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SEXtember: How the modern music video has given voice and hope to LGBTIQ communities

Natalie Ng

Mon Sep 28 2015


VIDEO has not killed the radio star! Music videos are still relevant today as evidenced by the bold short films and stories that are told about LGBTIQ people and their issues. Natalie Ng examines the significance of the modern music video.


Music as an art form has always been used by artistes as a platform to communicate social or political messages. The arrival of the music video as a storytelling format in the ’80s allowed musicians to further expand and strengthen these messages. Michael Jackson‘s ‘Black or White’ and Madonna‘s ‘Papa Don’t Preach‘ are examples of music videos that tackle controversial issues like racism, teenage pregnancy and abortion.

But with the dawn of the internet, the decline of MTV and the decrease in attention span among everybody, the music video has become an increasingly endangered format as music now thrives as a streaming format.

Still, there are many musicians out there who have capitalised on the way that music is able to connect with people and how the music video, as a visual medium, can be used as a storytelling device to assist in delivering a clear message to its audiences.

In recent times, musicians especially have taken to the music video format to express their views and support for LGBTIQ issues.

Hozier – Take Me to Church

The video, shot entirely in black and white, is particularly striking because the lack of color forces its audiences to focus solely on the terrifying story that is being told.

Hozier’s music video for “Take Me To Church” was shot entirely in black and white and is particularly striking as its lack of colour forces viewers to focus solely on the terrifying story that is being told.

Irish indie rock singer-songwriter Hozier‘s “Take Me To Church” was one of the biggest breakout songs in recent years. The song compares the act of sex and falling in love to religion and Hozier has mentioned in an interview with Rolling Stone that the song was born out of his frustration with “the hypocrisy of the Catholic church”.

Hozier has further explained to New York Magazine that “sexuality and sexual orientation is just natural”.

“An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organisation like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God,” he says.


The homophobic community in the video carry banners with Russian on it, making the political reference overt. Hozier has stated his music video “references the recent increase of organised attacks and torturing of homosexuals in Russia”.

The music video that was subsequently released to accompany the song further reinforces the important social message.

Taking a swing at the oppressive laws against the LGBT community in Russia, the unsettling and powerful music video tells the story of the relationship between two gay men, and the violently homophobic backlash that the men receive when the community around them learns about the relationship.

Arcade Fire – We Exist

In 2014, the band Arcade Fire released its third single “We Exist“, from their album Reflektor. The lyrics in the song convey a plea for equality and acknowledgment, and has been described by Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler as being about a gay son coming out to his father. It was inspired by the band’s time in Jamaica, and a reaction to the antigay culture in the country, where the threat of violence is very real for its gay youth.

The band wanted the music video for “We Exist” to explore gender identity in more depth. Starring Andrew Garfield of The Amazing Spider-Man fame as a trans woman named Sandy, the character in the music video is seen coming to terms with her sexuality. The music video begins in a place where she is treated with hostility and violence to a place of acceptance and love by the end.

we exist_1

Sandy moving from a place of hostility to being welcomed and supported by other members of the LGBTIQ community.

Although the casting of a cisgender actor drew ire from some members of the trans community, the video has been well-received in general.  Our Lady J, a well known trans musician who coached Garfield for the video, said of the video, “I can’t watch this without crying”. Butler in a statement to The Advocate, says that “for a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion”.

Similar to Hozier’s relationship with religion, Butler grew up in a Christian-dominant community in Texas, and was uncomfortable with the way the community excluded gay people and anyone who was different from them in general. He believes that “the right to marry anyone you want is a human rights issue”. Quietly hopeful, the song and video to “We Exist” is meant to address this issue and encourage inclusion and acceptance.

Halsey & Hayley Kiyoko

Halsey's music video for 'Ghost', was conceptualized by the singer to avoid the usual heteronormative relationships seen in the media

Halsey’s music video for ‘Ghost’, was conceptualized by the singer to avoid the usual heteronormative relationships seen in the media

Other musicians have also taken a less strongly political stance, and used the storytelling format to simply provide representation, or to express their own sexuality.

Indie-pop musician Halsey, who identifies as a bisexual woman, released a second music video earlier in June for her single ‘Ghost‘ which features an ambiguous relationship between herself and another woman.

“Is it a friend, a girlfriend, a part of herself? I just wanted to see some representation of a lesbian relationship that wasn’t over sexualised,” she said in an interview for Fader.


Singer Haley Kiyoko wanted to convey the struggle that these girls have within themselves in her video “Girls Like Girls”.

Former Disney Channel star Hayley Kiyoko co-directed the music video for her song “Girls Like Girls” which features two best friends falling in love. The music video received a warm response from fans who identified with the struggles of the characters.

“I feel heard. I feel understood,” tweeted one fan.

“[The video] helped my mother [understand] what it’s like to be me. I needed this video,” said another.

Not everyone has the time and patience to sit through and understand a two hour film or read a lengthy book. But the music video — short in length, with storytelling told through music and images rather than dialogue — registers quickly with its viewer.

The strength of a music video’s ability to move people and tell important stories for young people is telling from the reactions that all these music videos have received, and will continue to receive, online.

To know that one short four minute music video can tell the story of anyone struggling with their sexuality or identity and make them feel less alone in the world is thus powerful enough to keep the tradition of this format alive.

Have music videos helped you come to terms with your sexuality or gender identity? Who are you currently listening to? Do they have a message that might help empower other students? What’s your favourite music video to have covered LGBTIQ issues? Let us know in the comments!