Battle of the bulge: how streaming censorship is affecting queer musicians
Rapper Mykki Blanco is the latest LGBT artist to confront the age restrictions being added to music videos. He will not be silenced, he says
Madonna’s BDSM bedroom antics in Justify My Love. Freddie Mercury in drag as a housewife for I Want To Break Free. Too-hot-for-BBC leather daddies in Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax. Pop music has long been a place for subverting sexual norms, not least in videos. But for queer artists in 2016, it feels as if this medium of expression could be under threat.
The most recent setback to queer visuals was for Loner by rapper Mykki Blanco. Last week, the video was temporarily removed from YouTube, with Blanco suggesting on Twitter that his art was being “policed and demeaned”. Despite the video being a co-production with adult site PornHub, the only threat to YouTube’s nudity and sexual content guidelines looks to be the fairly innocuous presence of a man’s bulge.
Potentially offensive content is brought to YouTube’s attention by users via a video’s “flag” button. Loner was taken down and soon reinstated with a +18 age restriction. But Blanco believes the damage is done: “It sends a clear homophobic message that the fact that my video displays unapologetic queer imagery means it’s slapped with an ‘age restriction’, while other cis, overly sexualised heteronormative work – mainly videos that objectify women – are universally ‘age appropriate’ and therefore OK.”
Of course, heteronormative videos have age restrictions, too, such as Sigur Rós’s Fjögur Píanó, which features a full-frontal Shia LaBeouf. But it’s certainly hard to ignore that some raunchy content is unrestricted while some isn’t. Nicki Minaj twerked past censors in a thong for the Anaconda video; Fergie’s MILF $ depicted the singer in a bathtub in lingerie. Yet a teaser for Seattle queer artist Perfume Genius’s last album, featuring two men cradling each other lovingly, was pulled from YouTube (though you can now watch similar scenes in his Hood video without constraints).
There are, however, glimmers of hope: Years & Years’ Desire recent video featured a gay kiss, as did Shura’s Touch. Neither fell foul of censors. Their chaste visuals show that sexuality can be expressed in many ways. And yet it’s important that a wider range of representations of queer sexuality reach eyeballs, young and old.
“The subversive elements are [in videos] to change the way people see themselves in the world,” says Matt Lambert, who has made videos for LGBT musicians such as Years & Years. “That’s what subculture is; that’s what pop culture can be.”
Blanco agrees and questions why queer culture has so far to catch up. “The fact that we’re having such a political conversation over a campy video like Loner, which is as sexual as an evening at a Ringling Brothers Circus, is sad,” Blanco says. “That video is a celebration of kitsch, in many ways turning the pop aesthetic on its head, empowering the LGBTQ [community] through its flamboyance.”
Streaming sites might think that age restrictions are helpful, but acceptance won’t change if some queer art is deemed illicit. Blanco himself vows to make bulgier, queerer visuals in future. “We combat this by saying: ‘Fuck you, we will not be silenced,’” he says, “[and] demanding our art not be treated as ‘less than’. We will get there.”
Originally published in The Guardian