Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do Straight People Have Better Taste in Music?

Music is power, as Richard Ashcroft once sang.

It has power, too -- to rock me, to roll me, to make me love or loathe any bar or club. So why don't I loathe DJ Station in Bangkok, or pretty much every gay bar or club anywhere in the world, then? In the last eight months -- the period of time since I left Buenos Aires, home of my beloved Ambar la Fox -- I haven't stepped into a single one with a musical menu offering much besides tacky dance remixes and fluffy modern pop. (I'd say, "Hang the DJ," if the ones at Ambar, the Peel in Melbourne, and DJ Station hadn't occasionally thrown me a very tasty bone in the form of Timbaland and Katy Perry's epic "If We Ever Meet Again.")

Here are some cliches that are based largely on cold hard fact: Gay men dress, work out, interior design and moisturize with a flair that puts their non-metrosexual straight counterparts to shame. They generally have the best taste in everything, so what's the deal with their terrible taste in tunes? Is the music that the DJs in gay bars and clubs constantly play a reflection of what gay men want, or do those playlists influence what gay men want? Morrissey was right: It says nothing to me about my life.

Maybe they dance to it simply because it's there. That would be wishful thinking on my part. I have gay friends with the same taste in music as me, guys who appreciate hip hop and rock & roll as much as the tops of the pops. But I believe we're in the gay minority, and the majority rules. Judging from what I've been told by DJs when I've requested a little bit of rock & roll in the mix, the masses dictate that they play it safe and kind of corny.

So if the DJs in gay bars and clubs are going to cling to the current pop hits only, what does "Give Me Everything" have that "Super Bass" doesn't? (The hot bartender at Balcony on Silom Soi 4 made me go limp the other night when he declared his love for Pitbull's recent No. 1 hit. Yuck!) Nicki Minaj should be a gay icon, but those dancing queens don't seem to know that she's alive.

They're too busy worshipping and dancing at the altar of Gaga. Of course, it's usually to the wrong song. "Judas," Gaga's best single since "Poker Face," was the smallest of her Top 10 hits, and "The Edge of Glory" -- Gaga at her most middle of the road -- gets all the love on gay dance floors. Rihanna is generally a guaranteed dance-floor filler, yet I can only recall one time that I've heard "Umbrella," the biggest and best of her No. 1 hits, in a gay club. (It was at Glam in BA just before closing time.)

The low gay profile of "Umbrella" must have something to do with the presence of Jay-Z. Rap -- and hip hop, in general -- need not apply for inclusion on the DJ play list of any gay club. That's where pop divas rule. (Note the absence of Lil Wayne in the dance remix of Jennifer Lopez's "Im Into You," still in heavy rotation at every gay joint in Bangkok.)

That can be good and bad. I get the gay obsession with Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and although I don't dig Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland as much as gay men of a certain age do, their stunning talent is/was undeniable. Thankfully, those are two gay icons whom you don't generally hear outside of piano bars, unless it's in the form of Duck Sauce's dreadful 2010 hit "Barbra Streisand." And if they must give Cher a spin, it's usually to throw some irony and camp into the proceedings.

That works for me, but must I hear the same old songs by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez every time I go out? And why can't I get an Adele hit in its original form? "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You" are ruined when they are remixed into house stompers. I love them just the way they are, as Bruno Mars might sing. And speaking of Mars, his "Grenade" may have benefited greatly from a dance beat, which made it seem somehow darker and sexier, but Adele doesn't need any help being dark and sexy. "Someone Like You" is moving without the beat, and "Rolling in the Deep" has built in dance potential. I still don't know what it means to be "rolling in the deep," but every time I hear the song in its original form, I can't stop dancing.

I miss the good old days at Wonder Bar in New York City's East Village when hip hop dominated the music menu. At Ambar la Fox, the DJ sprinkled just enough rock & roll into his mix to keep me coming back for more. (Elastica's "Connection" sounded even better in 2010 than it did in the '90s.) But since I left BA and Ambar la Fox behind, my ears bleed every time I go out. I've even occasionally gone out with my iPod so that I wouldn't have to depend on a DJ to save my life.


But last night I realized that I've been looking for love and good music in all the wrong places. While the drag queens at DJ Station were doing the same cheesy routines to the same old campy, crappy pop songs (I loved it in the beginning, but all those silly love songs and the umpteenth rendition of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" drag it down -- pun intended), Unicorn, the all-female house band over at Titanium Club & Ice Bar, a straight vodka bar on Sukhumvit Soi 22 which I went to last night with my visiting Melbourne friend Devarni and her expatriate mate Dave, had me at "Use Somebody."

The girls played well, sang well, and the other choices throughout their two sets demonstrated excellent taste in music: The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket," Coldplay's "Viva la Viva," The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry," Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," the Cranberries' "Zombie," Katy Perry's "Not N Cold" (still her best solo single, and the one you're least likely to hear in a gay bar anywhere), Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" and 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up."

The set list included so much good stuff that they held my attention for far longer than live bar bands usually do. The only misstep was a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that was too peppy to capture the dark dread and foreboding that Ian Curtis build the song on. But I gave them a free pass. When you sing music in a language that's not your own, you miss some of those lyrical details.

Still, it was so much better than anything being played over at DJ Station, where, later on, I saw a few people who had been at Titanium grooving to the dance remix of Selena Gomez's "Love You Like a Love Song" that was booming from the sound system. Then along came Gaga, Katy, Rihanna, J. Lo and Adele with a beat.

Ugh! Where's Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' when you need them? Oh right, playing on full blast over at Titanium. Taxi!

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