The big news story this week in music isn’t that Ricky Martin has acknowledged that he is gay, but rather the fact that no one is really surprised.
Do a quick news search online, and you’ll find a resounding swell of shoulder shrugging throughout media outlets around the country. “Ricky Martin is gay: Duh,” read a headline in the Miami Herald. “Yep, He’s Gay,” blasted Rolling Stone across its Website in reaction to the news. And Vanity Fair said, “Ricky Martin Says He Is Gay, Surprising Exactly No One.”
Despite that the Latin heartthrob’s announcement, made via a seven paragraph missive in both Spanish and English on his Website, was garnering a great deal of attention, there was one word that hasn’t really been popping up in reports: “brave.”
The reality is that the move borders on “cowardice” at worst, and “playing it too safe” at best. Society is more tolerant than ever these days of the lines of sexuality being blurred in the mainstream.
Just refer to the success of sitcoms like Will & Grace, the reality show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the films Brokeback Mountain and Milk, both of which won dozens of awards in the even the most conventional and nationally televised arenas.
Perhaps Martin was fearful of being the poster boy for homosexuality at the time, when the paradigm was only just beginning to shift.
The introduction for most Americans to Martin, a one-time member of the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, was at the 1999 Grammy Awards where he left viewers and the audience slack-jawed with a stunning performance of “The Cup of Life.” This was a prelude to a carefully crafted crossover highlighted in the release that spring of a self-titled English-language debut that rocketed to the top of the charts, spawning instantly inescapable hits like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “Shake Your Bon-Bon.”
Speculation immediately began about the singer’s sexuality, with his doe-eyed stare, pretty-boy looks and hip-swiveling dance techniques leaving him with a large gay following. And if he came out then, while his career was cresting, it would’ve been a supremely “brave” move and such a positive moment for the gay community.
Instead, Martin spoke of his love for model Rebecca de Alba, whom he supposedly had a relationship with for several years. He talked about her longingly in an interview with Rolling Stone, and dismissed rumors of his homosexuality with a simple, “I’m not too concerned with what people say about me.”
For anyone who had a doubt, the turning point came in 2000, during an interview with Barbara Walters, when he famously hemmed and hawed while she relentlessly badgered him about the gossip, telling him, “You could stop these rumors. You could say, as many artists have, ‘Yes, I am gay,’ or, ‘No, I’m not.’ It’s in your power to do it.”
“Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to express the rumors,” Martin told Walters, “but Barbara, for some reason, I just don’t feel like it.”
Sure, there is no doubt that fright had to exist in letting an entire fanbase in on one of the more personal aspects of his life, but despite the obvious uncomfortability with any insinuation to the contrary that he wasn’t into the opposite sex, the groundwork had been laid for years in music that it was OK to be gay.
But artists like Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Melissa Etheridge and Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford finding acceptance for the most part from their respective audiences wasn’t enough of a safety net for Martin to give a, ahem, “straight” answer to a simple question. He says now it was due to those close to him saying, “all the years you’ve worked and everything you’ve built will collapse.”
The charade continued, and as his popularity in the States waned, Martin busied himself with humanitarian work and focusing on Spanish-language recordings again, while elsewhere in pop music a number of high profile artists came out of the closet.
Lance Bass of the boy band ‘N Sync disclosed he was gay in 2006.
Two years later, American Idol’s second season runner-up Clay Aiken finally confirmed he was gay to People magazine in a reveal that was just about as shocking as if someone had confirmed that water is indeed wet.
Another Idol runner-up, season eight’s Adam Lambert, didn’t officially come out until an interview with Rolling Stone shortly after the competition ended, but when pictures surfaced of him hooking up with another guy during the taping of the show, he told Access Hollywood, “I have nothing to hide.”
And though Lambert has been criticized for his openness, including his highly-sexualized performance at last year’s American Music Awards with male members of his band, he has made no apologies and has done nothing but defend his lifestyle.
Taking such a risk at the start of his career isn’t just brave, it’s hardly slowed down Lambert’s success, as his debut landed at number three on the charts upon its release late last year.
It’s gotten to the point where sexuality ambiguity is popular again to the point of cliché, much like it was in the glam rock era of the mid-70s, exemplified by the androgynous nature of March Bolan from T. Rex and David Bowie, who was then going through his Ziggy Stardust phase.
Today, it’s artists like the super-hot Lady Gaga who will neither confirm nor deny her preference but admitting she has had relations with both sexes.
That’s why Martin’s “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am” admission comes almost as too little too late, and curious as he also mentioned that he came to the conclusion to tell the world when “a few months ago I decided to write my memoirs.”
How does that come off as anything but a shameless plug for a book?
Even the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) seemed a bit underwhelmed in a statement that said, “When someone like Ricky Martin comes out, hundreds of millions of people now have a cultural connection with an artist, a celebrity and, perhaps most importantly, a father who happens to be gay.”
“His decision to model this kind of openness and honesty can lead to greater acceptance for countless gay people in U.S., in Latin America and worldwide.”
That lukewarm response sums up what the general feeling is on Martin’s declaration, no matter how much hype it’s receiving.