(Note: The above video contains language that may not be appropriate for work or other sensitive environments.)
Controversy recently erupted after Hercules and Love Affair released a video for its track "My Offence."
The song, which is featured on the queer music project's third album, "The Feast of the Broken Heart," explores frontman Andy Butler's "relationship to taboo words and the use of 'cunt' amongst NYC's gay community to relay flattery, empowerment and strength," a press release reveals.
The video for the track, directed by Matthew Lambert, includes literary and nightlife legends like Honey Dijon, Juliana Huxtable and Contessa Stuto, giving their own takes on the highly contentious -- and often political -- word.
"My initial idea was to [conceptualize] the song through a series of filmed interviews with performance artists who explore profanity and gender in their work but I was not aiming at the fusion of music, video and documentary. When I talked to Matt for the first time he mentioned the idea of combining the two formats -- music video and documentary. Fast forward 6 months to when I previewed the early edits and it kind of blew my mind."
We caught up with Butler to learn more about the video, his thoughts on taboo words and more.
The Huffington Post: Where did the inspiration for the song and video come from?
Andy Butler: I had moved to Austria from NYC and was using the word "cunt" in my lexicon to the amazement and confusion of non-native English speaking peoples. I had to explain what I meant a number of times, and that got me thinking more critically about my use of the word and its history, etc. The "c word" has a special place in both feminist and queer theory discussions of language as it floats between being one of the most reviled and offensive words and a term of highest adulation and admiration in relative contexts/communities. Feminism and queer theory were things that I wanted to learn about as a young man and ultimately found liberation and empowerment through. I grew up in a highly charged somewhat violent "macho" environment and was targeted because of a feminine or "weaker" demeanor. I thought to explore it in song, and decided to play with the concept of a tom heavy "bitch" track, and with a powerful queer-identifying vocalist like Krystle Warren, who was up for the challenge. Reading records like "Get Huh" by The Ride Comitee feat. Roxy or the more serious "Living in Fear" by Aron Prince were the starting points for the concept, though it ultimately is a more melodic and solemn musical experience than either of those examples.
How did you choose who would take part in the video?
The first thoughts were performance artists and people who have a direct relationship or use the word in their everyday parlance. This helped identify a handful of people like Kalup Linzy, New York legendary nightlife figures like Honey Dijon, as well as younger artists and participants in the NYC nightlife scene like Juliana Huxtable and Contessa Stuto.
What was the process of shooting the video like? Did you have set questions there were asked or was it more free form with everyone just riffing on "cunt"?
I was actually not even on set for this video. It is the third time I was not on set for a video in my career. Hercules and Love Affair is a unique project in the sense that I have consciously avoided too much development around a cult of personality thru things like inviting guests regularly, changing the line up, purposely not appearing in videos. Hercules is also very built around collaboration and I am in the special position of having been able to find filmmakers who also thrive on the spirit of collaboration and whose level of talent inspires enough trust to let them "do their thing." Matt and I had a number of meetings before, in person and on Skype, and once the concept had been fully conveyed and I felt the direction was clear, it was a bit fingers crossed. Matt's style of direction and film making here was definitely "improvisational and natural." I feel informed by the unhindered dialogue and expressions of the participants in these filmed portraits/interviews. He asked them about the word itself, as well as what obscene words had meant to everyone specifically, etc.
What does "cunt" mean to you and what does it take to be "cunt"?
To me, cunt means beautiful -- it is a admirable raw authentic expression of creativity. And to be cunt takes courage.
How has the video been received? Do people understand where you're coming from? Has there been any outrage?
The reaction has been mixed. For instance in trying to find a platform to premiere the video, we encountered a lot of resistance because of it being too "controversial" or "too sensitive of a subject matter." This was coming from sites that I could not imagine saying such a thing, considering their young "hip" demographic and "fearless" approach to journalism. Also surprisingly, the gay press has been quite uninterested (though I would argue scared). Advertisers rule the roost though, I get it. Publicly, it seems some people understand where I am coming from, and of course there are those people that don't. There are women who think I am speaking on something I have no right to because of my given sex. There are some music lovers who have criticized the fusion of documentary and music video, complaining the song had been butchered. I say allow them to speak.
What are your personal feelings about controversial or taboo terms? Do you think there are words that can't or shouldn't be (re)claimed?
I think language is a powerful tool that needs to be respected and handled responsibly. For as much subversive power as it has the potential of holding, language also obviously has the power to hurt, oppress and damage the spirit of individuals and groups. For this reason I do prefer to err on the side of sensitivity personally -- there is a place for political correctness. I would say the same way that "cunt" is not a bad word, neither is the term "politically correct." Everyone is so afraid to be labeled as such. That said, policing too much is not okay either.
There's been a similar discussion happening over the past several months about the word "tranny." What are your thoughts on the word?
I view it as a word that belongs to a certain generation; it is important to bear in mind that generation is one that fought for many fundamental rights that the LGBT community benefits from now. Targeting them over how their language manifests their experience of queer culture is something that I believe should be done with caution and an equal amount of sensitivity. When I was coming of age, it was common to hear many different members of the community say the word, without a negative or disparaging connotation. I also used to say "tranny," but removed it from my lexicon long before the upset that came about this year. This choice was made because I had more and more close relationships with trans people, and using it felt impersonal and objectifying. Overall, I believe that the way the word was used on "Drag Race," in the same way that "cunt" is used on "Drag Race," was not just for comic effect but also to celebrate in a punky and light hearted way the act of defying gender lines and asserting its totally natural occurrence in people. I applaud Rupaul for standing his ground, and ALSO ultimately for choosing a path of sensitivity and respect when the alarm bells went off.
Sexuality and queerness are inherent parts of hercules and love affair but they're lacking from much of the music industry, even with queer artists like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean gaining popularity and scoring hits. What do you think it will take for queerness (especially a non-sanitized queerness) to not be taboo in mainstream music? Is that something you even care about or think is important?
I don't know if there will ever be a non-sanitized queerness in mainstream music and that is okay. I think that not everything needs to be normalized or brought into the mainstream but think it is crucial that a forum exists to bring awareness to the taboo or this "non-sanitized" content. At the least to breed tolerance, ideally inviting a celebration of these differences. There are frontiers that still need to be fought for. For instance, what comes immediately to mind is the very important task of creating awareness and demanding respect for the people who love and desire transgendered people. They are often shamed for something that should really be a beautiful thing. I am proud that Hercules and Love Affair- read myself and all of the participants past and present- have been able to push for the celebration of differences in various ways, on different levels.