Anna Calvi on queerness in art: “When I see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, I realise that we’re still far from some kind of equality”

"It seems like his queerness obviously completely created his music, and yet we watch a two hour story about him and some fucking woman"

Anna Calvi has called for more queer representation in art, calling out Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody after it was accused of ‘straightwashing’ Freddie Mercury.

Societal norms and ideas of gender roles were questioned on Calvi’s latest acclaimed album ‘Hunter‘, which was led by the bold single ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’.

“That song was about the idea of happiness as an act of defiance,” Calvi told NME before she headlined the Fender Stage at The Great Escape 2019. “When you’re in a queer relationship, you feel so great and so happy that you would defend that relationship with everything that you’ve got. There’s a bravery to face off any criticism for what you feel is a very pure and beautiful love for someone.


“There’s a moment in the music where I do this very high shouting note. That was inspired by ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ by Pink Floyd, but was also about not wanting to be contained or told that what I felt was intrinsically wrong – just because I don’t fit this heteronormative world that we live in.”

Asked about how she feels the conversation around genderless art has advanced since she released the album, Calvi replied: “I think I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligence of the questions. There seems to be a lot more awareness around this now than there was with the first records. There seems to be a higher level of understanding and acceptance of this being normal and worth discussing.”

“Well, I don’t get asked as much about ‘What’s it like to be a woman and play guitar?’ I got asked that a lot on the first record. That was really ridiculous.”

Anna Calvi on the Fender Stage at The Great Escape 2019

While heartened to see how far understanding and acceptance of queerness in culture has come, Calvi added that much more needs to be done, calling out recent Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and echoing Bryan Fuller’s accusations that the film “straightwashed” Mercury and didn’t fully reflect his bisexual identity in its decision to focus more on his relationship with Mary Austin.


“You still get films like Bohemian Rhapsody where the main thing is about his relationship with a woman, which is just ridiculous,” Calvi told NME. “It seems like his queerness obviously completely created his music, and yet we watch a two hour story about him and some fucking woman. That just makes me feel really angry, because it feels like we still have to make sure that straight people feel OK. You know, ‘Let’s not put too much gay sex in it because it will make straight people feel uncomfortable and we want to sell this to as many straight people as possible’.

“When I see stuff like that, I realise that we’re still so far from there being some kind of equality.”

Accusations of ‘straightwashing’ have since been refuted by Queen guitarist Brian May and stars Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton.

'Bohemian Rhapsody'
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Speaking of the ‘queer icons’ she looked upon herself while growing up, Calvi praised Patti Smith.

“She was the closest I got. She’s not gay, not that you need to be gay, but obviously it does make a difference if you don’t have anyone to look up to who is gay but also strong,” said Calvi.

“Patti Smith was the closest because she feels like her sexuality is completely everywhere throughout her music. It’s for her, and she’s a protagonist in exploring it, and that felt really rare. It still feels quite rare. There’s just something about her where there’s no shame in anything she does.”

Anna Calvi, 2018
Anna Calvi, 2018

Meanwhile, Calvi also revealed that material and ideas for her next album are “slowly developing in her head” and fans won’t have to wait quite so long for her next record as they previously have.

“It’s been great to have this album out and feel warmed to being creative,” said Calvi. “I left quite a big gap between my second and third records, and this time I feel like I’m writing a lot more.”

She added: “It’s about finding the most simple and honest way to express some kind of truth. Each time you do it, you try to get closer and closer to trying to express some kind of feeling. That will always be what I’m working towards. It won’t be another five years.”

Calvi will be performing at London’s All Points East Festival headlined by The Strokes at Victoria Park on Saturday Saturday May 25, alongside The Raconteurs, Interpol, Johnny Marr, Amyl & The Sniffers, Courtney Barnett, Jarvis Cocker, Dream Wife and many more. Visit here for tickets and more information.