Too Erasure? by Graingerboy
What does it mean when a song is ‘only suitable for the gay market’ or even ‘not gay enough’? Simon Grainger aka Graingerboy writes about his experience of homophobia in the music industry.
(Click Images to enlarge)
To celebrate LGBT History Month 2014, electronic musician and producer, Simon Grainger aka Graingerboy, opens up about his experience of homophobia in the music industry. He writes of how his first album promotion was subject to conservative marketing tricks that deemed his strongest songs as “too Erasure” for their targeted demographic. Looking back on the incident today, he questions both what was it about his music that made it apparently only appropriate for a gay market and whether there is such a thing as gay or straight music.
I have been asked from time to time whether things are improving regarding homophobia and the LGBT community. I’d like to think so, but in a week when Russia made its first arrest of Gay Activists in St Petersburg protesting at the recent Anti-Gay Propaganda Law and yet another country, Uganda, prepares to pass an Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which could see people being jailed for life for being gay, it’s sometimes very hard to believe.
In my own life, I often stumble upon some form of homophobia; whether its intentional or not – students using the word “gay” as an insult, comments on blogs or news stories amongst many other things. Until recently I’ve managed to steer clear of such ignorance within the music industry, where I’ve worked on and off for the past 17 years.
A few years ago however, this changed when I had an unfortunate run in with a company I was working with to market and promote my Shadowformerself album. After initially being keen to work on the project, the company began to scrutinize some of the tracks on the album. We got off to a great start with the first single, which featured moody vocals and electro-beats, and everything was in place for their follow-up single choice ‘Vintage’. Things went strangely quiet for a week or so following several exchanges exclaiming they were “fired up” to crack-on with a second single. The track had already been manufactured with some great remixes and people who heard it felt it was the standout track of the album.
Listen to Graingerboy’s ‘Vintage’
Then came the first e-mail. It said something along the lines of: “Apologies for not getting back to you but we’ve been giving the album a real close listen again and are concerned that a couple of the tracks are a bit ‘too Erasure’”. I didn’t really know what to make of this. I had a funny feeling they had gone cold on me, and really wasn’t sure how to take the Erasure comment. As a fan of synthesisers and great pop music, in another situation I’d have taken it as a great compliment. Somehow here I felt there was an underlying context. One I didn’t really want to acknowledge.
Not wanting to read too much into it, I accepted that I had an anthemic synth-pop side, in contrast to some of my darker introspective ambient tracks, which may not have been fitting with the overall mood of the record, regardless of their strength. The album could have worked without them, but yet they were such an important part of the project, and to be fair I didn’t want to come across as a self-indulgent miserable bastard on the record! So I made the choice to keep on pushing with ‘Vintage’ as the second single, sending a few hundred promo copies for PR and marketing to the company.
Then, silence again for about a week. And then came the e-mail….
“Hi, blah blah blah. So we’ve listened to ‘Vintage’ again and to be honest we’ve decided that it’s only really suitable for the gay market. So we’ll only be focusing on that. We feel it’s a shame to undo the good work we’ve done with the first single with other areas of the press and radio.”
So there it was in black and white.
Only really suitable for the gay market and not suited to the cooler profile they’d been marketing. Of course the company had no idea I was gay. They’d never bothered to ask and I certainly wasn’t peddling a stereotype. To say I was insulted would be putting it politely. A few years down the line, I’m still fuming. There were so many insinuations in those few sentences, too many to go into here. I couldn’t believe what I was reading!
What’s funny about their decision is that ‘Vintage’ and ‘I Love You (But I’ve Chosen Disco)’ are actually songs about the ageing process, an M.E. diagnosis and failed relationships. There is nothing within them that actually alludes to being gay, although there are of course a few fleeting mentions of the dance-floor and the bright lights of the city. But hell, we’ve all been there haven’t we? These songs are essentially about escapism and music providing us with that much-needed break from reality – A universal theme. Surely the 20 and 30 something’s who were working on the record had been there and done that? Or maybe they’d just forgotten? Were they really too cool to dance to synthesisers?
After the shock of our email exchange I decided to leave things there with the company. I didn’t go on to explain my anger or tell them how insulted I felt. Frustrated at a campaign slowing down, I eventually plucked up the courage to stick with the album and include those tracks and found an excellent company to take over with the project. The first e-mail that came back declared that ‘Vintage’ was an absolute delight, followed by ‘I Love You (But I’ve Chosen Disco)’. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I’d become somewhat timid and a touch embarrassed about those tracks. Almost apologetic.
It still makes me really angry to look back on these emails and obviously these were the flames that fuelled my increasingly independent spirit. Surprisingly, or not, those songs took off in a big way. ‘Vintage’ received some rave reviews from all corners of the industry, both gay and straight, and ‘I Love You (But I’ve Chosen Disco)’ began to go down a storm on dance floors.
I often hoped that the company did a cheeky internet search to see what had become of the campaign, as the album and singles began to pop up on the likes of NME, Music Week, Louder Than War, Electronic Sound Magazine, The DMC World Zzub Chart, Out In The City, Polari Magazine and got its own thread on the Popjustice forum (lifetime ambition achieved!). I was quietly delighted.
In a bizarre twist to the story, when the album was finally promoted, a particular gay radio station announced that they wouldn’t be supporting me as my music didn’t sound “gay enough”. By that point the whole situation became laughable.
Is music really perceived in such a way? Is there gay music, straight music, homosexual melody, heterosexual chord sequence. Bisexual key signatures?
I’ll get back to you on that one….