Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.
When Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” came out just shy of five years ago, I was just kicking off my last semester of college and taking the first few steps towards accepting myself as a queer man. Those steps involved more than just acknowledging my attraction towards men; I also began to take a more thorough glance at my own ideologies of what it meant to be of the male gender. And thus, the process of shedding my perceptions of gender norms began. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the first single to Demi’s self-titled fourth album was in a way a significant catalyst for that process.
Because my college years were spent not only closeted but surrounded by straight people, I found myself inevitably attracted to my straight male friends from time to time. Most of the time it would be fleeting, a week-long crush if that, but there was one in particular who I found hard to shake off. He and I had become close friends over the time we knew each other, and there was a gentleness to our friendship that, though it never was anything more than platonic, caused me to grow pretty substantial feelings. That angst and longing hit its peak around the spring of 2013, and I realized though I had initially discarded “Heart Attack” as a bit of a manic, melodramatic love song, I was playing it every day. Within weeks, it became one of my most played songs on my iTunes.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to consciously break down why I was constantly listening to it. The practice left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Sure, the fact that the song focused on falling for someone when you know it’s a lost cause was a large draw, but it was a few specific lines that resonated in my head. Specifically, “you make me wanna act like a girl.”
For Lovato, it was about shedding this tom boy image she put forth in the song, to put on heels and nail polish so that this guy would find her more attractive (which is more than a little problematic). For me, it wasn’t makeup and stilettos (they look awful on me, trust), but it was still a desire to somehow become more like the girls that he would woo at parties, as I sat there in the corner sipping my beer, trying not to look bummed. It was a desire to figure out how to expose the more stereotypically effeminate aspects of my personality in hopes that he would maybe find he liked me back, and somehow give me a chance. The feelings faded in time, but the impact of my relationship to “Heart Attack” stuck around. From then on, I found myself listening more to music focused around females using their fierceness and charisma to get the men they wanted. It was the first of many anthems that helped, and continue to help me develop my queer identity. But almost five years ago, it was just a confusing feeling that both intrigued me and made me feel a bit guilty.