U.S. Presidential Election – a landmark in LGBT history?

The lights have gone out on yet another U.S. Presidential election, and Barack Obama has joined the ranks of the two-term presidents. Arguably his legacy was secured almost before he’d even taken up his job in 2009, but now he’s being given the chance to properly finish the social and political changes he’s set in motion, without fear of losing political support.

If this election taught us one thing, it’s that America’s voting is as divisively split as ever. The well-trawled map where each state is deep blue or blood red demonstrates how polarised the U.S. people remain when it comes to politics – particularly on issues like gay marriage which has come to the fore in this election as ever.

President Obama has admitted taking time to make up his mind about gay marriage, and cites a poignant conversation with his daughters about the gay parents of their classmates as the moment he started to refine his position. A late convert? Perhaps. But his honesty reflects many average Americans who are now beginning to see a realistic social necessity that has to exist in spite of religious traditions. Obama looked stronger going into the 2012 election in support of gay marriage, especially considering his fiercely conservative opponent Mitt Romney was so against it.

In a country where people have such opposing views, it takes a president who is universally accepting to lead them. Unfortunately for Romney – and for other republicans of his stock – they preach exclusion on the issue of gay marriage, and would attempt to impose their views on the people heading the other side of the argument. Obama’s liberal stance may allow for things the conservatives disapprove of, but they’re certainly not being forced to take part.

As a result of the election on Tuesday, three states votes to legalise gay marriage: Maine, Washington state and Maryland. Gay marriage has been made legal by legislators or courts in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but this is the first occasion of citizen voting bringing it into legal existence.

No surprises, Maine, Washington and Maryland are all Democratic states. One thing you can be sure of is that such victories are not a case of opening up the floodgates for federal recognition on the national scale. Gay marriage is constitutionally banned in 31 states, and even in the event of some of those being overturned or rewritten, the loyal republican states largely comprising the south and mid-west of America, would likely reject such motions vehemently. It remains a source of bewilderment to much of the rest of the western world – particularly in the UK, where we are now developing a much more liberal, post-religious outlook on social issues – that the United States does not progress similarly across its internal borders. On the same day the French cabinet made advances in plans for a gay marriage bill despite conservative opposition, gay marriage in Spain was upheld after a constitutional appeal. Tides are turning around the world, but the American States we call United are still horribly divided on this issue.

Yet it is no coincidence that the man in the Oval Office reflects such division and reunifications. The colour of the president’s skin is not superficially symbolic. As a man, he is a living reminder of possibility and hope. Of the unthinkable changes America went through in its relationship with racial prejudice, particularly in those states opposing gay marriage as strongly now, as they did for abolishing slavery at the time of the civil war. This gives hope that one day, in a modern, more civilised fashion, the same social transformations could happen for LGBT rights, and normalisation can begin.

This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.


JLS – Evolution

In the past few years JLS have cemented themselves as one of the biggest groups in Britain, and possibly our most successful urban act. With their fourth album, Evolution, they are harking back to the R&B pop of the late 90s/early 00s. This album is much more traditional R&B than its two dance infused predecessors, Outta This World and Jukebox, and gives the boys a much more Americanised sound that will surely only add to their international appeal.

‘Dessert’ is a strong opener, with plenty of comparisons to women and tasty after-dinner courses (as you do). It’s really catchy, and sets the ball rolling for the Justin Timberlake tribute that becomes a theme throughout the first few tracks. JT was more or less trending on Twitter when JLS performed ‘Hottest Girl In The World’ on The X Factor. The track resembles everything from ‘Like I Love You’ and ‘Señorita’, to the *NSYNC hit, ‘Girlfriend’. Sung completely in falsetto, it’s got the fast pace that makes it a great dance number, and therefore a JLS hit track. It is probably the strongest single on the whole album.

The ‘where have I heard that before’ effect doesn’t end there. The piano riff on ‘Hold Me Down’ bears an uncanny resemblance to Emeli Sandé’s ‘Next To Me’, to an extent where you won’t be able to hear the song without thinking about it. This probably rules out, what is otherwise quite a good song, as a possible future single. ‘All The Way’ and ‘Give Me Life’ are both real club hits. Thanks to the writers and producers the boys have used on Evolution, they’ve managed to put themselves on a par with their U.S. counterparts, like Usher and Ne-Yo. ‘Don’t Know That’ and ‘Gotta Try It’ are the laid back, ballad type tracks, akin to ‘Everybody In Love’. ‘Don’t Know That’ will probably be a single, and has one of the catchiest hooks on the record. Towards the end of the album, quite a few songs start to bleed into each other and sound a bit familiar, but overall it has its memorable moments.

JLS subscribe to the Rihanna formula – with a new album every year for the past four. The good thing about this is that you’re never out of the public eye and it helps to keep the fire burning constantly, but the negative side is that it’s impossible to create a really great album every time, and usually difficult to develop new themes and sounds for each release. When they sing ‘You got goods like a corner store’, it’s just the kind of cringe-inducing analogy that’s been made on countless songs before. JLS have put a slightly different edge on their brand of R&B with Evolution, but it doesn’t stand out from their previous albums because of their regularity. Whilst albums are fundamentals for recording artists, JLS are much more a group who have hit singles and give stand-out live performances, than a band who make great albums. That said, fans will love this, and it’s very listenable for anyone else too.

This review originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.

Mariah Carey – MTV Unplugged (A Retrospective)

The music world has no shortage of great live rock albums, but great live pop albums are few and far between. Reliant on dancing and backing tracks, pop shows usually don’t carry well outside the performance space. It took a carefully constructed live session on MTV Unplugged – a series actually set up for acoustic rock shows – to produce what I think is a perfect live pop album.

Since the release of her self titled début album in 1990, and her sophomore release Emotions in 1991, Mariah Carey was under fire for her lack of live performances. She’d done TV shows, but never toured. Critics began to suggest that ‘the voice’ was a studio creation – reliant on mixing and auto tune to create the gravity defying notes. So, to quash the rumours, her management booked her an MTV Unplugged session. With just 7 songs and clocking in at a mere 28 minutes in length, it’s officially an EP and it’s largely been forgotten about, but it’s quite possibly her finest work.

Aside from the fact that the dress code was clearly ‘anything black’ (leather and sequins both feature heavily), the musical outfit is wonderful. Backed by ten gospel singers and a tight pop-blues band (including legendary Randy Jackson on bass), she kicks off in style with one of her best tracks, ‘Emotions’. It starts like a vocal warm up, but it’s not long before the famous whistle register is out in full force. This is a rare vocal ability, often unheard of outside of opera. It’s a hugely impressive gift, and Mariah handles it with great technical care. It has since become her trademark, but here she only uses it a handful of times, and to rapturous applause. A strong saxophone section makes for a special performance of ‘If It’s Over’, written by Carey and one of her heroes, Carole King. ‘Someday’ and ‘Make It Happen’ are both up-tempo soulful numbers with some great solos from the band. The use of the backing singers in an intimate environment give everything a gospel edge, like it’s some sort of pop Baptist church. You’ll have to resist the temptation to point your finger and shout ‘testify!’during ‘Make It Happen’. Her début single, ‘Vision Of Love’, is a well-received highlight, largely because this was a song specially crafted to show off her voice and all its tricks. It’s a pop masterpiece, with clever chord movements, a simple but catchy chorus, and a great call and response section, which Carey sang with herself in the original (you’ll have to settle for backing singer Trey Lorenz here). Her rendition of the Jackson 5′s ‘I’ll Be There’ is the album’s shining moment. A last minute addition to the set, it has become one of her signature songs, even performed by her at Michael Jackson’s memorial service.

Mariah once said that as a perfectionist, ‘I tend to nitpick everything I do’ and that MTV Unplugged taught her ‘the raw stuff is usually better.’ This format may be raw, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a single vocal imperfection. More than just a master class in female pop vocals, this record is a blueprint for the careers of women like Christina Aguilera and Jessie J. Yes, warbling may be frowned upon now as over done, but here Mariah is bringing it to the table for the first time in her own unique way, and gets it just right.

In 1996, Mariah divorced her restrictive husband and Sony boss, Tommy Mottola, (the emancipation of Mimi, if you will). At that point, Mariah the Diva was born. But before that, she was a girl who seemed young for her age, unsure of herself and her talents, modest, and wholly concerned with giving a great musical performance. The display of this long lost personality is one of the things that makes this record even more striking. She’s slightly embarrassed and giggly when accepting applause and agreeing to an encore – and when thanking the audience for coming she sounds genuinely grateful and humble. It’s a different Mariah, and for many people it’s one they’d much prefer: incredible vocals, with none of the outlandish behaviour. This is a pure Mariah Carey, not just unplugged in the musical sense, but stripped down to the basics that made her a star, and secured her voice as one of the greatest of all time. Sadly, time has taken its toll on her iconic voice, but here, in a charming show filmed in a small New York theatre in 1992, her unique talent was captured perfectly in all its glory. Take a half hour and give it the listen it deserves.

This piece originally appeared in So So Gay magazine.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

How To Succeed In Business Without Really trying is a musical from the man who brought us Guys and Dolls, but it’s become the lesser known of the two. It’s experiencing a new lease of life since its 50th anniversary Broadway revival last year, with Daniel Radcliffe taking the lead role, and now the Centre Stage theatre company have performed the show this week at the Bridewell Theatre, in the heart of the City of London, under the skilled direction of Dom O’Hanlon.

The heavy lead role of Finch was carried well by Benjamin Long who managed to strike the balance between simple and cunning that makes this character very entertaining – but he isn’t over-played. He’s in good company with his rival Bud Frump – played by Matt Hudson – and his one time boss Mr Twinble – played by Kevin Sherwin – who secures an early triumph with his performance of ‘The Company Way’. The female characters certainly look the part – even in the unfortunate scene where they all turn up in the same ‘Paris original’ dress. But of all the attractive secretaries and sexy mistresses, it’s the more sober Miss Jones, played by Mimi Kroll, who steals the spotlight. Comical in her sheer movements, she owns the humour written in the lines and then rounds it all off with a star performance of ‘Brotherhood of Man’ towards the end of the show.

The score is rich, and the ensemble were strong, and well used throughout. Clever use of blinds and office compartment walls make for well choreographed group numbers, and unlike many similar productions I’ve seen before, the show is not reliant on a few strong leads. The company performance of ‘Coffee Break’ is a stand out moment, describing the horror of an office who runs out of the black stuff – enjoyed by many in the audience who related to the work culture, even 50 years after the show was written and set.

Having seen Centre Stage productions of The Wedding Singer, Zanna Don’t, as well as their Halloween cabaret last year, I can safely say this is their best effort of the past few years. Look out for their future performances at The Bridewell Theatre.

Follow the Centre Stage company on Facebook or on Twitter.

Introducing: King Charles

We first came across King Charles in an Evening Standard feature in April and the first thing that struck us (as it will you) is his carefully crafted image. He’s a combination of Prince, and an actual King Charles (the second more than the first – certainly not the third). His clothes are a cross between regal and hipster – he’s just as likely to be in a ruffle neck on stage, and a Lonsdale zip-up off stage. His hair is somewhere between Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse, and it’s all topped off beautifully with a perfect handlebar moustache. Ultimately, he’s a royal dream to look at. He wouldn’t appear out of place as a Made In Chelsea wannabe, but this west London man has real talent to back it up.

A multi-instrumentalist since childhood, he signed to Universal after winning the International Songwriting Competition in 2009, and toured for a bit with pals Mumford and Sons (who perform a track with him on the album). A look at his Glastonbury performance from that year shows how his unique act has been polished off to perfection. Since the release of his album, LoveBlood, in May, he’s had a busy year, and started a considerable buzz on the scene. He played at practically every festival this summer (his Facebook page documents tireless gigging), topped off with sold-out gigs at Heaven and KOKO in London, as well as a session on Radio 2 with Jo Whiley.

Unlike many new artists you’re introduced to, King Charles is a treat to listen. His songs are current, melodic, and light hearted, and he’s achieved something wonderful in that they all feed into the concept of his act. He sounds like a wayward aristocrat who has run off to become something closer to a rock star (somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Prince Harry). For a first listen, it’s best to get started with the ridiculously catchy ‘Bam Bam’, the alternative ditty ‘Mississippi Isabel’ and the joyous, Graceland-esque ‘Lady Percy’ – but LoveBlood is a treat on the whole, and you won’t need to skip a track.

He hasn’t really punctured the mainstream yet but if there’s any justice in the world, he will soon. Great male artists have been the toast of Britain for decades, but they’ve been thin on the ground in recent years. King Charles ticks every box. Long may he reign.

This piece originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.