CONVERSATION

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician

Caleido’s interview to the musician, artist and queer activist Michael Love Michael is the cover story of Issue #11, titled: Plural beauties. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here

Diary of: @michaelxomichael

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. Ryan McGinley @ryanmcginleystudios
1. Many media magazines, such as WWD, NYLON, V Magazine, MTV and Gay Letter say you are helping to break down barriers in the music industry. Among the many obvious ones, which ones do you care about the most?

I think the barriers I want to break down are often not so obvious. Of course, I want to create more space for Black trans people to express themselves publicly however they feel without fear of harm, and to never be afraid of taking risks in their art. But I also want people to know that I’m not just one thing. I embrace my multitudes, for they make me who I am. I am a writer and musician, a poet and an activist. More than that, I am human, without apology. I bleed the same blood and I feel a complete, colorful range of emotions. I am not ashamed of this; in fact, it makes me larger, more grand in my experience of life. I want Black trans people, especially women and femmes, to know that they should never be afraid of the bigness of their experience, and sharing it could not only heal them and others, but also I believe it could make the world safer for them and others.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
2. How does art help you break down these barriers? How would you define your debut album XO” ?

My art helps me connect to the parts of me that are the most sacred and holy. It helps me connect to my innermost fears, anxieties, and sorrows, and on the flip side, it helps me connect to my ecstatic joy, and my abundance. Making music allows me to say things I don’t always have the courage to say in my everyday life.

My debut album XO” came from a very simple desire to let myself be more known. I had already carved out an established career as a writer and editor in the media world. And I had been making music privately since I was 16 years old. It took more life experience and also the intensity of this pandemic to push me to create and eventually release my first album. I’d been waiting all my life to say what’s on this album: about self-love, about society, and about my place in it. I’m hardly done, but it represents an eclectic combination of my influences and creative ideas up to that point.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
3. Have you always been, in your life between Chicago and Gary (Indiana), a warrior? If you were to look back, what suggestions would you give to the “you” of the past? Speaking instead to the youth of today: where do you look for the strength to fight? What are the strongest/effective channels to express themselves?

That’s really sweet of you to say. It took me a long time to really recognize my own strength, and to know that I come from warriors. The people in my family were educators and blue-collar workers, veterans, and descendants of slaves, who knew hardship and pain, but also had faith in God or a power greater than them. I believe my spirituality has been a source of my resistance to obstacles meant to crush me, and it has kept me full of hope even when there’s darkness.  I grew up making the most of my resources, and learning, sometimes, the hard way, that my most important relationship would be with myself. That, inevitably, everyone would fail me. This isn’t a good or bad thing, just a fact that I look at objectively. Looking at my younger self, I’d tell that person, “I love you, just keep going.” I promised myself about eight years ago that I’d always keep myself safe, no matter what, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of that. For the youth of today, who I have so much faith in, I’d say the same thing: “I love you, keep going. We do live in a world that often privileges apathy and emotional disconnect and says that this is strength.” But to me, true strength lies in one’s ability to love, be vulnerable, and remain open to the one guarantee in life: everything will change. As far as channels for expression, I think people have to understand in a deep way, the power of their own voice. Your words have the power to change the world.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
4. On a flight, a neighbour exclaimed: “I actually have six Jaguars in a garage because I collect them”. What triggered that expression in you? 

I wrote a song about this called 6 Jaguars“, which is on my debut album, and it was based on this experience of being on an early morning flight next to a wealthy man who seemed to want everyone on the plan to know how wealthy he was. It was ironic, because that morning, I’d been reading in the news that Trump was moving forward with his diabolical plan to separate migrant families at U.S. borders and put them in detainment camps. In my song, I wanted to criticize that thing that is so distinctly, frustratingly American: a disconnect from how others suffer greatly when capitalism and the desire to “win” or reject other human beings become more important than practicing empathy. People truly believe that money protects them from caring about others, and I think that’s a tragedy. I’m not criticizing people for wanting to be rich; I’m criticizing the lack of empathy that is often born from the ruthless pursuit of wealth. The music video expands on this idea, as I play a “lady of the house,” wearing expensive designer clothes, swanning around an “Alice In Wonderland”-style mansion full of chandeliers and rare art, and reveling shamelessly in the fantasy that financial security can afford.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. Ryan McGinley @ryanmcginleystudios
5. As an artist you often change your perspective, putting yourself in different roles/characters each time. How does this transformation come about and develop? Which character has particularly made you reflect?

It’s funny because I suppose I don’t think much about these transformations. I suppose I am just doing what comes naturally to me. I have some experience working in theater, behind the scenes and onstage as a performer. I think having multiple transformations goes along with what I said earlier; that embracing being more than one thing is a message I want to send to the world.

A character I really loved playing was in my Mother’s Day“. My best friend Ross Days @rossthedays_, who is a rising filmmaker and actor, wrote the treatment because they loved the song so much. I filmed that in various locations in Los Angeles and played a sex worker who kills her john – but also a part of herself. It felt powerful because I am a trans person, and this video was filmed right before I started taking hormones. I knew that I was soon going to step into my transition more fully, and it was symbolic that I’d play a character who was essentially letting go of a part of herself, perhaps toxic masculinity, to become this fierce new version of myself.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician

Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick

6. Yours is a work of strong collaboration and empathy. In the case of 6 Jaguars” you collaborated with the stylist Louis Mairone @dominiclouisstudio, the choreographer Megan Curet, the photographer Brett Lindell and the musician Rich Dasilva @codigo_silva. How do you choose your team? What values are most important to you? 

Thank you for saying that. Collaboration is super important to me, and I am not out here trying to be a martyr and say you have to do everything alone. In fact, it’s impossible to go through life alone; I believe making art is the same way. It’s really important to find people who are passionate about what they do, and who believe in and respect my vision. I am blessed to be an artist that typically knows what I want, but I can’t be too stubborn so that I’m unwilling to accept new information from time to time.  Collaboration allows other likeminded artists to help interpret and bring your vision to fruition. I choose who I work with based on core human values: radical empathy, kindness, and clear, demonstrated love for what they do, and respect for those they work with, people who are interested in healing and growing in community as artists and as people. I’ve been fortunate so far to say that egos rarely clash during the creation of my music or visual projects. And of course, that can happen because we’re all human. But when that happens, I love conflict resolution, and when the time is right, repair.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
7. In this issue we talk about Plural Beauties. Do you think the fashion and music worlds can feel they are doing enough in the area of aesthetic inclusiveness? If not, what should they do differently?

In music and fashion, I think there are huge strides being made to include people that mainstream media has long cast aside. I look to people like Rihanna @badgalriri for inspiration: when Victoria’s Secret executives said that trans women didn’t represent “the fantasy” of womanhood, and therefore weren’t cast in their runway shoes or advertising campaigns, Rihanna swooped in with the only solution that made sense. She put trans women of all ethnicities, shapes, and sizes in her campaigns and runway shows for Savage X Fenty. It was genius and a really major example of how to create the change you wish to see.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Weekend for the proabortion movement @thankgodforabortion | Ph. @kishabari
Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Weekend for the proabortion movement @thankgodforabortion | Ph. @kishabari

That said, I do think there is a lot more work to be done. Sometimes, I feel like when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in music and fashion, you get a sense that there is room for maybe five “it” people of the moment. Maybe they have giant social media followings or six-figure book deals. Those same five people are featured everywhere, and as a result, often get the most lucrative opportunities, and of course, I don’t knock that, but not widening the playing field to others who don’t have those same advantages can send an unfortunate message. Excluding people can not only make others feel like they aren’t somehow good enough to be on a major platform, but it can also create what I call a “vacuum for the influencer elite”: if you’re pretty enough, your queerness is considered palatable enough, capitalist enough, connected enough, then you too can rule the world. What that is is simply using queer people to replay the same elitist “you’re in or you’re out” message that fashion and media have long fed into. I do think people of color and trans people of color especially still deal with racism, low wages, and exploitation, and that has to stop. It’s 2022, and we’re navigating a global pandemic: please tell me we can’t possibly still be talking about the need to pay people what they deserve and pay them on time. It’s insane.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @vivalaloba
8. Giving the concept of Beauty a broader sense, beyond the aesthetic dimension, how would you explain it to a child? And to his mother?

The most beautiful people to me aren’t necessarily those who seem to have it all, and externally are blessed with perfectly proportional features and fast cars and nice clothes. Of course those things can be attractive, but they comprise such a small amount of what makes someone beautiful. I would tell a child to be kind to themselves and others. It might sound trite, but kindness radiates. What is beautiful within becomes beautiful outside. And if a mother doesn’t know this, perhaps it’s not wise for her to have children.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. Ryan McGinley @ryanmcginleystudios
9. During your career, you have been an editor for important magazines (e.g. Paper magazine). What do you think is the role of publishing in the process of greater inclusiveness? It is not only about ethnicity, but also about “multitudes”, as you call them. Can you tell us about it?

When I was a child, I had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine @rollingstoneI read it cover to cover every month and was totally enamored by, what I saw at the time, a diversity of music being covered, by artists who looked like me, and artists who didn’t. Rolling Stone magazine @rollingstone encouraged me to branch out of the incredible soul and rap music I grew up listening to and listen to artists like N.E.R.D. @nerd, Bjork @bjork, Fiona Apple @fionaappleig, Green Day @greenday, Nine Inch Nails @nineinchnails and M.I.A @miamatangi. Because of my loyal readership and willingness to absorb all this music, I developed eclectic tastes that live in the music I make today and influence the way I think about art and literally everything else. When I was a junior in college, I worked as an intern at Rolling Stone magazine @rollingstone. I was surprised to see almost no one that looked like me or had a similar background as I did. In my magazine career over the next decade, I continued to navigate spaces, where I was the only one of me: Black, trans, queer, educated at a state school, not coming from generational wealth…

I was clearly talented enough to be at a variety of prestigious magazines, but I noticed I had to work so much harder to prove myself than my privileged, white, overeducated peers. The scales were tipped this way because of power structures that weren’t actually meant for “someone like me” to navigate, let alone succeed within. Still, I did it. I watched white editors make decisions about inclusivity without the life experience of what it’s like to be marginalized, and then broadcast those decisions in the pages of their magazines. It was a deeply strange disconnect to be a Black person who was present at these organizations, but not often included in the most important decisions about what gets seen by the masses, and why, and how. This is a big problem in publishing and those who work in it, because there are two types of people (regardless of where they come from): either they agree with this modus operandi or they disagree but are too afraid to deal with it. The point is that there aren’t enough people “like me” in the industry with the freedom to make important decisions, and there aren’t enough people “like me” in the industry who tolerate being exploited for their image and culture, and never properly considered for their myriad talents. A person of marginalized experience is not just a person defined by that marginalization. Their cultural wealth and embedded understanding of history is what makes them a goldmine in the publishing industry. Why aren’t these people elevated in the ways they deserve to be? Why does the ratio of people of color media executives to white ones remain exceedingly low? Everyone knows why.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Ph. @ryanmcginleystudios | Editing by @snakedick
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Can you send us a photo taken by you?

I have a stuffed Jigglypuff Pokemon toy in my apartment that I sometimes cuddle with when I go to bed. Jigglypuff is a singing Pokemon who gets mad and cries when people fall asleep to the sound of its lullaby. I connect to its emotional nature, and there’s something sweet and precious about its desire to be heard fully. I also personally believe that Jigglypuff is trans, like me. The Jigglypuff toy reminds me of a relationship I once had with someone with whom I often shared a childhood love of cute and pretty things. Since the perception of age is relative and mostly an invented construct, I don’t think there is a wrong or right age to recover aspects of one’s childhood. Childlike wonder is part of what drives my art. It keeps me curious and engaged in what I’m doing. It doesn’t allow me to have a desired endpoint. I always want to create art that represents me, just as I want to live my life and my future the way I think is right. This adorable singing Pokemon is a relic of my past, and when I look at it, I imagine myself on a stage in front of many, heard as I wish to be heard.

Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Jigglypuff
other contents of this issue:
Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician
Caleido interviews Michael Love Michael musician

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