Androgyny at Its Best

In the songs that bookend this playlist, which are separated by a decade, Prince cheekily reports, “I just can’t believe all the things people say/Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?” and David Bowie rhetorically inquires, “Oh, you pretty things, don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane?”

Each in his own way was reveling in the joys of androgyny. And each memorably presented a gender-amorphous image to the pop-culture mainstream, helping to further the cause of LGBTQ identity politics.

When Bowie sang “Oh! You Pretty Things” in 1971, there were lots of longhaired males on the rock scene but precious few actively courting an androgynous (or outright feminine) image as he would. By the ’80s, that had changed drastically. Especially in England, New Wave and synth-pop ushered in a raft of new celebrities who had no qualms about dancing down the middle of the gender-identity divide, delightedly tweaking sexual and social preconceptions in the process.

By the time Culture Club’s Boy George ascended to international superstardom in 1982-83, a sexually ambiguous image could be seen as actively advantageous to aspiring pop icons. And around the same time, Annie Lennox of Eurythmics and Grace Jones showed that women could flout gender convention as effectively as men.

Though trends would naturally come and go in the decades that followed, the lessons of ’80s pop androgyny were not lost. La Roux, Janelle Monáe, Antony and the Johnsons, LP, and others represented the increasing fluidity of gender identity in the new millennium, sometimes incorporating not only the images of the ’80s but also the musical innovations of artists like Prince and Eurythmics, becoming part of a pop-cultural continuum with plenty of room to move forward.