Queer as Folk Rewatch: Every Other Gay Is Some Other Gay’s Other Gay

Queer as Folk premiered almost two decades ago on Showtime. Its depiction of gay life among a group of Pittsburgh friends is intriguing, problematic, heartwarming, cringe-inducing and often corny. But the stories it wants to tell often have a lot to say about gay life in 2018. As such, INTO is embarking on a rewatch of the entire series, all five seasons and 83 episodes. In this week’s “Rewatch,” staff writer Mathew Rodriguez revisits episodes sixteen through eighteen of Season One. You are invited to follow along on Netflix, where all five seasons are currently streaming.

No doubt you’ve heard about them, the Other Gays. They’re the gays that you’re not like. They circuit. They use. They do whatever it is you definitely don’t do.

Queer as Folk defines itself through the tastes of its four protagonists: Brian the lothario, Justin the twink, Ted the cautious, Emmett the fabulous and Michael the nerdy. Much of their friendly banter in the club revolves around judging the others in the bar, but in this week’s batch of episodes, several members of the group interact with people who they might consider those other gays, which forces them to examine their own convictions.

First up, you have Ted, who spends most of these few episodes trying to kindle a relationship with Blake Wyzecki, who we saw earlier this season when Blake tried to get Ted to use GHB, which ended with Ted in a coma. Ted sees Blake out at Babylon and is triggered by the sight of him. When he goes searching for him in the “back room,” he finds Blake passed out on the floor after using too much crystal.

What follows is Ted trying to fit Blake into his life. Ted stays with him at the hospital, even after Blake didn’t stick around when he overdosed. Ted allows Blake, who is staying “with friends” after he was kicked out of his house, to stay with him in his home. Ted teaches Blake about La Traviata, an opera about a sick sex worker, which becomes a metaphor for their own relationship.

The only problem with the relationship is that everyone in it is judging Blake. When Ted’s wallet goes missing, he blames Blake, believing that a drug user must also necessarily be a thief. And Emmett is no help: to Emmett, Blake is only his addiction. He advises Ted to swerve away from Blake at every chance he gets. Both Ted and Emmett see themselves as inherently better than Blake because of his addiction, the difference being that Ted extends Blake sympathy.

But the show judges Ted’s sympathy, and invites us to join in. Sure, Ted may be a little neurotic, but he has a job and an apartment. His neurosis is relatable. But Blake? He’s an other gay: tweaking and unable to get his shit together. We’re not supposed to care. In that way, the show reifies the rampant lack of understanding and dehumanizing of people who use drugs in the queer community.

Then there’s Michael and his chiropractor boo, Dr. David. Dr. David is obsessed with separating himself from Michael’s friends and lives his life like a damn Countess Luann song — Jams! Jets! Silhouettes! Champagne in the sky! — but, as the saying goes, Money Can’t Buy You Class. Turns out that keeping up with the Joneses isn’t Dr. David’s only fixation. He also likes to go to bathhouses so that he can jack off with other guys in the steam room.

OK, two things. The show does judge Dr. David for what he does, but it also decides to show its most together character as one who is also extremely sexual and doesn’t want to be limited to monogamy in some way. Michael, meanwhile, crumbles when he learns about this. Michael wants monogamy and begins to see Dr. David as dirty for what he did. He now realizes that he is dating one of those other gays who goes to the bathhouse for a quickie then slides into bed for a second round.

The entire saga dusts up what is a recurring tension in the show between the Brian Kinney gays (monogamy isn’t natural!) and everyone else on Queer as Folk (monogamy is the ultimate goal!) Ultimately, Michael makes a diplomatic choice after attempting his own extramarital fun: he sees that sex without emotion is not the same as sex with emotion and chooses to turn a blind eye to Dr. David’s bathhouse jerk off sessions.

The Michael/David relationship also gets sent up during a pretty funny scene where Dr. David hosts a fundraiser for a local gay-friendly Democrat. Seeing that Michael has begun to live the snooty life, the gang stages a macro-level intervention and shows up to the fundraiser in S&M gear, drag and mesh shirts. They fill the speakers with Babylon-esque thump-thump music and truly gay up the party. Though they are the show’s main gays, they perform “other gay-ness” for the sake of making a point.

Queer as Folk’s presenting of a specific set of queer attitudes and viewpoints will inevitably create in-groups and out-groups just based on who it chooses to feature. Folk asks us to spend time with a group of gays who go out several nights a week. Their social circle revolves around a gay diner. They wear leather pants and really love sucking cock.

To some gays, the Queer as Folk gays may be the other gays.

California Set to Pass Groundbreaking Bill Ensuring Hormone Access for Trans Youth in Foster Care

For the third time in a week, California is set to pass one of the nation’s most progressive bills on LGBTQ rights.

Assembly Bill 2119 would ensure transgender youth in foster care have access to health care consistent with their gender identity. In a survey from UCLA’s The Williams Institute, 13 percent of LGBTQ young people in the foster system say they have faced discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bill author Assemblymember Todd Gloria, who is openly gay, called the legislation a “momentous sign of hope” for this tremendously overrepresented group who are too frequently “neglected, forgotten, or out of place.”

“With this bill, I hope those foster youth will be assured that we see you, we care about you, and there is a place for you in California,” said Gloria in a statement. “AB 2119 will empower transgender foster youth to live authentically and simply be themselves. Governor Brown now has the power to make that a reality.”

After passing the California Assembly on Wednesday by a 53 to 22 vote, AB 2119 is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He is likely to sign it.

Three years ago Brown approved a similarly groundbreaking bill mandating child welfare workers and caregivers consider the gender identity of trans youth when determining placement.

AB 2119 goes even further than previous legislation by requiring the California Department of Social Services to “develop guidelines on how to identify, coordinate, and support foster youth who wish to access gender-affirming health care,” according to Equality California.

Types of health care which fall under the bill’s purview include counseling and mental health services, as well as gender-affirming hormone therapy and transition care.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur claimed the bill will “save lives.”

“[AB 2119] gives LGBTQ foster youth room to focus on other important aspects of their lives, including succeeding in school, building healthy relationships, and fully engaging in positive youth development programs,” Zbur said in a statement.

Shannan Wilber, youth policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), agreed.

“Every young person in foster care deserves, and is entitled to, medically necessary health and behavioral health care,” Wilber said in a press release. “The harms caused by the denial or delay of medically necessary care are particularly acute for transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth, who often encounter barriers to receiving the care they need to ensure their health, safety, and well-being.”

A 2017 study from Lambda Legal found that transgender youth routinely struggle to access gender-affirming resources in foster care.

Savannah, a trans young person currently in foster care in the northeast, told researchers with the LGBTQ advocacy group that her caseworker prevented her from wearing feminine clothing, saying it wasn’t “gender appropriate.” Meanwhile, Jennifer was forced to bunk with a boy based on the residential treatment facility policy that room assignments be determined on the basis of “biological sex.”

Only two other states in the U.S., Florida and New York, have foster care laws on the books that define sex as inclusive of gender identity. Tennessee explicitly limits its definition of sex to a youth’s gender as assigned at birth.

Although AB 2119 was widely supported by advocacy groups like American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, conservative policy organizations have fiercely opposed its passage. The California Family Council called the proposal “questionable,” while comparing hormone treatment to “child abuse.”

“Some medical professionals question the ‘thin’ scientific evidence used to support the safety of puberty-blocking drugs on children, while others call it child abuse,” the organization claimed in a statement. “These doctors also question the wisdom of encouraging young children to identify as the opposite sex, when ‘they might otherwise have, as they grow older, found their gender to be aligned with their sex.’”

The California Family Council also complained it would prevent child welfare workers from forcing trans youth into conversion therapy.

“The law also specifically prohibits counseling from ‘licensed professionals or any other individual’ … ‘aimed at aligning a child’s or non-minor dependent’s assigned sex at birth and gender identity,’” the lobby group said.

“Stated simply, that means if a five-year-old boy starts referring to himself as a girl, he can only be encouraged to believe his self-perceptions about his sex,” it continued. “No attempt should be made by anyone to tell the boy, he really is a boy, if his feeling [sic] say something else.”

That objection, however, is already moot. In 2012, California became the first state to ban conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice of attempting to “cure” the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.

The state is poised to pass another bill classifying orientation change efforts as “fraud.” Like AB 2119, that proposal also sits on Gov. Brown’s desk.

As the two equality bills await consideration from the Democratic governor, the nation’s largest state has been on a roll of passing historic regulations protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. This week the California State Legislature signed a resolution condemning intersex surgeries as “akin to torture” and prioritized funding for queer and trans older adults.

Image via Getty

‘Boston Globe’ Under Fire For Running Old, Unprofessional Photo Of Queer Congressional Candidate

Massachusetts Congressional Candidate Brianna Wu has spent $3,000 on her hair this election cycle and bought four versions of the same dress for $280, she says.

The Eighth District Democratic hopeful says she has put considerable effort into presenting herself well. So why did The Boston Globe publish an old, unprofessional photo of her in its Primary Guide?

On Monday, the Globe released a Primary Guide with Q&As and photos of the three Democratic contenders for the race. Wu, an openly queer candidate made famous in 2014 as a target of extreme online harassment during GamerGate, is facing off against two men. Both of their photos showed them in suits and ties.

“They pick one of me from Gamergate where I’m wearing a t-shirt and have bright anime hair,” Wu lamented on Twitter on Wednesday.  

While photos of her opponents show them looking decidedly serious — one is giving a speech and the other is smiling in front of an American flag — Wu is looking wide-eyed, with her head tilted and bright pink hair.

Criticism over the photo erupted on Twitter, with commenters excoriating the Globe for perceived sexism.

Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that the Globe recently photographed Wu for a profile it ran of her, which suggests that the paper had better options.

“It’s so frustrating to have the Globe basically portray me in a way that I think reflects their unconscious bias,” Wu told INTO. “I think the bottom line is I don’t think the Globe takes me very seriously.”

Wu is a political outsider in the Bay State, never having held office before. The 41-year-old hails from Mississippi and founded game studio Giant Spacekat. She is best known for getting caught in the crosshairs of the GamerGate controversy four years ago, which made her the target of death threats. Wu is married to a cisgender man but is openly queer and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ rights.

Her incumbent opponent Stephen Lynch has held his seat since 2001, while her other challenger Christopher Voehl is a veteran air force pilot.

The Globe, for its part, said the selection was unintentional and regretful.

“As soon as Ms. Wu brought this to our attention on Tuesday night, we changed the photo to a more recent picture from her campaign and notified the candidate,” the paper said in a statement to INTO. “On Wednesday morning, Shira Center, Globe Politics editor, called Ms. Wu to apologize, explained that an older photo was used, and described the steps we took to rectify it. We offered to use a headshot that she submitted, and the page was updated shortly thereafter with the photo of her choice.”

Wu said she never assumed the photo selection was malicious.

“There are many reporters and editors at the Globe I respect,” she tweeted. “None of this today was personal.”

Wu also took issue with the absence of her name in metadata keywords, deprioritizing her name under her opponents in search results.

In an apology posted to Twitter, the Globe said those keywords were automatically generated but that staff had manually added her name.

Wu maintained, however, that the photo selection was indefensible.

“Here in Massachusetts we are supposedly one of the most progressive states and yet white men overwhelmingly hold our congressional positions here in the state,” she told INTO. “I think that the odds are stacked against women in ways we are barely beginning to scratch the surface of.”

Wu said she plans to run in 2020 regardless of November’s outcome.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination Is a Queer and Present Danger to LGBTQ People

Even if you’re someone who loves drama, last Tuesday’s news cycle was overwhelming.

Within minutes, the jury in former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial announced guilt on eight counts of fraud, while Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, pled guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance violations, in New York Federal Court.

While Manafort’s convictions certainly have implications for the Trump administration, the Cohen plea deal is the bombshell most clearly ensnaring the Commander-in-Chief as a co-conspirator in criminal activity. According to the New York Times, Cohen stated on the record that “the payments to the women were made ‘in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.’”

That statement, which alludes to a $130,000 payment to adult entertainer Stormy Daniels, appears to incriminate Trump in federal crimes.

And that is why the Supreme Court nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh must not happen. An illegitimate president who is an unindicted co-conspirator in federal criminal activity cannot be allowed to appoint another Supreme Court Justice whose “originalist” jurisprudence would negatively shift the court and the country for decades. Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 4, and activists, advocacy organizations, and legislators must do everything in their power to prevent them from happening.

An intrinsic part of the ongoing moral and ethical dilemma of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is the lingering terror of what remains his biggest unknown: how he would rule in cases affecting the lives and rights of LGBTQ people living in the United States.  

What is known about Kavanaugh, however, is troubling enough. In 2014, Kavanaugh argued the president need not follow laws that regulate the executive branch if the POTUS deems them unconstitutional. Kavanaugh has also written publicly that sitting presidents should not be subject to civil or criminal investigation and should be able to “dismiss any counsel out to get him.”

These terrifying ideas fly in the face of cherished constitutional values preventing the rise of an untouchable executive leader and have frightening implications for Trump’s remaining years in office. If Brett Kavanaugh is allowed to join Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment, the overtly anti-LGBTQ Neil Gorsuch, on the already conservative leaning Court, there may truly be nothing to stop Trump from wreaking further havoc on the United States.

Beyond Kavanaugh’s disturbing support of unchecked presidential authority are hints at his views concerning so-called “religious freedom,” the latest buzzword used by those defending anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Kavanaugh, like many conservatives, finds the Affordable Care Act’s protections for contraceptive coverage to be a burden on “religious freedom.” He’s even gone so far as to say that it violates the “religious freedom” of organizations to require them to explain their objection to contraception coverage in writing. 

If in Brett Kavanaugh’s view it is a violation of “religious freedom” to require religious organizations to fill out a form, one can bet he would find it violates someone’s “religious freedom” to employ or serve LGBTQ people in private businesses.

Rounding out Kavanaugh’s parade of terrible views with a likely negative impact for LGBTQ people is his perspective as an “originalist,” or a judge who believes that the only rights available in the United States are those made explicitly clear in the “original” meaning of the Constitution. In Kavanaugh’s words, only rights rooted in “history and tradition” are worth defense and enforcement through the courts.

Phrases like “history and tradition” are familiar fear-inducing dog-whistles for queer people across the country, who have long had their lives and relationships described as “non-traditional and ahistorical.”

As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Tellingly, Kavanaugh’s explicit conversations and writings regarding LGBTQ Americans remain opaque to the public, as does nearly 98 percent of his total writings and record. A chilling example is Kavanaugh’s role as Staff Secretary in the George W. Bush administration, seeing and responding to every piece of paper to cross the president’s desk during his second term. Kavanaugh fulfilled this role as the Bush White House entered the Iraq War, reauthorized the PATRIOT Act, passed the federal partial-birth abortion ban, and backed a constitutional amendment outlawing marriage equality. While records from all presidencies remain under seal in the National Archives until properly requested, it’s notable that Republican Senator Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has explicitly declined to request their release, leaving the public and the Senate in the dark about Kavanaugh’s positions on the moral issues of the day.

LGBTQ advocacy groups are doing their part to sound the alarm about the danger posed by the gaping holes in Kavanaugh’s record about LGBTQ people.

In late July, Lambda Legal and 63 partner organizations sent a letter to Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein of the Senate Judiciary Committee formally opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination. The letter pieces together what little is known about Kavanaugh’s record and the likely implications for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. Lambda Legal also filed several Freedom of Information Act requests for information about Kavanaugh’s writings or records related to “any effort to amend the federal Constitution to define marriage,” the “Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court proceedings,” “federal hate crime legislation, and non-discrimination protections for federal employees.”

These are incredibly pressing questions, given the LGBTQ cases before the Supreme Court in the upcoming term. The court will shortly decide whether transgender people can serve openly in the U.S. military (Karnoski v. Trump, Doe v. Trump, Stone v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump); whether businesses may refuse to serve LGBTQ people on the basis of an owner’s “religious beliefs” (Arlene’s Flowers Inc. v. Washington); if transgender people can be fired from their jobs for transitioning (EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes), and whether the marriages of same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as the marriages of opposite-sex couples (Pidgeon v. Turner).

These cases are at the heart of what Lambda Legal and others requested from Kavanaugh’s record and demonstrate the scope of what is at state in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It is well past time for Brett Kavanaugh’s record on LGBTQ people to come out of the closet and into the open, and when it does, he must not be confirmed.

Are All Ocean Movies Gay?

Salty Jason Statham-starrer The Meg hit theaters earlier this month and drew an unsuspecting crowd of moviegoers: gay people.

A film starring an almost offensively heterosexual man and a gigantic sea creature doesn’t sound like the type of film that would send queer people rushing to the box office, and yet, almost every gay and bi+ person I know turned out for The Meg, and they turned out hard. Even though the movie doesn’t feature any same-sex storylines, queer people might be on to something here: Are all movies about the ocean gay?

Think about it. Almost every major motion picture set by the sea has an expansive gay fan base — the LGBTQ community literally ensures the success of every sandy beach movie that’s ever flowed through Hollywood. Deep down, I think I always knew that Gay Sea Movies was a genre, I just wasn’t ready to admit it. And now I have the evidentiary support to prove that ocean movies are exclusively for queer people.

The Meg (2018)

Exhibit A. Lesbian queen Ruby Rose is featured prominently in this supersized shark movie, and even though she doesn’t play queer, she’s still there, OK? The plot of this thriller-comedy is extremely queer: The Megalodon, endearingly condensed to The Meg, is an angry, bitter gal who has spent a lifetime wallowing in the abysmal depths of the Pacific Ocean. One day, she fucking snaps and can no longer bear the burden of stifling her true self or hiding herself from the world. But when she finally reveals her truth and surfaces and, naturally, hormonally lashes out at her oppressors, surprise surprise—she’s greeted with fear, hatred, and white men who want to shove her back in the closet—I mean, abyss.

Seriously, what was the source material for this movie? Me? And not for nothing, but the whole prehistoric angry lesbian trope has been done before — lest we forget that all the violent rage-head dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were female. As I always say, life finds a gay!

 

Aquamarine (2006)

If you haven’t seen 2006 cinematic tour de Aquamarine, then I’m sorry for your heterosexuality. Some major bullet points: It stars JoJo Levesque, yes, the (barely) forgotten queen of pop who gifted us with hits like “Leave (Get Out),” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Baby It’s You.” Levesque stars alongside a barely teenage Emma Roberts as best friends who discover a real-life mermaid, played by Sara Paxton.

The duo becomes wholly obsessed and enchanted by the vivacious siren, as one would, and even though there are mediocre male love interests in the movie, lez be honest: this is a movie about falling in love with a woman. A legless, amphibious, shimmery one, yes, but then again, doesn’t the first time you fall for a woman feel exactly like falling for a mystical, glittery, mythological sea creature? It feels impossible and all-encompassing and (sometimes) secret. It blows up your entire world and reality, and challenges what you thought you knew about yourself and the world. So even though any movie starring a famous pop star is inherently queer, Aquamarine is exceedingly lesbian.

 

Andre (1994)

If you were a fan of ’90s-girl backward hat culture, like Alex Mack and the Olsen Twins’ movies, then chances are, you’ve seen Andre. Based on a true story, Andre follows a little girl in Maine named Toni (Tina Majorino) who wears backward hats, plaid, and denim vests (these are her main character traits). Her parents are “animal enthusiasts” who decide to nurse an ailing seal back to health, but Toni becomes particularly close to the sea animal.

Allow me to dive deep here: When queer people are young, I think we often seek attachment and companionship with strange and sometimes off-putting “partners.” Whether it’s an imaginary friend, an unwitting doll, or an unsuspecting animal friend, having a close friendship with an inanimate object or other species is an extremely queer experience.

I’m serious. At an early age, we’re often unaware of stuff like sexuality or attraction, but we know we’re not into the traditional things we’re expected to be interested in, like being chased by boys on the playground or sharing innocent kisses or crushes with boys. Since I didn’t know that having intimate relationships with girls was a possibility, I often found solace in my toys and sports and four-legged friends. I’m sorry this blurb got so dark so quick, but what I’m saying is, I saw myself in Toni, both aesthetically and in her off-putting emotional attachments to things that aren’t human.

 

The Shallows (2016)

Obviously this goes without saying, but every Blake Lively movie is a gay movie. The former Gossip Girl star and natural heiress to the Lower East Side is one of those rare and effervescent jewels that both gay men and lesbians can agree on. With that being said, it feels like The Shallows was literally made for the LGBTQ community. Based on my research (which is just, like, knowing gay people), I think it’s fair to say that 95% of The Shallows’ fan base is queer.

Another shark thriller, this movie follows Nancy Adams (Lively), who loses her mother and heads to an unfrequented beach for some serenity and clarity. While surfing alone (idiot), she gets chomped by a Great White and hops on a nearby rock to survive. Eventually, she must swim to a buoy to beat her tormentor and get her sweet, sweet revenge. So, to recap: The Shallows is about being hunted: gay. Vengeance: canonically gay. Mommy issues: they exclusively belong to queer women.

 

Blue Crush (2002)

Does this one really need an explainer? Starring Kate Bosworth, the out and queer Michelle Rodriguez, and Sanoe Lake, Blue Crush is literally every millennial queer woman’s root movie. Even though this surfer film was super popular in the early aughts, queer girls were way more into it than our straight friends. I demanded surf lessons from my parents. I took up a sudden interest in the words “sex wax.” I’ve seen this movie probably 100 times, and I still think the funniest part is when the three girls lose their goddamn minds, shrieking and gagging over the sight of a used condom. We get it, you’re all gay! So are we!

This movie is like actually extremely gay, so there’s no need to delve into queer undertones and source material here. There’s lady butts, sporty girl paraphernalia, and puka shell necklaces. It’s basically Billabong porn. Don’t even act like you didn’t deck your 2000s self out in gay shit like Billabong and Quiksilver. Surf on me, Kate Bosworth! 

 

Honorable mention to Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, two of the highest grossing animated movies of all time, which are both led by Ellen DeGeneres. Also shoutout to both Mamma Mia! movies, which are set by the sea and are musicals — AKA Gay Sea Movies. And a friendly nod to Ocean’s 8, which takes place nowhere near a shoreline, but has the word “ocean” in the title and stars Cate Blanchett.

We Need To Talk About Olivia Colman’s Lesbian Love Triangle With Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz In ‘The Favourite’

After pushing the limits of heterosexual love in The Lobster and parental love in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with a new movie called The Favourite that explores a devastating and yet arguably problematic lesbian love triangle in the royal court of 18th century England.

The Favourite opens with the removal of Queen Anne’s crown and robe, immediately diving into the story behind the throne. It’s not long until Olivia Colman’s monarch then reveals the hidden passage that connects her royal bedroom to the quarters of Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), a secret lover who also acts as the Queen’s confidante and advisor.

Although they live a decadent and luxurious life together, the pair’s own love story sadly doesn’t shine as bright as the jewels that adorn them. It’s clear that the couple has been together for a long time, but early scenes also reveal that Marlborough is the real power behind the crown, manipulating the Queen who has come to rely on her lover for both emotional and political support.

Things soon change though when Marlborough’s younger cousin arrives. After accidentally discovering that the Duchess has been playing around in the royal garden, Abigail (Emma Stone) sets out to become the new favourite in a bid to reclaim her standing in society.

Star Rachel Weisz once compared the ensuing rivalry to the classic Hollywood movie, All About Eve, but here, the fierce competition that plays out in this festival favourite escalates to more violent extremes that fail to paint anyone in a positive light.  

To win the Queen’s loyalty, Stone’s character does everything that she can to replace Marlborough, even drugging her at one point, but the affection that she seemingly feels for her highness isn’t exactly genuine. In fact, Abigail manipulates both Queen Anne and a courtier called Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn) to find favor in high society, seducing them to increase her standing.

In one particularly memorable scene, Marlborough enters the royal bedroom via her secret passage only to discover that Abigail is sleeping naked beside the Queen after a soothing massage turned into something far more sapphic. Weisz’s character seems genuinely upset by this revelation, even staggering against the wall at one point, but is her love for Anne any more real than Abigail’s or is she simply upset that she’s no longer the titular “favourite”?

Early on, Marlborough helps Abigail out, explaining that “I have a thing for the weak,” but this surely accounts for her affinity with the Queen as well. Throughout The Favourite, the Duchess bosses her highness around, whispering political goals in her ear and even comparing her makeup to a “badger” at one point.

However, there’s also a tenderness between them that cannot be dismissed. Sure, the Duchess is extremely manipulative and there’s a chance that her heart actually belongs to another, but Marlborough’s jealousy of Abigail is rooted in far more than just a desire for power. The Duchess also helps look after the Queen’s physical needs in rare displays of kindness, lovingly tying up her leg brace or distracting Anne from the pain that often befalls her. At one point, Marlborough actually admits to Abigail that “The Queen is an extraordinary person… Even if it’s not readily apparent.”

Towards the end of The Favourite, this dynamic dramatically changes, but Queen Anne isn’t entirely innocent in all of this either. Often unhinged and deeply insecure, Colman’s monarch takes delight in the bitter rivalry that plays out for her affections, deliberately making Marlborough jealous of Abigail by telling her that “I like it when she puts her tongue inside me.” Although these sexual moments are rarely depicted onscreen, Stone’s clearly character brings a whole new meaning to the job title, Maid of Bed Chamber.

On the one hand, it’s remarkable to see a queer love story of this magnitude play out on the big screen. Lanthimos has been an arthouse darling for some years now, but if early reactions to the film’s premiere at Venice are anything to go by, then it seems like The Favourite could be a genuine contender during awards season, too.

If that’s true, then The Favourite will be the biggest release since Carol that deals with the love shared between queer women, but is this the kind of representation that the LGBTQ community needs right now? Whether they’re homosexual, bisexual or something else entirely, both Abigail and Malborough are manipulative adulterers and the Queen herself is deranged throughout, possibly driven to madness by the tragic loss of 17 heirs in childbirth.

However, 18th century England is a far cry from the more tolerant world that we live in today. In centuries past, anyone who wanted to act on feelings that deviate from a heterosexual way of life would have been forced to do so in secret, even if they’re the Queen of England. Because of this, it’s hard to condemn each of the women caught up in this love triangle for their unsavory actions.

Sure, The Favourite might not represent the LGBTQ community favorably in a conventional sense, but by exploring the role that queerness has played throughout history, Lanthimos has shone a light on the struggles that LGBTQ women faced before the civil rights of any women were fought for and he’s done so with his characteristic wit and skill.

Before everything crashes down around her, Malborough rather smugly proclaims that “Sometimes a lady likes to have some fun.” By the end of The Favourite, no one in this royal love triangle is having fun anymore except for the audience who will fall in love with this debaucherous and royally amusing journey into queer history.

The Favourite will have its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on August 30 and hit U.S. theaters in November. 

Justin Vivian Bond: ‘Now’s The Time, More Than Ever, To Let Your Freak Flag Fly’

The inimitable Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, perhaps best known for their role as Kiki Durane in the comedy duo Kiki & Herb (with co-star Kenny Mellman), comes to Joe’s Pub this September for A Star Is Borned: The Adventures of Chipra. Bond is also recognizable from Shortbus, High Maintenance, Difficult People, and countless other roles on TV and film. Their memoir, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011.

INTO sat down with Viv for a peek into the plots and schemes behind their newest solo show.

Tell me about A Star Is Borned: The Adventures of Chipra.

I was actually trying to figure out what I wanted to do this September, and do you know Christeene? Christeene is a drag performer, who’s amazing, and they were visiting me upstate, and we were driving around in my car, cackling like we do, and I started telling her about when I was in seventh grade, there was this kid in my class and I was obsessed with Barbra Streisand and A Star Is Born, and so this kid did this cartoon strip of me with Barbra Streisand’s nose and a Superman T-shirt on. And it was called The Adventures of Chipra. And [Christeene and I] were having a laugh about it, and then he said, “That’s what you need to do: The Adventures of Chipra.” And I said, “You’re right! That is what I’m gonna do.”

So then, I went home and started thinking about my obsession with A Star Is Born, and I googled it, and then I saw that Lady Gaga’s got A Star Is Born opening next month, and I said, “Well, Judy, Barbra, and Gaga are sort of these queer icons from three different generations. And how much fun would it be to contextualize it with The Adventures of Chipra and what it’s like to be a star-obsessed teenager who grows up to be a performer?” And then I just took it from there, and so that’s kind of what the show is about, and I’m going to be doing music from all three of them.

 

So you’re not performing as Judy or Gaga or Barbra.

No, I’m not impersonating anybody. I’m doing their music and how it flows through me in the way that it will. [cackles] I’m not doing any impersonations, but I’m definitely homaging.

 

What do you think drew you to Barbra Streisand?

I think it’s the same thing, probably, that drove people to be interested in Judy Garland or Gaga. Their vulnerability and their quirkiness. They’re not traditional stars. Judy was, as you know, a hyper-emotional actress who started out in The Wizard of Oz, and that iconic role was being somebody who had to go away to find out who they really were, to leave their family, to go and go on this Odyssean journey to find out what really matters to her. And then, you know, her whole life being kind of ostracized and struggling to be respected as an artist, and being kind of an outsider, even though she was a huge Hollywood star.

And the same thing with Barbra Streisand, being this non-traditional beauty, who somehow managed to just own herself so fiercely that she became a big star in spite of everything, against all odds. That kind of thing that makes you think, “Well, maybe I can do that! Maybe I’m a person of value. Maybe there are possibilities for me that other people aren’t seeing, but by believing in, and being witness to, what these people are able to do, I can do that.”

And when Lady Gaga was starting out, “Oh, I was bullied in high school” — you know, her thing about being not-a-rich-girl on the Upper East Side, just a regular girl who had to struggle because she was not this WASP-y, beautiful girl. You know? [laughs]

So, their exploitation of their own outsider status, which gave people like us the ability to empower ourselves to do things that we didn’t necessarily know what we could do. I mean, role models like that are good.

 

How do you see this concert being in conversation with your memoir, Tango, which covers this period in your life?

I didn’t really talk about it too much in Tango. I think I did mention A Star Is Born, in that I was going to this guidance counselor, exhibiting tendencies of becoming difficult, and so they sent me to a psychologist. And one of the things my parents wouldn’t let me see was A Star Is Born, because it was rated “R,” and that became a great big point of contention. And so my rebellion was sort of instigated by the fact that I wasn’t allowed to see A Star Is Born. And I felt, in a way, that that was them putting the iron fist down on my queerness in any way they could, and so I think that is the way in which it relates to that period in that book.

And then, you know, my art thing, my show that I did that was at The New Museum, My Model | Myself, was about how I formed a kind of identity through being obsessed with [Karen Graham]. It’s how we escape ourselves through our fantasies, and of who we could be, or who we want to be when we’re trapped in this reality that we don’t really enjoy, and so I think that is another thing: Me and this queer kid in seventh grade, both hating our lives, but he makes this cartoon, which is his outlet, where he somehow was able to subvert my identity, and his, through this comic strip, The Adventures of Chipra, that only we could really, truly appreciate, because we were such outsiders in our own little way, and how we form community around these celebrities or stars or artists that we rally around so that we can share who we are through them when we’re looking to connect with people in that way that only queer people do, I think.

 

Given that the Internet gives us much easier access to the people in our community we might want to emulate, what does that change about the ways we, as outsiders and queer people, find each other?

Right. But we don’t “meet” each other on the Internet. You know, when I went to see Lady Gaga when she was at Madison Square Garden, I went because I was friends with the Scissor Sisters. I wasn’t all that… I mean, I like Lady Gaga, but I was never Lady Gaga-obsessed. But then you see all these gorgeous kids walking around in the different Lady Gaga looks, and she has this number up on the Jumbotron for them to text and then, you know, some kid in the audience calls, and then they’re on the phone, and all the other kids get very excited about it. It’s just so adorable. And so they do have their ways of meeting each other. They’re at the Lady Gaga concert, and they look around, and there’s all these other kids just like them there, and that must be some sort of comfort to them.

How do you think the way fans relate to Lady Gaga now is different than how we would have related to Judy or Barbra growing up?

Well, I think, [with regard to Judy], for adults, her most legendary moment was at Carnegie Hall, when every gay in New York City was there that night. You had to be there. That was the thing. And with Barbra Streisand, it was probably a little bit more at the movie theater. But I mean, the gay people are still completely obsessed with Judy. Barbra announces her next “final” series of concerts, and everybody has to pay two gazillion dollars to go and see Barbra drink tea and wear a Donna Karan dress. But the kids are more, you know, active, I guess. It was that whole thing with her being Mother Monster or, you know, that one kid who committed suicide and did that “paws up” thing on YouTube that was so heartbreaking. They have access to each other in a way that we never did.

 

David M. Halperin talks, in How to Be Gay, about how certain archetypical women (like Judy Garland or Joan Crawford) become “queered” for little gay boys because of the way they epitomize feminine affects to which those boys don’t have ready access, and how queer culture is built around how we “queer” cultural artifacts through that kind of misrecognition. As queer people become more and more visible in the media, do you think there are negative consequences for the formation of queer culture?

That’s a very broad question. I don’t exactly know how to answer it because, of course, the person in this show that I’m the most attached to is Barbra, because that was my person from when I was young. I’m an adult now, so I don’t really form my identity around depictions of femininity in the media so much anymore, but it’s about how that was formulated for me in the first place, which is kind of in the past, because I’m myself now. This is kind of a way of exploring how I became myself. So I don’t know exactly. I don’t think I could answer that question in an accurate or informed way about the younger generation.

 

I hear something every once in a while that gives me pause — something along the lines of, “Oh, we don’t have a need for queer culture anymore, because it served a certain function in the past, and for our forebears, when we didn’t enjoy recognition in the media.”

But I don’t know if that’s really true, because I think that young people need to do that. Still. It might not be necessarily Lady Gaga — might be, you know, smaller pockets, more specialized. I mean, even that Barbra Streisand thing was one thing for me, but then, of course, you had people that were goth. There’s always little subcultures of the culture. And they find each other in those little areas.

And now there’s the nonbinary kids or the kids that are coming out as trans and transitioning very young, and they have their identity that they form themselves around, and their communities and ideas and their forums and all of that, where they get very heated and passionate and are constantly commenting and parsing and thinking about and being outraged by, and it’s very real and very intense for them.

 

As someone who has gone through all these battles to figure out who you are, do you see yourself as having a role to play when it comes to the way the younger kids are finding themselves?

I don’t know. I mean, I try to be accessible in a way, to be somebody who’s not uncomfortable just being a visible presence as somebody who is out, open, and comfortable being trans living my life. But I can’t and don’t know what other people really think about me. [laughs]

I don’t know! And I don’t think I’m somebody that necessarily a lot of kids are keyed into. I think they’re more into, you know… there’s a lot of the kids that are into RuPaul’s Drag Race, and they all have their favorite, who they think is amazing, and that they argue about, and get worked up about, and get inspired by. And there’s all these Instagram people that do their tutorials and everybody learns from and all of that. But I don’t think I’m necessarily one of those people.

 

Are you still friends with the boy who drew The Adventures of Chipra?

No. I don’t know, really, whatever became of him, because that was in middle school. I think he did go to my high school, but we were in different crowds or something. I don’t know what happened to him. I would be curious to know.

 

What about Michael Hunter, your notorious middle school lover/bully? Is he still around?

I believe so, yes. But I don’t… [chuckles] again, I don’t have any contact with him. He used to mow my best friend’s mother’s lawn, but that was years ago, once he got out of prison or whatever. [cackles]

 

What else are you working on these days?

I’m in Wigstock next week, and I’ve got those nine shows [at Joe’s Pub] opening right after that. And then, I’m working on a new record, but that’s not quite ready, and I haven’t figured out how I’m going to put it out. But I’ve got a lot of projects sort of cooking right now, but the big focus right now is this show coming up.

 

Is there anything else you want to want to add about the show?

I just think that it’s important for people to know that I might be intellectualizing [the show], in the explanation, but [laughs] I think it’s going to be a fun show, because I’ve got all this material to choose from, between [Judy, Barbra, and Gaga]. I know I’m going to have a blast doing it.

And the other thing is, you know, I put up this picture of myself that I’ve found recently, on Instagram, and all the people really responded to it, and in a certain way, I think, for me, it’s kind of been fun to go back. And I think of those years as being such miserable years, in a way (the teenage years), and you know, being this really uncomfortable teenage boy who was unable to acknowledge the trans person within me, and not sure what my life was going to be like, but who was, in a certain precocious way, kind of adorable.

And so, through this, I think I’m kind of finding a way to reintegrate this little person that I didn’t love at the time and love them now. So it’s kind of really fun! [laughs]

And then, just know that I’m going to be a big goofball doing this show. I’m not going to be Barbra, Judy, or Gaga, I’m going to be Chipra, a big goofball, having a great time as a grown-up, living out this insanity, which should be fun for everybody, hopefully.

 

For those of us who are figuring out our identity around gender and any number of things, what do you think, short of putting on a show at Joe’s Pub, people can do to get back in touch with that person that we didn’t like in our teenage years?

Love it. You know? I think we’re all, especially now, people are, on one level, expressing themselves in a way like they never have. But I think we’re also in a moment where everybody’s taught that the language is the language of fear. You know, everybody’s saying, “Oh, Trump’s president! I’m so scared! I’m so scared!” And I’m just like, I’m not scared — I’m pissed off. And it makes me feel rebellious.

But I think the temptation is to, you know, put your head down and hide and just be very sensible, and… I don’t know. It’s like, now’s the time, more than ever, to let your freak flag fly. And it’s a time where people want to do that, but it’s starting to feel a little dangerous, and I think there’s safety in numbers, so we all just have to stick together and be as fierce and wonderful and we can possibly be. Like, the most fun version of ourselves.

I always use the tagline, “Glamour is resistance,” because I think there’s something really powerful about allowing yourself to be the most divine creature you’re capable of being.

 

A Star is Borned: The Adventures of Chipra plays at Joe’s Pub Friday, September 7 – Sunday, September 16 at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St New York, NY 10003), every night at 9:30 PM. There is no performance on Monday, September 10. The evening features music direction by Matt Ray and the musical stylings of Nath Ann Carrera (guitar) and Claudia Chopek (violin). For more information, click here or visit joespub.com.

Image via Getty

But How Gay is ‘Searching’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Searching? Coming from the same cinematic style as the Unfriended movies and that one episode of Modern Family, Searching is depicted entirely on computer screens. Unlike the previous entries in this mini-genre, which were horror and comedy, Searching is a mystery thriller that sees a father, David Kim, desperately trying to find his missing daughter, Margot. In the process of looking for her, David realizes he didn’t really know her at all, and has to face that tru—

Wait, hold on, didn’t this movie come out last week? …It’s out in wide release this week?

Fine, yes, you caught me. Searching came out in limited release Aug. 24, and typically, I’d have reviewed it last week. But a mix-up of theaters led me to see the puppet orgasm movie instead. And that wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone. Combined with the remarkably weak slate of new releases this week, it just made sense to do Searching now instead. Will you forgive me, dear reader?

Okay, forgiven. Who’s in it? John Cho plays David, and it’s some excellent work from the veteran actor. “Scared Dad” can be a fairly stock role, but Cho gets at all kinds of insecurities and parental fears that make David feel well-rounded — despite the fact that we only see him on computer screens. His primary scene partner is Debra Messing as Detective Rosemary Vick, the officer assigned to Margot’s case. Because we really only see her when she and David are speaking on FaceTime, I will affectionately refer to her exclusively as FaceTime Cop Debra Messing.

Joseph Lee plays David’s generally unhelpful brother, Peter, while young actress Michelle La plays Margot, obviously only seen in archival footage. Sara Sohn plays David’s recently deceased wife, Pam.

Why should I see it? For the first 75 minutes of its runtime, Searching seems like an ably made thriller that makes good use of its computer screen gimmick. Director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty, who wrote the film with Sev Ohanian, turns in some genuinely affecting scenes, including and especially an extended look at Margot’s life as seen solely through calendar notifications, home videos, and other online interactions. It’s a 10-minute starting sequence that recalls the quick dance-through-life that begins Pixar’s Up, and it gives Cho and Sohn some lovely small moments that establish their characters. The mystery is well-built, and comes to a natural conclusion.

Then, in the last 20 or so minutes, everything goes fully off the rails.

The final twist, and what inspires a character to figure out the final twist, is so positively bonkers that you can’t think about it too hard. You just have to try valiantly to keep up with everything as it happens. It’s a flume ride of a final act that I can’t quite argue is good, but is positively batshit, and is more thrilling than 95% of everything else I’ve seen in movies this year. It’s wild.

But how gay is it? Will and Grace and Smash star Messing’s mere presence as a FaceTime Cop is pretty gay, but there are no gay characters or anything particularly queer in content.

You mentioned a big twist. What is it? Okay, so, major spoilers for Searching here. I’m gonna talk about the whole thing of the film, because it’s hard to describe what the movie is without it. Avert your eyes now if you plan on seeing the movie and want to remain unspoiled! You’ve been warned!

Okay, so in the last 20 minutes, David realizes that a previously identified character was actually just a stock photo model, which makes him realize that FaceTime Cop Debra Messing was lying to him. This leads to an über-dramatic confrontation at a church that we only see via livestream, followed by video of FaceTime Cop Debra Messing in a police interrogation that unravels the whole film’s plot piece by piece.

I’m still being somewhat vague, because I really think Searching’s big twist needs to be seen to be believed. But holy hell, it defies every expectation you could possibly have.

Between this, Crazy Rich Asians, The Meg, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, are we in a major moment for Asian-led and Asian-American-led films? A massive one. Of those four movies, The Meg is the only one with a white lead who takes story precedence over the Asian lead (Jason Statham), and Li Bingbing’s Suyin is still the film’s primary emotional entry point. Noah Centineo’s Peter Kavinsky exists to support Lana Condor’s Lara Jean Covey in To All the Boys, and Messing is very much second-fiddle to Cho in Searching. Crazy Rich Asians, of course, had not a single white lead character.

This is truly unprecedented in American film. It’s unheard of to see this many Asian leads in a year, much less a month, of major new releases. The fact that the genres are so diverse, too — teen dramedy, romcom, shark movie, mystery — is a major positive point. This kind of inclusion is what so many have been crying out for for years, and to what should be no one’s surprise, it’s working at the box office. Searching, which is the first Hollywood thriller to be led by an Asian actor, is part of a movement, and deserves the same level of support. No matter how batshit crazy it is.

Searching is in theaters now.

Cuomo Staffers Repeatedly Call Cynthia Nixon ‘Unhinged’ During Debate

Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon faced off yesterday in the first and only debate of the New York Democratic primary. It was a heated match that saw Nixon challenge Cuomo on many of the most controversial aspects of his seven-year tenure as governor, including alleged mismanagement of the New York subway system.

Although the actress-turned-politician proved herself a formidable debate opponent, you’d think from following Cuomo’s campaign on Twitter that she’d lost her mind.

Following a particularly contentious exchange when Nixon informed Cuomo she would “stop interrupting” when he “[stopped] lying,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa tweeted that there was “lots of unhinged yelling and interrupting from Nixon.”

She further alleged the underdog exhibited “zero handle on substance.”

Just three minutes later, DeRosa repeated the point for the cheap seats. “Quick observation: Cynthia Nixon appears unhinged,” she claimed.

As first pointed out by BuzzFeed head of breaking news Tom Namako, Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith used the exact same phraseology. After likewise dismissing Nixon as “unhinged,” Smith added she “would’ve expected more from an Emmy- and Tony-winning actress.”

The staffer also alleged Nixon’s behavior during the debate was “angry, rude, and disrespectful.”

The word choice did not go over well on Twitter.

Amy Siskind, an activist and founder of women’s empowerment organization The New Agenda, called the rhetoric “sexist.” Katie Halper, comedian and host of the eponymous radio program on WBAI, said the remarks illustrated how “petty and out of touch [Cuomo’s] campaign is.”

Naz Riahi, founder and creative director of Bitten, called it a “low, sexist blow.”

“When they can’t stand on a progressive track record, [the Cuomo campaign is] forced to take her down by falsely attacking her mental state,” Riahi tweeted.

Following criticism, DeRosa attempted to deflect any suggestion that the remarks were a gendered attack on Nixon by stating that she’s used the exact same expressions in the past to describe men.

“I’ve referred to plenty of men as unhinged, Josefa,” she said in response to journalist Josefa Velazquez. “You should get out more.”

But Twitter users pointed out that DeRosa’s own social media history directly contradicts that assertion. A search through the secretary’s tweets between January 2007 and August 2018 showed not a single instance of her calling anyone “unhinged” — whether male or female.

The fracas was one of several discussions about gendered double standards surrounding the New York gubernatorial debate.

Prior to the face-off, the Nixon campaign attracted national attention when the candidate requested the temperature at Hofstra University be set at 76 degrees. It was just 69 degrees when the candidate arrived. Her team claimed that cold rooms are “notoriously sexist.”

Although polls show that Nixon is trailing by 33 points ahead of the Sept. 13 primary vote, early signs show she may gain some ground following Wednesday.

Polls conducted following the Nixon-Cuomo debate on Twitter indicated that viewers felt the former Sex and the City star won handily. Although the results are highly unscientific and should be read with caution, she prevailed by at least 40 points in nearly every single online survey.

If elected during the November general election, Nixon would be America’s first LGBTQ governor. Meanwhile, Cuomo is widely blamed for New York state’s failure to pass legislation banning conversion therapy and anti-trans workplace bias.

Image via Getty

Troye Sivan ‘Bloom’: Track-By-Track Review

After combatting bottom shame with the release of the lead bop single “Bloom,” Troye Sivan has shared his second album Bloom with the world. The album comes at a time when Sivan’s profile is higher than ever. Later this fall, Sivan will star in the conversion therapy-themed film Boy Erased. While Sivan has plenty of love from queer people of all ages, Bloom aims to help the artist cross over to a larger audience.

Here’s what INTO has to say about the singer’s latest effort.

“Seventeen”

Troye’s opening track works both as a solid album opener that announces Sivan’s intent on the album, while also being a track about the mythology of queerness. Sivan sings with equal parts nostalgia and palpability about the thrill of discovering queerness — physically and emotionally — at 17. Sivan’s voice soothes but the track also feels like a salve for teen queer longing. The whole Call Me By Your Name-esque aesthetic works and will bring a lot of listeners back to the time they wished an older man showed them what it meant to be gay.

 

“My My My!”

Sivan has toured and collaborated with Betty Who and it’s hard to listen to “My My My!” without comparing it to some of the electro mood pop queen’s best work. Without getting too high tempo, Sivan sounds as sensual, soft and sweet as Who at her best. This cut sounds like it would easily be at home on Take Me When You Go — which means it’s a quality cut that is equal parts toe-tapping bop and melancholy ecstasy love sonnet.

 

“The Good Side”

We haven’t all been the best partners to our loved ones, and Sivan’s own shortcomings are the theme of this singy-songy mid-tempo number, which is Imogen Heap meets Telepopmusik via the Renaissance Faire. I know that sounds trippy, but the number is sweet and will eventually play over a scene of someone driving a car with tears in their eyes in a Nancy Meyers movie.  

 

“Bloom”

There’s no denying that “Bloom” is THAT bop. Though Sivan has been a recording artist for some time, “Bloom” will be the moment that catapulted Sivan to another level and with good reason. Sivan’s voice has a natural sensual velvety quality that is equal parts soothing and enticing. Nowhere is his coquettish tenor put to better use than here.

 

“Postcard”

This will no doubt find heavy rotation on people’s cry-inducing playlists (we all have them!), but the track sounds like a retread of familiar confessional territory we’ve heard before. Gordi doesn’t add much to the track, which unfortunately feels like too much of a slog sandwiched between the album’s two highlights.

 

“Dance to This”

“Dance to This” does the best job so far on the album of using Sivan’s voice as an instrumental element. Funny, given that his track partner is Ariana Grande, whose latest album Sweetener did the same thing for her to great effect. Grande and Sivan’s voices complement each other very well. While Grande is a belter, she reaches level of velvetiness at lower decibels that meshes well with Sivan’s own airy voice. Hearing them both sing together is like snuggling up in a well-blanketed bed, an appropriate setting given that the sexy-time quality of this song is off the charts.

 

“Plum”

This track is probably the corniest on the album. The song’s central metaphor — “Even the sweetest plum/ Has only got so long” — feels amateur compared to the complex emotional territory the rest of the album plumbs. (See what I did there?) Either way, the track doesn’t feel as authentically emotional as what comes before.

 

“What a Heavenly Way to Die”

“WAHWTD” is a much smarter track than I thought it would be. This late in an album, I expected the song to become a ballad, but it picks up very early and Sivan’s voice is at its most soothing timbre here. The song isn’t afraid to surprise: it starts slow, builds and eventually reaches an apex at its chorus.

 

“Lucky Strike”

This song opens with some of the album’s most evocative imagery — ”I want to skip stones on your skin, boy/ and drown me in your water” — and is no doubt the album’s sexiest. Some people might take umbrage at the song’s central cigarette metaphor, but it’s less clunky than the earlier “Plum” metaphor and, on an album of sexual frankness, earns the distinction of being the LP’s most sensual cut.

 

“Animal”

While some songs on the album, like “What a Heavenly Way to Die,” surprise the listener with the roads that it can meander, “Animal” confuses and doesn’t seem to adhere to any discernible structure. It also experiments musically and at times sounds like it could be on the It Follows soundtrack, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. If “Seventeen” works as an album opener, “Animal” disappoints as a closer, but is still higher quality than most other music out there today.

 

Final verdict:

Sivan has a lot of eyes and expectations on him as this album will be the one that should catapult him to a higher level of recognition and respect. He meets the challenge with aplomb (see what I did there?). Bloom surprises with its levels of complexity, sincerity, and maturity. It’s both heartbreaking and sexual, rapturous and cute. It’s an inherently queer album that will both put you in your feels and transport you to new emotions. Sivan’s voice is unobtrusive; it feels made to guide you to and through emotional destinations, rather than be a final destination itself. If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s that the songs often sound a little too similar. Sivan has proved he can make a high-quality album, but it would probably behoove him to vary his sound a bit in the future.