Brow Beat

Bob Dylan, Kesha, and St. Vincent Turn Classic Pop Songs Gay

Musician Kesha performs onstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's 'All for the Hall' Benefit on February 12, 2018 in New York City.
We R Who We R, baby!
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Bob Dylan, who founded a career on the belief that music could heal the world, isn’t quite done spreading love. Alongside five other musical artists—Kesha, St. Vincent, Valerie June, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke—the folk/rock legend appears on a new gay-themed EP.* The record, called Universal Love, puts a gay twist on some classic tunes, and is streaming now.

Kesha, who sings Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love,” as “I Need a Woman to Love,” has been an outspoken gay rights activist for years. The artist, who said in a 2013 interview that her love for people “is not about a gender,” is an ordained minister who has performed two same-sex weddings. Kesha joins Kele Okereke and St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) as one of the record’s LGBT artists: Okereke is openly gay, and Annie Clark, who publicly dates women, has said she “[doesn’t] have anything to hide.” St. Vincent’s cover, “And Then She Kissed Me,” is as exuberantly punky as Kesha’s “I Need a Woman to Love,” while Okereke offers a sincere and straightforward cover of the crooner classic “My Girl.”

Universal Love, which is funded by MGM Resorts International, is intended as a wedding playlist for same-sex couples. “ … [L]ove songs have predominantly come from one heterosexual perspective,” co-producer Tom Murphy told the New York Times. “ … [S]houldn’t these popular songs be open to everyone?”

This move to change pronouns is notable. Some of the best-known gay pop stars, from Sam Smith and Elton John, divert to the neutral pronoun “you” in their love songs, ostensibly out of record company pressure to stay marketable to homophobes. More recent indie singers like Hayley Kiyoko and Syd openly express same-gender desire in their songs—but it’s a fairly new phenomenon. And while a handful of straight artists have made gay covers by refusing to change pronouns in their songs, a là Janet Jackson and Neon Jungle, others have gone out of their way to no-homo their tributes. (The most laughable example of the latter is Michael Bublé’s cover of Santa Baby, where he sings, “Santa, buddy.”) Gay artist Calum Scott made it to the radio with his gay cover of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” where he intentionally didn’t change the original song’s pronouns.

This album unites an impressive roster of artists, but its message is what sets it apart. Most gay people can probably remember the first love song they ever heard by an openly LGBT artist (my heart still clenches when I hear Frank Ocean’s implicitly “Thinkin’ Bout You” or Tegan and Sara’s “Drove Me Wild”), but it’s another thing entirely to hear people shamelessly sing to someone of the same gender. Plus, now gay couples finally have an antidote to aggressively heterosexual modern wedding hits like Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.”

Correction, April 9, 2018: This post originally misidentified Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard as Sam Gibbard.