Antony and the Johnsons

By the time you think you have had enough of popular culture, a long lasting search inevitably begins for something else, something that would differ from what you have been exposed to everyday, something left off the mainstream, something that today's teenagers would call "indie." On the other hand, your obvious indifference toward the latest summer hits might not be welcomed by your best friend who has recently become a fan of Britney Spears on Facebook. He might even go so far as to call you emo or hipster. Luckily, at least for Antony Hegarty, this is worth it.

We have seen enough disbanding to make sure that what is harder than forming a band is to stay loyal to the brotherhood in it. (No, I'm not referring to Oasis.) However, when it comes to a member of the band singing individually, there arises nothing but a feeling of anger inside us. Aware of such a disadvantage, Antony and the Johnsons honestly acknowledge the very sharp distinction between the leading vocal and the rest of the band by the band's name. When the unjust judgments we have against transsexuals added to this, British-born and American-raised singer Antony Hegarty seems to be too weak for the burden on his shoulders. (Fortunately, we don't need to take sociology classes to realize that prejudices are no good.) As you listen to him, you would easily realize how much stronger Antony is than he might appear at first sight.

Antony has a smooth, silk-like, divine voice and a tremulous body to go with it. When he is on stage, despite his powerful voice, you can still feel the fear inside of him; not only from the lines "Hope there is someone/Who will take care of me," but also from the way he acts as he sings. This unexpectedly huge, depressingly white and childishly vulnerable diva-dude looks as if he belongs to another era, where people like him would have sung ballads.

Hollywood's teenager-oriented movies' "If I were a boy" cliché (body-swapping comedies), which is also frequently used by singers like Ciara and Beyoncé (You might unintentionally expect it to be used by Rihanna soon), is what Antony experiences without any kind of accumulation of interest. Besides his inborn "otherness," his God-given talent makes him a lot more vulnerable than most of us as he puts out in his own words: "I need another place/Will there be peace/I need another world/This one's nearly gone." Living in a world where everyone must have a dream-a reason to live if you will-I have my own, too. I also need another world where we don't have to worry about the environment, where prejudices don't exist, where people like Antony sing more.

The torch singer Antony and his band, Antony and the Johnsons, have released two albums so far: I Am a Bird Now (2005), which they have won a Mercury Prize for, and The Crying Light (2009). Antony has also collaborated with some diverse artists such as Lou Reed, Boy George, Björk, Mark Almond, Rufus Wainwright and sung for movies such as Animal Factory, V for Vendetta and I'm Not There. If you would like to listen to him, I'd recommend you to begin with Cripple and Starfish or Another World. (For those who like Beyoncé, Antony covered her Crazy in Love.)

Originally published: October 6, 2009.

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