It’s easy to understand why Syd tha Kid, front woman of the increasingly impressive duo turned collective The Internet, has been reluctant to embrace the tag of “gay icon.” For many a gay creative, there is an urge to be exactly who you are but weariness over letting that define you in totality. Recalling a past profile that focused on her sexuality than the band’s debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, Syd expressed her frustration to Time, explaining, “I’m totally supportive of the movement, obviously. But I want people to love me for my music.”
However, while much of The Internet’s excellent third album, Ego Death, spans varying influences – soul, funk, jazz, rock, and hip hop – there is one constant: Syd’s syrupy albeit noticeably stronger vocals singing about love and lust for another woman. Ego Death kicks off with, “Now she wanna f**k me” as Syd goes on to lament on being at the crossroads of newfound success and the lingering problems that came before its arrival. The album is so much more than that line, though.
This is a woman singing about love and sex in all its variances – about another woman.
It is not her Odd Future cohort Frank Ocean singing about love for another man only to later deflect in interviews about how he chooses to identify himself. Ocean’s revelation still matters, but to a point given there is a lingering obscurity. And while Azealia Banks has also unabashedly professed about her desires for other women, she told the New York Times in 2012, “I’m not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don’t live on other people’s terms.”
Fair point, though one could argue when only expressing bisexuality solely within context of sex, it’s easier to be embraced – especially when it’s coming from a more “feminine” in appearance woman as it’s imagery that plays right into pop culture’s longstanding obsession with female bisexuality. We have seen this repeatedly through the years, though the most famous recent incarnation of this was Nicki Minaj, the fake bisexual years. Nicki knew the lyrics would be considered titillating and attention grabbing. She was never truly about that girl-on-girl life, though.
Syd tha Kid is a lesbian who is more tomboyish in her appearance and delivery and sings gorgeously about her love of women. In a band full of men and an album featuring other male rappers. It should not be a big deal, but just because something should not be a big deal doesn’t diminish that it is.
Marriage equality is now a reality nationwide, but that is an image of gay that is heteronormative, and ultimately, family-based. It’s lovely and romantic, but not necessarily sexual. Here, we see gay life depicted as complex and messy as straight people – on relatively soulful body of work.
I’ve seen others call this “unremarkable” or try to play down its importance – perhaps because it shouldn’t be. But again, it is. I am old enough to remember whispers about Black male R&B singers and Black female rappers who were thought to be gay, but performed straightness (often poorly). I can recall artists like Janet Jackson singing lyrics that called on gay people to be treated with basic human decency. Me'shell Ndegeocello had a pop hit with "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" in the early 1990s and hit urban radio again with "Fool of Me" from Love and Basketball, but she never had a major mainstream presence. The majority of the musical expressions same-gender love and lust from women that I’ve heard in my life up until very, very recently played to the male ego and fantasy.
Ego Death is different, and yes, worthy of recognition.
Syd seems to have understood that given she told The Fader that the band’s previous album, 2013’s Feel Good, she wanted to be “cool” to people her age as opposed to “music nerds and older people.” To do so would be submit more of herself.
She explained: "Okay, this is cool, but I'm 23. I want to be cool to people my age. And I get it, because as a gay women, I find it hard sometimes to relate to other gay women, because I'm not really part of any kind of gay scene. Most of my friends are straight dudes. I talk to them about girls, I don't talk to girls about girls, I don't talk to gay girls about girls. I mostly talk to my homies about girls, so maybe that's why it's so relatable to people across the board."
The fact Syd has her own uneasiness with relating to other gay women speaks volumes. We’re all doing better, but we’re not as close to “the new normal” as professed by some. We’ll get there, but not until more of us speak up and sing out.