The Business of Pride: Some Artists Get Paychecks, Others Get Exposure

Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic
Ariana Grande performs at the 27th annual NYC Pride: Dance On The Pier at Pier 26 on June 28, 2015 in New York City. 

To grasp how important music is to Pride events across America, look no further than the cover of the 2017 NYC Pride Guide. Gracing the magazine’s cover is “Godmother of Soul” Patti LaBelle, a seemingly strategic choice considering performers tend to dramatically sway overall attendance and ticket revenue more so than the equally important speakers for these type of events.

Nelly Furtado, LeAnn Rimes, Deborah Cox, Tegan and Sara, Years & Years, Gallant and Mary Lambert are a few of the other performers non-profit Heritage of Pride selected for this year’s NYC Pride week. Last year’s performers helped attract more than 2.3 million people who gathered to celebrate and commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, which set the gay rights movement and annual Pride festivities in motion.

“Pride has always been a protest, and it has always been a celebration,” NYC Pride Media Director James Fallarino told Billboard. “When the Reagan administration was leaving us to die in the wake of the AIDS crisis, we still found a way to celebrate. When the Bush administration was trying to amend the U.S. Constitution to discriminate against us, we still found a way to celebrate. In 2017, the protest element of Pride is of course taking center stage, but we can, and should, still celebrate the richness of our community and all the gains we have made since that fateful night in 1969.”

The task of choosing the right performers to entertain the present yet honor the past is in the hands of volunteer committees for each of the 16 NYC Pride week events, including PrideFest, Pride March, Pride Rally, Dance on the Pier and the new Pride Island.

The final lineup is a mix of charting artists, LGBTQ singers and local performers. Several of the higher-profile artists are paid, although some of the new and emerging ones apply to perform and, if picked, donate their time in return for exposure and access into ticketed Pride events.

“While we do not comment on the specific agreements we have with each artist, it is a mix of both performers donating their time as well as those who have some sort of financial arrangement, whether it be to cover production costs, an appearance fee, or a combination of the two,” Fallarino said.

Funds to pay the performers come from Heritage of Pride’s 2016-2017 budget of $2.3 million, which also goes toward operating the organization, producing the 16 events, awarding grants to local LGBTQ non-profits, and allocating funds for Stonewall 50 and WorldPride 2019 to mark 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

Openly gay artist Joey Suarez, who performed “High in the Sky” at the 2016 PrideFest, returned this year to perform his newly released single “Love Me Back” at the Pride Rally on June 16. “‘Love Me Back’ is a song that plays on the silly idea of love and how guys think other guys don’t like them if they don’t message back immediately,” Suarez told Billboard. “It’s a funny song. It makes me laugh. It makes fun of our gays who are stuck on their phones and on apps like Grindr.”

From coast to coast, Pride events offer stages for LGBTQ artists and allies. Earlier this month in Los Angeles, Kat Dahlia, a self-identifying gender-fluid artist, took over the main stage in West Hollywood. “The energy was insane,” Dahlia says. “The LGBTQ community needs more support than ever and I'm happy to be a part of it.” She peformed new songs “Sirens” and “Friday Night Majic” as well as fan-favorites “Gangsta,” “Crazy” and “Mirror.” This was her third year attending LA Pride and first year performing.

“They are the sound of our community, and their music reflects who we are and our struggle for liberation,” Fallarino emphasized. “Of course, non-LGBTQ performers play an important role at NYC Pride as well. These national and international names help drive attendance to our events and are an important way for ally performers to show their support for the movement.”

Past NYC Pride performers include Ariana Grande, Bette Midler, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Demi Lovato, Fergie, Grace Jones, Idina Menzel, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, RuPaul and Whitney Houston.

But who should Heritage of Pride try to snag in 2018 or for Stonewall 50 and WorldPride 2019?

Lady Gaga and Beyonce, obviously, though Lady Gaga did speak and, to our surprise, sang the national anthem at the 2013 NYC Pride Rally,” Fallarino said. “RuPaul hasn't been doing many performances in drag at Prides for the past few years, but when she is ready, the stage is all hers. I'd also like to see more big names in hip-hop and R&B -- I think there's still this idea that hip-hop and R&B performers won't do Pride because of the stigma that might come along with it, but plenty of artists from this genre have shown their support for the LGBTQ community in the past few years. There's also a built-in scheduling conflict for many big hip-hop and R&B performers because the BET Awards are always on NYC Pride Sunday.”