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Top 10 pop culture moments of 2021

A gay Playboy cover boy, a Satanic lap dance, the ‘Pose’ finale, and Colton’s drama

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It was a memorable year for pop culture, as productions resumed after COVID lockdowns. Here’s our list of the top 10 pop culture moments of 2021.

#10: Lesbian nuns get it on in ‘Benedetta’

(Photo courtesy SBS Productions)

Director Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”) delivered his latest film “Benedetta,” which tells of an Italian nun in the 1600s who receives erotic visions of a nude Christ as well as stigmata before having a lesbian relationship with a novitiate in her convent. 

The title character (played by Virginie Efira) plays “a randy nun whose religious visions and lustful cravings are rolled into a single ball of blasphemy,” as the New York Times wrote. “Verhoeven might have aged, but his love of the lurid has dimmed not one bit.”

The Times also said the movie “presents lesbianism as a middle finger to church power.” 

A modest release, it gained steam on the festival circuit and screened in competition at Cannes. 

#9: Sapphic love in ‘Squid Game’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

(SPOILER ALERT) It was subtle but the relationship between players 067 (HoYeon Jung) and 240 (Lee Yoo-mi) on the “Gganbu” episode of “Squid Game,” Netflix’s monster K-drama, was embraced by fans as a tale of doomed lesbian love.

While other teams use the 30 minutes allotted for a nerve-wracking series of marble games, the two young women spent all but the final seconds of their time telling each other their life stories. Player 240 loses intentionally, sacrificing her life for her partner’s. She expresses her love just before getting shot.

The show has been deemed Netflix’s “most watched series.”

#8: Olly’s big year

Olly Alexander in ‘It’s A Sin.’ (Photo courtesy WarnerMedia)

It was a big year for Olly Alexander, the Years & Years singer. He drew raves for his role in the five-part British series “It’s a Sin” as Ritchie, one of a group of gay U.K. men dealing with AIDS in the ‘80s. 

In March, Alexander announced that his band was now a solo venture. Kylie Minogue showed up as guest artist on a remix of single “Starstruck” in May. In October, Years & Years guested on Minogue’s song “A Second to Midnight.” A full album is expected in 2022. 

Alexander performed a sensuous cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” with Elton John at the BRIT Awards in May. 

#7: Bretman dons bunny ears

(Photo courtesy Playboy Enterprises)

Bretman Rock, the 23-year-old Filipino YouTuber and beauty influencer known for his makeup tutorials and MTV reality show, made history as the first openly gay man to make the cover of Playboy magazine.

Aside from Playboy’s late founder, Hugh Hefner, Rock is only the second man to appear on the cover (in July, 2020, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny was the first). 

Sporting a nipple-baring bustier and the famous bunny ears, Rock called the historic moment “so surreal” on Instagram. Sadly, the issue is digital only as Playboy suspended its print product in 2020 after 66 years citing COVID “disruption.” 

Model Ariel Nicholson became the first trans person on the cover of Vogue in September. She was featured with seven other models dubbed “Generation America.” 

#6: Ewan bends over for ‘Halston’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

Straight actor Ewan McGregor drew strong reviews for his portrayal of late gay designer Roy Halston Frowick (who died of AIDS in 1990) in the Netflix miniseries “Halston,” which premiered in May.

Another Ryan Murphy-produced project, “Halston’s” five episodes follow the designer’s work with Liza Minnelli, booming business, drug use and comeback. 

McGregor, no stranger to screen sex scenes and nudity (he even filmed one with Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris”), gets pounded by soon-to-be-boyfriend Ed (Sullivan Jones) in the first episode, though ultimately, the series focuses more on drugs than sex. He won an Emmy for the role in September.

#5: ‘Pose’ wraps

(Photo courtesy FX)

The groundbreaking FX series “Pose,” wrapped in June and was lauded for being the first show to center on trans women of color and cast trans actors in its roles.

The show, which depicted New York City drag ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s, only ran for three seasons (26 episodes) but followed the characters over the course of a decade. 

Created by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the New York Times called the show “a celebration, a juicy soap and one of TV’s most kinetic and dance-intensive shows.” 

Star Billy Porter told the Hollywood Reporter in May he’s been HIV-positive since 2007. 

In September, Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, was the first trans actor to receive an Emmy nomination.

#4: JoJo makes ‘Dancing’ history

(Photo courtesy ABC)

YouTuber JoJo Siwa, 18, one of Time’s “most influential people in the world” last year, came out as pan (she’s also comfortable with “queer” and “gay,” she said) in January.

In September, the dancer/singer made history on the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars” as the first contestant to compete with a same-sex partner. She and Jenna Johnson came in second. 

#3: Marvel depicts gay superhero

(Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios)

“Eternals,” the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released in November, features the franchise’s first LGBTQ superheroes with Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), a genius inventor, who’s married to Ben (Haaz Sleiman) and father of Jack. The couple even gets an onscreen kiss.

Though the movie itself drew mixed reviews but solid box office, the inclusion was widely praised.

“Seeing a powerful gay superhero kiss his husband and feeling the reaction in that theater was a real-life example of why it is important for our stories to be told – especially in films that travel to big cities and small towns around the world,” Variety noted.

Several countries in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, et. al. — denied release; others only agreed to a version that edited the love scenes. 

“It made these Arab countries look so ignorant and pathetic,” Sleiman told Variety. “I have no respect for those governments.”

#2: Colton Underwood comes out — and it gets messy

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

The 29-year-old former NFL linebacker, whose alleged virginity gave him a novel angle on “The Bachelor” two years ago, came out in April on a “Good Morning America” interview. This month, a six-episode reality show dubbed “Coming Out Colton” arrived on Netflix in which he comes out to family and friends and learns gay culture. 

In November, an online petition with more than 35,000 signatures asked Netflix to cancel the series because of stalking and harassment allegations that Underwood’s ex-girlfriend, Cassie Randolph (his choice on “The Bachelor,” though they didn’t end up marrying), claimed in a 2020 restraining order. The order was dropped, but the incident as well as the docuseries raised gay eyebrows. 

“To some, that appears more like a monetized career move than an unvarnished emotional reckoning,” the New York Times wrote. 

#1: Lil Nas X scores big with ‘Montero’

(Photo courtesy Columbia)

Out rapper Lil Nas X proved he’s not a one-hit wonder when his single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 in April.

Its video, which depicts the artist giving Satan a gay lap dance, won “Video of the Year” at the MTV Video Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards and three Grammys are pending. 

The accompanying album, “Montero,” dropped in September at No. 2 to solid reviews and featured two other Hot 100 top-10 hits.

Nas shot to fame in 2018 when his song “Old Town Road” became the longest-charting No. 1 song in Hot 100 history.

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Arts & Entertainment

Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight dazzle at AIDS Healthcare Foundation World AIDS Day Concert at Kennedy Center

Renowned vocalists delivered show-stopping performances

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Patti LaBelle performs onstage during World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted its 2022 World AIDS Day Concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the concert hall of The Kennedy Center in D.C. Renowned multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalists Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight delivered show-stopping performances to the packed crowd, which included supporters, dignitaries such as: Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and New Orleans Mayor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and more, in a night of hope and celebration.

The legendary Gladys Knight performs at the Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider, currently operating in 45 countries. The concert is held every year to commemorate World AIDS Day, observed internationally each year on Dec. 1. This year also marked the global organization’s 35th anniversary. 

At the event, longtime humanitarian and AIDS advocate, Princess Diana was honored, posthumously, with AHF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Under its “Keep the Promise!” banner, AHF also acknowledged progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS and continues to raise awareness about “The Other Pandemic” as a reminder of the significant work still to be done on HIV/AIDS, as well as remembering the lives that have been lost over the years.  

Legendary entertainers Patti LaBelle (L) Gladys Knight (C) and AHF President Michael Weinstein, together at The Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said, “As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS around the globe, World AIDS Day annually provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS today, as well as reminding leaders and the community of the work that still remains to address this epidemic. From providing compassionate AIDS hospice care in those darkest early days to growing to become the largest global AIDS organization today, now providing lifesaving care and treatment to more than 1.7 million people around the globe, we also celebrate the tireless work of all those who help make today’s AHF possible: our staff, Board, affiliate organizations and affinity groups, friends, family and elected officials and community partners across the globe, but most of all, our clients and patients—with our annual 2022 World AIDS Day event. It was a momentous night to host our World AIDS Day concert at The Kennedy Center for the first time, and welcome back the legendary Patti LaBelle, and have another great American icon, Gladys Knight join us, while also being able to honor the legacy and humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana.”

President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein and Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Harold Phillips attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee and Patti LaBelle attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Derek J. attends World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
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Music & Concerts

Streisand’s ‘Live at the Bon Soir’: Birth of a diva

Album finally released 50 years after being recorded

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Album cover for 'Barbara Sreisand: Live at the Bon Soir.'

Happy days are here again!

Sixty years ago, for three nights in November 1962, Columbia Records recorded a young (20-year-old) singer as she performed at the Bon Soir, a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. The singer’s name was Barbra Streisand, and the recording was slated to be her debut album. Streisand wasn’t that widely known then. But as (the character) Miss Marmelstein, Streisand was stopping the show nightly in the Broadway production “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.” After the show’s curtain call, she took a cab to perform at the Bon Soir club, according to the website barbra-archives.info.

But though the recording of Streisand live at the Village club was talked about the way you’d chat about an awesome legend, the album was shelved for more than half a century. Instead of releasing the “Live at the Bon Soir,” Columbia in 1963 released “The Barbra Streisand Album” (which was recorded in a studio) as Streisand’s debut album.

If you’re queer, you know Streisand rules! To the delight of critics, fans and mid-century history aficionados, on Nov. 4, six decades after it was recorded, “Live at the Bon Soir,” wonderfully remastered, was released on vinyl and SACD. It is also available on streaming services.

If you’ve fantasized about spending an intimate evening with Streisand (Barbra singing and engaging in witty repartee for just you and your intimates), “Live at the Bon Soir” is a dream come true. When Streisand says, “I wish there were another word for thank you…I mean, like, anything, you know” and introduces the club audience to her “boyfriend’s suit,” you feel that she’s talking directly to you.

Streisand’s voice is at its youthful, gorgeous best and her one-of-a-spectacular-kind personality comes through in her banter between songs. Listening to the album is an immersive experience. You’re witnessing the birth of a diva.

The album’s 24 tracks range from an indelible version of the torch song “Cry Me a River” to a playful rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

One of the best things about “Live at the Bon Soir” is its comprehensive, illuminating liner notes. Produced by Streisand, Martin Erlichman and Jay Landers, the CD of the album is packaged in a hardcover book with 32 pages of historical notes, photos and a message from Streisand. The vinyl version comes with a 12-page booklet. The notes provide insight into not only the making of the album, but of most interest to Streisand devotees, what it was like to perform live at the beginning of her career.

“I had never even been in a nightclub until I sang in one,” Streisand writes in the album’s liner notes about performing at and recording “Live at the Bon Soir.”

“I sang two songs in a talent contest at a little club called the Lion and won,” Streisand adds, “which led to being hired at a more sophisticated supper club around the corner called the Bon Soir, with an actual stage and a spotlight.”

The sound on the restored version of “Live at the Bon Soir” is much better than it was on the original recording.

“The science of recording has made quantum leaps since 1962,” writes Landers on the album’s liner notes, “Grammy Award winning engineer, Jochem van der Saag, has subtly solved audio issues in ways his predecessors could hardly have fathomed.”

Streisand has recorded albums with political and contemporary songs. These recordings are often superb. (Is anything by Streisand ever remotely bad?)

But “Live at the Bon Soir” is a gift to anyone who loves standards from the American song-book – from “I Hate Music” (Leonard Bernstein) to “Right as the Rain” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg) to “Come To The Supermarket (in Old Peking)” (Cole Porter) to “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellen/Milton Ager).

Even if you’re allergic to show tunes, you’ll be entranced by “Live at the Bon Soir.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Calendar

Calendar: December 2-8

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, December 2

Center Aging Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more details, contact Adam ([email protected]).

GoGay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Social” at 7 p.m. at The Commentary. This event is ideal for making new friends, professional networking, idea sharing, and community building. Admission to the event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite

Saturday, December 3

Virtual Yoga Class with Jesse Z. will be at 12 p.m. online. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. Guests are encouraged to RSVP on the DC Center’s website, providing their name, email address, and zip code, along with any questions they may have. The link to the class will be sent out at 6 p.m. the day before the event.

LGBTQ People of Color Support Group will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom and in-person at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. This peer support group is an outlet for LGBTQ people of color to come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment-free. For more information and events for LGBTQ People of Color, visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Sunday, December 4

GoGay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Coffee + Conversation” at 12 p.m. at As You Are. This event is for those looking to make more friends in the LGBTQ community and trying to meet some new faces after two years of the pandemic. This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite

AfroCode DC will be at 3 p.m. at Decades DC. This event is an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes, and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Monday, December 5

Center Aging Monday Coffee and Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. LGBT Older Adults — and friends — are invited to enjoy friendly conversations and to discuss any issues you might be dealing with. For more information, visit the Center Aging’s Facebook or Twitter

Center Aging Advocacy Meeting will be at 3:30 p.m. at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. Participants are welcome to provide guidance and feedback on programs and services for LGBT older adults here at The DC Center for the LGBT Community. Second, this group will focus on advocating for LGBT older adults in the District of Columbia. For more information, email [email protected]

Tuesday, December 6

Center Aging Women’s Social & Discussion Group will be at 6 p.m. at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. This group is a place where older LGBTQ+ women can meet and socialize with one another. To register for this event, visit the DC Center’s website

Gay Men’s Chorus will be at 7:30 p.m. at Washington DC Temple Visitors’ Center. The Gay Men’s Chorus will perform at the Washington DC Temple Visitors’ Center for Festival of Lights. Tickets are free and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Wednesday, December 7

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit www.thedccenter.org/careers

BookMen DC will be at 7:30 p.m. on Zoom. This is an informal group of men who are interested in fiction and non-fiction gay literature. For more details, visit BookMen’s website.

Thursday, December 8

The DC Center’s Food Pantry Program will be held all day at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. To be fair with who is receiving boxes, the program is moving to a lottery system. People will be informed on Wednesday at 5 p.m. if they are picked to receive a produce box. No proof of residency or income is required. For more information, email [email protected] or call 202-682-2245. 

Comedy and Cocktails will be at 6 p.m. at Pure Lounge. Guests are encouraged to come out for laughs, libations and drinking games with the best DMV comics. There will be a comedy show, live DJ, dancing, 2 for 1 drinks and drinking games. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

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