Dear Pop Star: It Is Time to Decide Which Side You Are On

Half of America wants to break the Butterfly of Otherness on the rack; what are you going to do about it? 

Zooey Zephyr (Image: Facebook)

In half of our America, legislatures are breaking the Butterfly of Otherness on the rack.

In these states, our pop stars are prancing and stomping in diamonds and denim; they hit their marks, grin and sweat in the lights, cash implausibly large checks, and they say absolutely nothing about what’s going on. They dance in the shadow of an enormous, broken butterfly, and pretend not to see; our freedoms fall in the forest, and they pretend not to hear. Our pop stars have become that one thing worse than the bully who called you a vile name and slammed you into the lockers in 8th grade: They are the person you thought was your friend, looking the other way. 

See, Rock ‘n’ roll is the Kingdom of Outsiders. 

It was built by those disenfranchised from the American mainstream. 

Do you understand this? 

It was created by those who were economically, politically, socially, and racially excluded from the American dream. It was created by the sons and daughters of slaves and sharecroppers, the involuntary and voluntary immigrants who came here sealed by real chains and the chains of economic insignificance. Then the gauntlet for pop was picked up and spread to the suburban world by those who were throwing grease in the face of McCarthyism and George Wallace, by those who evaded the draft and were beaten to the tune of protest in Little Rock, Selma, Birmingham, Lincoln Park and beyond, by those who both loved music and sought the living ink of the constitution. And then it became a beautiful beacon for all of us who found ourselves in The Other, in The Kingdom of Outsiders.

This is why rock and pop cannot, must not ever abandon America’s disenfranchised, those who are being legally hunted in half of America, those who should be treasured for being Other, not made criminal. And if you are reading this, I know there is a little bit – or a lot – of the Other inside of you. I recognize you. We all found ourselves in the Kingdom of Outsiders. 

In 2023, our greatest pop stars march across America with armies of guitars and fog machines, spandex and Stratocasters; and half of the America they perform in, half the America they make a fortune from, is in the process of actively legalizing censorship, bigotry, sexism, restriction of choice, and hate. Bruce and Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks, Shania Twain and Ed Sheeran, Metallica and on and on. They are all holding money-making, self-aggrandizing rallies in states that are actively seeking to make The Outsider illegal. I am waiting. I am waiting for them to take a stand, I am waiting for them to say, this is wrong. I am waiting for them to say, we are all Zooey Zephyr; we are rock ‘n’ roll. I am waiting for them to say, we will not be silent witnesses to bigotry and censorship, because our temple was built by those who were censored, by those who were the victims of bigotry. 

It is time to give back. Silence is complicity. Period. To remain silent in front of vast audiences in the states that are passing laws to encode bigotry and outlaw the Other is to make common cause with the enemy. Silence is complicity. Got that, Mr. and Ms. Pop Star? 

A trans woman named Deb Sprague who writes for this site recently posted these words: “Right now, I am the enemy of America. Not all of America, just the 50 percent of it that has passed legislation aimed at harming me. (There are) Hundreds of proposed or enacted laws to eradicate me.”

Friends: Even if you have never dreamed of identifying yourself as LGBTQ, I want you to remember this: You are already Other, because by loving and living rock ‘n’ roll, you love and live in the Kingdom of Outsiders. And huge swaths of this country want to make Other illegal. 

I know this: I am not the only one reading this who found their way out of the wilderness of middle school’s cruelties because I came across the face of Lance Loud and Quentin Crisp, or the words of Isherwood and E.M. Foster; and what they did or didn’t do with their penises did not matter to me, truly. What mattered is that they handed me a passport to the Land of Other, and I knew this was where I belonged. And I simply want other lost children to have that chance, too. I want them to know there is a place which understands and accepts them, their spirit of dissatisfaction, curiosity, and adventure. I know that each and every one of our pop stars once received their passport to the Kingdom of Outsiders, the Land of Other; and I want them to now fight, with anger and joy, for the right of all people in America’s present and future to find The Land of Other. 

Why must we take it for granted that the rock and pop stars marching across America this summer will be silent in the face of legalized bigotry, discrimination, and misogyny? It is inconceivable to me that anyone who was once a member of the Kingdom of Outsiders, much less anyone who continues to make millions based on promoting an image as an Outsider Princess or Greaser King, could perform in a state that actively and aggressively attempts to legalize bigotry, and not address this in some way. It is an utter and absolute betrayal. It reveals the rotten, hypocritical, terrified, cowardly, mammon-driven core at the center of these artists’ souls. And I say this to every artist who remains silent while performing in a state seeking to legalize bigotry: I hate you. 

And you may deny this, as you sleep like a billionaire baby in your private jet, but the persecution of Other is a slippery slope: My god, you think they’re going to stop at drag queens, education about civil rights, and the right to choose? Are you that dumb? Bigotry ignored is bigotry applauded; and bigotry applauded is a virus. Once bigots hear that applause, they will find a new target, that target being anyone and everyone not white, male, and Christian. 

We may live in the post-truth era, but this does not mean we must also live in an age without compassion. The only myth in rock’n’roll worth perpetuating is the idea that it was created, disseminated, revitalized and revived by the disenfranchised, and that it stands for something bigger than us: Hope for and representation of the disenfranchised.  

Pop is the creation of disenfranchised people, the expression of disenfranchised people, and perhaps most significantly the umbrella that disenfranchised people gather under for safety. If you cannot protect the disenfranchised, you cannot protect the art enabled and supported by the disenfranchised. Do you want me to translate that, Taylor? Today they come after books, wombs, drag, Disney and Bud Lite; tomorrow they will come after you. And if you don’t believe that, you don’t know a goddamn thing about history. Just by being a woman, they see you as Other. And they hate Other. 

Bruce, Taylor, Beyonce, et fucking al, if you are not willing to call out hate and bigotry for the sake of compassion, call it out for the sake of the future of your art form. The future of art is and always will be The Outsider, The Other.

In Zooey Zephyr, I want you to see the face of every outsider prince or princess who changed the direction of your heart, and every rock star who ever opened your mind, spoke to your soul and loins and said, there is another world beyond the land of Kansas (the band and the state of mind) and the dull cruelties and banalities of homeroom.

Zooey Zephyr: You are us, discovering David Bowie and Dusty Springfield. You are David Bowie and Dusty Springfield, discovering themselves. 

Zooey Zephyr: You are us, discovering Lance Loud or Lil Nas X. You are Lance Loud or Lil Nas X, discovering themselves. 

Zooey Zephyr: You are us, discovering Gaga or Falling James. You are Gaga or Falling James, discovering themselves. 

Zooey Zephyr: You are us, discovering Michael Stipe or Marc Almond. You are Michael Stipe or Marc Almond, discovering themselves. 

There is no gray area with bigotry.

There are no half-measures with compassion.

It is time to decide which side you are on. 

I am waiting. 

Give me your bullied, your geeks, 

Your book worms yearning to breathe free from fear of Friday Night football mobs and parties uninvited,

The beautiful refused of high school hallway cliques.

Send these, the dreamers, thrilled and terrified by the things they feel, tempest tossed by new erotic and artistic chills, to me,

I am rock ‘n’ roll, I lift my lamp to guide you to the Kingdom of Outsiders!





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Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYU DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He is the author of Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish and has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Learn more at Tim Sommer Writing.

One thought on “Dear Pop Star: It Is Time to Decide Which Side You Are On

  • May 16, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    “silence = complicity”? not quite. the equation is missing the function of “indifference”. many have no problem with the Others entertaining them. (think the elitist’s party boys in “the handmaid’s tale’; kink in a controlled environment.) however, the idea that they might have one of their own–children, sisters, relations–turn out like that? perish the thought! so clear away the paths that might lead them astray and keep them on the straight and narrow. that’s what the culture war is about.
    it is the ‘fifth column’ though which is the real convincer. they don’t vote for congressional candidate who are authoritarians and repressionists; they vote for glenn youngkin because he wants parents to have control of their local schoolboards which aren’t teaching proper values. to them, DEI is just more alphabet soup. and they love bob dylan and raised their fists when his protest anthems would come on…until Sinead O’Connor tore up picture of the Pope on SNL, and then had the termerity to appear at the Dylan 30th Anniversary concert to overwhelming catcalls and boos. oh yes, they LOVE the spirit of protest.
    this is the indifference of why “mine” was important and “yours” is just whining and bitching, and why should i care about changing the status quo? it works all right for me. they would never deliberately choose a white nationalist/election denier for office…but, when the win the primary with a fanatical minority vote, they get the nod because–hey! they’re on my party’s ticket and i really don’t like those ‘big government’, “anti-life’, america-haters…
    it was the post-war statement of pastor Martin Niemöller (“first they came for the communists…”) which everybody thinks was complicity, but it sounds a lot more like indifference to me. to paraphrase Elvis Costello’s great line, “i used to be disgusted/now i try to me amused”, i know what its like not to care; lived a chunk of change like that and i used to be indifferent, now i try to confront that tyranny whenever i can.


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