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Monday, November 27, 2006

Open-minded liberals in the music industry

It's hard to think of a more liberal industry than the entertainment industry. So this question posed to Billboard Magazine's Fred Bronson struck me as interesting.

Dear Fred,

I was looking through the Billboard charts hoping to find Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" on the Hot 100.

Nada. It was on the Bubbling Under chart at No. 2 and I believed it would jump into the Hot 100. Unfortunately the following week I couldn't find it either on the Hot 100 or in the top 10 of Bubbling Under. What a disappointment!

Though Scissor Sisters are huge in Europe, they are still almost ignored in the United States.

Even such a radio-friendly song as "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" receives no radio play in the United States.

We will see how they do with their second album; hope they will be at least top 20. What do you think about their future in the United States? Will they ever have a breakthrough like they had in Europe?

Regards,

Jenya Kachalin
Kiev, Ukraine

Dear Jenya,

I think the Scissor Sisters have the same problem garnering radio airplay in the United States that the Pet Shop Boys have had. Both have been categorized as "gay bands" and there is enough homophobia at radio to keep them off the airwaves.

That's just a personal opinion, of course. Some acts simply don't translate from Europe to America, even if they are U.S.-born, like Anastacia, and it has nothing to do with sexual orientation.


The followup:

Fred,

Your opinion on "gay bands" got me thinking about some of my favorite groups and their success in America vs. Europe. The Pet Shop Boys and Erasure are two of my all-time favorite bands. While both have had some success here in the states (PSB more so than Erasure), it still puzzles me how much more success they have had in their native countries.

To my knowledge both lead singers were "out" to the public when they were having their biggest hits in the late '80s and early '90s. Why is it that England and Europe seem to not care about sexual orientation and America seems to be so hung up about it? Have there been any "gay bands" that have had success in the United States in recent years?

Nick Oswald
Muscatine, Iowa

Dear Nick,

I don't think we can resolve why America is hung up about sex (or sexual orientation) in the confines of Chart Beat Chat, but it's an issue that bears scrutiny in other forums.

Most Chart Beat readers can name a number of artists who have publicly discussed their same-sex orientation who continue to sell albums, including Elton John, Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang and Rufus Wainwright. They may not be receiving airplay on top 40 radio stations, but that may not (or may not longer) be their goal.

George Michael has continued to sell records in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, but his U.S. fortunes faded after being arrested in Beverly Hills.


I'm not one to attribute to malice what can be attributed to a difference in taste. Something happened after Pet Shop Boys and Erasure had their hits. The 80's ended. Some people (not me) grew tired of the 80's sound, and I suspect the decision makers in popular music felt that way. Thus, we saw lack of support for the excellent synthpop of these two bands (though Erasure did have a surprise hit in 1993 with Always). Suddenly, country, hip-hop and rap, and later grunge grew to be the official face of American music, aided by SoundScan technology, which meant record sales couldn't be misreported. Pop wouldn't return until the late 90's, with the much-reviled boy bands and barely-legal girl singers.

The example of George Michael is illustrative. The main reason for his decline was probably his public feud with his record company. George Michael didn't want to be the sexy idol from Faith, he "wanted to be taken seriously." More than five years passed between his albums. Very few people can sustain a career over that large a gap. (Meat Loaf, I'm looking at you.)

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