Many musicians have talents and creative energy that require outlets music just can’t provide. Some are writers, penning books of turgid prose to match their affected prosody. Some act, and can be seen on both big or small screens with a bit part here or a cameo role there. Then there are those that feel the need to express themselves through the static visual medium of paint. And what greater canvas is there than that of the living canvas, the human body?
Yes, it seems like every musician is getting inked up these days. Hell, 45 million Americans of all walks of life now have some form of permanent body art on their person. But, as any fateful walk on along the beach these days will tell you, not every tattoo is a winner. It’s hard to say that any work of art is bad, per se since taste is subjective. One man’s Rothko on his pec can be another woman’s velvet Elvis on her wrist.
In this spirit, join us as we chronicle some of the most, um, “eyebrow raising” pieces of body art on some of our favorite musical acts.
The producers and the Fox network already have to worry about sagging ratings (the average viewership in season 11 dropped 23 percent to below 20 million for the first time in nine years, and the show fell from No. 1 for the season”to No. 2”for the first time since 2005), not to mention less commercially viable Idols and external competition from The Voice, The X Factor, and pretty much any reality show that promises to make a nobody a star.
Now, the producers have to deal with pleasing Mariah Carey, who has signed on as a judge next season, replacing either Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler, both of whom left after two years in order to focus full-time on their music careers (and in the case of Lopez, her “acting” career, too).
I once interviewed Carey for an Us Weekly cover story, and I found her to be warm, intelligent and surprisingly funny, but she’s a diva through and through. (She actually walked into the living room of her New York City hotel suite cradling her miniature dog!) Idol will reportedly pay her a very diva-like sum of between $12 and $17 million a season (a hefty and not altogether worthwhile expense, considering that Carey is well past her pop heyday), and I don’t even want to think about her list of perks and demands.
Meanwhile, there are murmurings that Randy Jackson, the last remaining original judge, currently in contract negotiations, might be moving from the judge’s table into more of a mentoring role, in an attempt to revamp the show for season 12, launching in January of 2013. Sadly, that restructuring doesn’t extend to Ryan Seacrest, the inexplicably still-highly employable host, who has signed up for another two years at a pay rate of $15 million per season. Is it too late to invite ex-judge Ellen DeGeneres back for the job they should have offered her in the first place?
Gays and lesbians have come a long way in entertainment since the days when George Michael had to have faith and pretend to want a woman in the “Father Figure” video to sell millions of albums. Although there’s no telling whether Queen would have been as successful in the ’70s and early ’80s had Freddie Mercury definitively outed himself as a lower-case queen, for the most part, today’s closeted male superstars don’t have to wait until they are about to succumb to an AIDS-related illness to publicly acknowledge their sexuality (like Rock Hudson did)”or not (like Liberace and, well, Mercury).
That doesn’t mean coming out of the closet still won’t have a negative effect on the bankability of gay music stars. This is why most of them still choose to wait until they don’t have too much to lose. Elton John, Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes and Michael all did it after their blockbuster days were over.
Though Hayes continues to release solo records that earn critical raves, it’s been years since he was A-list on the charts. John is a superstar for life, but his most notable post-coming out success (the 33 million-selling worldwide No. 1 single “Candle in the Wind ’97”) was with a song he sang to a dearly departed princess. How gay! Rufus Wainwright, despite critical plaudits, has never had gold album in the US.
Then there is Adam Lambert, the perfect example of how to be an out and gay pop star. He has a vociferous fan base, but his commercial performance isn’t commensurate with his level of fan devotion. He should be selling as many singles as Justin Bieber, but his last one, “Better Than I Know Myself,” was a chart dud (No. 76 on Billboard’s Hot 100), resulting in Trespassing, his sophomore album, being pushed back from March to a May 15 release date. Do we blame it on a weak single, or a pop constituency that’s still skittish about fully embracing a proudly out singer? (more…)
It is clear that the world is changing, and it seems like most of these changes are for the better. New technology and trends have enabled us to do things we never thought possible. And, even more importantly, opportunities are available to people, no matter what race, gender, sexuality, or religion they happen to be. But how is this change reflected in the world of music? It seems that while some genres of music are taking great leaps in the right direction, other genres are still digging in their heels.
Country singer Chely Wright, one of the few country artists who is openly gay, recently married her girlfriend Lauren Blitzer in Connecticut. And while this was one of the happiest days of Wright’s life, many of her fans did not see it this way. In fact, since Wright came out in 2010, she has been harassed and threatened by people who used to support her. Country fans have historically been more conservative than other music fans, but for Wright it was a shock that her fan base seemingly disappeared after she opened about her sexuality.
It’s impossible to discuss the pop stars of the ˜80s without mentioning Boy George, the glamorous Culture Club frontman who made androgyny cool while putting out hits like Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and Karma Chameleon. He’s remained a cultural icon, but years of addiction and turmoil in his private life often kept him in the public eye for reasons unrelated to his eclectic new wave tunes.
Luckily, the boisterous Brit is back on track of late. He released his first solo album in over ten years in January, and is planning a 30th anniversary reunion tour with Culture Club in 2012. OurStage sat down with Boy George to talk about Ordinary Alien, the upcoming tour with Culture Club and the lessons he’s learned over the years.
OS: How have people reacted to the new material on Ordinary Alien?
BG: Well, my policy is never to really listen to negative or positive criticism. I think either way can be really unhealthy. But so far, I’ve mostly read nice things. Maybe we’re in the honeymoon period, but people seem to like it. A lot of people have been been surprised that it’s quite laid-back”that’s it’s dance, but not hammer and nails dance. It’s still kind of melodic. I’m a pop writer, essentially, so whatever medium I might work in, there’s going to be melody. And people seem to like that. I mean, I haven’t read any nasty things, but I’m sure there’s some. [Laughs]
BG: That’s a way off, we have the best part of a year before that happens, so I’m working on my own stuff at the moment. But yeah, it’s great to be busy, it’s great to be doing lots of different things. I think I thrive when I’m in that situation.
OS: So why the decision to reunite?
BG: It was my idea, and I think everybody else in the band was quite shocked when I made the call. [Laughs] I think, you know, it’s our 30th anniversary, which is a huge milestone for us. I just think with Culture Club, it’s four people, but the energy of the band is very much affected by my mood. Wherever I am, when we’re working together, the space that I’m in is very important in terms of the harmony and general well-being of the band. I just feel that right now, I’m in a really good place, and I think it’s a really good time to do it because of the way I feel at the moment. And I always thought there was a record we never made. This gives us an opportunity to do something kind of grown up, a little elder statesman. Not some desperate pop record, but something that suits us at this point. We’re talking to different people about who we’re going to work with, and obviously we don’t know what it’s going to be until we get into the room and start playing. That’s part of the excitement…
OS: You’re a singer, actor, DJ, artist, photographer, and fashion designer”what inspired you to try so many different things?
BG: I think for me, ideas are the things that turn me on. Whether it’s making a record, writing songs, DJ-ing, looking for new music, making a t-shirt” whatever it may be, the thing that excites me is the process. I’ve always had a problem with the whole selling of what I do. It’s really nice to be working with a label again, because they can do that. That’s their job. The thing that really gets me excited is the whole creative process: getting a track together, writing a melody. I’m really lucky to be able to do all the different things I do. But my main passion, really, is music. Other things that I do relate to music; DJ-ing is still music. But the thing about DJ-ing is it’s kind of its own little universe. Yes, there are records that go into the charts from the dance scene, but a lot of music that we play in clubs, no one really hears it except clubbers. Most people just never hear it. They’re huge records all over the world, but they’re just contained within that fantastic dance sphere. I kind of love that. I love that it’s got a kind of secret world about it. It means there are certain aspects of it that can’t be exploited. I think nowadays, things aren’t really given time to breathe. If anything exciting happens, everyone’s on it because we have this whole media thing, and the internet, and downloads. Things never get to bloom. They’re swallowed instantly, and then everyone’s over it.
BG: Well I don’t know if I do, really. I’ve never really had that kind of negative attitude towards the media. Yes, there have been times when they’ve attacked me, but I’ve never really taken it personally. I think when you’re young, you do sort of think, Why are they attacking me? And then you realize, actually, to them a story is a story whether it’s a good story or a bad story. I think as a culture, we are more and more obsessed with negative things about people. Especially people in the public eye. And I suppose I have to admit that I’ve provided the media with all sorts of negative things to write about me. [Laughs] I’ve played a part in that. I have to acknowledge that. But… I understand that it’s part of what I do. I’ve never been reclusive. But I think as I got older, I’ve learned that in some respects, less is more. When I was twenty-five, or even in my thirties, I didn’t really have an off-button. I told everybody everything. And now I don’t, really. Now I realize that some things are private, and I look back sometimes at some of the things I’ve said and I go, Oh, what was I thinking?”…
OS: So it sounds like you’re in a really great place in your life right now.
BG: Absolutely. I mean I’ve been in positive places before, but I think this is the most positive I’ve ever been. And I can’t tell you why. [Laughs] I think I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last few years. I’ve kind of taken responsibility for some of the things that I’ve done, and I’ve started to realize what’s important to me. And they are always mundane things” friendship, family. Personal happiness is the thing that drives me right now.
OS: You’ve had a lot of highs and lows throughout your career, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
BG: I think that as I’ve gotten older, what I’ve realized is that I always have a choice. That may sound really simple, this kind of epiphany, like That’s it?! [Laughs] I had this moment, maybe two or three years ago, when I suddenly realized, You know what? I can choose how things are, to a certain degree. I mean obviously, you can’t always predict everything, and there are some things that are out of your hands. But on a day-to-day basis, you can make choices about how you see things, how you respond to things, how you feel about things, and you can learn to know what’s important. I think that’s what happened to me, is that I’ve had a few knocks on the head, and finally one of them worked. I’ve had quite a few bangs on the head, and I don’t know, finally I’ve gotten through to myself in some respects. And now, I just find that I don’t get wound up about things like I used to. I laugh things off in a way that I never could as a young man. So I think it’s about having perspective. What’s important? What do I need to get upset about? What do I not need to get upset about? It’s that simple, really.
OS: Simple, but effective.
BG: Well, it is! I often say, I wish I’d known this thirty years ago. I wish I’d known where my off-button was. It’s come with age. And I don’t think that you just get wiser because you get older. I think you have to make a choice. It has to be a choice, because I know lots of people who are older than me, who are probably in a terrible situation. I think you’ve just got to get to a point where you go, Okay, I’ve had enough of this. Because I’m very lucky to do what I do. I’m very blessed. I work at something that I absolutely love and adore, and I make a living out of it. How many people can actually say, I love what I do? It’s really a luxury. So that’s how I look at things now. I just think this is such a great thing to do, why do I want to make it difficult? But I haven’t always thought like that.
OS: So on a related note, what’s the best advice you can give to today’s pop stars? What would you say to Britney or Gaga?
BG: Oh, I would say, It doesn’t have to be like this, honey. It really doesn’t. I get asked this a lot, and one of the things that I always say is if I was talking to a younger me, I would say, Enjoy it. Have fun with it. Don’t make it into a nightmare. But I think when you’re younger, you can’t hear that. It’s, sadly, a rite of passage. I don’t know. I always say that I kind of wish I had therapy before I needed it. [Laughs] If that makes any sense. Because I think it’s learning to listen, which is the biggest challenge for any performer. We all love the sound of our own voices, and we all love getting smoke blown up our… posteriors. You get away with a lot. When you’re a young person and you become famous, you get kept in infancy, in a way. A lot of bad behavior is accepted, because people are trying to do their jobs, and they have to get you on the TV show, and have to get you to the airport, and they put up with your shit. I think it can make you unhealthy, in terms of how you treat yourself and how you treat other people. There are very few people”but thank God there are some people”who will actually grab you by the shoulders and say, This is not acceptable. Usually they’re people that love you, people like family, or friends, or somebody very brave at the record company, who will say, This is not cool. You need people to stand up to you, and you need people to put you in your place, and you need to listen. And I think sometimes you can go through so much heartache, and so much drama, and so much pain. Where I am now, sometimes I think, Why didn’t I listen? If I could answer why I didn’t listen, I could have saved so many people a lot of heartache. And I wish I could do that. But there isn’t that wand to say to somebody like Britney, Come on girl. You’re so lucky. You’re so blessed to do what you do. You’ve got these beautiful children. And listen, I don’t know anything about her personally. One has to take a certain amount of what you read in the press with a pinch of salt. But I would just say, We’re so lucky to do what we do. This is such a great gig. What’s to complain about? It’s taken me the best part of forty-nine years to reach that kind of realization.
You can check out Boy George’s latest record Ordinary Alien here.