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Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” Does Queer Representation Right

by Anya Josephs

You might have heard of Mary Lambert, or maybe not. You’ve probably heard her—she is the woman’s voice in the chorus of Macklemore’s song “Same Love.” I have a lot of complicated feelings about “Same Love.” Although I think the song’s message in favor of same-sex marriage is important, the line “if I were gay I would think hip-hop hates me” is downright false, since hip-hop is a genre with as rich a history of LGBTQ artists as any other. I also sometimes feel like Macklemore uses his privilege as a straight white man to speak over LGBTQ people instead of supporting their voices.

Luckily, Mary Lambert’s beautiful new solo song, for which she’s just released possibly the world’s most adorable video, “She Keeps Me Warm,” shows how the voices and stories of LGBTQ artists can be put front and center.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Lambert said she “just wanted to  provide visibility for a lesbian relationship” after not being able to find one music video that represented a relationship between two women without tokenizing same-sex relationships, showing only “over-sexualized women rolling around in lingerie.”

I’ve written before about how queer women are fetishized and objectified in media. Queer women are often presented in explicitly sexual situations in advertisements, or kissing for shock value at awards shows or on sitcoms.

What Lambert shows in her video is a drastically different view of lesbian relationships—a much more realistic one. The video and lyrics alike are very much about the love and relationship between the singer and the woman she is singing about. Where most depictions of same-sex affection seem to be between three people—two feminine-presenting, conventionally attractive queer women, and the male gaze—Lambert’s video is beautiful because it is so personal. Although her real-life girlfriend isn’t featured in the video, this song is based on their relationship.

And on the subject of using music to support the voices of LGBTQ people, the woman who co-stars in the video, Bryn, is the guitarist for an all-queer, all-female band called Wishbeard. Women are so often led to think we ought to compete against each other, and this goes doubly for minorities—when only a very small number of LGBTQ women ever make it in the arts world, there is an added sense of competition to be this token representation. It’s awesome to see Lambert confront this sense of competition by sharing the spotlight with another queer artist.

She also made the video with an all-queer, all-female crew. This is another way she’s using her success from “Same Love” to support other queer women. Although the women on her crew don’t actually appear in front of the camera, directing, producing, and tech work are amazingly deep kinds of storytelling, as I know from my own experience in theatre. In a culture where women represent only 18% of directors, producers, cinematogrophers and editors in top-grossing films, Lambert’s choice to give women’s experiences (and expertise) center stage is hugely important.

As I mentioned in my earlier article, in the highly-sexualized mass-media images of lesbian affection, almost without exception the women involved are conventionally attractive, feminine, white, and thin. Lambert is a plus-sized woman, and this identity, like being a gay woman, is one that is often under attack. Just as gay women seem to be reduced to sexual objects in objectifying media, “plus-sized bodies…are not allowed to be sexy or romantic,” as Lambert says. Her decision to star in the video herself provides a beautiful example of what a love story with a plus-sized woman in the center can look like. Choosing to co-star was another reinforcement by Lambert of her central idea that “love is universal.”

Although having an all-female crew, showing a plus-sized woman’s body as sexy and beautiful, and depicting a beautiful queer love story are all very political, unlike “Same Love” this is not a song about politics. It is a song about love, like so many others, and that’s just what makes it so unique. It is so rare that media about queer people can depict us as simply people without erasing our queerness. Songs like “Same Love” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” are groundbreaking because they address the oppressions queer people face, but “She Keeps Me Warm” is revolutionary in a whole different way. It balances showing the universality of love with representing queer women in a more authentic and moving way than I’ve ever seen in the media before.

In interviews, Lambert stresses that she wants all women to know that there is “beauty in themselves and their bodies are not a warground.” It is exactly that beautiful message that her video conveys. She shows an inherently beautiful love story in “She Keeps Me Warm,” a beauty that does not require validation from anyone, that allows queer stories to exist in the mainstream without being about queerness, and that is truly inspiring. It is this kind of media I hope we will see more of soon, from Lambert and from other artists, because it is this kind of media that can make a better world.

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3 Responses to “Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” Does Queer Representation Right”

  1. lizzie says:

    Fantastic piece, Anya! I knew of Mary Lambert’s work prior to Macklemore so it’s super-exciting to see her use this newfound recognition to highlight other queer women.

  2. Jessica Conifer says:

    Thank you, this is a great article… I do have a couple of issues though. I am a straight white female, let me set that out there right away, so maybe I don’t have a lot of say in this… but your issue with a straight with male speaking up for the community surprised me.

    It reminds me of issues we have in an organization I work with, we focus on a specific area of women’s rights… the availability of sanitary supplies for menstruating women in developing nations, and it is the lack of involvement by the privileged group (males) that causes the problem in the first place. If men were not so ignorant and phobic of the issues of women then they would not BE issues. If people, especially white males, were not so phobic of homosexuality there would not be any prejudice to fight against.

    Whenever you can get the privileged on your side you need to celebrate it… I do not understand what problem you could POSSIBLY have with a man like Macklemore championing for the rights of the LGBTQ community, he has a voice that people listen to… and he also has a member of the LGBTQ community working with him on this song… which supports her voice… literally.

    You said “the line ‘if I were gay I would think hip-hop hates me’ is downright false, since hip-hop is a genre with as rich a history of LGBTQ artists as any other” seems downright false to me. First let me say that you claiming that his prediction that IF he was gay he would THINK hip-hop hates him is false is a pretty silly thing to say. You are saying his hypothetical feelings about a hypothetical situation are not true?? huh? Anyway… onto a more important point… there are fewer musical genres that have been more outspoken about intolerance towards homosexuality.

    True there have been hip-hop artists who have spoken out, but that is mostly in reaction to the fact that it also tends to be the most blatant about its mistreatment of homosexuals. Same could be said about their treatment of women… the only reason they need to be s outspoken (when they do speak out) about women’s right is because they are counteracting the negative message about women they also send out into the world.

    There may be many homosexual musicians in hip-hop… you know… since sexuality is not determined by musical preference… but the music itself often directly insults homosexuals and frequently drops the word “faggot” as an all encompassing insult. Little Wayne uses the term “no homo” regularly… almost as a punctuation mark, to make SURE nobody mistook his as POSSIBLY being gay.

    http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fbigstory.ap.org%2Farticle%2Fno-homophobia-hip-hops-shift-anti-gay-tone&h=AAQGwwI7A

    http://rollingout.com/music/lord-jamar-calls-kanye-west-queer-conscious-hip-hops-10-most-homophobic-lyrics/

    http://gayteens.about.com/od/glbtteenlifestyle/ss/homophobiamusic.htm

    again, thank you for the great article.

  3. Courtney A. says:

    I really agree with what Jennifer said, I feel that while Macklemore is a straight male, he is an ally. I am a straight female, but this subject hits home for me. I want nothing more than equality, because nothing is more beautiful and sacred than love. It is what we loved about the Mary Lambert music video. We loved that she showed a real relationship unfold, something that no matter what you are in the LGBTQ community, you will get the butterflies watching. No matter who you are flirting with, holding hands with, kissing; there is something so beautiful that was able to be captured in that video. For someone as prolific as Macklemore to bring forth a mainstream song to say, “It’s human rights for everyone, there is no difference.” is HUGE. There is a great deal of homophobia, and we need everyone to stand up and show support. As far as that is concerned, I love how this article discussed that we need to stop objectifying lesbians as a fetish. Seriously, let us all grow up and treat people no matter who we love like humans.

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