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Five on it: Demi Lovato announcing their pronouns is a win for non-binary visibility

Demi Lovato speaking freely about their pronouns is progress, but also a reminder of steps the music industry still needs to make. Plus our weekly round-up of new releases, including Lil Nas X, Japanese Breakfast, and the debut EP from Manuka Honey.

21 May 2021

Demi Lovato has had an undeniably public personal life and, in the wider trajectory of their 28 years, a pivotal 2021. Debuted in conjunction with the release of their seventh studio album Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over, the four-part YouTube documentary Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil recounted their journey over the three years since their life-changing overdose, both as a person and as an artist.

Like many, the Covid-19 lockdown gave the singer the opportunity to take pause from the career maelstrom and reflect on their past, present and truth that they were denying themselves. In July 2020, Lovato came out as queer in a tribute to Glee actor Naya Rivera following her tragic death, saying that they “would forever cherish the opportunity to play your girlfriend” and that Rivera’s character Santana Lopez was “groundbreaking for tons of closeted (at the time) queer girls like me”. Earlier this year, Lovato stated they identified as pansexual in an interview for Joe Rogan’s Experience podcast and said that the reason they are so fluid now is because they were “super closeted off” for such a long time.

Demi Lovato’s announcement that they will be officially changing their pronouns from ‘she / her’ to ‘they / them’ is the latest step on their journey to redefining the narrative around them along with their perception of self. They are one of few high profile people in the music and entertainment industry to publicly identify themselves as non-binary; Sam Smith requested the use of gender neutral pronouns in referring to them in 2019 after “a lifetime of being at war with [their] gender”. 

“It is clear that there is much work to be done to be inclusive”

Despite increased visibility, there are still detractors to the existence of gender fluidity, especially on social media, with negativity coming from those who conflate the concept of biological sex and gender as a social construct. In the US, longtime Kiss 108 radio host Matt Siegel stormed off-air after being told by bosses to stop making jokes about Lovato’s change in pronouns. 

A lack of progression can also be seen in the awards system’s resistance to shift to gender neutral categories for their accolades. Sam Smith has previously commented on the issue, saying that they “look forward to a time where awards shows can be reflective of the society we live in”; under current BRITs legislation, non-binary artists are ineligible for gendered Best Artist categories, something that impacts talent such as Smith despite them previously winning the BRITs’ Critics Choice Award in 2014. It is clear that there is much work to be done to be inclusive.

“I want to be free of… the gender norms that were placed on me as a kid and the sexuality norms that were placed on me in my church,” Demi Lovato explained in Dancing with the Devil of their decision to cut off their hair in 2020: “I just think that right now, it represents the femininity that I have always been too afraid to let go of. It’s very symbolic of letting go of my past, letting go of the old me, part of me that was too afraid to really live my truth”

Lil Nas X – ‘Sun Goes Down’

Can you believe it’s been two months since Lil Nas X released ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’? I can’t, but I’m stoked to have a new single to slap on repeat. Following on from the themes of ‘MONTERO’, latest outing ‘SUN GOES DOWN’ continues to see the artist retrospectively navigate his adolescence, here comforting his high school self over laid back R&B pop.

Jorja Smith – ‘Bussdown’ (feat. Shaybo)

Preceding the release of new EP Be Right Back with stellar singles ‘Addicted’ and ‘Gone’, Jorja Smith’s latest sees her team up with Shaybo for her sultry outing ‘Bussdown’. Fuelled by a sludgy bassline groove and brisk percussion, the track strikes a lackadaisical swagger under Jorja’s slick vocal as she flexes about being a self-made woman.

Japanese Breakfast – ‘Savage Good Boy’

Hot on the heels of the murky ‘Posing In Bondage’, Japanese Breakfast returns with the spritely sound she is best known for with ‘Savage Good Boy’. Propelled by a peppy rhythm and pulsing synths, the track has Michelle Zauner hypothesising on a headline she read about “billionaires buying bunkers” and “examining that specific type of villainy”.

MYSIE – ‘Seven Nights’

Plucked from her new EP Undertones – out today – ‘Seven Nights’ encapsulates MYSIE’s captivating neo-soul sound whilst playing with pop sentimentalities. Led by a catchy hook and a coercive rhythm, the single documents the excitement of fast love and living in the moment, irrespective of the outcome of such a hot romance. 

Manuka Honey – ‘Diabl@’

Did you know that gal-dem’s own resident astrologer Marissa Malik moonlights (sorry) as a DJ and enigmatic electronic artist? Released under the moniker of Manuka Honey, Marissa’s debut EP Industrial Princess is mysterious and evocative; think neoperreo reggaeton with a dark and abrasive A. G. Cook twist, and ‘Diabl@’ will hit the spot.