(Tsuji / Getty images)/(oleksii arseniuk / Getty Images)
By Chingy Le Gay
Ramona Flour is accustomed to being seen by others online. â€œIâ€™m used to looking at a chatroom with 10,000 viewers and at least 50 to 100 people having a conversation with me,â€ says the 27-year-old adult performer and dominatrix. While Flour has no issues cultivating her following on cam sites, navigating social media as a sex worker is growing increasingly difficult. Despite exceeding 35,000 followers across both Instagram and Twitter, she has found that her posts rarely appear in search engines or on explore pages; sometimes, they disappear from her followersâ€™ feeds altogether or will be deleted erroneously for violating community guidelines.
â€œItâ€™s completely different,â€ she says. â€œI feel like Iâ€™m just screaming into the void, and maybe one person will reply.â€
Flour is not alone, either: Since the advent of the internet, sex workers have leveraged its access and reach to market their services and build their fan bases, just as other entrepreneurs, artists, and freelancers do. But the recent implementation of new content policies by a number of sites have resulted in a tightened view of what content those companies believe is or isnâ€™t appropriate for their platforms. Users whose posts fall outside of this scope are often penalized as a result, in ways ranging from having their posts removed without warning to finding that their accounts have been deleted. And while not the only group struggling under these policies, sex workers are disproportionately affected by these changes.
I feel like Iâ€™m just screaming into the void, and maybe one person will reply.Take Instagram, for example. In 2018, the platformâ€™s parent company, Facebook, updated its community guidelines around sexual solicitation to include â€œcontent that implicitly or indirectly facilitates or encourages sexual encounters between adultsâ€ and â€œsuggestive elementsâ€ as grounds for removal. In the ensuing weeks and months, a host of users reported an uptick of what they believed to be censorship: Posts and entire accounts would seemingly be disappeared, and often for vague reasons. During her tenure as a social media publicist for a webcam modeling site with an Instagram presence, Flour estimates the companyâ€™s profile was removed from Instagram no less than four times, even though she says their content followed Instagramâ€™s community guidelines.
Many digital platforms â€”Â including those geared toward person-to-person payment, social media, fan engagement, and even crowdsourcing â€” have altered their terms of service in recent years, ostensibly to fall in line with FOSTA/SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). A set of two bills marketed to voters as anti-trafficking laws, FOSTA/SESTA passed in April 2018, making it illegal for anyone or any company to knowingly facilitate or promote prostitution. When reached for comment on the bills, a spokesperson for Facebook, Instagramâ€™s parent company, told MTV News, â€œFOSTA/SESTA doesnâ€™t influence our policies, nor have we changed any policies in response to it.â€ Twitter did not provide an on-the-record response.
Crucially, the bills do not differentiate between trafficking and consensual sex work; this gray area has resulted in companies seemingly feeling pressured to censor content and remove sex workers from their platforms. And anti-FOSTA/SESTA activists believe these laws infringe on the rights of sex workers, putting both voluntary sex workers and trafficking victims in further danger by limiting online resources, and pose a threat to the freedom of expression online.
With the surge of censorship online, navigating sex work through the internet is hard. People are going to be forced into an IRL sex work life they arenâ€™t ready for.
â€œWhatâ€™s ironic about FOSTA is itâ€™s actually perpetuating trafficking situations,â€ Sol Sombra, a New York-based sex worker, tells MTV News. â€œWith the surge of censorship online, navigating sex work through the internet is hard. People are going to be forced into an IRL sex work life they arenâ€™t ready for.â€ Limiting sex workersâ€™s social presence takes away both their agency and inability to screen clients, Sombra adds, which opens people up to a number of potential threats, including sexual and physical violence, and getting caught up in actual sex trafficking with pimps.
(Belen Rodriguez Martinez / EyeEm / Getty Images)/(oleksii arseniuk / Getty Images)A clear example of this effect can be seen in San Francisco: In 2018, the San Francisco Police Department reported an increase in human trafficking by 170 percent since the previous year, while St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco-based clinic run by sex workers, reported the amount of street-based workers encountered during outreach had tripled since the implementation of FOSTA/SESTA.
Violet A. Savage, a full-service sex worker, says sheâ€™s had numerous financial difficulties in the year-plus since FOSTA/SESTA was made law. â€œIâ€™ve had my checking account closed and lost a bunch of advertising optionsâ€ on social media, she tells MTV News. While sheâ€™s maintained independence, Savage says she has seen other workers have to resort to involvement with pimps to get by. â€œI notice more girls choosing up,â€ or allying themselves with a pimp, â€œbecause they arenâ€™t sure how to adjust on their own now that they canâ€™t just post an ad on Backpage or other sites,â€ she explains.
On April 12, 2018, the day after FOSTA/SESTA passed, Craigslist shuttered its personals section. Backpage, the popular personal advertising site, was seized by the FBI within weeks on the grounds of facilitating prostitution. Both sites had frequently been used as free-to-low-cost options by sex workers unable to afford ads on escort-specific sites like Eros and Slixa. And in the time since the first version of FOSTA was announced back in 2017, more and more platformsÂ have changed their terms of service to remove or suppress those users marketing any adult content. The organization Survivors Against SESTA curated a list of over a 100 platforms they believe discriminate against sex workers.
Because of my visibility as a sex worker, companies have blatantly, without consideration for my business, removed me from their platforms. Now, every time Instagram glitches, I assume my account is gone.â€œSex workers are not a protected group under US law, meaning Companies and institutions have a wide berth when it comes to setting policies to discriminate against people working in sex-related jobs or at sex-related companies â€” everything from full-service sex workers and porn performers to people who make and sell toys or safety products,â€ the group points out on its website. While escorts, fetish workers (such as professional dominatrixes), and sugar babies are some of the workers operating within a gray area of legality, all sex workers (including strippers, porn performers, and cam models) are affected under FOSTA/SESTA.
â€œBecause of my visibility as a sex worker, companies have blatantly, without consideration for my business, removed me from their platforms,â€ says Flour. â€œNow, every time Instagram glitches, I assume my account is gone.
For Chloe Venom, the biggest hit came with Tumblrâ€™s site-wide adult content ban in December 2018. In its heyday, the site was a hub where many underrepresented communities and individuals came to explore, discuss, and display their identities and sexuality. â€œTumblr was where I advertised [camming and porn clips], and the content ban killed my clip revenue,â€ Venom says. â€œThe less I’m seen, the less people buy clips or interact with my content.â€
And many people believe the policy change affected not only their bottom line, but Tumblrâ€™s, too. In 2013, the company was estimated to be worth $1.1 billion. At that time, 22 percent of its traffic and 16.6 percent of its blogs focused on exclusively pornographic content. As of August 2019, eight months after the ban, Verizon sold the site to Automattic (owners of WordPress) for less than $3 million. Venom specifically believes that â€œporn supported that platform,â€ adding that she could see similar fates befalling sites like Twitter â€œif they donâ€™t value their sex worker users.â€
Overt TOS changes are only one side of the fight. Just as insidious are tactics like shadow-banning, which many people believe is a concerted effort by platforms to effectively render a userâ€™s profile nearly impossible to find, and to further make their content invisible particularly to those not already following them. No site has ever confirmed they shadow-ban accounts, but the tactic seems to align with Instagramâ€™s April 2019 announcement of taking â€œnew steps to manage problematic or inappropriate contentâ€ that doesnâ€™t go against community guidelines; a Facebook spokesperson told MTV News Instagram is working to â€œmake changes in places where we recommend content to our community,â€ and that the company is growing â€œstricterâ€ about â€œwhat gets surfaced to the broader community,â€ but did not confirm or deny the practice of shadow-banning as it is known colloquially. Likewise, Twitter has stated that visibility of content can be affected for accounts violating their terms of service.
The truth is, what affects sex workers eventually affects everyone.Itâ€™s key to center sex workers here, as they are currently on the front lines of such censorships. And the issue of such blanket screening could have wider implications about freedom of expression online.
â€œThe truth is, what affects sex workers eventually affects everyone,â€ says Cora Harrington, founder and editor in chief of The Lingerie Addict, the internetâ€™s leading lingerie blog; she believes that shadowbanning has affected her social media presence and, in turn, traffic to her site, given that many of her posts feature models in lingerie. â€œSex workers are most at risk of having their livelihood and lives threatened, but anyone having any conversations related to sex and sexuality, or perceived as being related to sex and sexuality, are likely to be marginalized and excluded from platforms that are necessary to modern-day marketing and advertising.â€
Platform censorship often affects the most marginalized people first, something that Harrington, a queer Black woman, knows all too well â€”Â especially given that her site makes a concerted effort to highlight lingerie for people who arenâ€™t the Victoriaâ€™s Secret model archetype. â€œThese censorship guidelines first affect those whose bodies and identities are seen as most transgressive. People of color, plus-sized people, and LGBTQ+ folks are all more likely to have their content reported than thin, white, cis women,â€ she says; a survey by the newsletter Salty that compiled marginalized peoplesâ€™s experiences with censorship or reporting on Instagram and Facebook highlighted similar concerns.
In a statement provided to MTV News, a spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, said, â€œOver a billion people use Instagram every month, and operating at that size means mistakes are made â€” it is never our intention to silence members of our community.â€
But users are already worried that reportingÂ might affectÂ algorithms, or set a standard for what content is acceptable or should be policed: â€œIn essence, the further away you are from normative standards of beauty and gender and sexuality, the more likely you are to be silenced,â€ Harrington adds.
In my own experience using social media to explore and document my relationship with sexuality and queer womanhood, I have seen my own photos and memes removed or disappeared multiple times. The deleted posts have ranged from including the word â€œdyke,â€ which is how I sexually identify, to photos where Iâ€™m engaging in consensual BDSM while being fully clothed. Two photos in particular â€”Â a headshot of me wearing a gag, and one showing my ex-fiancÃ© spitting in my mouth â€”Â were flagged as violating community guidelines by â€œfeaturing nudity,â€ though no such nudity existed. When I posted about this issue, several queer content creators expressed their own frustrations with similar experiences.
While many social media platforms assert that any of their policies that may inhibit sex workers from existing on their sites are often done to maintain â€œcontent appropriate for a diverse audience,â€ their removing and suppressing of marginalized content creators effectively decides whose businesses, voices, and stories deserve to be seen and heard. While sex workers and their allies are holding sites accountable to discriminatory practices, theyâ€™re also pressuring lawmakers to fix the problems created by FOSTA/SESTA. Some presidential candidates have come out in support of decriminalizing sex work, while others have been less committal; sex work is currently illegal in most of the United States, though the state of Nevada is the notable outlier.
If enough non-sex workers talk about it, changes will come.When sex workers are able to use social media, it can make an enormous difference, both business-wise as well as in activism. Sombra was an organizer during the New York City Stripper Strike, a workerâ€™s rights movement that launched in 2017 and went national the following year; she says going digital played a huge part in the strike taking off and reaching others. â€œEven me contacting Gizelle Marie [the founder of the strike] was from seeing her post and being like, â€˜Yo, this is bigger than just New York culture and bartenders â€” itâ€™s the underlying nuances of workers rights,â€ Sombra tells MTV News. â€œIâ€™ve learned things from a lot of URL hoes or just connecting with bomb-ass people from similar backgrounds, so we donâ€™t feel like we just out here alone.â€
This begs the question that if sex workersâ€™ voices are being suppressed or removed by the platforms to which people pay attention, who will speak up for them in a way that still allows them agency? Flour believes a key part of affecting change is through continued conversation and allyship, particularly from non-sex workers.
â€œUnderstand who has privilege in posting and hopefully encourage people to continue discussing it,â€ she says. â€œIf enough non-sex workers talk about it, changes will come. People say they are progressive and sex positive, but we live in a very fake woke culture. They carry so much shame for consuming erotic labor that itâ€™s hard to get [anyone] to discuss it. And those are the people we need.â€
This story has been updated with further comments by Facebook.
Welcome to VOL.UME: Love Now, a new series of stories chronicling how we find and experience romantic connections in the digital age. For the full experience, head toÂ volume.mtv.com.
Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video
YouTube “We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.” That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic…
“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”
That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
Courtesy of Atlantic RecordsAnd on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.
What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”
Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love
Getty Images/April Blum The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new? Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by…
Getty Images/April Blum
The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?
Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by genre and can include anything — it’s a snapshot of what’s on our minds and what sounds good. We’ll keep it fresh with the latest music, but expect a few oldies (but goodies) every once in a while, too. Get ready: The Bop Shop is now open for business.
St. Vincent ft. Yoshiki: “New York”
St. Vincent, the intuitive musical goddess that she is, must have sensed our collective need for another quarantine ballad. Enter “New York [Feat. Yoshiki],” a classical arrangement of the standout single from 2017’s Masseduction. An added string section courtesy of Yoshiki, a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, beautifully complements the song’s original piano instrumentals. What more can I say? “New York isn’t New York / Without you, love” just hits different in the middle of a pandemic. —Sam Manzella
Djo: “Keep Your Head Up”
Last year, Joe Keery (of Stranger Things fame) released a glossy solo album under the moniker Djo. It was titled Twenty Twenty, and its sparkling arrangements ended up being quite far removed from the overall vibe of 2020 the year, but who could fault him for his optimism? Keery has also long been a contributing member of Chicago psych band Post Animal, but Djo is simply Joe — and latest “Keep Your Head Up” feels like several Joes ripping open a vortex in the funk-time continuum. This is a groove, peppered with buzzy synths and icy falsetto and an honest-to-god sax part. It’s akin to Todd Terje doing Tame Impala, a lightheaded cocktail rush that feels both clubby and bedroom ambitious. Positively galactic. —Patrick Hosken
Mxmtoon ft. Carly Rae Jepsen: “OK On Your Own”
When Mxmtoon’s Maia said she recorded “OK On Your Own” for the girls and the gays, she wasn’t kidding. The mellow bedroom-pop bop soundtracks a journey of self-reflection after a breakup, complete with the soft ukulele instrumentals that put the 19-year-old singer-songwriter on the map. Is it revelatory? No, but with pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen lending her sugary-sweet vocals to the second verse, it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m just waiting for “Party for Two.” —Sam Manzella
Video Age: “Aerostar”
Pleasure Line, the third album from emerging indie pop quartet Video Age, delivers perfectly escapist ’80s new wave vibes for when you need to get outta 2020 for just a moment. “Aerostar” is its punchy center, a hip-twisting, shoulder-shuffling groove that delivers quirky robot dance commands (“Slide to the left, now! Shimmy to the right!”) over hoppin’ funk synths and a kickin’ drum machine. It all harkens to a simpler time, one where dance floors were actually a real thing. Oh, the ’80s! —Terron Moore
Ruel: “As Long As You Care”
About a year ago, Australian middle-part heartthrob Ruel told MTV News that for him, “songwriting is exaggerating to an extent.” On his latest, the technicolor, soulful “As Long As You Care,” his exaggeration is so seamless, you’d be forgiven for believing the 17-year-old is actually a time traveler. The neo-soul groove he rides propels everything upward, even as the sound cheekily looks backward. “As Long As You Care” has one amazing hook, coupled with sonic candy that makes his upcoming third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes (out October 23) one to watch. —Patrick Hosken
Alycia Bella ft. Boogie: “Cue the Sun”
Something magical happens two-and-a-half minutes into “Cue the Sun,” the exploratory new collab between striking R&B voice Alycia Bella and rapper Boogie. After piping in the aural equivalent of stage smoke via jazzy piano and gorgeous vocalizations — “It feel like being lost in the right direction” — Bella’s song enters a more sparkly realm for Boogie’s recitations. By the end, you’re lighter, like your mind’s been cleared of all the cobwebs. Cue the sun. —Patrick Hosken
Carly Rae Jepsen
Michael Love Michael’s XO Is A Service To Their Queer Ancestors
Ross Days It can be tempting, as a writer, to compartmentalize, to define by a set of fixed words or parameters. Pinpoint the detail about your subject that most interests you — an unexpected gesture, a prime soundbite pulled from an interview — and flesh it out into a full story. But in the case…
It can be tempting, as a writer, to compartmentalize, to define by a set of fixed words or parameters. Pinpoint the detail about your subject that most interests you — an unexpected gesture, a prime soundbite pulled from an interview — and flesh it out into a full story. But in the case of the New York-based artist Michael Love Michael, who last month self-released their debut album XO, it’s simply not possible, in part because they do so much.
As the former culture editor at Paper magazine, the 32-year-old “Cancer-Leo cusp,” who grew up between Chicago and Gary, Indiana, crafted celebrated profiles of such disparate musicians as Paramore’s Hayley Williams and cyborg sensation Poppy, while also serving up weekly playlists packed with the best bops from Megan Thee Stallion, Yves Tumor, and beyond. One day, it seemed they were stomping a runway in New York in a leather tank top and a cherry pout for the queer designer Willie Norris; the next, they were escaping to a farm to study permaculture at an undisclosed location “out West.”
XO, by design, rejects easy categorization. The collection, which was produced in under a year in collaboration with Michael’s longtime creative partner Rich Dasilva, fluctuates dramatically between glittering power-pop — as on the synth-heavy “6 Jaguars,” which dissolves at the bridge into a biting rap (“They call me bitch if they don’t like me… Does that tell you who I’m voting for, honey?”) — and lush, emotional ballads. Michael’s voice boasts a similarly wide range, whether as a groaning whisper in a spoken-sung segment closing “The Hatred,” or as a looping, crystalline falsetto as they perform as their own backup singer on “Blueberry.”
Their first comprehensive artistic statement, Michael tells MTV News, was intended to dispel any notion of essentialization, particularly as a Black, nonbinary artist making their mark in the industry (in June, they left Paper, citing its treatment of its Black staffers). “I think Black, queer people can sometimes just be lumped together in sort of this really offensive, monolithic way, and it’s just a way of me saying that I have multitudes,” they say. “I am a very tender, spiritual, sensitive person. And I’m also fierce.”
Ross DaysMTV News: Did you record XO while you were on the farm, or was that all done before?
Michael: I basically worked on it from April until late July, so there was part of it that was finished here, but most of it was done during quarantine in New York, four or five tracks. I started recording my vocals on my iPhone and my computer, and I’m really happy with how it all turned out, because, at least in my opinion, none of it sounds like it was done at home. It has a uniformity, and it sounds kind of expansive in a lot of ways.
MTV News: I really connected with the song “Blueberry,” and there was this sound on it that reminded me almost of a dulcimer, though I couldn’t quite make it out. Given that much of it was produced at home, was there a lot of live instrumentation on this?
Michael: So there’s acoustic guitar, there’s whistling, there are actual finger snaps, and then the rest is electronic. So then there’s kind of the 808 bass drone and there’s that sound, which is like a fake electronic guitar. But I’m glad you like “Blueberry.” “Blueberry” is very, very sweet and comes from a sad place.
MTV News: Would you tell me about it?
Michael: OK, so “Blueberry” is about an unrequited love. When I was a teenager, I had this really intense crush on this guy who was closeted and involved with this girl as a way to kind of conceal, as we all do when we’re going through that journey. But we always had a connection, and it was very kind of the teenage lust kind of factor. And then, after high school, he went to the Iraq War and died.
There are lines about going off to war but also being brave and being who you are. There’s this line about purple hearts beating wild with red, red blood — the idea of a Purple Heart for bravery, while also referencing the bravery it requires to be out as yourself. There’s also the idea that both of us are sacrificing something, my jealousy and my self-reflection, and the blueberry gates became a place I would go in my mind when I would think of him. I wanted to find a way to talk about having a closeted relationship full of young lust and love, and to speak about what’s involved when two people sacrifice parts of themselves to make things work that can’t work, ultimately.
MTV News: What are some other songs on the album that feel special for you?
Michael: This is almost like my second coming out, as an artist and sharing my music with everybody. Even though I’ve been making music since I was 16, I’ve never actually had the courage until now to release anything. “XO” is my favorite track, because that’s the thesis of the project. It’s about overcoming some of my own personal demons to love myself enough to realize I had something to share and something to say, like a love letter to a damaged former self.
“Mother’s Day” is another one that I really love, because it’s kind of strange and cryptic. This one is more about people’s relationship to all things maternal, how you have to be a reciprocal give-and-take dynamic with whatever those things are, whether that’s the earth, someone you look up to who is a femme person or a mother figure. It has echoes of my own relationship with my mother and my grandmother. There’s a line about planting a garden — “Every Mother’s Day, I plant a garden for you / Every Mother’s Day, I water your flowers that bloom” — and that was something I used to do for my grandmother as a kid.
MTV News: Do you have a good relationship with your mom and your grandmother?
Michael: With my grandmother, yes. With my mother, that’s something that’s very much in process. It’s a tricky song. It’s really complex, obviously. But I love it for that reason, and I love that I feel like I’m learning how to be really good at writing about things that are personal broader and nuanced ways. I can be descriptive and I can also not be descriptive, and all of it’s intentional. It kind of reminds me of a St. Vincent, Brian Eno vibe. It feels kind of stompy, crunchy, stadium rock or something.
MTV News: What made now feel like a good time to release an album and share this project?
Michael: It was something that I didn’t intend to happen. I was happy with just having some demo recordings and maybe an EP released on SoundCloud, and then I had friends who really encouraged me to think bigger. Also, I had my own aspirations that I buried because I was trying to be realistic and I was trying to hold down full-time jobs and I was trying to be sort of a traditional careerist, and it’s just like, no bitch. Don’t dull your own shine, don’t gaslight yourself just because society gaslights you.
And so, that’s what kind of really motivated me to kind of come out with it all, and I just feel really grateful for the ability to have unlocked this avenue of creativity. Even for this to happening, for us to be talking about my album for MTV is fucking cool. Everything is luxury now, I just get so excited about everything else because creativity begets more creativity. So I don’t take any of it for granted, it’s so fucking cool.
MTV News: Yeah, I can really relate with feeling vulnerable in sharing something creative.
Michael: This is an exercise in proving something to myself. I really do believe, if you see something missing and you have the capacity to provide or be that missing link, then do that. If you feel empowered and you feel like you can and you have the resources and the energy, do that. Where queer voices are sort of becoming less and less marginalized, people want to hear what it is we have to say. Remember that there are so many people who fought and died for so much of the freedom that I and many of us take for granted. Part of being a person with a voice and sharing it is also being in service to your ancestors who came before you.
MTV News: In listening to XO as a whole, there are songs that are very soft and almost indie-leaning in a way, and then you also have these songs that are very fierce and very hard. I wondered what your intention was, or were you expressing different sides of yourself?
Michael: Well, I love that you picked up on the contrast, because that was the exact point. I definitely wanted to present duality. It’s an introduction to me as a musician and, hopefully, if there ever were any expectations, it surprises, maybe it shocks. Maybe it’s exactly what people expect — I have no fucking idea. I called it XO because I thought of X-O as sort of an expression of contrast, because it’s like hugs and kisses are sort of opposite things, but then so is the idea of being open and being closed.
I think Black, queer people can sometimes just be lumped together in sort of this really offensive, monolithic way, and it’s just a way saying that I have multitudes. I’m a complex, fully realized human being. So it was important for me to show a hard edge and a softer, gentler side, because at the end of the day, I am a very tender, spiritual, sensitive person, and I’m also fierce. The Cancer-Leo cusp is really that, it’s very that.