When the Wanted was looking to book its first major U.S. gigs in January, the British pop group didn’t just call up Live Nation or AEG to reach the tween- and teen-girl fan base courted by the generations of boy bands that had come before them. Sandwiched in between 10 midsize-club dates, the group made a quintet of special appearances booked by a boutique PR and events company called the Karpel Group to help reach what has arguably become an even more powerful audience when it comes to modern pop stardom: the gays.
Stops at bars like New York’s Splash, Chicago’s Roscoe’s and West Hollywood’s Ultra Suede generated more press buzz than many of the Wanted’s general-market gigs, helping to propel the band’s single “Glad You Came” into the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 weeks before its U.S. debut album, Battleground, hit shelves. Though the gigs themselves aren’t exactly uncommon these days — Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Kylie Minogue are among the pop acts who’ve appeared or performed at gay clubs in the United States in the last two years alone — they’re the latest evidence of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s mainstream influence. Though June may be LGBT Pride Month, a time when A-listers like Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and even the Backstreet Boys have all paid respects to the community in years past, artist development among LGBT fans — “Gay & R,” if you will — is happening all throughout the calendar.
“We always tell people that when the float passes, there’s still 364 days to do the work and reach the audience with a message,” says Carmen Cacciatore, co-founder of gay entertainment marketing agency Fly Life. “With Pride events being so huge, there’s so much you’re competing with now that some marketing tools just cancel each other out. Unless you’re doing something that’s really going to stand out, the cost of doing some stunts around a parade versus some things you can do all year round may not always be worth it.”
Whether it’s Lady Gaga building her career around the support of her LGBT “little monsters,” the cultural impact of “Glee” and campaigns like “It Gets Better” and “No H8,” the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the echo effect President Obama’s support of gay marriage had on rappers like Jay-Z, Ice Cube and T.I., being gay is becoming increasingly less counterculture — it is culture. That will only continue to play out in the coming months as gay rights become one of the brightest political lightning rods of this year’s presidential election.
“Being gay or having a gay friend is all over television. Now it’s, ‘Do you have a transgendered friend?'” says Mark Nelson, founder of Mark Nelson Events, who’s booked acts like Perry, Minogue and the Pussycat Dolls for key gay club shows. And indeed, the “T” in LGBT has gained prominence in music as of late, after lead singer Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, formerly Tom Gabel, came out as transgendered and kicked off a tour supporting the Cult in late May.
That’s why barely an eyebrow was raised when Adam Lambert recently became the first openly gay performer to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. (To clarify, Elton John, George Michael and Ricky Martin all had No. 1 debuts when they were still closeted.) Or when artists like Perry (“Firework”), Gaga (“Born This Way”), Ke$ha (“We R Who We R”) and P!nk (“Raise Your Glass”) score No. 1 singles with outcast anthems for fans of all orientations. Even Azealia Banks, the most buzzed-about female rapper since Minaj, quietly came out as bisexual in a recent New York Times profile and turned her first headlining New York concert into a tribute to late-’80s gay Harlem, hosting a costume contest filled with voguing straight out of “Paris Is Burning.”
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