In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and first country in the Americas to come to its goddamn senses and legalize gay marriage. It was the year after identical twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin released So Jealous, and right around the time that Jack White, circa The White Stripes, covered their track "Walking With a Ghost."
"The tone back then was, 'This is music for gay people because you're girls who are gay,' " Sara says. "In the beginning of our career it was important for whatever reason to put us in a neat little marginalized side category."
But it was getting really tough to pigeonhole them, even back in 2005. Jealous was already the sisters' fourth studio album, and even without Jack White they'd been getting plenty of attention. Their music appeared in movies and TV, and they were playing several major music festivals. Despite the media's trusty storyline, it was difficult to define Tegan and Sara as "gay music," because their fans seemed to forget they were gay and just listened to the music.
And then the big shift happened. In 2007, Tegan and Sara released The Con — just 14 months before Obama's election and the Prop 8 Californian black eye.
"We felt the momentum of it in Canada, where gay rights had all happened when we were in our early 20s," says Sara. "All of a sudden we're seeing that about to happen in the U.S. We'd learned so much from our experience in Canada that we finally realized, 'Wow, we have an opportunity to now be a part of the movement, not just reap the reward.' "
Both Sara and her sister have been out for as long as they've been releasing records — the first of which dropped in 1999 — and they've been unashamed to speak on behalf of gay rights. For those looking to classify them, it was an easy equation: Girls who are gay make music; voilà, gay music. But honestly, what does that even mean? Sara says the faux category really has more to do with where people meet to listen to music than it does with the music itself. Just because the Tennessee Titans play "Seven Nation Army" on game day doesn't mean Jack White wrote the song with the intention of it being a jock jam.
"I never think about sexuality as being something that would deter me from liking something, because everything is straight," Sara says. "Everything."
In the TV shows Sara watched growing up, in the films she saw, all the musicians she listened to, it never occurred to her to not like something because it wasn't queer.
"I could relate to Bruce Springsteen," Sara says. "I could relate to Radiohead. I could relate to Pat Benatar. I didn't have to identify with them as someone who was gay; I was identifying with them because I was human.
"I don't think music sounds gay or straight," she continues. "When I listen to country music written by Johnny Cash, I don't think that it sounds straight. I think he sounds straight. I think he wrote about hetero-normative relationships. But as a queer person who has been inundated with that my whole life, I don't even really think about that. I just think, 'That's a great song.' "
Tegan and Sara's seventh studio album, 2013's Heartthrob, is a great record: so, so poppy, with more electronic dance influence and less acoustic guitar than previous records. It's pulled fans from both sides of the sexual divide — if you can even call it that — because it's great music. At the JUNO Awards in February — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys — Justin Bieber was roundly booed, but Tegan and Sara brought down the house.
"I think that people hear music, and if they can apply it to their own lives — the melodies, the words, whatever that resonates with them — that's what I care about," Sara says.
Tegan and Sara's role is changing. With an album that's done so well — Heartthrob debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 — the music has become the central issue, as it should be. In January they released the single "Everything Is Awesome," a collaboration with The Lonely Island and the theme for The Lego Movie. When Canadian actress Ellen Page came out in February, Tegan and Sara both offered their support and congratulations, calling her coming-out speech "incredibly brave." Really, they've become the aunts of the Canadian LGBT scene. Their sexuality is of course central to who they are, but it's not the central story any longer.
As states like Tennessee continue to drag their feet in regard to acknowledging marriage regardless of sexual preference, the rest of the Western world shakes its head not so much in disapproval as confusion. How has it not happened already? With so many other pressing issues in the world, shouldn't we have resolved this one long ago?
"We don't make gay music," Sara says. "We make music, and we also happen to be gay."
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