A new series of Love Island is back on our screens. Thanks to LGBTQ+ people presenting a “logistical difficulty” for ITV, the show remains a beacon of heterosexuality, with the most exaggerated elements of straight culture on display every evening.
The innate heterosexuality of Love Island is part of its appeal – don’t worry, as a gay person, I’m allowed to say that. I feel the same way about the songs that soundtrack a summer of straightness inside the villa. Not so much the sad, acoustic covers, but the bangers: The Motto by Ava Max and Tiësto, summer anthems by Mabel and Mimi Webb, Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits, that Alesso and Katy Perry duet and everything DJs Tom Zanetti, Calvin Harris and David Guetta have ever recorded.
In Love Island’s specific sub-genre of music, it often feels like I’ve heard songs like Big Love by Jack Wins and Question My Love by Nick Easy and Solarman before, even if I hadn’t prior to watching the show. That might be because they feature similar elements, like a big piano house sound, punchy bass and fairly generic lyrics. It’s a specific sound which makes me think of muscled men in spray-on skinny jeans and women in towering heels doing shots and having the time of their lives.
This music is part of the same canon: the heterosexual banger (AKA hetty banger).
Depsite the fact that it’s literally Pride Month, according to Gay Twitter, summer is also the season of the hetty banger. “It’s such a hetty banger isn’t it, I’m obsessed,” Liam Lambrini wrote about Sigala’s Just Got Paid, featuring Ella Eyre, Megan Trainor and French Montana. (The DJ’s biggest bop, I Came Here For Love, is described that way too). “Mr Brightside is a heterosexual banger,” wrote another user, while Josh Yooah says the same about Little Mix’s Heartbreak Anthem. Other heterosexual bangers include Disclosure’s entire discography, Despacito, Uptown Funk, Sex On Fire, that Taio Cruz song that goes “I’ve got a hangover, woaaaaahhh!”, anything featuring Pitbull and Jason Derulo, Closer by The Chainsmokers and, of course, The Final Boss: Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You.
There is a lot to unpack here. First, the most obvious question: can a song really sound “heterosexual”? Surely they’re just songs, right? “Music has no sexual orientation!”, I hear you cry. Well, not quite. If we look at the flipside, there are countless anthems which give off a distinct Gay Energy, even if they’re not sung by a gay artist. (To name just a few: Into You by Ariana Grande, It’s Raining Men, Xtina’s screechified Fighter, most of Kylie Minogue’s back catalogue and Madonna’s Express Yourself).
So what makes a song sound “straight”, to queer people in particular? It’s more of a vibe than anything else, but the general definition of hetty banger seems to be defined by a certain basicness. There’s a predictability to them, where it seems obvious what is coming next, which is deeply satisfying. These songs are purposefully designed to be heard by as many people as possible – on the radio, or in huge venues. And they’re not shying away from that, they’re revelling in it. Think: listening to Capital FM with the top down and the volume cranked up.
Hetty bangers, like basicness, are by no means exclusive by-products of straight musicians. Becky Hill, who is bisexual, is one of the sub-genre’s pioneers. Mayfair fish restaurant terroriser Jess Glynne, also bisexual, is behind the Jet2Holidays anthem Hold My Hand, a song that feels more heterosexual than a destination wedding in Dubai. Rita Ora’s duet with Avicii, Lonely Together, is part of the canon too, while Sam Smith’s numerous collaborations with Disclosure, such as Latch, have certainly soundtracked many a Freshers Week fingerbanging. There are even hetty anthems by the biggest gay icons, like Scream & Shout by Britney Spears and Cheers (Drink to That) by Rihanna.
Much like the guilty pleasure of tuning in to watch Love Island, the concept of a “hetty banger” is an appreciation of basicness, rather than a rejection of it. Castigating someone as “basic” was once a cutting insult. “When someone calls you basic, all they’re saying is: I think that the stuff you like is lame and I don’t really like you,” wrote Kara Brown for Jezebel in 2014. Now, though, memes like #BasicGirlAutumn and #HotGirlSummer, or fun parts of the internet like Hun Culture, encourage participants to celebrate and unleash their inner basic bitch. As the old hierarchy of “high art” vs “low art” is destabilised, openly enjoying supposedly “basic” things has almost become a badge of honour.
Celebratory or not, it might seem strange for queer people to cast ourselves as the arbiters of what is and isn’t basic. Mighty Hoopla festival, which was created by queer collective Sink The Pink, returned to London’s Brockwell Park over the Jubilee weekend. It was a glittery, nostalgic spectacle of queer joy, with headlining sets from Anastacia, Steps and Sugababes, but it could hardly claim to be alternative or edgy.
“I do think we equate basic taste with heterosexuals, and consider ourselves culturally superior. Despite the fact that a lot of the stuff we’re interested in is just as, if not more, vapid,” culture journalist Douglas Greenwood tells THE FACE. He thinks something being perceived as “heterosexual” is a matter of whether is feels formulaic or not. “We can do mainstream if we can associate it with chaos in some regard, like Gaga. But when something is straightforward and has one block colour with no shading we’re like: heterosexual!”
The gay affinity for underdogs also feels connected to mainstream songs, which are formulated to be popular with the masses, being perceived as “heterosexual”. Every day on Gay Twitter someone is insisting an artist, album or song has been unfairly “slept on”. In 2018, Mariah Carey’s flop album Glitter returned to the charts, 17 years on, after a Stan Twitter campaign to resurrect it. When Kylie Minogue performed at Brighton Pride in 2019, fans similarly coalesced around asking her to add lesser-known gay fan favourite Your Disco Needs You to her setlist. (After being inundated with requests, she obliged).
Gay music journalist George Griffiths wrote about the trials and tribulations of “stanning a failure” in 2018. He thinks his obsession with Natalia Kills (now known as Teddy Sinclair) helped shape his identity and voice as a writer. He spoke to many gay men with a similar affinity for female artists who never made it big. “These women helped from an intrinsic part of our identities as young, gay men finding their place in the world,” he wrote. “Maybe we originally tried to find validation for ourselves in their success – maybe, if people could listen to our favourite pop star, they could listen to us too.”
This is all evidence that some gay people – particularly those who are Very Online – consider their role as a fan to be more of an active one. We see this where Gay Twitter meets Stan Twitter: rather than just listening to the radio and passively consuming what they’re given, stans pride themselves on going out in search of more. When they find something they like, they stan it hard – so even if the music they end up vouching for isn’t high quality, there is a feeling that they’re being more discerning.
The thing is, I can attest to the fact that gay people often pretend to hate by-products of mainstream culture, while secretly enjoying them. (I have friends who didn’t post their Spotify Wrapped last year because Ed Sheeran’s presence was apparently too shameful). Really, we can’t help but love hetty bangers, whether it’s at pre-drinks with the girls or in the privacy of our own Spotify streams. Greenwood has just returned from Primavera, where he describes seeing Disclosure as an “unparalleled” experience. “We love that music, because it’s designed so it’s very hard not to,” he says. “It works with the masses for a reason: hitting every beat in the most egregiously straightforward way possible is a shortcut to euphoria.”
Sometimes, things that a lot of people like are actually just pretty good. Why else would certified hetty bop Mr Brightside have been in the UK charts for 18 consecutive years? Or Sheeran be Spotify’s most-streamed artist? As gay writer Sean O’Neill wrote in a defence of Sheeran’s Overpass Graffiti for Gawker: “When listening to it, I find myself thinking that, had it been recorded by Carly Rae Jepsen, middle manager gay guys in knitwear would post on Twitter that she ‘understood the assignment’ until 2035.”
After living through a period where the very idea of fun felt dangerous – and was literally criminalised in some situations – perhaps there is a particularly timely joy to be had in hetty bangers this summer of 2022. These songs make us want to dance, drink and unashamedly over-indulge. They remind me of an Andy Warhol quote about resisting snobbery against things which seem light and frivolous. “In some circles where very heavy people think they have very heavy brains, words like ‘charming’ and ‘clever’ and ‘pretty’ are all put-downs,” he wrote in 1975. “All the lighter things in life, which are the most important things, are put down.”
So now that summer is here, let’s embrace the hetty banger. Because if you haven’t blasted some Sigala on a Friday evening, while closing all your tabs and clocking off from work after a long week, then let’s face it: you really haven’t lived.