Tegan and Sara

LY2D and Tegan and Sara’s Queer Pop Politics

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Katie Byron

I'm a twentysomething queer feminist cat lady. I generally can't even and I'm only rarely sorry.

“When did I become that girl?/That girl I see.” 

That Girl is the opening track of Tegan and Sara’s newest album, Love You to Death, which came out June 3rd. That Girl sets the tone for the album through its bittersweet exploration of realizing that you’ve become someone you don’t recognize and might not like. LY2D’s emotionally-complex lyrics paired with radio-friendly synth build on the sound they started developing in Heartthrob. Love You to Death goes deep — exploring the twins’ relationship to each other as well as their separate relationships against a background of synth-pop that has gotten smoother and shinier since Heartthrob.

Confession: I was really late to the game when it came to Tegan and Sara. When I came into my own queerness years ago, I immediately decided I wasn’t going to be one of those girls. When Heartthrob came out in 2013, I went to a Tegan and Sara-themed party at my college, because a dorm lounge packed with queer women is a highly effective way to stay warm during a New England winter. When Closer came on at a party, I would hit the dance floor and when my girlfriend insisted on listening to them in the car, I would reluctantly agree. But I maintained the stance that I could only fall into so many stereotypes and “queer girl who cries to Tegan and Sara” wasn’t going to be one of them.

Cut to the present and I am tearing up in my office listening to Love You to Death and I have become one of those queer girls who cries to Tegan and Sara.

In many ways, an album like Love You to Death could only happen now. In her interview with Time, Sara explains what it meant to be an out artist in the earlier days of her career: “When I think about it now, well, I felt so gay. I felt so exposed and visible as a queer person. We looked gay, we talked about being gay. We were part of a handful of people who were really talking about it in the mainstream at that time.” In a time when Queen Latifah can mass-marry same-sex couples at the Grammys to the tune of Same Love, queer representation is a different game than it was then. LY2D is Tegan and Sara’s most explicitly queer album yet and serves as a critical reflection on what queerness in the public sphere looks like now.

GIF of Tegan and Sara in an interview captioned
Source: Daily Vice via tumblr

Boyfriend, the first single off the album, flips the script of the traditional girl-on-girl experimentation narrative put forth in songs like Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl or Demi Lovato’s Cool for the Summer. Tegan and Sara give us the other side of the sexualized secrecy: “You turn me on like you want your boyfriend/But I don’t want to be your secret anymore.” Throughout the album, they center relationships that we may otherwise dismiss. Whether it’s the friendship that may be something more, the ex that you shouldn’t still be asking about, the unique kind of intimacy that comes from being siblings, or relationships that are never going to end in marriage, LY2D highlights the various kinds of queer relationships and intimacies in careful, beautiful, and raw detail.

Despite my five wedding-planning pinterest boards (I’m not currently engaged, but I really love weddings), it is BWU, LY2D’s anti-marriage anthem, that left me crying in my office. Opening with the declaration: “I love you/I don’t need a ring to/Prove that you’re worthy,” BWU is the anthem for everyone who was left empty by the mainstream LGBT politics’ focus on marriage equality. It expands the way that queer relationships exist outside of a script where all roads lead to a white wedding. This is a critical critique in a post-marriage equality society where the assumption is that marriage has always been the ideal for relationships and now that queer people can have it, we should obviously want it.

In the beautifully in-depth Buzzfeed profile on the twins, Sara discussed BWU and the relief she felt being able to challenge the institution of marriage after it became legal across the U.S. by saying, “I can just say what I really think, which is that now everybody has it, let’s start dismantling this shit.” BWU is about taking down the institution of marriage in a society where the inclusion of queer people served as a way to double down on the status quo and maintain narrow definitions of recognized families. When Washington state passed marriage equality into law, they also removed domestic partnerships for couples where both parties were younger than 62, converting those relationships to marriages. BWU asserts that marriage isn’t for everyone and holds space for other kinds of relationships. It’s a radical declaration for Sara to sing, “Save your first and last dance for me/I don’t need a white wedding.”

Love You to Death explores queerness and relationships in ways that are only now becoming possible. From the intimacy of sibling relationships to not-so-platonic friendships to passionate loves to a takedown of the institution of marriage, Tegan and Sara are queering pop culture in ways that give me hope that contemporary queerness is so much more than corporate-sponsored pride parades and elaborate weddings. Love You to Death makes me proud to be the kind of queer girl that cries in her office to Tegan and Sara.