This week She & Him released two new singles with little fanfare or publicity, matching the understated way Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have gone about their musical pairing since the start. And despite their quiet nature these two songs deserve our attention for their groundbreaking approach to inclusive songwriting.
The two singles She Gives Her Love To Me and He Gives His Love To Me are actually the same song, with just the pronouns changed. Both songs are musically identical, featuring Zooey singing about love over sweet acoustic guitars and pedal steel. In fact the similarity between the songs is part of why they are so important. The pronoun change makes no discernible difference to the tone or theme of the song. Same sex love sounds the same. It feels the same. We should treat it the same. The simple power of these two songs side by side proves that pronouns and gender don’t matter when it comes to love.
Deschanel and M. Ward spoke to Rolling Stone explaining why they wanted to support this project:
We have always believed that love belongs to everyone — so love songs should too. What drew us to this project is that it opens up new ways of thinking about songwriting. It would be amazing if our songs help to inspire other artists to engage with lyrics in a more open, and inclusive way.
We need to sing about love in all its forms and the more artists of all persuasions willing to do that the better.
These are the first original songs released as part of the Universal Love Project, which aims to promote same sex marriage and celebrate love in every form. Funded by the MGM group the project began earlier this month with an EP containing covers with flipped gender pronouns suitable for first dances at gay weddings.
The Universal Love EP opens with Bob Dylan singing He’s Funny That Way, which creates a vintage American songbook style to grand effect. Here the ‘funny’ takes on another meaning, and hearing someone like Dylan sing ‘l’ve got a man crazy for me’ is brilliant in its simple power. For someone so revered by straight white guys everywhere, who has never previously been vocal about LGBT issues, to support this project with such enthusiasm really is wonderful.
St Vincent has always toyed with her own persona and identity in the way all the best art rock icons have done in the past. She might be queer yes, but the subjects of her love songs often remain ambiguous, like on ‘Young Lover’. So ‘Then She Kissed Me’ really is a revelation – a punky poppy breakdown that sounds like exhilarating freedom.
Kele Okereke from Bloc Party sings a sweet version of My Guy, owning the soul classic as his own. This is probably the most obvious crowd pleasing wedding song on here. Kele has spoken in the past about how important it is to be honest in his songwriting and explore his identity as a gay man and father. In fact he actually recorded a duet with Olly from Years and Years on his solo album (an underrated indie folk delight) which was one of the few love duets between two men that I can ever remember hearing.
Valerie June sings Mad About the Girl, an interesting switch for this song that was originally written by Noel Coward for Cary Grant. It has always been sung as ‘boy’ by women so it’s nice to hear it flipped and sung with such dramatic power. The only sad thing about this song is the line about feeling ‘so ashamed’ – a feeling that is hopefully becoming obsolete, thanks to the advocacy work that has helped transform society.
Ben from Death Cab contributes a sweet Beatles cover, singing And I Love Him. Finishing the EP is Kesha who has always been a vocal advocate of the LGBT community. She takes Janis Joplin’s I Need a Man To love and switches it to sing about a woman. It’s nice to hear her really rock out with a passion, like she threatened to do on Rainbow last year. In the promo video she officiates a same sex marriage in Vegas.
Until we regularly get gay love songs topping the charts then projects like these are vital. People of the LGBT+ community and their straight allies must sing more songs like these until they become commonplace. We must challenge the heteronormative music industry, where even out gay artists use gender neutral terms or the wrong pronouns in their songs.
Love comes in many forms and artists should be able to sing about it from the rooftops. The more honest we are about who we are and who we love, the better the world will be for everyone. Listen loud and proud.