Hip to be queer 

For a band that named itself after lesbian sex and writes songs with such pro-homo titles as “Mary” and “Return to Oz,” the Scissor Sisters get surprisingly defensive when it comes to being called a gay group. In fact, if you so much as ask singer Jake Shears and bassist Babydaddy how their sexuality informs the group, their response probably won’t tip you off that they are, in fact, two of today’s few openly gay musicians.

“We’re not a gay band. We’re just not,” Babydaddy insists emphatically as he sips red wine with Shears backstage at Slim’s, a San Francisco club where the New York glam-pop troupe will perform in a few hours as part of their first West Coast tour. “We’re not this homo Village People group talking about having sex all the time. We’ve always moved away from thinking of ourselves as a gay band.”

“It’s something we fight against [being described as],” says Shears, a former go-go dancer with a testicle-shrinking falsetto that’d do Barry Gibb proud. “Though there are gay members in this band, we’re not Pansy Division.”

You can’t blame ’em for not wanting to be pigeonholed, but it’s not like the Scissor Sisters — who also include glamazon co-vocalist Ana Matronic, guitarist Del Marquis and drummer Paddy Boom — are exactly suffering for having mainstream music’s queerest sensibility. Since releasing their self-titled debut (Universal) overseas this spring, they’ve become bona fide stars in England: Not only have they topped the British charts with their flamboyant blend of disco, soft rock and piano-laden pop that’s equal parts Wham! and Elton John, but they’ve also collaborated with Kylie Minogue and found fans in everyone from Bono to the B-52’s. Clearly, whether or not people consider the Scissor Sisters a gay band, it seems no one is holding it against ’em.

“The gay community has really accepted us, but I think we’ve been accepted as much by the straight community,” says Babydaddy. “In England, we even have housewives who come to our shows.”

“And grandmas and 12-year-old kids,” adds Shears. “It’s gone so mainstream over there that it’s all over the map; it’s almost like the gay thing has taken a backseat. I don’t know if America can do the same thing.”

If the crowd outside Slim’s at the moment is any indication, however, Shears needn’t worry. The venue doors still won’t open for two hours, and already dozens of people — everyone from straight couples to trannies — are lining up for the sold-out show. Ticketless fans pace the sidewalk, offering upward of $60 and, in at least one instance, sexual favors to get inside. Later, when the Scissor Sisters finally take the stage and turn the room into a makeshift Studio 54, the crowd whips itself into a sweat-soaked dervish and (though the group’s album won’t be released domestically until the following week) sings along to every word.

Such enthusiastic responses aren’t limited to San Francisco either. This summer’s entire West Coast tour completely sold out, and the nationwide fall tour — which comes to St. Andrew’s Hall this week — is expected to follow suit. In fact, stateside stardom seems all but inevitable: Online, the group’s sweaty concert towels are being auctioned on eBay. In print, everyone from Time to Entertainment Weekly to Butt magazine — which recently featured a photo spread of Shears’ bare derriere — is taking notice. And on television, VH1 and MTV have added the clip for “Take Your Mama,” a coming-out ode to getting Mom blitzed at a gay bar, into rotation.

It can’t hurt, of course, that it’s actually considered somewhat hip to be a gay man at the moment. With the popularity of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Will & Grace,” the Scissor Sisters couldn’t have made a more impeccably timed entrance. “People are accepting our music for what it is, which is amazing,” says Babydaddy. “But we’re sort of in a dangerous time because it’s considered so cool right now to be gay, and we want to make sure the people aren’t jumping on because of that.”

Regardless of why listeners initially latch on, they’re bound to stick around for the party. After all, along with such glorious rave-ups as “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “Tits on the Radio” and their rug-cutting cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” the quintet brings a sense of humor and unpredictability to mainstream pop that’s long been missing. Indeed, it’s hard to find another band with a more decadent fashion sense — feather boas, fedoras, fuck-me boots — or another frontman who’s willing to pull his own Janet Jackson by exposing his dick onstage. It’s also nearly impossible to imagine anyone else capable of writing songs so insidiously catchy that even straight men would sing along to lyrics like “This’ll be the last time I ever do your hair!”

In other words, no matter what sorta group they wanna be known as, the Scissor Sisters are a group that’s so queer — in all senses of the word — that it’s practically a miracle that a major label would dare sign them at all.

“[Universal execs] haven’t really cared about the gay stuff,” Shears says with a shrug. “They talk to me sometimes when I get a little too mincing on TV or something. But I don’t mind getting reprimanded so much [because] I don’t want to alienate anybody when we’re performing. Other than that, they totally let us do what we wanna do and be who we are.” Which is to say, of course, the much-welcome freaks of pop music.

Scissor Sisters perform Tuesday, Sept. 14, at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit). Call 313-961-MELT for info.

Jimmy Draper writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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