Although same-sex marriage has been legal in the U.S. since June 2015, the music industry hasn’t exactly kept up with the times. So many popular love songs are still addressed from a man to woman or vice versa, or simply to an unidentified “you,” which can feel alienating for same-sex couples that want something more specific. A new EP called Universal Love, featuring artists like Kesha, St. Vincent, and Bob Dylan, aims to change that. It consists of six cover songs in which famous artists change the pronouns of the songs to make the popular love songs explicitly for same-sex couples. For example: Kesha covered Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love” but changed it to “I Need a Woman to Love.”
“If you look at the history of pop music, love songs have predominantly come from one heterosexual perspective,” Tom Murphy, a co-producer on Universal Love, told the New York Times. “If we view music as something that brings people together, shouldn’t these popular songs be open to everyone?”
The EP, which comes out April 6, features a range of straight and gay musicians. The executive producer of the project, Rob Kaplan, said that when he got in contact with the songs’ publishers in order to secure the rights to alter the lyrics, the “response was completely positive.” The goal is to create six different wedding anthems for same-sex couples. The project was funded by MGM Resorts International.
“For years I said that I’m not getting married until any two people can legally marry in this country,” Kesha said about her choice to get involved in the project. Since the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country, Kesha has become ordained and has performed at weddings for two gay couples.
Another high-profile name on the EP is Bob Dylan. Although he declined to be interviewed by the Times, Kaplan said that Dylan said yes very quickly. “And it wasn’t just ‘yes, I’ll do this,’” he said. “It was ‘hey, I have an idea for a song.’” Dylan covered “She’s Funny That Way,” which has been recorded by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and turned it into “He’s Funny That Way.”
The other songs on the EP include a cover of the Beatles' “And I Love Her,” which Death Cab for Cutie’s frontman Ben Gibbard turned into “And I Love Him.” Valerie June, a country and blues singer, recorded “Mad About the Boy,” originally by Noel Coward, and made it “Mad About the Girl.” Keke Okereke put his spin on “My Girl” and recording “My Guy.” Finally, St. Vincent recorded “And Then She Kissed Me,” changing the original “he."
“For a long time, queer people had to use the awkward ‘you’ in their songs to avoid outing themselves,” Stephan Pennington, a professor of music at Tufts University who teaches a course in queer pop, told the Times. “There has also always been pressure from the record companies to not be exclusionary by using a same-sex pronoun,” Mr. Pennington said. “But heterosexual expressions are never thought of as exclusionary.”