Would Two Straight American Pop Stars Be Caught Dead in This Video?
We’ll have to wait until later this year for Robbie Williams’s reunion with Take That, the British boy band that launched his career in the ’90s. Until then, we’ve got “Shame,” the first collaboration in 15 years between former Take That costars Williams and Gary Barlow. The song, which will appear on Williams’s forthcoming greatest hits album, In and Out of Consciousness: Greatest Hits 1990-2010, due October 11 in the U.K. (the single will be available one week earlier), is likely to get even more attention than it would have anyway because of its just-released video. The clip is a shameless (pun intended!) send-up of the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain in which Williams and Barlow cruise each other in a parking lot, exchange longing glances in a bar over the shoulders of their unsuspecting female dates, and at the end, embrace each other shirtless and walk off into the sunset. (Barlow is particularly convincing.)
Although Williams and Barlow are both straight, the gay-themed parody probably won’t incite any fury in their homeland. Music fans and the general public seem to be more comfortable with pop-cultural depictions of homosexuality in the U.K., where I Love You Phillip Morris, a drama in which Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor play cellmates and lovers, was released in March. The U.S. audience apparently isn’t so easygoing: After having its release date pushed back numerous times due to a distributor skittish about its gay subject matter, the film still awaits an official U.S. debut.
It’s not that Americans are completely intolerant of gay-themed entertainment. Brokeback Mountain catapulted the careers of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, while playing gay has earned Oscar nominations for numerous straight actors, including Ledger, Gyllenhaal, Al Pacino, William Hurt, Javier Bardem, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sean Penn and Colin Firth. And I think a Brokeback Mountain send up would have been a brilliant move for Adam Lambert and Ricky Martin in the U.S. But straight male pop stars in the States have to be more careful about their image. What if Justin Timberlake and Usher decided to record a duet together (which is something that I think should happen sooner rather than later)? Would they dare to play forbidden lovers in the video?
My guess is no. It’s one thing for Adam Lambert to kiss a guy and simulate oral sex on the American Music Awards. It may have offended the Parents Television Council enough for ABC to briefly ban him from the network’s shows, but in the end, the publicity aided sales of his debut album, For Your Entertainment, and did no damage to his career. Still, what’s good for Lambert, who is openly gay and has been unapologetically flamboyant since he first appeared on American Idol, would not necessarily be good for a straight male pop star in the U.S. Were they ever to make a video together, Timberlake and Usher would no doubt surround themselves with beautiful, scantily clad bombshells.
But who knows? Now that Timberlake has gotten serious about his acting career, maybe the day will come when we get to see him and James Franco walk off into the sunset, shirtless.
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