As Pride month rolls around, bringing with it a sea of bigotry, pop is fighting back with the return of Muna. Columnist Douglas Greenwood tells us why their presence is so important.
Pride month has barely even begun, yet I already feel like I’m watching its so-called power and influence swirling down the sinkhole in the UK. Late last week, the wonderful transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf was the victim of a hideous anti-trans character assassination, when a broadsheet journalist made it her responsibility to have Munroe ousted from an admirable position as an ambassador for Childline.
Then, news broke that a lesbian couple were attacked by a gang of teenage boys on the top deck of a bus in Camden. Perhaps if Esther McVey knew the perpetrators of that crime were still of school age, she would change her mind about the flagrantly homophobic stance on LGBTQ+ sex education in schools she so proudly espouses.
It’s been one setback after another. Pride is not just a celebration of who we are as people, but a painful reminder that our lives are always at risk. The phrase ‘Straight Pride’, as my friend Louis Staples said, is simply a synonym for queer bloodshed.
Writing about something as “fickle” as pop music in a time like this can be difficult. After all, escapism is just as easily a sign of ignorance as it is survival. Thankfully, the genre’s stars – perhaps more than any other musical act – have stood up against it. MNEK and Olly Alexander have expressed their solidarity with Munroe online, while American singer Halsey stepped out onto the stage of Camden’s Electric Ballroom on Monday night wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Fuck Straight Pride’ across the back. On the front, the image of the bloodied lesbian couple who’d been attacked barely yards away from the venue just a few nights prior.
Thank fuck, also, for MUNA, whose mere presence on the pop scene this week has been a major source of comfort for queer people the world over. After a year or so spent out of the spotlight, working on the follow-up to their sparkling, pretty much perfect debut record ‘About U’, the band – comprised of singer Katie Gavin and guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi Macpherson – unveiled their new single ‘Number One Fan’ on Friday. It confirms everybody’s suspicions: this trio of queer women might just be the coolest, most life-affirming band on the planet right now.
Escapism isn’t ignorance when the source of said escapism is as pure and gay and delicious as this is. In a time when queer people are expected to float on pop’s fringes, Muna have transformed the codes of their defiant sound into something angsty and, perhaps most excitingly, accessible. Cracking radio is a difficult task for any artist; that scenario feels even more impossible when you’re not straight and imbue socio-political power into your music, as Muna so effortlessly do.
So it’s an absolute fucking delight to witness the world – and by that I mean gays, pop fans and Annie Mac on her Radio 1 show – being swept up in Number One Fan: a rewarding, synth-pop smash about addressing the negative voices in your head and realising that, in actual fact, you’re the shit. How can a song that starts with the line ‘So I heard the bad news / Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone in my bedroom’ make you feel so good about yourself by the time it draws to a close?
Cutting down bullshit to find the self affirmation and pride is something Muna are so brilliant at. ‘Loudspeaker’, another cut from About U, takes the pain of abuse and transforms it into a fucking anthem, one that feels more empowering than shaped by anger. ‘Winterbreak‘, my contender for the saddest song ever written, is so profoundly melancholic, but is steeped in hope and clarity too. It’s a break-up song about two lovers who know that things aren’t going to work out.
Listening to Number One Fan, and anticipating the inevitable brilliance that will follow with its appropriately titled full-length follow-up ‘Saves the World’, reminds me of how much power the band imbued me with barely nine months ago now.
As I made the journey back home to Scotland from London, convincing myself that this was the time I’d finally tell my family that I was gay, I listened to their anthem ‘I Know A Place’ on repeat.”They will try to make you unhappy – don’t let them. They will try to tell you you’re not free – don’t listen,” Katie sings on the song’s iconic bridge. 23 years of shame came crashing down, and I did it. Such is the dizzying influence of Muna: they prove that pop, in a time of hostility, can be a necessary refuge.