As previously explored in the article Gays & Drugs, the gay community is something that has evolved from and around the nightclub scene. Something that all nightclubs have in common, regardless of the demographic of their audience, is that they are intended as escapism from normality. The worries and stresses of each person’s day-to-day grey lives are left at the front door, to make way for psychedelic lights, booming bass, alcohol and a rogues gallery of half-lit people, half-cut and over-friendly. With clubbing comes optimism; it doesn’t matter who are, in those few hours on a Friday or Saturday night, everyone is equal, everyone is united in the moment, and (almost) everyone is having a good time.
Music is a medium which, like all other art-forms, can be used to express the whole spectrum of human emotions. From the outpouring of screamed rage in heavy metal right through to the delicate whimpers of singer-songwriters weeping into their acoustic guitars, popular music caters to all tastes, feelings and emotions. No matter what you’re feeling, there is an endless back catalogue of generations of music to cater for your needs. Music can reflect one’s mood, or it can be used to as a catalyst to alter it; dour and mournful music can pull anyone down from a high, whereas upbeat and cheerful songs can lighten spirits and make the listener happier, more energetic and even euphoric. For gay men, who in the past have arguably experienced more than their fair share of unpleasantness, it’s hardly surprising that a tradition has arisen associating gay nightspots with light and fun music.
The way we listen to music on a night out can very much spill into our daily lives. Short-term nostalgia throughout the week, looking back at last weekend and longing for the next, makes us more likely to listen to the upbeat music we’re likely to hear on a night out. And then once you hear new songs, something current and of the right genre, the automatic reaction is one of “I can’t wait to hear that when I’m out”, because though you enjoy it now, imagine how much more fun it will be to experience it half-drunk, euphoric and being barraged by sensory stimulation from all angles.
Take Kylie Minogue for example. Kylie has had mainstream appeal throughout her career; beginning as a much-loved television star, her seamless cross-over to music capitalised on her pre-existing fanbase. For the next ten years she released music that saw her grow as a musician and an artist, but which also saw a decline in her popularity as her broad accessibility was dissolving into her more indie-centric music. But then, in a rapid turnaround, Kylie returned to her pop roots and relaunched herself with Spinning Around, a song that seemed almost designed for gay clubs. She recognised her gay fanbase and gave them what they wanted, and this move massively paid off, transforming Kylie from a fading 80s teen icon into diva-like pop royalty.
Clubbing itself is a temporal experience; the atmosphere of a night out isn’t something that can be bottled and taken home with you. As a result, the music too is “of the moment”. While straight people may only go on a night out every month or so or less, gay people are more likely to be out every weekend. Playing a nostalgic song can be fantastic for someone who’s not heard it in a few years, but if that song is played all the time, it lacks that intended impact. Gay clubs (or at least ones that are worth their salt) follow fashions and trends, playing current chart music, albeit frequently ‘gayed up’ and sung over a dance beat, to cater to an audience who probably were in the same club last weekend and the one before that. And then they’ll take that music away with them, listen to it at home, in the car, in the gym… Let’s not forget about the latter here; the amount of time gay men spend in the gym will certainly have an impact on their music taste – you’re not exactly going to listen to Bon Iver on a treadmill.
As usual, these massive generalisations do not apply to everyone; of course everyone has a broad music taste, as unique and individual as our personalities themselves. There are gay men out there who loathe Kylie and adore AC/DC, but gay culture and the gay community has evolved around communal experiences centred in venues that have become temples to pop music. Look at G-A-Y in London. An essential part of any pop promotional tour in the UK nowadays is a PA at this club; from Lady Gaga to Cher, anyone who has recognised their gay following and wants to capitalise on it plays directly toward the Pink Pound. To do that, the first step is to put a dance beat on your new track with a catchy hook, to make it gay-club-friendly; it’s a simple task and more and more artists are doing this.
Is the music gay men listen to likely to change? Probably not. The mid 00s saw a common trend away from pop and dance music; the second wave of Britpop saw guitar-led bands dominating the charts as glamourless humourless scruffy boys in skinny jeans barely moved in front of their microphones on stripped back stages. Though bands like Razorlight and The Kaiser Chiefs had seemingly taken over, gay men continued to keep the pop beacon burning with bands like Girls Aloud and the Sugababes. While the thirst is always there for new music, pop music and gay men’s association with one another has now become an almost anthropological association. Though I may now go and listen to Ben Howard on my lunchbreak, or feel bad-ass on the train with Tinie Tempah shouting in my ears, I’m still going to want to bounce about to Rihanna at the weekend because I’m a gay man and that’s just what we do.