Pop singer Ria Mae never considered herself an LGBTQ activist, but a recent music video shoot for the song “Gold” pushed the Halifax native to reflect on the boundaries of her own identity.
It began when a director pitched Mae the idea of playing a fictionalized version of herself caught in a passionate but troubled romance with another woman.
“I loved the story so much,” Mae says. “The only thing I was worried about was the relationship.”
She knew portraying a lesbian could potentially pigeonhole her music career, but Mae paused to question why she was so worried about putting her sexual orientation on the radar.
“I had this gut feeling, like, ‘Shut up. It’s good, and it’s important.'”
So Mae agreed to the storyline for “Gold,” a rare example of a music video where a lesbian relationship doesn’t exist solely for the titillation of straight men.
Getting the gay-positive video made was relatively easy, but the experience was an anomaly, even in today’s music industry.
“Gold” director Alon Isocianu says this wasn’t the first time he’d proposed a same-sex relationship for one of his videos, but it was the only instance that he felt practically no resistance.
“It’s happened for years where I would pitch a video that had a same-sex couple and the record labels were like, ‘We love all these scenes, but can you make that scene between the two high school kids a boy and a girl?'” he says.
Isocianu, who has worked with Kelly Clarkson and Pentatonix, thinks executives sometimes don’t want to “open that can of worms” with an artist, or risk making a video where the song is overshadowed by the sexual orientation of its characters.
“It always blew my mind that would be an issue,” he says.
“If I had a black character and somebody was like, ‘Can we just make him white?’ it would be a weird conversation to have.”
In recent weeks, mainstream attention on LGBTQ issues has intensified, motivated partly by the Orlando gay nightclub shootings and June being Pride Month.
While music videos may seem like a minuscule concern in the bigger picture, they can play an important role for young LGBTQ people who — like many minority groups — are still searching for adequate representation in mainstream media.