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By Chris Azzopardi

There’s something for every color of the rainbow included in this year’s music-release roster. The list is long, but here’s a taste: debuts from Pitch Perfect star Ben Platt and hair-toss kween Lizzo, songwriter showcases from Patty Griffin and Lana Del Rey, gay icons (Madonna, Melissa Etheridge), emerging gay icons (Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen), and much more.

Ben Platt, Sing to Me Instead
You know Ben Platt as a Pitch Perfect acca-nerd – he played Benji Applebaum, the acapella-obsessed outcast crazy for magic – and as the eponymous lead in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen. But the magic of his first solo album, where he’ll peel back the layers of the gay man under the wizard’s cape, is purely Ben Platt being Ben Platt. Already, he’s captured the greatest love of all – the saving grace of self-love – on “Bad Habit,” a tender, aching piano number with gorgeous vocal riffs on gorgeous vocal riffs. Surely Platt has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

Madonna (TBA)
Will Madonna reel it in? Drain the pool of zeitgeist, hotshot producers she’s been known to enlist for recent projects? Ditch trends? Blaze trails? Much remains to be seen (and heard), but because women are ardently reclaiming their rightful power – and because Madonna is Madonna – she’s bound to come down hard on the patriarchy on her 14th studio album. Suitably, she had a session with an all-female Portuguese orchestra for the release, which she told Women’s Wear Daily was being made “in between rose mist spray and serums.” So just maybe this one’ll be sweet and fresh and like a Sephora after all.

Carly Rae Jepsen (TBA)
In October 2018, Carly Rae Jepsen announced her pop career’s next chapter by Instagramming a snap of a (her?) cat nipping at a Twizzler she held in one hand, a droopy slice of pizza dangling from her other. Full pizza at her feet, the pic – hilarious, empowering – captured the buoyant breakup anthem that would follow, “Party For One,” a bop that makes a strong argument for singlehood and self-pleasure. E*MO*TION* was fire. The best pop album of 2015. Maybe not a Hot-N-Ready, but whatever Jepsen delivers, piece by piece, we’ll eat it right up.

Patty Griffin, Patty Griffin
A first-ever self-titled album after nearly 25 years in the music business has to mean something. For Patty Griffin, one of the best character songwriters this world has to offer (just ask gay power-songwriter Justin Tranter, who stans PG), it means deep, pensive dives into her own life. Battling cancer, as Griffin did, will tend to beget self-reflection, and so her 10th studio album, “Patty Griffin,” traces her steps, from memories with her late mom to growing up in Maine, when she thought “maybe who I am wasn’t right.” “Luminous Places” – a could-be swan song – is otherworldly, casting a mystic dreaminess amid a delicate dance of strings, guitar and pillowy piano; it’s as if the song was composed in the clouds, then fell from the sky and floated to us on a single moon-lit snowflake.

Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
Ariana Grande moves on fast – from donut controversy, from exes, from albums. Sweetener descended upon us just half a year ago, in August 2018, but Grande had more to say, dammit, and so she’s gone and said it with an army of 12 bad-bitch-and-beyond songs conceived for this new project led by the power-asserting “thank u, next” and the “My Favorite Things”-sampled “7 rings,” a piercing, winking satire of millennial entitlement. A confessional chronicling a trying year in the spotlight, it’s her best, boldest album yet.

Melissa Etheridge, The Medicine Show
As always, LGBTQ activist and lesbian rock legend Melissa Etheridge has the antidote for our precarious times – songs about them. Her 15th studio release called The Medicine Show reunites Etheridge with producer John Shanks – the album was largely recorded live in studio – and explores universal themes of renewal, reconciliation, reckoning, compassion and healing. Songs include “Shaking,” about national anxiety; “Here Comes the Pain,” personalizing the opioid crisis; the hopeful and unifying “Human Chain”; and rock anthem “Love Will Live.” The survivors of the Parkland school shootings inspired the album’s closing song, “Last Hello,” while “Wild and Lonely” and “Faded By Design” take another, different look at Etheridge’s past.

Dido, Still on My Mind
Dido seems to not mind being forgotten, only to be remembered every four to six years, when she floats back to earth like the mystic fairy she is, reminding us that her dainty voice may be that of an actual pixie. Her first album since 2013’s Girl Who Got Away, Still on My Mind was recorded with her brother, Rollo, at home, on a couch. It’s that chill living room sound both you and your mom can agree on; the real thrill, though, is hearing the English performer infuse electro and hip-hop life into her delicate sofa songs. A remix album can’t be far off.

Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell
Lana Del Rey’s persona is the subject of much debate and confusion: how much is truly authentic, and how much is the record label’s doing to produce a pop icon for These Sad, Dark Times. Del Rey seems to have leaned into the conversation, and she’s responded accordingly – and very, very personally – with her forthcoming album’s maximalist-titled first single, called “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman to have – but I have it.” Produced and co-written with Taylor Swift and Lorde producer Jack Antonoff, the song is a songwriter’s song, hauntingly simple, intimate. Her authenticity is her defiance.

Lizzo, CUZ I LOVE YOU (April 19)
On “Juice,” rapper-singer-flutist and “America’s Next Bop Star” Lizzo does not, will not, even let that mirror, mirror on the wall chime in on the fairest one of all. Because, honey, she is. And you are. And we all are. There for you and all the blighted characters in Blockers and A Bad Moms Christmas and I Feel Pretty, the Detroit-born, Minneapolis-raised performer’s breakthrough single, “Good as Hell,” similarly empowered you to write your own damn fairy tale and parade that princess crown around and let it shine. All signs for this one, Lizzo’s much-anticipated major-label debut, point to more hair-toss, “you go geeeerl” swagger.


Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him @chrisazzopardi.

By Deven Green
Photo: Michael Serrato

Tom Goss has been a dear musical friend who, through his highly acclaimed music, brings awareness, diversity, and a connectivity in his live shows and thought-provoking videos.

Tom, you create your own music, music videos, calendars, posters, tours and everything else. Your musicianship is all-encompassing. Where does this drive come from?

I’ve always had it. Whatever I’m passionate about, I’m obsessive about. It’s what made me a great athlete as well. I think people assume that things come easily to me, trust me, they don’t. I’m a nose to the grindstone kind of guy. I’ll do something 10,000 times until I get it right. It’s served me well over my life, but sometimes I (and my husband) wish I could just take a day off. There are certain things that everyone else loves, that I just don’t understand. For instance, the beach. I cannot fathom what one would do at the beach for more than 3 minutes.

Take us on your body-awareness/body image journey in your videos.

I didn’t realize I was gay until I was 23. Now, I don’t say I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 23, because the truth is, I had no idea! I was always an athlete, always hanging with, and showering with, young, fit, handsome and earnest Midwestern men. I didn’t find them sexually attractive. I didn’t find women sexually attractive either. I assumed I was asexual. I wasn’t.  The fact is, I’m sexually attracted to bigger men. And by bigger, I don’t mean tall; I mean chubby. There is no representation of that in mainstream media. We are told beauty is one shape, one size. That’s not how I see the world and I know I’m not alone. I want to create content that reflects how I see the world. I want to reveal the beauty of all shapes and sizes to the world.

You have become a strong leader and voice in the gay community, in particular, the “bear community.” Why such an affinity?

I am, and always will be, an outspoken voice for that which I see as beautiful and marginalized. That’s why I tell stories about my community. I see insane amounts of beauty, kindness, talent, and compassion in the bear community. I am grateful to be a part of it.

Your videos always include diversity. Where do you find such rare talents?

Diversity is important to me; it always has been. I want to create art that reflects the world that I live in, and that’s a diverse world. Finding diverse talents isn’t hard; they’re everywhere. I look forward to the day when we don’t see it as diverse; we see it as normal.

What have been the best responses to your music?

Almost daily I get the most heartfelt letters about how my music has touched someone. My music has played at weddings, funerals, birthday parties, pretty much all of the most precious moments of a person’s life. I’ve helped people see their own beauty, that floors me. I’ve helped people get through the worst of times, and celebrate the best of times, what an honor. That’s why I do this. I am humbled by the power of music and storytelling; I will never betray that responsibility.

Tom, you are an inspiration. Thank you. | FB/IG/Twitter/YouTube @TomGossMusic

Ricky Rebel Redefines Masculinity In His Third Full-Length Album, “The New Alpha”

By Larry Olsen


Photo: Susy Miller


Glam rocker Ricky Rebel redefines what it means to be a man while exploring the themes of Power, Sex, Vanity, and Love in The New Alpha, his third studio album. Self-produced, the album is a sharp departure from his last LP, The Blue Album, that he admits writing during a low period in his life. Where Blue was a dark moon, The New Alpha is a bright sun, with a more powerful tribalistic sound that is meant to reflect both Rebel’s optimistic state of mind as well as the emboldened state of the USA. “The era of Political correctness is over,” proclaims Ricky Rebel.  “Some people today need to toughen up and stop playing the victim.” He urges fans to balance their feminine and masculine sides and remain sensitive to the views of others while also remaining firm in their own.  Ricky Rebel’s The New Alpha is available on iTunes and all major online retailers.


“My views are not defined by party lines,” continues Rebel from his Los Angeles home.  “I am a centrist who goes left and right depending on the issues. I am in the middle. A difficult place to be. It’s the same with my identity.  I am proud to be a man who happens to love makeup and women’s clothing. What is women’s clothing anyway? What is gender? I am both masculine and feminine.”


Along with the album, Ricky Rebel has released the rock ballad, “Time,” and its music video.  In the song, he sings how time is a precious commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on arguing and fighting with each other.  “It was important for me to include ‘Time’ on the new album because being a true Alpha means having the strength to express feelings of fear, regret, and sadness,” he continues.


He also reveals the song was inspired by a horrific car accident he was in as a child.  “I nearly lost my mother in the accident. It’s my first memory. I learned the lesson early on that what you love can be taken away from you in an instant.”
Ricky Rebel burst on the music scene in 1997 as the lead vocalist of the boy-band No Authority. Signed by Michael Jackson to Michael’s MJJ Music label at Sony, he toured with 98 Degrees, Destiny’s Child, Aaron Carter, and Ashlee and Jessica Simpson.   In 2000, the band moved to Madonna’s Maverick label where they toured with Britney Spears and released their Billboard Top 40 chart hit, “Can I Get Your Number.”  Another No Authority song, “I’m Telling You This,” appears on the Rugrats in Paris soundtrack.


In 2004, No Authority broke up and Ricky became the lead vocalist of the band, Harlow. He also did voice-over work for films Apollo 13Anywhere But Here, and Anastasia, and appeared on television in episodes of American DreamsBoston Public, and Audrina.


He went solo as Ricky Rebel in 2012. Since then, he has released two albums, Manipulator, featuring the singles “Geisha Dance,” “Get It On” and “You Need a Woman” and The Blue Album, featuring “Star” and “Boys and Sometimes Girls,”  a song that climbed to #28 on the Billboard Club Chart.


This summer, Ricky Rebel released “If You Were My Baby,” the first track from The New Alpha.  Its message of self-assurance and self-love broke into the top ten on the Billboard Breakouts for Dance Club Songs.  Additional songs on the album include “Magic Carpet,” “Mean People” and the title track.


“The world needs Ricky Rebel,” reflects Rebel. “The world needs hundreds of us.”


“I want listeners to know that I am not a social justice warrior and yet I care tremendously for human rights. I am not a feminist. I care for men and women equally.  Skin color doesn’t matter to me.  I care about what’s in the heart.  I do not care about cultural appropriation.  I believe fear is poison. If you feel the same way, you might very well be one of The New Alphas.”



By Gregg Shapiro


It’s no exaggeration to say that Fischerspooner’s time has come. In addition to the release of the new album Sir (Ultra), Fischerspooner has been the subject of a museum exhibition and a book, and recently appeared in the pages of VogueSir, Fischerspooner’s first studio album since 2009’s Entertainment, is its sexiest and most personal effort to date. On Sir, out vocalist Casey Spooner’s long history of creative collaboration with Warren Fischer, expands to include Michael Stipe and Andy LeMaster, as well as Caroline Polachek (of Chairlift), Holly Miranda and Boots. I had the pleasure of speaking with Casey shortly before the release of the Sir album.


Gregg Shapiro: Casey, if you don’t mind I’d like to begin by talking about collaboration. The name of the band, Fischerspooner, combines your name with longtime collaborator Warren Fischer. You’ve co-written Fischerspooner songs with others, most recently including Michael Stipe and Andy LeMaster. What is it about you that makes you so good at playing well with others?

Casey Spooner: I tried to be a painter and it was too solitary for me. And I was an only child. I don’t know if that’s related, but I just love going to work, going to the studio, going to a rehearsal space and I love working with other people. I also think it’s the way I learned. I’ve always been kind of a bad student. I’m not really good at homework and doing stuff by myself. But, if you put me in a room with someone, I love learning how someone else is going to approach something or how they are going to do something. Right out of college, I worked with an experimental theater company called Doorika which was very collaborative. I’ve been making collaborative work now for 20 years. It’s kind of the way I get things done.


GS: In the 15 years since the release of the first Fischerspooner album, as well as the nine years between Fischerspooner albums, electronic music has become an increasingly dominant force. As one of the forebears of the “post-electroclash pop revolution”, what do you think of the current scene and Fischerspooner’s place in it?

CS: It’s cool! I’ve always loved electronic music. To me it’s just another tool. We live in such a digital world now. The thing that was exciting for us is that all of a sudden, we had access to these tools and to a network of communication and sharing music that was so easy. That’s been an amazing historical thing, to be a part of this huge cultural shift that’s now become kind of the way we live. I’m flattered. It’s so crazy. I would never have imagined that I’d be in that place. I thought I was going to be this performance artist/painter/fine artist. I never imagined I would have an impact on pop entertainment so extensively. My idols were people such as Grace Jones and Laurie Anderson. It’s cool that I got to be one of those people.


GS: The songs on Sir, such as “Everything Is Just All Right” and “Togetherness”, are intensely and unapologetically erotic and sexual, but also feel extremely personal at the same time.

CS: In gay culture there’s a schism between sex and emotion. I think that’s tied to shame. One of the things I wanted to do on this record is create a world where you can be very sexual and very emotional and you can have anonymous sex and it can be valuable and important and respected and romantic. Or you can have a more complex, long-term relationship and it’s equally valuable and romantic and respected. I tried to give value and respect to all kinds of queer relationships, whether they are one-night stands or romances or long-term relationships. To represent and respectfully let all those beautiful and amazing queer connections exist in one place and not against a heteronormative fantasy.


GS: The music video for “TopBrazil” is a perfect example of the brazen sexuality of the album. What can you tell me about the influences for the video?

CS: I actually met Tom Brown, the director, on the dancefloor at Fire Island. We started our conversation there. There were different things that I wanted to do. There was this idea of lasers that I brought in. There was the idea of these different queer spaces. I love the light on Fire Island, underneath the decks, when it comes through it’s super graphic. There were these different architectural and light spaces in which I was interested. The sauna scene felt kind of like where Tom and I first met. It was about representing these queer spaces with beauty and glamour. We were also concerned about having a cool, dynamic New York cast. There was a lot of debate about how there were so many men! In the end, the thing I like about it is that it’s kind of a classic cliché of a pop video. You would see women in a video displayed with the same kind of eroticism, but you would never see men objectified in the same way. To me, the thing that’s interesting is to put men in a similar situation as women. To see the reactions and YouTube comments alone has been fascinating.


GS: Especially at this point in time with what’s happening with the #metoo movement.

CS: Yes, exactly. I think it’s an interesting document of the double standard applied to men versus women. Also, the innate homophobia that exists in the culture. When we turned the video in, people were like, “This is so pornographic!” I was like, “What are you talking about? Have you seen a Rihanna video? Have you seen a Nicki Minaj video? There’s nothing pornographic here! Just because you’re used to devouring women, it’s strange that you’re not able to look at a man in the same way!”


GS: I was especially struck by the song “Oh Rio,” which features a spoken word segment, as well as guest vocals by Holly Miranda.

CS: That song is a big thesis for the whole record. Actually, that’s the song that convinced Michael (Stipe) to produce the record. That kind of writing and performance is a little bit more of where I’m coming from traditionally as a performance artist. I didn’t come from music. I came from storytelling and performance and theater. That song is basically as it always was. Michael didn’t write on that one. It was one of the songs that stayed after he got involved. The title comes from a Bruce Weber book called O Rio de Janeiro. When I was growing up in the south in the eighties, there wasn’t a lot of access to anything homoerotic. There was a bookstore in the mall that had this Bruce Weber book. The first verse tells the story of me going to the mall and visiting this book. It was in the photography section. It never sold. I would pick it up, look at it and get turned on. I would get confused and freak out and put it back on the shelf. Because of the book, Rio became this erotic fantasy land in my mind. It was someplace I always wanted to go. I was never able to get to Rio until March of 2013. I was working on the record. I jumped through all kinds of travel and budgeting and scheduling hoops to get to Rio. When I finally got there, I got deathly ill. It was March and I was coming from a deep New York winter; fat, pale, sick. I finally got to my sexual dream come true, and it was not pretty. The second verse is about that moment on the beach where I’m sick and old and tired in a Speedo. It’s the end of summer there, and everyone in Rio is hot. They have amazing bodies. Athletes. What I had fantasized about. My dream came true, but it was a failure for me. There was this beautiful, amazing, sunga (swim trunks) salesman smoking weed on the beach who tried to pick me up, but it was the saddest moment, where I couldn’t even talk to or even pretend to be able to engage because my self-esteem was so crushed. I was just stuck on the beach, drinking cough syrup.


GS: “Hacking up a lung” as you say in the song.

CS: Yes, sick on the beach. I always visualized that scene a little bit like Dirk Bogarde at the end of in Death In Venice. The first half of the song to me is very Bruce Weber O Rio de Janeiro and the second verse is me as Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice.


GS: I hope you get to go back again.

CS: I went back last month and I shot a video for the song. That beautiful video is going to come out soon.


GS: Finally, the cover art for Sir features you sticking out your tongue. A tongue was also featured prominently on the cover of 2002’s major-label reissue of Fischerspooner’s debut album #1.

CS: It’s funny; that (Sir) cover photo was taken in Madrid two summers ago by a fan named Vincent Claudio Urbani. I reluctantly went to shoot with him more as a personal favor than wanting to do a photo shoot. I just happened to be in Madrid. It was completely his idea. He was like, “I want you to do this, I want you to pose this way, I want you to stick your tongue out.” Vincent came up with that idea. I liked the idea that it connected to the continuity of the first record. There was a cool connection and it is kind of a great, classic, iconic image. I can’t take much credit for it. Vincent Claudio Urbani came up with that idea.


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