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2019 YEAR IN REVIEW MUSIC: Billie’s breakout year

Jonas Bros. reunite, Madonna returns and Ariana kills it



2019 music, gay news, Washington Blade
It was a solid musical year for Tegan and Sara, who revisited their roots, and Kim Petras. (Photos courtesy IMP Entertainment)

The end of 2019 also marks the close of a decade of music to be grouped together forever as the 2010s. Over the past decade many more queer artists have come openly to the forefront of the music scene. Artists like Troye Sivan, Years & Years and Kim Petras have put a relatively young face on pop music, but the decade has also attested to the staying power of many iconic pop voices. 

If anything, 2019 has given us a fair sample of what the past decade had to offer, showcasing some of the newest and most exciting acts, as well as those straying toward mediocrity. Early in the year the Backstreet Boys released their album “DNA,” 20 years after the release of the hit album “Millenium.” The album was less than great, but nonetheless managed a few solid tracks.

One of the pop highlights of the year was without a doubt Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” her second full studio release in six months. The album was another massively successful chart-topper, featuring singles such as the eponymous lead single and “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” A full album following so quickly after an earlier release showcases the power Grande has in the pop world, likely to translate into staying power in the next decade.

R&B singer Chaka Khan released her 12th studio album “Hello Happiness,” a delightful production that signals her return to making new music after more than a decade hiatus.

One of the more disappointing releases of the year was P!nk’s “Hurts 2B Human,” which fell short of some of her best work on earlier albums like “Fun House” (2008) and even the more recent “Beautiful Trauma” (2017). Nevertheless, the album managed to produce a few hidden gems like the song “My Attic.”

Reba McEntire released her 32nd studio album “Stronger Than the Truth,” which was a major success on the country charts and serves as a testament to the indefatigable staying power of the country legend.

Gay actor and singer Ben Platt (who opened as the lead in the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen”) released his first album entitled “Sing To Me Instead,” which featured the catchy single “Grow as We Go,” as well as slew of other largely accoustic-driven songs. And 2019 has continued to be a big year for Platt, who stars as the lead in the new Netflix series “The Politician.”

After various solo efforts, brothers Nick, Kevin and Joe Jonas reunited for their first new album as the Jonas Brothers since 2009. Their return after a decade-long hiatus showed a mature pop sound that caters to an adult audience. It is the marriage of their more recent work (think Nick Jonas’ solo album or Joe’s DNCE project) and a more classic Jonas Brothers (i.e. high school) sound. One hesitates to assume they will have much longevity as a boyband, but their futures, individual or collective, continue to look bright.

The June release of Madonna’s “Madame X” album was polarizing. On one hand, it featured a handful of catchy, clever cuts (“Medellin,” “God Control,” “Future,” “Faz Gostoso”) but the price of such brazen musical experimentation (the record is chocked wth international influences) is that it doesn’t always stand up to repeated listens. Even some die-hards hoped for a bit more melody and track “Killers Who Are Partying” is not only unlistenably bad, it comes off as cloying and misappropriating (“I will be gay/if the gay are burned” — “the gay?”).  And though she claimed the “God Control” video (which recreates the Pulse nightclub shooting) is a call to end gun violence, it played more like a preening glam video shoot for the star than a genuine plea for action. She continues her well-received theater tour in 2020. 

One of the big success stories of the year was 18-year-old Billie Eilish, whose debut album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” dropped in March to strong reviews, a No. 1 Billboard slot and by year’s end, double platinum RIAA certification buoyed by hit single “Bad Guy.” 

The country star Ty Herndon, still best known for the ‘90s hit “What Mattered Most,” released an album stuffed with re-recordings of his most popular songs. Notably for Herndon, “What Mattered Most” was re-recorded with masculine pronouns to refer to his love interest, a bold move for one of the very few openly gay country singers.

Kim Petras — whose irresistibly catchy “Heart to Break” is mouthed in every gay bar and club in the country — finally released her first full album “Clarity” this year. Petras is one of the most visible trans performers in pop music and is headlining her own tour this year after previously touring with Troye Sivan.

The sister duo Tegan and Sara came out with “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” a full-length album composed of songs written during their high-school years. The album coincides with their new memoir entitled “High School” which chronicles their adolescence and coming out story. It’s a delightfully fun album and a wonderful breath of fresh air from the tyranny of the dance-pop single.

The British pop singer Charli XCX released her third album entitled “Charli,” a solid effort with limited chart success. Lead single “1999,” featuring Troye Sivan, however, has been ubiquitous on pop radio since its release late last year.

Kristin Chenoweth’s album “For The Girls,” a collection of mostly standards and classic songs, features duets with Ariana Grande, Dolly Parton and Jennifer Hudson with Reba McEntire.

Two of the more bizarre phenomena in pop music this year: the rapper and producer Kanye West came out with a full-length gospel album entitled “Jesus Is King,” which does not fully succeed even taken on its own terms. And artist Brooke Candy, who could perhaps best be described as the club kid of the up-and-coming-ish pop scene, released her first album “Sexorcism,” a sex-obcessed, anti-pop record, which remains a question mark.

Celine Dion closed out 2019 in a strong way with the release of her studio album “Courage,” another testament to the continued staying power of the contemporary legend.


Music & Concerts

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

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Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

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