We like to think that in 2019, the sexuality of a singer is unimportant to their music. We accept Sam Smith just as easily as we accept Adele. Heterosexual performers can become icons to gay audiences, and gay performers can become icons to heterosexual audiences. Such is the stage of acceptance that music has now reached that to a young people, it might be easy to believe it’s always been that way. It hasn’t, and KD Lang is only too happy to remind people of that fact.
When KD Lang came out in 1992, the world wasn’t as ready to accept the gay community as it is today. Born in a small Irish town, Lang spent years dreading having to have ‘the conversation’ with her mother. When she did, she didn’t gain universal acceptance, but she did find herself instantly taken to the hearts of gay music fans. At the same time, several American country music stations slapped an outright ban on her music, and a line of protesters heckled and spat at her outside the Grammy Awards, gay people inspired by her bravery bought her album ‘Ingenue’ in droves. The single ‘Constant Craving’ topped charts all over the world. Lang may have lost one audience, but she’d found a new one, and they never let her go.
For the past month or so, Lang has been touring ‘Ingenue’ as a 25th-anniversary celebration. It’s been earning rave reviews. Given the number of shows she’s played, and the enthusiasm that she’s performed them with, fans have been hoping that she may have been inspired to release new music for the first time since 2008. In fact, the reverse is true. Lang isn’t about to usher in a new era in her career. At the age of 57, she’s doing the opposite. She’s saying goodbye.
When The Fire Goes Out
When you read descriptions of KD Lang’s music, you’ll see a few words repeated regularly. ‘Sincere’ is likely to be one of them. ‘Authentic’ is another. In the past, when Lang has made music, she’s done so from the bottom of her heart. She’s not the kind of performer who’s happy to commit anything that rhymes to a lyric, and then pair that with music she doesn’t firmly believe in. There may be a considerable market for late 80s and 90s nostalgia at the moment, but it doesn’t seem that Lang wants to take any part in it.
In doing so, she’s demonstrated that she’s not motivated by money. As part of the nostalgia movement, many of the alternative acts from her era are happy to make money by licensing their work to whoever wants it. Load up a mobile slots website such as Amigo Slots, and you’ll find there are mobile slots featuring the works of Guns n’ Roses, Kiss, and Megadeth. You’ll even find a mobile slots game featuring the works and likenesses of fellow – but very different – gay icons Village People. There’s nothing wrong with any act cashing in – and mobile slots featuring the music of their favorite performers are well-liked by people who play mobile slots, but none of that interests Lang. When she’s not performing, you never see or hear of her. Like David Bowie before her, when she has nothing to say or offer, she seems to disappear from the public eye. You’d be hard-pressed to find an official KD Lang t-shirt, let alone a KD Lang mobile slots game.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 in the UK recently, Lang admitted that she doesn’t have any workable ideas for new music – and she doesn’t let it concern her. In her own words, she said that her musical muse is ‘eluding her,’ but also that she’s ‘at peace’ if it never comes back. Lang made her fame and her money in the 1990s, and it sounds like she held on to the latter while never caring for the former. She suspects that her relatively newfound religion may be partially responsible.
Lang is now a practicing Buddhist, and says that it helps to fill a space inside her that could previously only be satisfied by music. She also as a happy and stable life at home with her long-term partner, and enjoys being there more than she enjoys being in the studio. Even in the case of Ingenue, she feels she’s performing for the fans more than for herself, and that she no longer takes ownership of the music. She plays the whole album start to finish every night because she knows her audience have their own personal connection with it, and what it meant to them at the time they first heard it. For her, it no longer stirs anything.
She’s still every bit the performer she once was, but the fire that motivated her to do more has gone out.
Bowing Out At Home
The final night of the tour – which was her first in a decade – was 31st July at home in Ireland. By the time you read this, it will already have happened. That might be the last time anybody sees KD Lang take the stage. If it was, then it represents her career coming full circle – she went out into the world of music from a conservative country who took issues with her sexuality. She now seems to be taking her final bow as a returning hero, and an icon of the LGBT community both here and around the world.
Even that, though, can be tiring. In the same interview she gave to the BBC about feeling that her muse has deserted her, Lang mentioned being ‘exhausted’ by having her life on display. She sacrificed over thirty years of her life to being a gay icon, a campaigner for better treatment for the gay community, and a trailblazer for women in music. If she now wants to take her final bow and retire to the quiet life, she’s more than earned it. It’s a shame we’ll never get to hear another brand new KD Lang album, but better that than to hear the work of someone forcing themselves to carry on way past their prime.