For all the cries of “The Internet is forever!” boy, do we have a short memory.
Or rather, maybe we can only keep so much information top of mind for so long, and like our cells, every seven years that information has completely changed. Because before Lil Nas X appeared on Saturday Night Live, Scissor Sisters took the live show by storm and earned an avalanche of complaints. (Not that their performances are available to view. See what I mean about the Internet not being forever?)
There’s no doubt that Lil Nas X’s two performances were zeitgeist-defining moments, the kind that Saturday Night Live has been sorely lacking. But while his “Montero” performance is a gleeful fuck you to critics—of his race, his sexuality, his frankness—and applause-worthy for being matter-of-fact about its gayness, it’s also a reminder that a lot of people also took stands along the way, often with a lot more to lose..
There’s Janet Jackson, of course, who didn’t even reveal an entirely bare breast during the Super Bowl but who saw herself vilified for ruining the children of America. A far cry from Lil Nas X’s own wardrobe malfunction, when the crotch of his pants ripped open as he launched into his stripper pole routine during “Montero”; though to be fair, the only reason it’s noticeable is because he spends the rest of the song cupping his groin.
But there’s also unapologetically queer band Scissor Sisters, which performed on Saturday Night Live in 2004. In an interview a month later, lead singer Jake Shears revealed that he received hate mail for his outfit. Forget being sexually provocative; at the time, SNL audiences were enraged at “seeing a man wearing a backless, shoulderless, wideleg outfit.”
To their credit, the band simply brushed it off their sequined shoulders and carried on undaunted. And in the ultimate what the fuck moment, they performed on Live With Regis and Kelly that same year. Seeing Jake Shears in skintight black leather pants and a shirt open to his navel, singing in his signature falsetto during morning TV? That was gay rights.
And then, in what I thought was an unforgettable exchange, Regis Philbin asked Shears where the band’s name comes from. And Shears kindly says he can’t really explain on TV, but then demonstrates scissoring by taking Philbin’s hand in his own.
“A secret handshake!” Kelly Ripa manages to say with a straight face, before changing the subject.
Bringing an in-your-face sexuality to a late-night show is one thing. But bringing that same energy to every grandmother’s favorite syndicated talk show while scissoring the hand of a beloved straight male host? That’s worthy of retroactive recognition, too.