“I’m gay, I suck dick, I like dudes. But the way I walk through the world, the prism through which I view our political circumstances, is queer. That means I’m investigative, critical and engaged. That, for me, is more important than who I’m fucking.’
Discussing the pros and cons of labels with the handsome and superbly intelligent singer Michael Blume is like falling down a rabbit hole.
‘At high school I was like “Fuck labels!”‘ he admits. ‘But we need language to unite us, to create ideas, communities, love, growth and equality. The Black Power movement wouldn’t have happened if black people didn’t say “We’re black.” Even though I dream of a world where people’s sexualities are irrelevant, we don’t live in that world.’
‘Queer’ may be the descriptor he likes best. But there are many ways to describe Michael.
On the one hand, he’s living the dream as a New York City-based musician exploring an RnB-soul-gospel-infused sound.
On the other, he’s your average 27-year-old gay guy trying to cut down his Grindr use…
‘‘I’m taking a break from it,’ he laughs. ‘It’s just too much! It fucks with your brain. I get obsessive, impulsively checking it… I have things to do!’
His fascinating backstory – and the fact he speaks three languages – offers another side to him.
Born in New Jersey and raised in an ‘overachieving, hardworking, liberal but traditional upper-middle class Jewish family,’ Michael gained a degree in Black American Studies from Yale.
‘I majored in culture and specifically race relations in Brazil,’ he explains. ‘I was going to be a diplomat, or get a masters degree in education or history or something.’ Life had other ideas.
‘If I hadn’t been gay, I’d probably have been a Jewish lawyer with a wife living in the suburbs’
Formative experiences ensued: a world tour with his uni’s singing group, plus an eight-month stint in Brazil, including four months running a choir in Rio de Janeiro as part of his studies.
‘I was doing my thesis on the way concepts of American blackness has been exported through cultural commodities like music,’ he explains. ‘So we did all this Black American music from spiritual to jazz… I translated a Beyonce song and had these kids sing Beyonce. It was an amazing experience.’
And what was it like being a gay man in Brazil at such a young age?
‘It’s funny,’ he says. ‘I was just thinking the other day. I was 21, didn’t have an iPhone, didn’t have Grindr… Now I’d be on it. It would be different. I was out, but I wasn’t as out as I am now. Especially in this Rio favela where I was teaching. A lot of the families are more conservative, evangelical Christian.’
Nevertheless, Michael’s identity as a queer musician ultimately won over.
‘If I hadn’t been gay, I’d probably have been a Jewish lawyer with a wife living in the suburbs,’ he laughs. ‘That would’ve been cute, but I’m so glad god made me gay. That made me understand struggle; struggle makes artists interesting.’
Although, how his gayness informs his music is evolving. ‘If you listen to my first EP I’m referencing sucking dick: “Fuck you! I’m a faggot!”‘ He laughs. ‘Now I’m like, a little more settled into myself. I love myself and don’t necessarily feel… I know that I’m good and don’t need anyone else to say “You’re good”, which wasn’t the case four or five years ago.’
We reflect on the comparative ubiquity of LGBTI pop stars, compared to eras past. ‘I do attribute a lot of [LGBTI progress] to the Obama presidency,’ he says. ‘Having the leader of the free world say “Hey! Gay people are cool” changed a lot.’
‘I probably wouldn’t be a good match to go on tour with Troye Sivan’
And while Michael’s of course super happy for the success of pop superstars Sam Smith and Troye Sivan, he doesn’t like being lumped in the same category as them simply because they’re gay.
‘Sometimes the music industry wants to sideline me,’ he says. ‘”You’re a gay artist? OK. You’re a gay artist.” That’s where it gets frustrating. I could go on tour with a straight rapper, a rock and roll band… Sure, I could go on tour with Lady Gaga, but frankly, I probably wouldn’t be a good match to go on tour with Troye Sivan. I don’t make that kind of music.’
We furthermore discuss some the expectations projected on Sam Smith. ‘Some gay people think “He’s gay, so he should represent what I think about as gay.” What that is really, in my opinion, is internalized homophobia. We as a gay community don’t allow for multiple versions of gay men to exist. But no two people are alike, and it’s beautiful.’
This dovetails nicely with the message Michael’s trying to transmit through his soulful songs. ‘You’re different from everybody, you’re your own unique intersection of experiences,’ he says. ‘Your life, fears, joys and hopes are only yours. That’s at once isolating and lonely, but also empowering.
‘Only you know what growth, success and happiness looks like for you. To me, completely shutting down comparisons to anybody else and owning the fact that my shit’s my shit, that’s made this whole thing work for me. I want to encourage people to lean into their uniqueness.’
For more information about Michael, head to mblumemusic.com.