Of Montreal’s flamboyant, fey frontman Kevin Barnes resists sexual categories. But is that a good thing?
With Noot D’Noot. Granada
Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave.
May 24 at 8 p.m. $22.
When Kevin Barnes leads his indie prog-pop band Of Montreal to the Granada stage this week, he’ll likely bring extravagant costumes and eccentric antics to provide one heck of a live show. But what he won’t bring is clarity. Barnes has been mistaken for gay or bisexual with over-sexed lyrics and fey demeanor, but he’s also a family man with a wife and child.
But what’s so wrong with being labeled?
"I just like acting really fruity," Barnes told Paste magazine in a 2008 interview.
Gay people could take offense to that statement if he’s straight, but it’s also fairly easy to laugh off if he’s being campy. But Barnes’ insistence at not labeling himself is, frankly, annoying. Instead of simply identifying as bisexual and being done with it, he’s flippant.
"How do you identify in terms of sexual orientation," The New Gay asked him bluntly in 2008. "I don’t," he replied. Huh?
TNG then asks about his suggestive lyrics regarding bisexuality and blowjobs. His response when asked if he’d ever slept with men? "I’ve had experiences."
Unlike Madonna or Lady Gaga who have used bisexuality as marketing tools, Barnes has no reason to work this angle for big sales. Even with the band’s move to market out songs to the likes of Outback and T-Mobile, Of Montreal is still in good indie-pop standing. And with 10 releases already under their name, and working on this year’s tentatively titled False Priest, they have a big enough fan base to feel secure.
So whether he is or isn’t, why play this game? Barnes’ nebulous sexuality comes off as obnoxious and almost shameful instead of mysterious and cool. Our rock stars aren’t required to divulge their sexuality, nor does it affect the quality of music, but if you’re going to sing about being "sick of sucking dick," at least throw us a bone, so to speak.
Barnes calls his onstage glam persona Georgie Fruit — his parallel to Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce. Both are excuses to blame "someone" else for outlandish behavior, only in this case, Georgie Fruit allows Barnes to go gay for men. He related the entire backstory of Georgie Fruit to the online music mag Pitchfork: "He’s in his late forties, a black man who has been through multiple sex changes. He’s been a man and a woman, and then back to a man …. In my mind, when I think about this character, he’s so far removed from my personal experiences. But I can somehow identify with this character really well."
To me, Georgie sounds like a victim to Barnes’ twisted view of sexual identity.
Perhaps there is no disservice Barnes is doing to our community. This "just a rock ‘n’ roll thing" of pushing the envelope dates to Bowie and Elton in the ’70s.
Only those two owned up to their sexualities, even if Bowie eventually swayed from bi to straight. Barnes’ gray area just feels insulting, and when people struggle with coming to terms with an identity, he plays with it like some marketing puppet to further his own rock star persona.
That’s not to say he hasn’t given it much thought — maybe too much. He gave a lengthy explanation to Paste: "There’s so much negativity around the male, butch mentality — they’re so uptight," he explained. "Gay men seemed more open-minded, tolerant and just cooler. And it seemed like this magical, arty world I wanted to be a part of. I was so disappointed when I realized I wasn’t attracted to men physically! … I really like playing sports, and a lot of artists aren’t into sports. Most of the guys on my baseball team are straight, so obviously I’m OK with straight people, too. I guess I fall in between gay and straight. There’s probably a lot of people who feel that way. … It’s not like we’re just male or just female. We are this nebulous object, this combination of femininity and masculinity."
The thing is, we aren’t nebulous objects: We’re people with feelings for other people, whoever they are. When that questioning is over, we have a name for our identity— which never is likely to be just "rock star."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.