If you’ve heard me do a lot of gushing about recent YA release It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, you know how thrilled I am to have this post. And if you haven’t, please allow me to mention that It Goes Like This is a fabulous multi-POV contemporary that’s perfect for fans of music-centric fiction, friendship-centric fiction, fandom, and oral histories. It’s the closest to Daisy Jones and the Six vibes you’re gonna get in queer YA right now, and there’s Jewish, bisexual, pansexual, and nonbinary rep among others. So what I’m saying is, go check it out immediately. Here, let me help you:
Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.
But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.
And now, here’s Miel Moreland on finding her sexuality through pop culture!
It’s a little cringey to admit now, but the first pop-ish song that made me tear up was “Same Love.” I can remember the moment I first heard it: I was driving home after my internship, sweltering in the business casual clothes I wasn’t yet comfortable in, stuck on 494 but enjoying the Twin Cities radio stations I’d missed during my first year of college in California. At the end of the second verse, Macklemore sings, “No freedom ’til we’re equal / Damn right I support it.” That’s when I was overcome.
It was 2013. A constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage had been rejected by Minnesotan voters the previous fall (including myself, the very first bubble I filled in on my very first ballot), and legalization had been passed in the spring.
I didn’t know I was bi, yet. In high school, I’d attended a Matthew Shepherd vigil with the drama club; I’d participated in Day of Silence, nervous but determined; I’d hidden books about queer history under my bed. I’d even had out queer friends. But that wasn’t me.
Singing along to “Same Love” that summer let me be loud about my support, even if just for myself. I’d spent the whole of my teenage years paranoid people would think I was gay, but there was no one in the car with me to get the so-called wrong impression from my impassioned sing-along.
By the next summer, the featured singer on “Same Love,” Mary Lambert, had a major record deal of her own, and this time my commute embraced her single, “Secrets.” At first, I skipped singing along to a few key lines: “I can’t think straight / I’m so gay.” I wasn’t, so I didn’t feel those were my lyrics to sing. It would be inappropriate, right? Appropriative. But… I was alone in the car. And sometimes, I tried on those lyrics. I sang and I smiled and I laughed a little, a performance I was creating for myself, to minimize where those lyrics lodged a little too authentically in my heart.
If my life and coming out journey were a clear, linear narrative, this is the point at which I’d embrace Tegan and Sara. I’d have to wait a few more years for Hayley Kiyoko and Halsey, but out queer artists already existed in 2014—just rarely in pure pop music.
Despite what writing a music book might imply, I’ve never been a broad listener. I have only ever really needed Taylor Swift. In the fall of 2014, she released “Welcome to New York.” This singer I’d been listening to since middle school, whose original “Picture to Burn” included the revenge line “I’ll tell mine you’re gay,” now sang, “you can want who you want / boys and boys and girls and girls.” And again, I was loud, and again, I was grateful.
Pop music gave me a way to feel happy and whole about queerness, without a requirement to interrogate my own identity before I was ready. And fandom, including fandoms focused on straight artists’ pop music, helped me become ready. In the fandom spaces in which I found myself, queerness was the norm. It was both assumed and celebrated in a way I couldn’t access offline, not yet.
It was in these spaces that I learned how to claim queerness in songs that weren’t necessarily written with us in mind. Being able to sing myself—my whole self—into the kind of music I already loved opened up new avenues of joy. I didn’t change the music I listened to; I just changed how I listened to music. In the words of One Direction, it’s looking at a song straight on and deciding “I’ll make this feel like home.”
These days, there’s significantly more discussion of the ways artists’ “support” can sometimes feel more like a marketing ploy for superficial allyship cookies than true respect and meaningful engagement with the relevant communities. In It Goes Like This, Moonlight Overthrow (the characters’ band) wins the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and one of the characters reflects that, for once, queer people got to win for themselves. It’s a small, narrative subtweet at Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the “Same Love” duo who won Best New Artist on the heels of their debut studio album. To be sure, the other singles from The Heist were commercial hits as well, but it was “Same Love” that was nominated for Song of the Year, and “Same Love” they performed at the ceremony.
My senior year of college, when I was writing the music- and fandom-centric short stories that would eventually lead me to It Goes Like This, I was officially, secretly, questioning. One night, second semester, I started thinking about Mary Lambert and the hook she’d provided for “Same Love.” I’d never heard the full song of hers that grew out of it, so I turned to YouTube and searched for “She Keeps Me Warm.”
You can’t realize you’re bi because of a Mary Lambert music video, I told myself, before pressing play. That would be cliché.
But music had been there for me every other step of the way, and it makes sense that it was there for me at this moment, too. Dancing me toward an embrace with my identity.
It’s been years now since I’ve heard “Same Love.” I’ve traded Macklemore for Mary Lambert and Harry Styles for Halsey. I’m still here queering Taylor’s lyrics, of course, but I’ve also been to a Tegan and Sara concert.
There’s no grand conclusion here about listening to out queer musicians over straight ones or about the genres in which queer artists tend to thrive at different moments in music history. I created Moonlight Overthrow because it was a band I wish I’d had access to in high school, and I wrote It Goes Like This as a thank-you to the music and fandoms that helped me along my way. Music and me, it’s a love story. And I say yes.