The Power of a Heartthrob
Celebrating a rare, unapologetic display of queer female sexuality
Let’s be honest. This ain’t your grandmama’s era of gay. We homos have created for ourselves a new era in America. Gay marriage has reached the tipping point of political acceptance. Pop songs that celebrate our differences flood the top 40. And, thanks to Dan Savage, a wealth of testimonial videos exist online to urge kids onward through their teens to discover how great this world can be for them. Still, in the context of this changing landscape, Tegan and Sara’s latest album, Heartthrob, stands out as it offers the perfect lens to look back on our whirlwind adventures of adolescence and realize – holy shit, it got so much better.
For me, it had all come full circle. Tegan and Sara, in a ballsy move of branding brilliance were selling a teeny-bop glossy magazine, Heartthrob, along with the release of their new album of the same name.
As I saw the cover for the first time, I suddenly found myself, a mere year from 30, feeling like my 13 year old self again. Except somehow, just now… I felt complete.
I had a relatively normal childhood for an oblivious lesbian growing up in Sugar Land, Texas. Occasionally the label of “gay” was thrown around, mostly by my brother, and each time I vehemently denied it. In my mind, I clearly wasn’t gay; lesbians were other and, frankly, unattractive. I felt nothing for the two out girls in my school, nor the few lesbians known to pop culture at that time. And so I pined after conveniently unavailable boys and plastered Teen Beat posters of boy heartthrobs all over my walls, letting fantasy serve as a subpar substitute for the lack of connection I was feeling in my own life. To be fair, they were pretty (and, looking back, hilariously feminine).
Flash forward 15 years and I’m watching the video for Tegan and Sara’s latest single, Closer. This isn’t what I’m used to seeing from them. Their videos in the past were more of the art house film variety: highly conceptual and a bit odd. Sure, both of the sisters looked great – but always with that quiver of awkward that the smart ones tend to own. This is different. This is pop. This is polished and modern and fun. And yet, this is infused with a nostalgic tone of teenage jubilance and that hyped up sense of longing we experienced, for which many of us had no outlet. And… this is sexy. In an aware, powerful way they have never owned before. They look good. And they know they look good. And they’re trying their Bieberest to draw you in. Even the shots are edited perfectly with the bridge building to the cathartic scene where two teen girls share what could be their first kiss as Tegan sings, “Here come the dreams of you and me.”
It’s not easy as a woman to put yourself out there, to believe in yourself enough to sell yourself as sexy. And, I would argue, it takes even greater acts of strength to do so when gay. We, females, tried so hard growing up to establish ourselves as something other than the object of your affection. And we’re acutely, omnipresently aware of the effect that our actions/posture/existence has on others. As queer women, to own our sexuality, we have to counter various aspects of our upbringing: one, generally speaking, sex is bad; two, our same-sex attraction is inherently wrong; and three, a lady shouldn’t make the first move. The contradiction of these rules is exactly why Tegan’s active seduction of the listener is enriched with such power and so rare to see.
Some may chastise the twins with the typical backlash an artist gets when they go mainstream. I will not. I am thankful they went pop with this album. This is the right message at the right time. For everyone. All the better that this comes alongside their most accessible record to date.
I can’t help but think back to when I was an oblivious Texas kid surviving high school in the 90s. Had this content been in the mainstream then, I believe I would have known and been myself so much sooner. The culture we create is so vastly important. We find ourselves in the stories told by those brave enough to be themselves. The more vulnerable the truth, the more connective and resonating the effect. And I am ecstatic and thankful that kids are growing up with this being the norm. It’s crazy to step back and see the power in a heartthrob.