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Tooji Starts Battles LGBT Respectability Politics, Islamic Homophobia and Sexuality on Mainstream TV

In his acclaimed self-help book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How To Finally, Really Grow Up, Jungian analyst James Hollis wrote a troubling and yet valid emotional dialogue on the cold war between religion and sexuality: “So often spirituality, like the false self, is fear-driven, which is not to be judged, but a fear-driven spirituality will always diminish rather than enlarge. It has been said that religion is for those afraid to go to Hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there. Any spiritual perspective that seeks to finesse difficult questions of good and evil, that seeks to scapegoat others, or that defers authority to external sources is an infantilizing spirituality. Any spirituality that makes people feel guilty and judged is merely adding to the complexes they already have. Any spirituality that keeps people in bondage to fear, to tradition, to anything other than that which is validated by their personal experience is doing violence to the soul.”

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Perhaps that could be said of the current outrage happening on pop radio. Like “Take Me to Church” before it, Norwegian-Iranian crooner Tooji Keshtar’s “Father” is leading the charge against oppression from the pious and devout, as well as the conservative mainstream, advocating a simple message: “Human Rights Above Religion.” In a separate online video released June 8th, Tooji further explained his decision to come out alongside the video’s release, stating: “I always thought that who I love is my business.”

In a three-minute supplementary video accompanying the release of the rauchy music video, Tooji delivered a passionate speech, expressing distain for certain religions guilty of legitimizing violence against LGBT people. He continued: “Forgive those who judge, forgive society and people led like sheeps to be told what to think, how to live and what to believe. Any individual that seeks within itself will find that there is one language; beyond any man and beyond any book, the language of love. I am gay and I stand up for my rights and that is why I made the video ‘Father.’” It is also the single in which the 28-year-old singer has publicly come out.

 

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While Hozier’s chart-topping 2013 mid-tempo indie rock soul ballad detailed the singer-songwriter’s frustration with the Catholic Church and its stance on homosexuality by introducing a protagonist comparing his lover to religion, “Father” is an Arabesque dubstep synth-pop protest ballad advocating gay rights and love. Following in the footsteps of his previous pro-feminist club rave-up “Cocktail,” the promotional music video treatment for “Father” ups the ante for unlawful carnal knowledge with a sultry NSFW black-and-white clip featuring Tooji having a steamy and scandalous illicit affair with a gay male priest in front of his pearls-clutching churchgoing congregation. Compared to Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” or both of the videos that promoted Hozier’s single, Tooji’s controversial music video is also akin to the wet dream opening scene of Patrik-Ian Polk’s critically acclaimed Blackbird melodrama. Shot inside Oslo’s Frogner Church, it has since attracted criticism by the Bishop of Oslo, Ole Christian Kvarme, who said the filming of the clip in that sacred locale “violated the rules and regulations we have for the use of church space”, stating: “Regardless of the music video’s message, shooting intimate scenes in front of the altar is totally unacceptable and is a gross abuse of the church. The nave should never be used as a visual backdrop for sexual scenes in a commercial production. A similar scene between man and woman would be equally unacceptable.”

 

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Hailing from Shiraz, Iran, the former MTV Norway video jockey achieved moderate success after he won the Melodi Grand Prix 2012 and was given the opportunity to represent Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 held in Baku, Azerbaijan with his fist-pumping dance pop single “Stay.” While the song placed last in the final round (he placed 26th), the model-singer and activist developed a fan base within select circles of the LGBT community. Prior to that, the Eurovision star fled his home country with his family at a young age, becoming a vocal activist that fought for the rights of women, children and LGBTI people. Religion is not necessarily an enemy, but rather a factor, one that has aided in the troubling and violation of the humanity of so many, especially in his native Iran, where Tooji has been banned.

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In an interview with The Local, the singer stood by his position with the video while understanding the church’s apprehension to the video, clarifying that video was about “someone who is running from himself, denying himself, and yes, if God is in everyone and everything, denying God. With this project I wanted to show that love between two people of the same sex has for too long has been tainted by religion.”

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The Iranian-born singer drove the point home when he shed some light on why its important: “My family left everything and everyone they loved to give me the opportunity that I’m experiencing today, for me to have the chance to stand in front of the international press, speak out and maybe just contribute just a little bit to raising awareness of what’s going on in Iran, where students are being killed every fucking day for dancing.”

Considering this, Tooji may be one of the most important visual artists of the post-Gaga era.

Watch the NSFW clip here.


About

MARCUS SCOTT is a playwright, songwriter, dramaturge, sketch comic and journalist. His work has appeared in Elle, Out, Passport, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Backstage, Giant, Hello Beautiful, NewsOne, The Urban Daily, Madame Noire, Styleblazer, Clutch, Artvoice, Bleu and Krave, among others. He has interviewed Fefe Dobson, VV Brown, Elle Varner, SWV, Danity Kane, Ryan Leslie, Rose Byrne, James Earl Jones, Annaleigh Ashford, LaMarr Woodley, Mehcad Brooks, Lisa Raye, Shaun Ross, Columbus Short and Boris Kodjoe, among others.


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