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Queering Gerard Way Part I: Lola’s Pronouns

Queer people are often forced to grow up in isolation and watch people who look like us get pathologized and cast as outsiders because they are different. So when we see somebody who looks like us cross over into the mainstream, it can feel like a victory.

This was how I felt when I discovered My Chemical Romance. I certainly wasn’t old enough to be deconstructing queer theory and gender roles at thirteen, but I definitely see the band as an early indicator of my queerness, even though none of the members identified as queer.

Gerard Way was a rebellious, non-conforming individual whose entire career was a deliberate act of social transgression, from the the way he acted and dressed to the way he treated his fans. As a student of rock icons like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Nick Cave and Brian Eno, he was able to emulate what they did so well by constantly reinventing his image. Each album cycle was accompanied by new eras of storytelling and elaborate character-building that he was able to pull from his previous career as a comic book writer.

In the same vein as Bowie adopting a myriad of personas throughout his career like Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and Major Tom, Way created his own characters like The Patient and Party Poison. Picture Ziggy Stardust getting massacred and revived as a zombie. That was Way in the era of “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” For “The Black Parade,” he cut his hair and bleached it and covered his face in white powder, becoming The Patient; a person dying of cancer who crossed over to death in the form of a parade.

When MCR fans started referring to the Danger Days character Party Poison as non-binary, Way welcomed that interpretation with open arms. It made total sense that Party Poison was a superhero in a post-apocalyptic future, because Way has been that person for so many queer, trans, and gender nonconforming kids who feel like we are living in a world that doesn’t want us to exist.

A perfect example of Way queering the music scene is the song “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us In Prison” off of “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” The title and the lyrics are unmistakably homoerotic (“We’re just two men as God had made us/Well I can’t/Well I can”), and he had a ritual at every show where he would get all the men in the audience to undress, taking control of a situation in a scene that normally objectified young women and flipping it on its head, making a spectacle out of it.

Way has always been an open book. He’s opened up in interviews about his lower-middle class upbringing in New Jersey, and he’s always been drawn to unconventional beauty and those who embraced the unsavory aspects of life. He was an art student who regularly went to school in drag, and when MCR started to take off in the early 2000s he used his platform on a regular basis to speak out against misogyny and homophobia in the music scene, going out of his way to portray women and girls in his music videos and comic books as human beings without exploiting or sexualizing them. He would later open up in a reddit AMA about how he “always identified a fair amount with the female gender,” albeit not on the same scale as somebody who identifies as trans or non binary.

When My Chemical Romance announced their reunion in 2019, I fell into a tunnel of nostalgia. I combed through their entire discography, re-watched their earliest gigs on Youtube playing in New Jersey basements with less than fifty people, and returned to those thirty-second clips of Gerard Way and Frank Iero making out on stage, which provided those breadcrumbs of representation I was craving as a closeted teen in a small town.

I will never forget the first time I ever saw Way writhing and wailing incoherently to the point of having a nervous breakdown. My cousin and I used to binge watch music videos on AOL, and that was how I first saw the “Helena” video. His long wavy hair that flowed down to his shoulders and red smokey eye had me completely awestruck. I would have walked to the nearest Sephora or Hot Topic just to get my hands on that Urban Decay Gash eyeshadow he used to wear. He was the first person I ever saw present as gender fluid, and it resonated with me for reasons I didn’t have the language to unpack yet.

When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up as a kid and I would tell them I wanted to be the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, they would get visibly uncomfortable or laugh nervously like it was a joke, almost like they thought I should feel shame for relating more to Gerard than any of the hyper-feminine icons I saw growing up.

But their revulsion only made me latch onto Way more, because it genuinely felt like he was the only person who understood me. He was unapologetically flawed and being a “freak” was his superpower. Songs like “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” taught me that it was okay to be angry and vulnerable when the rest of the world advised against it, and joining the MCR fandom showed me that there were a million other kids out there who felt exactly the same as I did.

When MCR disbanded and Way started working on solo material he made his debut album’s mascot, Lola, non-binary, and would always correct reporters who used the wrong pronouns on them. Not everybody took it seriously because Lola was a fictional character. But the fact that the genesis of Lola coincided with Way touring all around the globe and taking time out of every show to let his trans and non-binary fans know that he was in their corner, was no happy accident.

A love for the transgressive and going against social norms are inherently queer acts, and Way’s entire career was defined by these qualities. His song lyrics, the stories he crafted through concept albums, illustrations and comics, and his outspoken nature made him a mouthpiece for the outcasts, the disaffected youth, and anybody in the middle who felt “different” or “other.”

My Chemical Romance attained longevity even after disappearing for seven years because their message remained–if you are uncool then be uncool; embrace every part of who you are to the fullest and live your life unapologetically and without shame, because trying to be somebody you’re not is a waste of a life.

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Music

Album Review: Dua Lipa “Future Nostalgia”

Attempting to bridge the past and the future with an 80s-influenced pop album is a noble and ambitious goal that has rarely, if ever, been successfully pulled off. But if Dua Lipa has proven anything throughout her burgeoning career, it’s that she’s an unstoppable force in the music industry, and questioning her rarely ends well. After winning the title of “Best New Artist” at the 2018 Grammys, she was put under a microscope, and a high standard was set for her sophomore release. “Future Nostalgia” is a dreamy fusion of disco and pop that exceeded high expectations and is guaranteed to solidify a spot for Dua Lipa in the canon of today’s most innovative pop artists.

The title track is a cheeky ode to women who intimidate their male counterparts. Throughout the song she makes it clear that she is in control of her own narrative and refuses to take responsibility for anybody who feels threatened by her presence (“I know you’re dying trying to figure me out/My name’s on the tip of your tongue, keep running your mouth/You want the recipe but can’t handle my sound”). “Physical” is a fast-paced mashup of 80s dance pop, future pop, and pop rock that incorporates lyrics from the 1981 Olivia Newton-John single of the same name, and the 148-BPM production coupled with Dua’s powerhouse vocals embodies a sonic orgasm that will leave listeners reeling for a while.

“Hallucinate” is a prolific blend of synth pop, dance pop, and house in the styles of Madonna and Kylie Minogue. It sounds like a modern reinvention of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” and it’s guaranteed to be playing all over gay clubs across the globe. As the album progresses we get the stripped back slow-burners like “Pretty Please” and “Good in Bed.” “Pretty Please” is a track with a thick, seductive bassline and amplified sexual tension in lyrics in which she finds herself pining after an ex-lover, begging for reconciliation and some make up sex (‘Cause I miss ya and I need your love/When my mind is running wild/Could you help me slow it down?).

The album comes to a screeching halt on the closer, “Boys Will Be Boys,” a scathing condemnation of a culture that excuses childish and violent behavior from boys while grooming girls to mature faster than they are supposed to (“Boys will be boys/But girls will be women”). Most of the reviews I’ve seen from blogs considered this track not to suit the album because it “ruins the party.” However, while the song may not fit the album’s overall sound, I found its inclusion to be an excellent marketing strategy. Getting on a soap-box is never fun or easy, but putting a song like this at the end of a list of irresistible of pop bangers is a great way to draw listeners into the conversation surrounding toxic masculinity and sexual violence.

Reinvention is essential for any artist who wants to attain longevity in their career, and Dua Lipa is a perfect example of reinvention with a flawless execution. She was able to cultivate a new and fresh sound that allowed her to draw inspiration from the past while remaining loyal to her pop roots, and “Future Nostalgia” is the product of a musician driven by her own creative vision who chooses to set her own trends instead of following them.

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Music

Album Review: Conan Gray “Kid Krow”

Conan Gray dropped his long-awaited debut LP “Kid Krow” on March 20th, and the result is an incredibly nuanced body of work that tackles numerous topics engulfing Gen Z – topics such as growing up on the internet, coping with mental illness through excessive drinking, online dating, and feeling robbed of any chance at pursuing a semi-normal life because of the current social and political climate. 

The beginning of the album consists of infectious bops with undeniably catchy hooks and sad lyrical undertones. “Wish You Were Sober,” tackles unrequited love as Gray laments over a double-edged romance where his feelings for someone are only reciprocated when that person is intoxicated (“Kiss me in the seat of your rover/Real sweet but I wish you were sober”). 

The album’s biggest highlight is the emotionally-charged “The Cut That Always Bleeds,” with lyrics that go, “Oh, I can’t be the kiss that you don’t need/The lie between your teeth/The cut that always bleeds.” It perfectly encapsulates the cycle of a toxic relationship that works like a broken clock, and each stage of grieving; the sigh of relief when you finally begin to move on, the short-lived excitement when they pop back into your life, and the final twist of the knife when they inevitably betray you again. 

The album reaches its emotional peak on “Heather,” with Gray grappling with the fact that he’ll never be good enough for the person he’s in love with and has decided to direct his jealousy and resentment at “Heather,” the person’s significant other (“Why would you ever kiss me?/ I’m not even half as pretty”). The song climaxes with Gray wailing in anguish “I wish I were Heather!” and it feels like such a cathartic release that will hit the listener over the head and leave a lasting impact.

Gray cites Lorde and Taylor Swift as his biggest inspirations, and their influence is all over the album. “Wish You Were Sober” would fit perfectly in the “1989” catalogue and the song “Affluenza” touches on similar subject matter as “Royals” by calling out the lack of substance in the culture of wealth and excess, while also touching on the ways growing up privileged can have an effect on mental health.

When we look at the at the current state of the world, our generation is passing into an adulthood that provides little to no opportunities for advancement like it did for previous generations. The recent stock market crash is leading to another recession, and we are in the middle of a global pandemic that feels like yet another reminder that the earth probably won’t be inhabitable in twenty years. Conan Gray has taken the widespread angst and existential panic of the disaffected youth and beautifully packaged it into a twelve-track masterpiece. “Kid Krow” is the product of a 21 year-old who has experienced the ills of growing up in Gen Z first-hand, and has claimed his rightful place in the pop music canon.