by Patrick Crowley
"F--k me like I'm a problem. I'm a problem," croons about-to-be-on-your-radar R&B singer Sakima on "I Used to Have an En Suite," the opening track to his new EP, Fascimile. In the four songs, the 26-year-old platinum blonde makes it clear: it's about time we hear about gay sex on the radio.
Rather than playing it safe like mainstream LGBTQ artists ("That music is so dull. I’m so over the narrative"), Sakima sings about sex in a way that wouldn't be unusual for a heterosexual artist, but is rarely heard coming from queer lips. It's unfiltered, but mature -- and necessary.
On the heels of his EP's release, Billboard talked to the rising star about challenging clichéd mainstream gay tropes, the importance of Grindr and how Zayn Malik inspired one of his tracks: "His songs are really cool now that he's not in that really s--t boy band."
How would you sum up your new EP, Facsimile?
I'm a bit of psycho, so when I make a batch of songs -- because I write songs in groups -- they all are about the same thing. I do it really regularly, so every month will be a bit of a musical snapshot. What I'm experiencing in my head or whatever.
There was this guy that I was dating for a little while. He was more beautiful than I ever imagined, [that] I could ever be with someone like that. I just assumed he was way too out of my league, so when we got together, it came out of nowhere. I really, really wasn't looking for it. Maybe I was.
I'd just come out of this intense, long-term relationship so I projected a lot onto this new guy, a lot of the issues that I had with the old guy. “He's Trippi” documents the beginning of it and I think that was important because I think I've spent a lot of time as a musician doing the stereotypical sad song tropes.
There's that aspect to it, the very personal core of an artist talking about an experience. Then there's the musical side of trying to make something that I think is pop applicable but still interesting and brings something to the table. Then there's this third part of it that is lyricized in a way that is trying to push forward the idea of gay narratives be more represented within pop music and not using the usual tropes that you might find within gay artist.
A lot of the gay tropes within popular music for now are either keeping it really lovey-dovey or keeping it really safe. If it goes anywhere away from that, then it becomes clichéd and it becomes just kind of caricature of itself. So the EP is me trying to go in the middle of that.
LGBTQ artists seem to be more and more comfortable using same-sex pronouns in their music. Your song “He’s Trippi,” for example: there’s no denying that this song is from a gay perspective.
It was really important to me to kind of enrich it in male pronouns and in a vocabulary that honestly portrayed and communicated the experience of it. Specifically using words and phrases that are appropriate to us -- our generation and our modern day kind of experiences as gay people.
It's also sort of low key -- I don't think I've said this to anyone -- but it's also a low key jibe. I absolutely adore Zayn -- you know, Zayn Malik? I absolutely love him. He's obviously really sexy and an amazing voice. His songs are really cool now that he's not in that really s--t boy band.
He has this song called “She” and I really liked it. But it was just overwhelming -- the amount of sexual pronouns in it -- it was very sexual. Which is absolutely fine but for a while, but as a gay artist it's like, the reality of straight artists being able to use pronouns whichever way they want, and then gay artists not being able to do that, has been a real stark issue.
For some reason the song really, really stuck out to me. I guess maybe because I aligned myself to Zayn a little bit in terms of what was happening in his sonic world. I wanted to make this song almost a response to that. Not in a rude way, but in a way as an antidote to that song for people who aren't straight girls basically.
That’s incredible. You certainly didn't shy away from talking about sex in these songs. Why do you think it's so important to do that as a gay artist?
I think, putting it simply, it's important because so many sexualized straight narratives exist in pop music. I don't take this view on everything in life -- I don't think that if my friends have more cake than I do, then I should have the same amount of cake, [but] that equality should exist within popular music, I think it's really important because it could be something that instigates a socio-cultural change for individuals within a community to be happier, to feel more accepted. I think that's really important. I think most gay people growing up as kids and teenagers and young adults, their experience with music is one of a constant -- what's that silly game? Is it Scrabble?
It's like when you listen to music, you're constantly playing this word game of switching out the pronouns and making it more objectable to yourself. I’m absolutely not saying that you have to do that in order to connect to music or for music to be relevant to you but there is a point where you get a little bit sick and tired of not having any songs that really speak to you or speak to your community or speak to anybody that isn't straight basically within popular music. Obviously there's some that do exist but they're just really, really on the margin of music as a whole, let alone popular music.
I think it's really, really important that sex is expressed. Gay sex especially. All forms of non-heterosexual sex. I believe it can be a real instigator for achieving that equality. This feels like an injustice, doesn't it? It just feel like you feel so cheated by the music industry.
There’s a line in “He’s Trippi” where you say “Imma pour it on his back.” Is that an innuendo?
I think it has a dual meaning. “He's Trippi,” like I was saying before, it's a song that's about when you're kind of first getting with someone, when you first start to have sex with someone and it's very new and exciting. Within the song, it kind of weaves in and out of fantasy and the reality of what's being experienced. The “Imma pour it on his back” line is something that is more closely related to the fantasy of the affair and it being this open ended metaphor.
Within my lyrics is the idea of taking phrases or vocabulary that you might be familiar with from heterosexual music, especially sexualized heterosexual music, and applying it to a gay narrative.
“Imma pour it out” and those tropes -- these ideas of busting alcohol and sex and things like that --I'm trying to take that and then, as a gay man, use male pronouns within the vocabulary and bring a new context to it. It’s also as a way to help align my music more specifically to pop music -- engaging with these tropes that you find within popular music. Which is also the definition, essentially, of the title of the EP, Facsimile, which is to make a copy of something. I'm making a copy of pop music, but then appropriating it to my experience as a gay man.
LGBTQ artists in the '70s and '80s had hits with songs that celebrated sex, like "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
I was really, really young when I first heard that song -- probably too young. But I never associated it as being something that was overtly gay because it isn't lyrically overtly gay, on the face value. It wasn't until I was older that I realized what has almost become a gay cliché within that song.
You know there’s two music videos for that song, right? There's one that got banned, and then there’s the dumb-ass lazy version. Well, the banned one uses things that we're all familiar with, like visual cues that we all understand. There's the visual metaphor of the Greek amphitheater and it's set within a gay club. These are all things that people know and understand and we’re seeing in other music videos of the time and of now.
What's interesting is that within that, within this visual metaphor of the amphitheater and the gay club, is queer people who are sexualized in a Tom of Finland-esque fashion and it's almost a caricatured version of what it's like to experience gay clubs as a member of the LGBTQ community. That specific energy that can only really arise from the freedom and safety that is created by gay clubs.
It's been what -- like three to four decades ago when that came out. That's a huge amount of time for that song to really become a part of our pop culture psyche. Have you ever heard this idea that within art, you have things like the Renaissance period and you have minimalism and cubism? You never, ever know what era of art you're in [at the moment] until it's over. I think it's very hard of us to really actually analyze what's happening around us right now musically and in pop music. So you can’t have a solid answer for how good or bad or how progressive or how nonprogressive something is.
You alluded to this earlier, but why do you think mainstream gay musicians are so PG these days?
I think it's so complex. I think that it might be again down to the idea that the music can do well if it is sexually explicit -- of course it can, because it happens all the time in heterosexual music. It's just the people that hold the springboard for a song being hyper exposed and being successful or viral, whatever and just don't really trust it yet. Which then puts the responsibility back down to the listeners to really support and engage with that work that is exploring gay narratives beyond it being PG -- and beyond it being just lovey-dovey, boring, like f--k me.
That music is so dull. I’m so over the narrative. I think it really is up to the audience to support that music and prove to the music industry that it can be successful and that it can work. I do think the music industry, the people more or less running the machine, are the ones with the ultimate responsibility to help. Most artists, even really successful artists, don't have the right funds and the right infrastructure to make a song be really successful. Even if it is a really amazing song. It really requires that help and assistance of the label.
Even now in the age of the internet where people are saying, "Oh, it's easier to be an independent artist" -- it's really f--king not. We need to just dispel the myth that being an independent artist in the age of the internet is fucking magical because it's not. It's just as hard as ever. If anything, it's harder because it’s way more saturated. You really do still rely on those labels and publishers, they definitely have to make sure that kind of work is published and that they put money in to get that work exposed.
How do you think Grindr and other gay dating apps has affected the gay community?
In the way that people villainize porn, I think people are too quick to judge a Grindr and Tinder and dating apps with having the same issues as things like porn. That people just become reliant on having a quick, accessible human interaction or whatever.
I think things like Grindr and Tinder and apps like that, that allow gay people to meet other gay people, whether it's for a drink or just a f--k -- whatever the purpose of it, I think it's really important. Essentially it's the idea of the gay club being a safe space where you can meet those people, but in your phone and with a much wider network. I think it has been massively positive and important element of our modern society, especially of the modern gay community. I understand as well that there are negative sides to it and that you'll never really replace the value of meeting someone in real life and that growing in a very organic way, but at the end of the day, we're only going further into the future.
I think we have to highlight the positives of it and try to capitalize on those, and make more of them rather than being afraid of the negatives that they might be bringing to people's experiences.
So are we getting a cool, racy music video from you? Please?
Well, I actually have an unreleased music video that is pretty racy. I'm not going to lie. It was put in the bin by a old network of people that I used to work with in the music industry. They did not want to put it out because of the homoeroticism in it. So I do have this racy music video that's been sitting around. It's about two years old now and it was going to come out and everything but it didn't for those reasons. Not because I didn't want it to, because people didn't believe in the idea of me expressing my sexuality in that way. Which is really disappointing and really sad but it makes me more in tune seeing it works like that.
Sadly now, I've kind of moved on musically from the song that initially was in that music video. So I don't know if I'll ever put that music video out, but I would like to. In any case, I'm going to be representing gay sex visually, as well as sonically.