like Xiu Xiu have too been addressing the topic similarly. Our monetary support towards these figures means more than we might realize. Their representation in pop culture progresses towards establishing a new norm and sends an important message to queer youth that it is okay to be who they are. Glam rock started us off on the right foot, and now it’s our job to continue the fight.
Image by Janie Peacock