Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that’s… ready to talk about 2020 already!
“Can We Talk About…?” launched the second week of January 2019, and for nearly every week since I’ve talked about something in pop culture that struck my fancy in hopes that it would also strike yours and in turn strike up a conversation.
This week, in an effort to look back and process the crazy year that was, I’ve collected 10 of my favorite columns. Let’s talk!
In complementary champagne latex, or something of similar luminescence, Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera have rarely looked better. Hell, two people have rarely looked better anywhere ever. Gaga is serving you vintage paws-up couture with a shoulder that carried all of NBC’s drama until the premiere of This Is Us. Meanwhile, Xtina is proving she’s still a little “Dirrty” with a classic frock cut all the way up to reveal more thigh than a KFC during the lunch rush. And we haven’t even gotten to the wigs.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns caused a deep stirring in many queer boys and girls growing up in that era—a stirring in their hearts, their genitals, their root chakras, their Chaka Khans, wherever.
She is the best part of the best Batman movie (okay, arguably tied with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight); she is sexy as hell; she is brilliantly campy; she is a queer icon; she is a feminist icon; she is crazy, but, you know, in an attainable way; and she remains cinema’s only real Catwoman.
Through all the sadness, all the brilliant acting choices, all the death and sickness, The Hours is ultimately about the triumph of life in a lush, over-the-top sorta way—the gay way. And if anyone can find joy in the darkest of times, beauty in the saddest of moments, it’s the gays. No film does that quite like The Hours, based on gay writer Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning 1998 novel.
Liza With a Z—much like everything in Liza’s life—had the fingerprints of gay men all over it. Besides writers John Kander and Fred Ebb, Liza BFF Halston handled the costumes, Marvin Hamlisch served as musical coordinator, and later, when Liza was trying to restore the concert’s original negatives, gay producing duo Neil Meron and the late Craig Zadan facilitated its release in theaters, on TV, and on DVD in 2005. Around that time, Liza had made yet another comeback, this time in the role of Lucille Austero on Arrested Development.
The epic gospel brunch singlehandedly birthed #BlackGirlMagic and reminded us all that you can’t take Patti LaBelle nowhere. With all the divas in attendance in their finest Sunday best—hats for days, decades, and centuries—gospel singer BeBe Winans started passing the mic, and as Oprah shrewdly observed, “I knew it, I knew it. You could not have Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle and Shirley Caesar… you could not have all of them and not have Jesus show up.”
She wasn’t kidding. Jesus H. Christ sidled up to Patti, whispered, You got this, bitch, and watched beatifically as she got ready to sucker-punch the Devil in the nads.
Whereas her contemporaries had big ideas and big chops to go with their big sales, Abdul was, at her best, a fun entertainer with a decent-ish voice. Still, if her mark on the zeitgeist as a pop singer seems small in comparison, it’s hardly inconsequential. Mom had some hits. And maybe if she’d come out now, when the bar for pop stardom often feels notoriously low, she’d have had more longevity. After all, Katy Perry’s still clinging to relevancy and Teenage Dream is basically this generation’s Forever Your Girl.
After a decade of playing everybody’s mama in films like What’s Love Got to Do With It, Poetic Justice, and The Preacher’s Wife, Jenifer Lewis finally got the perfect vehicle for her larger-than-life talent and personality. A mockumentary in the spirit of This Is Spinal Tap, the Robert Townsend made-for-TV movie Jackie’s Back! premiered on Lifetime on June 14, 1999, and featured Lewis as Jackie Washington, a determined diva on a rocky comeback trail.
September 9, 1989. A day that will live in spandexed history. Thenceforth, for seven halcyon seasons, American Gladiators jousted, climbed, broke through, and conquered its way into homes across this once “meh” nation.
Roided-out-looking wonder boys with names like Malibu, Laser, Nitro, Tower, Turbo, and Thunder captured my young (but still incredibly gay) gaze. Meanwhile, the Amazon beauties known as Lace, Jazz, Zap, Blaze, and Gold confused me in a different way: Did I want them or want to be them? They were powerful, glamorous, and wearing, let’s face it, very well-designed body-con athleisure.
I only recently caught on to what so many homosexuals and gentleladies have known and loved for so long: The Great British Bake Off, or as it is known on Netflix, The Great British Baking Show. For the uninitiated, the series involves a baker’s dozen of amateur but still incredibly good bakers competing in a series of challenges to be crowned best of the bunch. Along the way there is some iteration of quirky hosts and a fabulous lady judge, plus silver fox Paul Hollywood—the disapproving daddy of our collective dreams.
Taylor Swift was recently honored by the American Music Awards—the Grammys of musical awards shows that aren’t the Grammys—as Artist of the Decade, following in the questionably relevant footsteps of Garth Brooks (who won at the end of the ’90s) and Britney Spears (who owned the ’00s). But if she’s become more relevant as a pop culture figure, Swift’s music still feels… lacking. It’s as catchy as ever, but it doesn’t challenge the listener, push the needle, or really move anything forward. It’s solid pop music. It’s very popular. Yet it’s ultimately—to put it bluntly—basic. And this decade was anything but.
“Paul Lynde’s Absurdly Gay 1976 Halloween Special”
“Whigney Houston: A Life in Wigs”
“James Dean and Rock Hudson’s Gay Pissing Contest Over Elizabeth Taylor”
“The Gay-Baiting Story Line in The Real Housewives of Potomac“
“Why A Diva’s Christmas Carol Is the Greatest Holiday Movie of All Time”
Main photo credits: Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images; Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty; Catherine McGann/Getty Images.