MAN ON MAN – ‘Destroying Stigmas & Double Standards Against The Gay Bear Scene’
COVID-19 has seen a surge in quarantine musical projects since lockdown hit us earlier in the year and one act that caught the attention of the world, despite some unfortunate mistreatment from YouTube, was MAN ON MAN, the gay bear/daddy duo featuring Faith No More‘s Roddy Bottum and his real-life partner Joey Holman.
For those not in the know, the gay bear scene is dedicated to us hairier, cuddlier individuals who don’t represent the mainstream gay scene stigma of being clean cut, pretty and sporting abs for days, but rather a group of happy-go-lucky lads who are comfortable in our own skin who (until now) barely had representation in the music scene…
The group first made headlines back in May with their debut release ‘Daddy‘ which sparked controversy when YouTube removed the video (feat. Roddy and Joey in their tighty-whities) for violating their supposed “sex and nudity policy”, despite mainstream musicians like Nicki Minaj, Fifth Harmony and that new song from Cardi B receiving nothing but praise for being brave and encouraging for women around the world. Don’t worry, this isn’t an attack on anyone in particular, it’s just an opinion from me about what’s deemed socially acceptable for some groups and what’s supposedly wrong for another…
Straight male musicians are also encouraged to show off their abs and cut bodies in their videos too e.g. Jared Leto in 30 Seconds To Mars‘ risque video for ‘Hurricane‘ or any/all Maroon 5 videos come to mind, but when it comes to a little man on man love, it’s deemed grossly inappropriate for some. Fortunately for the lads, the video was relisted with an apology from YT and from there, they made a worldwide statement that it doesn’t matter who you share a bed with or what you look like, because there’s countless others in the same scenario who appreciate the representation.
Today, the boys are back with their follow up love song ‘Baby, You’re My Everything‘ and you better believe I reached out to lovers Roddy and Joey for a chat about it, the band’s rough start in the music game, their unintentional representation for a mass global culture and what the future holds for MAN ON MAN…
MAN ON MAN, welcome back, your first single ‘Daddy’ took us all by surprise, especially with the removal from YouTube for violating their “sex and nudity policy”. What was your initial reaction to that kind of outcome from YouTube?
(Joey) We both had mixed reactions. The first was disbelief, not fully understanding what actually happened. When YouTube sends you an email like that, it’s a little jarring, so we were just sort of combing through our video trying to understand how it was so much more different than a lot of other content that’s on there. Then there’s anger, and that’s the emotion LGBTQIA+ folks are very familiar with.
But, once we did more research, we found out it’s pretty common, and once we learned how much YouTube discriminates against black and brown people, our video’s removal dimmed in comparison to those stories. There are non-white content creators on YouTube who generate millions and millions of views but they’re not paid for their work. Once you fall down that rabbit hole, you realise YouTube, and the tech world in general, was created by and for straight white men.
I was mortified to be honest, especially with artists like Nicki Minaj and that new ‘WAP’ song not even getting a warning upon release. Nothing against them, but it’s a double standards situation just because of the gay content I thought.
(Joey) Well, the video is fucking hot and no one can argue that. But, again, when you understand YouTube is a business, and understand Nicki Minaj and Meghan Thee Stallion generate hundreds of millions of views that have ads at the beginning, you understand that it’s serving a different purpose. It would be amazing if YouTube were artist-friendly, more specifically queer artist-friendly, but they’re not.
This project was spawned from COVID isolation, how did that initial conversation of “we should make a gay bear musical project while we’re bored” come about?
(Roddy) ‘Gay bear musical project’ was never something either of us said. We were both in a really raw place, we’d left Brooklyn at the onset of the virus and were driving cross country in a big white pickup truck. The terrain was real spooky, it was back when the CDC was telling us NOT to wear face masks so we were basically just being really cagey and staying 6 feet apart from people at truck stops, stopping as infrequently as we could, playing it real safe. It was clear that we were gonna need to quarantine when we got to California so we started talking about doing something to keep us busy and creative and proactive in that weird time.
We didn’t talk a whole lot about it, we just discussed writing some songs. Half way through our trip we ordered a keyboard and a microphone (Joey had his guitar with him) to be delivered to the house we were quarantining in in Oxnard. We’d never made music together so it was a leap of faith. We didn’t really have an agenda and didn’t talk about the type of music at all.
Being a member of the gay bear/daddy scene (albeit, not really a label guy per se), I think it’s refreshing to see an act like MAN ON MAN depicting our culture and showcasing gay men as we are: mature, rugged and hairy (unlike the stereotypical clean-cut mainstream gay scene). Did that play a significant part in the conception of this project?
(Roddy) Thanks. We recognise now that what we’re doing is speaking to a facet of gay culture in a way that hasn’t been addressed before. The idea of addressing came up as an afterthought, honestly. We just set out to write songs that meant something to us. We were together in close quarters and just writing songs about our situation. The quarantine, the way we felt about each other, our aspirations. It wasn’t until we made the ‘DADDY’ video that we realised the ‘image’ thing we were putting out there. Even then, we were only mildly aware of what we were doing. It wasn’t until we started getting reactions from people who saw it that we really saw that part of it for what it is.
It feels really powerful to be a voice to a community that doesn’t feel necessarily represented or spoken to. It was inspiring to hear from people and [we’ll be] moving forward in our music making with that in mind.
Your new song ‘Baby, You’re My Everything’ slows things down for what I’m calling a big ol’ love song dedicated to the one you care for the most. It doesn’t have to reflect the gay scene and hopefully can be streamed/listened to by anyone who in turn may dedicate it to their loved one. Is that what you were hoping for or is this specifically for people like us?
(Joey) It’s actually 100% gay. There are plenty of love songs written and performed by bands or artists who sing about straight love and we couldn’t give a shit if people outside the gay world want to adopt it and make it a universal message. Love certainly is universal, but gay love is specific, and the world needs to hear about love that exists under the rainbow.
Roddy, you’ve never really shied away from talking about your sexuality throughout your career, but this new project puts it all on display for the world to see. How’d you come to decide that this side of you needed to be seen and heard?
(Roddy) This project honestly is a representation of the relationship I’m in with Joey. Singing songs about that love is definitely a vulnerable place to be. It feels like, now especially, is a time to be vulnerable in our artistic endeavours. I’m rooting for 100% emotional and honest disclosures. It’s what I want to read, see and listen to and it’s where I want to go with my projects.
“Being gay in the public eye feels political but to extend that presence into an honest appraisal of my relationship in my work feels somewhat more political.” – Roddy Bottum on MAN ON MAN‘s agenda.
And Joey, how did you prepare for showing this personal side of you and your relationship to the world? Any worries before the release of that debut song?
(Joey) The preparation was more about how comfortable Roddy and I felt with how we’re being represented in our music. The litmus test was pretty easy – is this honest? There’s a lot of freedom that can exist in honesty, and my background in music actually frowned upon vulnerability and truth speaking.
Not a lot of people know this, but I used to play in a Christian band, and that scene is very intense and pretends to be truth tellers. After some years in, it became painful to cover up this very big part of my life [being gay], and MAN ON MAN is a totally different planet in that regard. We value openness and don’t judge each other for ideas.
I think any “worry” could be feelings that have carried over since my Christian days. I’m sure a lot of the conservative friends I made through church and potentially fans of my old band are mortified by what I’m doing, but MAN ON MAN has been a healing process in terms of removing the shame for who I am.
The innuendos in your songs are right there for the world to see, but could be missed by passive listeners e.g. “Middle finger, take my ring, baby you’re my everything”. How much fun do you have slotting something like that in…to your lyrics of course?
(Roddy) Lyrics and wordplay are my jams. I love twists and double meanings and entendres, I always have. ‘Middle finger, take my ring,’ was funny to me because the middle finger isn’t the wedding finger and also it’s the finger that says ‘fuck you,’ it was a weird word combination that mixed love and angst. But yeah, we took a lot of time finnessing lyrics and words together. It kind of takes as much as time as the music does. I love it.
And flashing back to ‘Daddy’, what was the metaphor for “taking it to the zoo”, what were you wanting to take there? haha
(Roddy) The scenario of a kid begging for a pet, getting that pet, getting sick of that pet and taking it back to the zoo felt preposterous and kind of trashy and badass. I think it’s one of those lyrics that meant more after the fact than it did when we wrote it. The metaphor might be hoping and pining for something you’ve always wanted only to realize that you might not need it and you’re ok where you are.
As long as you’re locked up, you can spend countless hours on new music for MAN ON MAN, so what does the future hold for the band? An album or EP on the way?
(Joey) Our project has pretty much always been one song at a time. We initially made music that was just going to be shared with our friends, but once Roddy and I realised our creative dynamic, we knew we wanted to share it more broadly. We actually just finished mastering our album a few days ago, which is really exciting, but MAN ON MAN was an unexpected chapter for both of us that we don’t plan on closing any time soon.
For those wanting to be educated about the bear scene, in your opinion, what makes it so special to be part of and what do you hope fans/viewers will learn about it from your music?
(Joey) I understand because of my size and body hair that I’ll be lumped in with the bear category, but I would say the best part about being “a bear” is that I am gay, which means I get to be associated with so many incredibly fierce individuals who are queers, dkyes, trans, femmes… basically the voices that are changing the world. I think the bear community does a really good job at not taking itself too seriously, which allows for refreshing, light-hearted, much-needed fellowship.
(Roddy) I’m a big fan of turning younger kids on to different aspects of the gay community, especially history and elements of the gay community that through the years has brought us all together as a family. I’m hoping queers will get a ‘be yourself, create your own identity, don’t give a shit what other people say’ vibe from what we’re doing. The bear community has a cool history of not playing into the norm, men being themselves and shunning a more cosmetic or manicured look. I’ve always loved that.
The LGBTQIA+ scene is slowly but surely becoming more celebrated in music, especially in the heavy music scene, which we cover a lot of at Wall of Sound HQ. Where do you foresee MAN ON MAN heading (as a band/advocate for gay rights) as you release more music during this pandemic?
(Joey) With MAN ON MAN, for me, our advocacy is really in encouraging people of the rainbow to be authentic, which means being able to express our interests and dreams for ourselves in ways that feel powerful and radical. As gays, it’s really easy for us to dumb ourselves down to satisfy the general public’s stomach for how much gay they can tolerate.
“MAN ON MAN exists to push people into their own interests and identity in order to show the world who they are.” – Joey Holman says MAN ON MAN is for the gays to be the gays they were born to be!
(Roddy) I feel like heavy music through gay representation is wildly uncelebrated. We are interested in exploring that realm for sure. The combination of big, loud, unabashedly powerful and heartfelt [lyrics] spoken in a gay way feels like a wide open place for us to explore.
Anything else to add?
(Roddy) The best part of this band has been communication that starts after people tune in. Thanks for continuing the conversation with us. Can’t wait to come to Australia in the new world that’s around the corner.
Counting down the days until that time too, thanks for the chat lads, appreciate your wisdom, insights and furriness!
Words by Paul ‘Browny’ Brown @brownypaul
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