LGBTQ musicians navigate a world filled with gray areas, unclear paths with unclear outcomes, trying to exist between authenticity to oneself and acquiescence to heteronormative tropes. Queer singer-songwriter Michael Blume is imminently aware of this constant grappling on his latest single "In Between".
In the video (premiering below), Blume plays the part of a boxer getting ready for his fight, singing in a half-empty gymnasium — dressed in customary shiny boxer sportswear while wearing uncustomary eyeliner and face glitter. Blume’s husky voice pierces through as he sings about past relationships and feeling in between so many things; it mixes perfectly with the video’s dark and sweaty mood, and presents a vision of masculinity spiked with queerness and dipped in artistry.
Blume uses his songs as a form of activism, raising awareness and educating others about the many, many sides that exist within the queer experience. A talented lyricist, he artfully mixes pop sounds with hip-hop flows — and as an artist who straddles many genres, Blume shows what it is to live and work in the in-between. “We are all constantly changing, like in every split second of the day, we can be a different person,” he tells Billboard. “We're not being fake, we're just being different.”
Billboard spoke with Blume to discuss his new video, coming out as an artist, and queer artistry taking center stage.
How did you get into music?
I fell in love with gospel and soul music as a kid in the suburbs. I listened to a lot of Patti Labelle, Destiny’s Child. But I was closeted with no outlet for those feelings, and that manifested in me being an overachiever. I was really good in school, I studied Latin American culture and languages in university.
I wasn't planning on pursuing music professionally, but then, while I was in school, I joined an a cappella group and we got to travel around the world for a year, singing in our stupid little tuxedos. But I was like, "Damn, traveling and making music is the shit!" I moved to New York six years ago and started making music professionally and I haven’t looked back.
Coming from a traditional family, and as a Yale alum, coming out as an artist must have been difficult. Was it harder to come out as an artist or as gay?
It’s funny that there are actually so many parallels between the two, but both are hard. Everyone thought I was going to be a lawyer or something. It definitely wasn't expected that I would be an artist, so when I moved to New York to make a living off of music, it was a big deal. I don't come from a family of artists, by any means. So there's been a lot of navigating that, it’s been a journey. Eventually the messaging from my family became, "We support you, but we're not going to pay for your life, you’re doing this on your own." But here I am!
So let’s get into this video — are you a boxer in real life?
No! I'm just culturally appropriating boxing, haha! I think boxing is such an aggressive, traditionally masculine sport, and I wanted to repurpose that space and give it new meaning. The disruption of masculine spaces is something that I am very interested in.
In the video you face a doppelganger version of yourself in the ring — what are you trying to say?
I’m saying I struggle with various versions of myself, yet all those versions are true. We are all constantly changing, like in every split second of the day, we can be a different person. We're not being fake, we're just being different. We all play different versions of ourselves, we all code switch, we all use our cultural signifiers to nuance ourselves.
In the music industry, you have to be careful, too… like, what piece of myself do I want to show? What about myself should I keep hidden? Do I want to stay like this? What do they think of me? All of that is still true to who I am, but I end up having a lot of internal conflict.
Queer artists like yourself are taking center stage in the music industry as of late, and not just as performers. What’s your take on that?
Well, I think the reason queer people are often such great artists is because we have to create ourselves. Our first art project is ourselves, because there's no blueprint for LGBTQ people, no preset world. We have to figure out who we are, make our own rules, our own color schemes, our own mood boards. You have to own everything. I think queer people oftentimes have advanced communication skills, better emotional maturity. We have to deal with shit from so early on, the emotional trauma that queer people are dealing with goes deep, so we have to develop those skills. It’s literally a survival tactic. We develop emotional wellbeing for ourselves.
You push back against labels in the music industry, but with more and more LGBTQ artists taking the top spots on the charts, do you think things are changing?
I think the music industry is still very caught up on labels and uality and gender and race and all that. There are cases where it's shifting but that only happens when you're at a certain level. When you get really massive, it becomes easier to be seen as a cultural phenomenon rather than a label… and that is definitely my goal. I love people who’ve done that — like Lady Gaga, Freddie Mercury.
But my experience as an emerging artist has taught me that, unfortunately, labels are important. Agents, DJs, fans, media, they all want to know: who is this guy? What does he sound like? So labels do that for you. That's what I mean by being in the in between. Dealing with a curation of the self. I mean, I'm a wedding singer! I‘ve spent the last six years of my life making a living by singing at weddings. I do Drake, and then I do Prince, and I fucking sing down on all of it. But as a new artist, I need to define myself.