Is The Ceiling Pink?

U.S. tours by openly gay bands like Scissor Sisters, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys are successful, but look meager compared to the numbers they do overseas. Is the U.S. different from the rest of the world in musical taste or is it prejudiced?

A recent story on the Scissor Sisters in the Village Voice suggests it’s the latter.

Each band hit the U.S. as part of a world tour in support of a new album last year, and all three racked up respectable numbers but a clearer picture emerges when compared to overseas.

Take, for example, Scissor Sisters. According to Pollstar’s data, Scissor’s four-week 2006 North American tour, which was booked into primarily theatre-sized venues like San Francisco’s Warfield and Boston’s Orpheum, sold 94 percent of its tickets and averaged more than 2,100 tickets a show, earning the band more than $500,000.

The band followed that leg of the tour with a three-week swing through U.K. arenas, playing to near capacity crowds in venues like the Manchester Evening News Arena (21,000 seats) and The NIA in Birmingham (13,000 seats).

It capped off the tour with three sold-out shows at Wembley Arena in London, selling more than 35,000 tickets in one day, a feat rivaling heavyweight acts like Madonna and Coldplay.

The disparity in both venue sizes and ticket sales is astounding, and would seem to back up the Voice’s theory.

Of course, an argument can be made that there are plenty of acts that are big in the U.K. and Europe that haven’t crossed over to the U.S., like Australia’s Kylie Minogue and U.K. royalty Robbie Williams.

European acts (read: Katie Melua, Goldfrapp, and Jamie Cullum) have traditionally had to work hard to break into the larger U.S. market and its constricted radio play, while radio darlings (James Blunt, Joss Stone and Corinne Bailey Rae) have walked right in.

But Scissor Sisters aren’t a European act. The core of the band was formed in Kentucky and the group is closely associated with the New York club scene.

The "two countries divided by a common language" share acts like Kings of Leon, Trivium and The Strokes, but these acts were embraced in Europe long before their enormous home country noticed.

But Scissor Sisters have conquered the world except, arguably, at home. The first single from the band’s most recent album, Ta-Dah, hit the Top 10 in eight different countries and the group recently completed tours of Australia and Japan playing venues similar in size to those on the U.K. tour.

Then there’s plenty of gay artists like Melissa Etheridge, k.d. Lang, Elton John, Bob Mould, Michael Stipe, Rufus Wainwright and, especially, the ambiguous Morrissey who have done just fine in the States.

However, unlike those artists, whose sexuality is mostly a side note to their careers, it’s impossible to read about, listen to, or see Scissor Sisters live and not be confronted with the fact that three of the band’s members are gay – really, really, gay.

So perhaps the question might not be whether the U.S. public will accept a gay artist but how much gayness they’ll accept.

Scissor Sisters’ flamboyant frontman, Jake Shears, suggested to the Voice that the problem is the band is too happy, and they might do better in the States if they were tortured.

"I think our whole sexual side is optimistic and free, and I think that American audiences are so used to, and expect, dark sex, which mainly involves women," Shears said. He added he didn’t think Scissor Sisters would exist if they were closeted saying, "I think we would be a completely different band."

Ana Matronic, the only female in the band and one of its two straight members, told the Voice that she thinks the difference comes down to narrow-mindedness in the States.

"I think that’s sort of a testament to the British public," Matronic said. "They don’t give a shit who you are as long as you make good music."

Babydaddy, Scissor Sisters’ burly multi-instrumentalist and Shears’ songwriting partner, also mused about the difference in the band’s reception here and abroad, and expressed sympathy for the position it puts the group’s label in.

"It’s funny – it’s the one black hole in our campaign," he told the Voice. "We have a maximum amount of enthusiasm from the label [Universal Motown], and I think they don’t know what to do with a band like us.

"I think they’re really in a tough spot right now, ’cause at least on the first album they could say it’s just a U.K. phenomenon, and now it’s working in just about every other country – including Canada, which is almost always tied to the U.S. markets."

It’s entirely possible that booking Scissor Sisters into theatre-sized venues in the States is a marketing strategy designed to develop the band as a long-term artist rather than burn them out quickly by overexposing them.

However, Pollstar was unable to confirm or refute that theory, because the band’s representatives either would not comment or did not return calls.

Whatever the reason for the difference, the band’s members don’t really seem to mind that much, and even seem kind of relieved.

"No one, none of us, got into this for fame, or celebrity, or riches," Matronic said. "It was always about music and playing to as many people as wanted to hear it."

Shears puts it a little more colorfully.

"I never wanted to be a celebrity," he said. "I want to be an artist. Celebrity-ness is like herpes, and once you have it, it never goes away."