What Are the Financial Implications of Keeping an Artist in the Closet?

If you’re watching the Fox soap opera Empire, you’ll known that label scion Lucius Lyon has a real problem with one of his sons–a smooth R&B singer–coming out of the closet. Not only is Lucius a homophobe, but he’s concerned that the truth about his son’s sexuality will hurt record sales.

This isn’t far-fetched at all. How many boy band members–the focus of crushes by millions of teenage girls–were actually into boys?  Keeping them closeted was essential if the enterprise was to succeed.

Popbitch, the, er, bitchy UK website, wondered how much it cost to keep the the secret.

Talent management companies and record labels have been aware of this ever since people started fainting at the sight of Elvis’s hips and they have spent sixty years refining the art of packaging pop stars to make the most money possible out of impressionable young teenagers. The biggest slice of this crucially important (and lucrative) market? The heterosexual teenage girl – a demographic whose spending power has never been more aggressively chased than it is today.

The formula for creating a successful boy band has long been established and one of the archetypes that seems to be of accidental but enduring appeal to the heterosexual teenage girl is the Sole Gay Member.

We’ve seen the same thing happen again and again. It’s occurred too many times now for it to be coincidence. Jonathan from New Kids On The Block, Stephen from Boyzone, Mark from Westlife, Lance from N*Sync, Duncan from Blue, Jayme from Union J.

If you want to count Wham! as a boy band (and there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t) then we can throw George Michael into the mix – making this a 30-year trend. Ricky Martin started his career in Puerto Rican boy band Menudo and, although Steps weren’t a boy band per se, H (a.k.a. The Good Ian Watkins) very much followed the same personal trajectory.

It’s clear that there is great profit to be had in marketing bands with a closeted gay member. But what sort of margin can you make with this sort of racket? Would the band’s economics suffer if the band members’ true sexualities were revealed? And how much are hormonal young girls paying for this whole charade?

Basically what we’re asking is: is there any way to quantitatively measure the sort of profit you could make off a young gay star if they stay in the closet?

We’re not entirely sure there is, but we’re going to try anyway.

Continue reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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