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The Queerness Of The Flop

There’s this thing, in queer communities, where we always root for the loser.

Not because we want the underdog to win but because we, in many senses, have always identified with the loser. It’s why I always picked the unpicked, typically female characters in video games. It’s why a movie like Glitter has found an audience. It’s why someone like Miss Vanjie is having a moment. We queers love to support the person, place, or thing that everyone has thrown away.

One of the biggest zones that we see this happening again and again is in the world of music. We love them flops! Carly Rae Jepsen, Mya, Kesha, Taylor Dane: you name the (female) flop star and we got their back. It’s our thing. A recent Pitchfork story vagluely hinted at this by analyzing the enduring appeal of pop star flops. Written by Chris Stedman, they briefly touch on what this queer flop love is all about.

I and many others identify specifically with the commercial pressures and major-label struggles of artists like Jepsen and Charli XCX. I’m queer and many other people who adore their albums also seem to be queer or belong to other marginalized communities. Perhaps we see our own challenges reflected in our favorite flops, feel defensive of them as people who have also been maligned, and find inspiration in their perseverance. After all, “flop” is a diss directed almost exclusively at women, and weaponized most viciously against women of color. How are you going to call icons like Janet Jackson, Brandy, or Mariah Carey flops when their male contemporaries with similarly declining sales are rarely treated like has-beens? It’s more than just feeling overprotective—double standards and the pressure to be perfect are familiar territory for those who’ve been ostracized in some way. Fighting for your favorite pop star’s dignity can feel like fighting for your own.

What an assessment! I love this.

(However, the problem with this story is that it doesn’t necessarily contextualize queerness and outsiderness. As I was explaining to a friend, this is mostly the fault of straight editors not enabling such a context.)

This reminds me of all the musicians I was in love with in high school, all those Teen People and Seventeen branded teen stars who never made it past the singles promoted in those pages. These were stars like Hoku, the Hawaiian pop princess who never quite rose above her song for Snow Day. I was in love with her. Like my aunt (Vitamin C), I was all over female musicians aimed at high school girls who failed to launch and eventually did a bizarre career changes. Samantha Mumba, Willa Ford, Dream, 3LW, Eden’s Crush: these are the failed stars that I was rooting to succeed, feeling like their wins were mine, hoping that the world tilted so that everyone understood the importance of Europop designed for American ears.

Alas: none of them ever succeeded. Minor stars, sure. Fodder for Buzzfeed lists, yes. But they are the flops we love because they, like us, were always overlooked. No wonder these people get pushed to teens and gays: we are the outsiders of this universe. We will support these people when no one else will in exchange for being seen. Such is the beautiful symbiosis of the queer art of failure, to contextualizing losses as wins.

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