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A Great Big (Gay) World

photo credit: Fia Nicoloso

A Great Big World is a Grammy award winning American duo from New York City made up of members Chad King (left below) and Ian Axel (right below). The duo is well known for their song “Say Something” that was popularized from a version that included vocals from Christina Aguilera.

picture from their official website

This past Friday, October 30th, the duo headlined Nightmare on Hellsworth, held on Ellsworth Avenue here in Pittsburgh. Nightmare on Hellsworth is an annual LGBT Halloween gathering and concert hosted by the Delta Foundation and sponsored by other local organizations.

The group played their song “Everyone Is Gay” second, after pumping up the crowd by asking who was straight, gay, or somewhere in between–quoting their song and celebrating the identities of all who came. The song itself is very fun, but also very important because they wrote it to help promote and raise money for a foundation of the same name that their friends Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid founded.

It was clear that the band and the night as a whole was a safe space for those who are queer, as well as for allies of the community.

A Great Big World also played their newest single “Hold Each Other,” which subtly discusses the differing sexualities of King and Axel through the use of pronouns for their lovers. It was clear from their energy that the song is more sentimental to them, but both “Everyone Is Gay” and “Hold Each Other” seem close to their hearts–especially King’s–and were fitting for the event.

 

picture screenshotted from VEVO and posted by randompapernotes.wordpress

King has discussed “Hold Each Other” at length in interviews and articles, as he uses male pronouns to speak about his lover in the song while Axel uses female pronouns to refer to his lover. King outlined his initial discomfort with using male pronouns for the song, in part because of heteronormative pop conventions:

“I was like, ‘I can’t do this, [change the “her” to “him”] no one does this [in pop music], it doesn’t feel comfortable, there’s no way I can do this,'” he [King] said. “And I thought about it for like two seconds and said, ‘I have to do this.’ This is my truth, people will respond to that. I know they will and I hope it inspires other people to sing about their own truth or speak about their own, you know?”

from a 2015 Billboard Interview

Axel has also spoken on the songwriting process for the song, and how the pronoun change came about:

“Originally the lyric in the chorus was ‘something happens when I hold her,’” says Axel. “And after a day away from the song, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, how is Chad going to sing that line? We need to change it.’ So we changed it and it became a very powerful song for us.”

from a 2015 Out article

Both Axel and King have said that they did not write the song to intentionally be a political statement, but if it ends up changing the lives and breaking down walls, then that is a great result of King living his truth through their music.

 

from the duo’s twitter account

On October 3rd – before Nightmare on Hellsworth – the duo played “Say Something” and “Hold Each Other” at a Human Rights Campaign event. King took their performance also as an opportunity to discuss the discrimination that the duo is facing because of his use of male pronouns for his lover in his parts of “Hold Each Other”–some radio stations will not play the new single because of his pronoun use. Through his own discomfort and the discrimination he faced, King has become more excited and happy to perform the song, elaborating at the HRC event that “…when I grew up, I didn’t have a song like this, but I wish I did, and I am so proud to stand behind this message…,” something similar to what he once said about “Everyone Is Gay.”

A Great Big World is breaking ground by having a love song in the pop genre that uses the proper pronouns for King’s lovers, and that is being played across the country on stations such as Radio Disney and Sirius XM, even if a few homophobic radio stations are boycotting the song. Axel and King may not be the first musical artists to have a song discussing queer experiences on the radio, but queer representation in most media forms is still low, so it is important for a song like “Hold Each Other” to be able to and to become so widely popular. It also shows how far we’ve come already that King’s coming out has not negatively affected the duo’s fame on a general scale–obviously there are some people who will stop listening to the duo because of it, but there will always be closed-minded people who will discriminate on identities such as sexuality.

 

picture from their twitter,

“Hold Each Other” on iTunes’ Hot Tracks in August

right above another queer artist, Halsey

A Great Big World also recently performed at a local school for an anti-bullying rally at the request of Pittsburgh’s Star 100.7 radio station DJs, showing that they will not put up with negativity from people and that they are always trying to make a direct change to the lives of others.

Their upcoming album – which includes the song “Hold Each Other” comes out November 13th and is titled When the Morning Comes. Hopefully, A Great Big World can continue to revolutionize our world, one beautiful, catchy song at a time.

References:

http://www.pittsburghpride.org/events/nightmareonhellsworth/

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop-shop/6640922/a-great-big-world-chad-king-hold-each-other-coming-out

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop-shop/6640922/a-great-big-world-chad-king-hold-each-other-coming-out

http://www.out.com/music/2015/8/14/chad-king-great-big-world-discusses-singing-about-loving-man

http://www.mtv.com/news/1720832/a-great-big-world-is-there-anybody-out-there-album-release/

http://everyoneisgay.com/

http://www.out.com/entertainment/interviews/2014/01/29/catching-great-big-worlds-ian-axel-and-chad-vaccarino

http://www.agreatbigworld.com/

https://randompapernotes.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/new-track-a-great-big-world-ft-futuristic-hold-each-other/

https://twitter.com/AGreatBigWorld

Jessica Keller is a senior biochemistry major at Chatham University minoring in psychology and music. She is a culture writer for The Chatham Post. This summer, she started as a columnist for Queer PGH. Her poetry and prose have been featured in multiple editions of Chatham's Minor Bird literary magazine.
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