Let’s say it now – Clayton Hawkins is a pop artist who is a dude who happens to like dudes. There’s no big reveal with smoke and mirrors and odd throwing back between “he” and “she” pronouns in his songs – Mr. Frank Ocean – or the odd mixture of glam-eighties pop in with the music – Mr. Adam Lambert – or the complete refusal to ‘come out’ out of fear of what having the word ‘gay’ attached to your brand would do – you know who.
Hawkins makes well-crafted, extremely catchy pop that just so happens to often refer to another dude, as opposed to the typical “ay’ girl” or “girl, you don’t know you’re beautiful”. Now, with his new EP PIXELS, the thought of Clayton Hawkins being a household name seems more and more plausible.
Be it the trippy-pop “Rich Kids” or the instantly catchy “Chainsmoke”, which sounds like the best Ke$ha single that never happened, great pop music proves to be the most needed essential in a pop artist’s arsenal. There’s something so 90s-kid about Hawkins, making him one with the tumblr generation – my generation – and in-tune with our needs to constantly be over-subscribed and over-informed with everything; this is an essential trait to anyone born between the years of 1988 and 1992.
“I don’t got a job, but I got a sick Tumblr,” is what opens the lead single off PIXELS, “1nternet Friends”. The video for the single, above, is also a bit trippy in the signature 90s way, but as is everything within Hawkins’ aesthetic. After his boyfriend leaves due to being ignored, Hawkins proceeds to hump an old computer and the floor before his smiley face contacts flash on the screen and he’s seen laying dead, his face in his laptop.
Another highlight on the free EP is “Waterfalls,” which samples the TLC-tune of the same name, despite Hawkins only being 7-years-old at the time of the track being released. The R&B slow jam has been replaced with guitars and new verses. The song sees Hawkins touching on more serious lyrical material, much like his one-off single “90 Days,” which has a brilliant video accompanying it, but, for some reason, has been kept off of the EP.
On “Ghost,” Hawkins talks about an ex-lover, letting him know that he isn’t what Hawkins thought he’d be. “You ain’t Elvis… you’re not even Vegas. Untouchable and I can’t take it. You’re no Brando, ain’t no River Phoenix… Unreachable, you’re so conceited.”
Still, despite how catchy PIXELS can be, some would argue the tides are against Hawkins. He currently remains unsigned, while the American music industry really isn’t still too hyped on the idea of turning a gay man into a successful musical force. Even Frank Ocean’s camp seems to be still riding the “not gay, but just so happened to fall in love with a guy once” train.
In actuality, 2012 is the year to ever see an openly gay male artist see a #1 debut week for an album, which occurred with Adam Lambert’s second studio album, Trespassing, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200, but with only 78,000 copies sold that week, and soon falling slowly down the chart. In reality, gay male artists have been slowly gaining ground, but it seems to be on only gay terms – mainstream areas of the industry, whether straight people want to admit it or not, are still accessible to ‘straights only’.
This is where the real highlight of the EP comes into play, which is “Chainsmoke”. There’s just something so instantly catchy yet so sharp-tongued and quick-witted about the track. “I’m sick and tired of lying in the same old position… I think it’s time for me to grab the baby and shake it.” The crystal-popping instrumental compliments the verses, while the synths fueling the chorus tie everything together, allowing for the beat to drop during the ever-so-important chanting bit, where Hawkins and co. chant aloud about just wanting to chainsmoke at seven in the morning in the back of the cab. It just screams a new to be #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks on end.
For that to happen is a long bit away, and it seems as though gay progress in music is only making baby steps, but that makes to be how any kind of re-imagining of a scene occurs – a new person breaks down the barriers and slowly allows for more extreme examples to find footing in mainstream areas.
Would acts like Cakes Da Killa, Mykki Blanco or Le1f have even gotten media attention had Frank Ocean’s “outing” not inspired an interest in this so-called thing known as “gay rap”? Would we be sitting here even discussing Clayton Hawkins had Adam Lambert not become an almost-was American Idol and then made-out with his chained-up guitarist / soon-to-be-boyfriend on the American Music Awards? Baby steps seems to be the way if anyone can hope for a gay male artist ever being allowed the same equal footing as straight artists.
Clayton Hawkins’ newest EP, PIXELS, is available to download for free at his official website.