Allie X and David Olshanetsky
Allie X and David Olshanetsky
Photos: Jungle George and Zoe Gregory-Wozencroft; Illustration: Sabrina Hamilton

Heart To Heart: Allie X and David Olshanetsky Talk Pop Concerts As Safe Spaces, Dean Eastmond & Coming Out

Heart To Heart is a new monthly feature for Billboard Pride where we pair a young LGBTQ influencer with a musician of their choosing to talk about queer topics. To kick off the series, we choose David Olshanetsky, known for his Tumblr The Shitney Spears. Not only is his Tumblr the most popular male account in the U.K., it's the most popular LGBTQ account in the world. He chose to speak with "Paper Love" cool girl Allie X. The two talk about, among other things, pop concerts being a safe place for LGBTQ youth, how the Internet has changed the coming out process and journalist Dean Eastmond: "He could have changed the world, you know? He was just that kind of person," said Allie X. Read the conversation below.

David: Going through your social media you often share your followers' tweets where they're like, "I'm going to the show alone. Does anyone want to meet up?" Things like that. I feel like you're the only artist I've ever seen do that. That's such an amazing thing. Do you feel it's really important to create a community of your fans?

Allie X: Yeah! I do. I'm always trying to want to connect with fans and to connect them to each other. I mean, there's other things that I'm trying to do, but in terms of connectivity, that is really important to me. And you know, I am a smaller artist still and there are people that are super passionate about my music, but not everyone in their circle knows about me. I'm not sure if maybe they tried to convince [their friends] to come and they just don't. But yeah, I've always trying to find ways to connect fans to each other.

I love the topic of this call, which is pop concerts as a safe space because I've never consciously really thought about it. I've done a lot of shows, pop shows, and not attended a lot of them and on stage, I always feel like this very heightened, fantastic shared experience. And I wanted to ask you, as someone who attends a lot of pop concerts, what is that experience like? I heard that you met your first boyfriend at a pop show.

David: Yeah! Well, it's really interesting because this summer and in general, I've really been working with festivals and venues. A lot of these places have rules when you buy these tickets and they can kick you out for specific reasons. But very rarely is homophobic language or something like that included -- and often times, a lot of security guards aren't educated on these slang terms or things like that.

While it's really easy to identify often racist terms since you hear it in the news so much, you don't hear about homophobic slurs often. They aren't aware that they need to react and I've been at places where I just heard slurs being thrown around and sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's really crazy that sometimes these concerts for a lot of artists that you'd expect to have really inclusive, diverse audiences, you still hear terms being thrown around.

But it's really funny because sometimes I'll go to a concert and as soon as I get in, you can just tell like… So for example, I met my second boyfriend, when I was still in high school, at a Halsey concert. And just her audience was like, you could tell was super LGBTQ friendly or identified as their own expressions of themselves. At the time, being underage, you can't just go to a gay bar or something like that. So I'd be somewhere like a Halsey concert and still be able to flirt with someone and not worry that they'll react badly.

 

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Allie X: This is all blowing my mind because it makes total sense. I just never thought of that before. What are you going to do as a young LGBTQ person if you can't go to a gay bar? And I mean, you can and I have friends that did that and snuck in, but I think that a safe space in a pop concert is a really great alternative.

David: There's so few places that, to be able to go to a pop concert for someone like Allie X or Halsey or Fifth Harmony, where the audience could be really highly populated by LGBTQ people. It's really interesting to see that they can just meet up and hang out . Even outside of the concert, they have these group chats for like, "Who's going to this concert on March 26? Who's going to this stage?” and they can just talk in advance and it's just this really fun way to meet that's a lot safer than going to a gay club underage or talking to a stranger on Grindr, where they could be lying about their age or identity.

Allie X: Yeah, that's really great. And without ever consciously really thinking about this, I do have to say one of my favorite things to see from the stage is like two young boyfriends hugging and kissing to my songs. It just makes me so happy! So yeah, I always feel that, at least at my shows which are smaller, they do feel super safe and friendly. I've never encountered -- I've maybe never encountered a straight man at my shows! A few but yeah.

David: Oh my god.

Allie X: So it's definitely safe. I'm curious to know of an example of an artist or a concert that you've been to where where there has been like a homophobic slur thrown around.

David: Well like at a music festival, where the lineup is really like -- not to place blame. It was Major Lazer and I'm trying to think of the other artists that were there. It was a lot of music that would be stereotyped, like a “straight” audience.

But again, it's really funny because you mentioned one of your favorite things to see was when you see two guys together at one of your concerts. And this summer at a music festival, during Jason Derulo's set, I saw two guys and one of them seemed to be all over his boyfriend but at first, I thought it was like, "Ooh, there's like two best friends!" And then, they started kissing. I was like, "Oh, my god!" During a Jason Derulo set, of all things. I just could not imagine Jason Derulo have a massive gay audience.

Allie X: Oh I love that! I think it is an interesting topic, this whole pop concert as a safe space.

 

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David: Do you think some artists have a responsibility to make sure the venues they pick are venues that are gonna enforce these rules?

Allie X: Now that we're having this conversation, this is actually something that I'll definitely be mentioning to my booking agents. One thing that I already say to my agent in that I don't think my team was really aware that my shows have to be all ages. They're so boring when they're not and so many of my fans are young.

But yeah, this is definitely something that I'll be mentioning, as well. But it should be a place that's acceptable to the LGBTQ crowd and you know, maybe even promoters' security should be made aware that that's the kind of show it is. With this tour that I just did, I don't think they're gonna be too surprised because I had drag queens open in every city.

My whole thing was like, if you're coming to my show and you're for some reason uncomfortable with that, then you probably shouldn't be there in the first place.

I have another sort of topic: I wanted to talk about Dean Eastmond. You were at his funeral the other day?

 

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David: He was just the amazing person. So I met him probably six or seven months ago. It was because of his articles. He wrote HISKIND, which is an amazing magazine that's super queer. It was always his dream project. It was really coming to fruition and it had amazing people on the covers and amazing things featured. I remember just talking to him and he was just so down to earth.

I mentioned to him a topic that I was really interested in. There was a straight YouTuber who was going on Grindr and had a fake male profile and she was just doing prank conversations with people. I don't think her intention was to do anything really intense with it, but they were not blurring out anyone's faces. So that was a really risky stunt and it wasn't funny and it was just awkward and the language they used during the skit was not fun. She wasn't saying like the f-word or anything like really slur-y, but it was just not okay.

I mentioned to Dean that I was really passionate about it and he encouraged me to write about it. I wrote about it within like five seconds. He posted it straight up to HISKIND and he was like, "You're a really good writer." I didn't have a lot of confidence about my writing -- even today, I'm always second guessing whether or not I should post something.

And he just had no doubt about it. He was just like, "You're a good writer, just go for it." He was just the best person.

Allie X: Oh, I love that. That was already when he was battling cancer, right? Seven months ago.

David: Yeah, so I imagine he was already diagnosed, yeah.

Allie X: I think that's so cool, first of all. I thought it was amazing how he was still so selfless and doing things like you just described and being an activist as he was going through this absolutely horrific most painful experience of his young life. It really floored me. I feel like in my life, when I've gone through during some traumatic things, I go so inward and I shut the world out and I become -- I don't want to use the word selfish because it's hard circumstances, but when I go through hard stuff, it's difficult for me to communicate with other people, let alone stand up for other people's rights.

I met him when he interviewed me for HISKIND and you know, I only met him the once and I thought, "Wow, here's a really cool, smart kid." I was following him and then I just started seeing news about his cancer on Twitter and we kept in touch. I just felt very profoundly moved and saddened and inspired by him.

David: Exactly. And the thing is, with him what was so interesting is if it took him longer than a day to reply, he'd always open a message with, "Oh, I'm so sorry," and he made it seem as though he was the burden. Especially when he never was.

Allie X: I know! I know. Same with the messages that we exchanged. I don't know, I don't know what to make of it all, other than celebrate him and sort of push forward the legacy. I feel that if Dean Eastmond had continued to live, he could have changed the world, you know? He was just that kind of person. Did you ever read his poetry?

David: Yeah, and at the event, they had a lot of his words just all over the wall. They had it printed out onto canvas paper, but it was all put up on the walls for everyone to read it when they walked into the event.

Allie X: I did an interview with HISKIND when I was in London and I was speaking to those guys that they were saying that Dean actually was kind of Tumblr-famous a little bit with his poetry, but he was shy about it.

David: Yeah. So this is actually a conversation I had with him and he was talking about Tumblr and how I was doing with it. He was really popular on it -- he had over 20,000 followers on it and then he just, one day, deleted his account. He just became super reclusive about it. It was just so funny 'cause then he went on to make HISKIND, which is incredible.

Allie X: Yeah. I thought it was insanely good. I found it only a few months ago and I was like, "Wait a second. He does this as well?"

David: Yeah, he did tell me that he did regret deleting his Tumblr account and he wished that he had left it up so that he could've just taken a big pause and gone back to it, but I'm sure there's people that have all of those [poems]. They’re definitely still out there.

Allie X: For sure. I read it on his Instagram, so I know it kind of exists there, as well.

 

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David: Yeah. So changing subjects, but what do you think it is about your music that attracts so many gays fans? You even said that you're surprised when a straight guy comes to your show.

Allie X: Yeah, just like I've always been surprised when a straight guy likes me. [laughs] I don't know. It's just been like my whole life has been kinda like that. I definitely felt like when I started this project, it wasn't writing for a gay audience at all. I was just writing for me. But what I say whenever I get this question is my best friends have always been gay, I've always been, as a person, just accepted by the gay community, and celebrated and had the best nights of my life at gay clubs. Always had a fashion sense usually with drag and I don't know. That's just kind of my people, you know? That's just kind of where I fit in.

You know, I was just watching actually the behind the scenes "Paper Love" footage because I think we're playing that out just as a little thing in the next couple weeks -- and it looks like I'm going through a drag process. Like at the beginning of the video, I'm having my face taped and then my eyebrows glued and I look so bad! And then we're trying out all these different wigs and then I turn into this doll eventually.

But yeah, drag. I think just like the idea of transformation and of becoming an amplified version of something that's already inside of you is... oh and also just the general attitude of drag. This sort of like, "I don't give a fuck, I'm gonna fly my freak flag really high and look amazing while doing it." All of that has always given me strength and confidence and it just really resonates with me and sort of where I feel that I fit in in the world.

David: I think it's really interesting because there's a big point about gay people and going towards the outsider artist and there's this whole theory about how so much amazing science fiction is written by gay people because they're used to being the outsider the same way aliens can be seen as the outsider. And when it comes to pop music, so someone like for me to -- my blog's namesake is Britney Spears.

When I was just starting puberty and coming to terms with my sexuality, it was so -- I just don't have a word -- guess aligning with her breakdown and downfall and then rise back up to fame. I remembered that full one-year gap between the VMAs and doing “Gimme More” and everyone ridiculing her and calling her the worst things possible and then “Womanizer” coming out a year later and being No. 1 and everyone being like, "Oh, this is the best song ever." All the while like nominated for a Grammy another year later.

For me, it was just so important to see that happen at that point in my life cause I was like, "You know what? She was able to have everyone pick on her and have everyone be so abusive to her and she was able to come out of it on the other side as being a stronger person and suddenly, they all want her attention again." I felt something drawing to me and I always saw that as just tenacity, which is such an element in Dean that he had that I just admired so much. That's a trait I admired so much: the ability to just work hard and keep going and don't allow anyone else to stop you from achieving what you need to achieve. That's why I feel a lot of people like these artists like Halsey or Britney Spears or the Kylie Minogues, the Lady Gagas because pop music and chart music is often ridiculed for being either simplistic or bubblegum or blah blah blah. At the same time, it can become so popular and so infectious and so catchy, so it's really interesting to see maybe an element that plays into it.

Allie X: Yeah! I've never seen that correlation before but you're so right. The mockery of pop music and then also sort of like the rise of the phoenix every time, you know? Just like living as a queer person in the world. It totally makes sense.

I mean from my standpoint, I've always just felt like an outsider. I've always been made fun of in school ever since kindergarten, you know? For me, when I started singing, that's when I started making “friends,” you know? That's when people started taking an interest in me. That was the thing that made me likable, I guess. Maybe even lovable! I think that's really why I'm so hellbent on doing this as a career is because those are the moments where I felt at my most confident.

David: I’lI hear your songs in TV shows, but not so much on the radio. It's interesting. Do you still feel like an outsider even with the success and even with selling out concerts?

Allie X: Oh yeah. I totally feel like an outsider and like a failure, you know? I definitely -- I do feel that. I'm quite a bit older and I do feel as I get older like that thing that people say happens starts to happen where you give less of a fuck and you do kind of come into yourself a little more. There's so much of me that still exists from the me that I was in like elementary school and high school for sure.

I have a question for you. I want to venture into my more Tumblr scene questions here. I don't know if you've been asked this before, can you explain the genesis of "wig flew" or "wig orbiting Mars" meme?

David: [laughs] Okay! Okay. So the thing is, the first time I started seeing the wig flew and the wig orbiting Mars meme was  -- I was probably really late to the game on these. But it was often in combination with those Brazilian memes from their soap operas and their telenovelas where there would just be someone pulling out someone else's wig. Like their really cheap wig for these soap operas. And so I think initially, it wasn't as though it flew as much as just the GIF on its own. Then people stopped attaching the GIFs and would just say, "wig flew." It just became synonymous with the GIF and then the GIFs just left the system altogether.

Allie X: Oh man. I love the "wig flew", "wig orbiting Mars". And [the wig meme] came before “scalped,” right? And “bald”?

David: No, I think “scalped” was before “wig.” I also heard like "snatching wigs" before either of those.

Allie X: Okay. This is useful information.

David: I remember it first time I ever saw it was back in like 2015, when Jennifer Lopez was announcing her Vegas residency at the same time as Britney Spears. There was a big post on Oh No They Didn't and there was a screenshot that went around Tumblr where someone who was a J.Lo fan wrote, "J.Lo's coming for Britney." And then a Britney fan replied saying, "The only thing J.Lo's coming for is bankruptcy." And then a person replied with, saying "Wig snatched."

Allie X: Oh, my god! It's too good! It's too good!

David: I was literally just tweeting about this, but I was seeing that Gaga: Five Foot Two documentary and in it was this girl and a lot of fans that would yell, "Mommy," at her and stuff like that. Do you ever get people sending things like that to you? Do you ever get weirded out when people send things like "mommy" and "mom" as like as a direct message?

Allie X: Oh, my god. That's a great question. First of all, I was reading through the questions that you answered on your Tumblr page and they're so funny!

David: Oh, my god.

Allie X: I screenshotted one. “Anonymous asked: do you prefer to top or bottom?” And you wrote, "I prefer trust and unconditional love." And then someone wrote, "Unfollowed. Unrealistic."

David: Oh, my god. Yeah.

 

Allie X: That's amazing. But yeah, so the first time someone called me "mom" was probably two or three years ago, like when I started the [CollXtion] project. And I was like, "Ugh, bitch!" Like what? Like I'm old enough to be your mom? It hurt, you know? And then, I've come into it so much in these last few months. Now I'm calling myself "mom" all the time and in little breaks in the songs in the live show, I'll be like, "Sing it for mommy!" I'm so into it now.

David: This is going around Tumblr all the time, which is just Kesha. I’m not sure of the real source, but she's talking to one of her sisters or friends and she goes, "People keep tweeting at me saying 'mom' and at first, I was so confused. Like am I old enough to be their mom and then I realized it was because I'm giving them life."

Allie X: Exactly! And for me, yeah. Mom was weird at first, but now I'm really into it.

David: Fully into it. So is the Mom Tour coming up soon?

Allie X: [laughs] Yeah. The Mom Tour is coming up. I think I'm just gonna stop doing this whole collection thing and just start my album like, Mom 3, Mom 4.

David: It could be like a concept album, the whole giving life thing. Like you just go to the Genesis.

 

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Allie X: Amazing. So Has your massive following on Tumblr helped you feel more accepted and confident outside of the Internet?

David: Oh, for sure, because I came out to my followers way before I came out in my friend group or family or anything. And I was really lucky because people in my school knew about Tumblr, but they didn't follow me.

I guess slowly, the type of content I was sharing -- you know, it went from just the generic Tumblr style of really artsy photos or the jokes that everyone finds funny like Simpsons GIFs or whatever, into those "wig snatched" memes or "J. Lo coming for bankruptcy" stuff that's just a lot more niche? And I think I didn't really have to say anything, people just started to stop guessing and start knowing. It really gave me confidence because I think seeing the reaction from people not change at all on Tumblr.

I thought like if I say, "Oh, I'm gay," or whatever, people are gonna unfollow me, but none of that happened. I think that was a really good practice run because then I came out to all my friends and I didn't lose any friends. And ever since, perceptions of me didn't change. I was ready for that because I knew these people online, their perceptions of me didn't change, so why would someone who knows me even better than that change?

Allie X: I think that's just so amazing and such a good side of this Internet culture and age that we are living in now. I feel like because I come from a separate generation than you, but I'm kind of a half separate generation, I would say, and watching my friends coming out at your age, I'd say it was a lot harder. You don't get to get to stick your toe in the lake and feel it out like you're describing, like check the temperature. You just have to strip off your clothes and jump in and just hope for the best.

And now I feel like it's easier to make an actual transition and to have the landing pad of online friends that you've already developed and you've already got almost this sort of confidence because you've already found this community that even if my parents disown me, even if everyone at school makes fun of me like I have somewhere to go where I'm already accepted.

Allie X: How long ago did you come out?

David: I came out on Tumblr in the summer of 2015.

Allie X: Okay, cool. So it's very recent still.

David: It's what motivated this new book I'm working on. It all stems from people asking me for advice on the coming out process and everything like that.

When I came out, the things I saw around was like Yahoo Answers or a YouTube that was uploaded in like 2007. And they just felt a bit dated because of how much we've moved forward in time. I came out after gay marriage was passed. I came out after so many different changes had happened.

Some of the books that were in the market were written by people who had come out before being gay was even allowed -- you could be jailed for being gay. It just felt like their advice wasn't amazingly helpful and especially because they experienced so much abuse and hatred. It was very pessimistic.

So I want to create something for people that are coming out now in the same generation as me, where they can see these more new approaches and more positive viewpoints. Along the way, there's interviews from amazing people like Olly Alexander from Years & Years and we did one with Calum Scott, which is one of the funniest interviews I've ever done and I'm so excited for people to read it. And there's one or two people who are so incredible and I can't say until it comes out, but honestly people are gonna just shit on the floor. I'm so excited.

Allie X: How would you describe the tone of your book compared to the tone of your social platform?

 

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David: I'd say it's actually really similar. It's say it's like an extension of that platform and because one of the things I really wanted to make sure was that there was gonna be a digital version of the book because not everyone who's ready to come out or not ready to come out can go to the store and buy a book. Especially when it's probably gonna be in the gay and queer section of the bookstores. They can just go onto iBooks or Amazon Kindle Store and just buy it from there and their parents don't even have to know.

So I wanted to make sure it's more of an extension of my Tumblr and rather than having to repeat the same advice more than once, just like I guess kind of like an FAQ on coming out in 2017. There's gay history in there because I feel like one thing that my generation isn't great at compared to other ones is appreciating what we have and knowing why we have these things. And while we may be aware of things like Stonewall or just the names of these people, we don't know what they did. You might know who Harvey Milk is, but you don't know what he did. Things like that. So there's a lot of gay history thrown in. There is a playlist of music and not just queer artists, but straight artists as well that really helped me through various moments. There's funny stories, there's a section on sexual health because a lot of schools don't advise on these things. I was really lucky that my teacher in the sixth grade for our STD section of the health class. We had to do this thing if she did a full day on gay and lesbian sexual health.

Allie X: Oh, I love that!

David: And this was in probably like 2009? And that's crazy for me cause some of these schools weren't even allowed to do that back then.

Allie X: Yeah. Oh, my God. When I was in sex ed, that would have been so controversial! That's amazing. Good for her. Was it a her?

David: Yes. Yes, it was a her.

Allie X: Good for her. Are you gonna have some visuals in the book as well?

David: Oh yeah, so one of the thing is at the start of each celebrity interview, I feature a different Tumblr artist who I'm really fond of and I've commissioned them to draw the celebrity in the book. They're getting paid for it because I want to make sure that I give back as much as I can on this, as well, and promote them.

Allie X: Have you announced the title of it? I didn't see online.

David: No, so there's no title for it yet because I'm a Libra through and through. I'm the most indecisive person on the planet. So I don't want to announce the title until I fully have it down on the paper and I know that I can't change it anymore.

 

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Allie X: I have one more fun question for you. I saw something on Tumblr about you owning 25 vinyls, but no vinyl player. And I feel like that's such a phenomenon right now. Do you want to just speak to that a little bit and how that's happened.

David: So I have a vinyl player now because actually a follower who saw that post literally was like, "Just put one on Amazon Wish List and I'll get it for you. I originally said no multiple times and I felt so bad, but he insisted for my birthday. So I guess I have a vinyl player now?

But basically, it all started with the guy that I met at the Halsey concert. He had a really, really classic vintage vinyl player, but he had no vinyls which is like a weird, opposite end of the spectrum. And so, I thought, "Oh, I'll get him one," and his favorite artist was Marina and the Diamonds. So I got him one of those and when I bought one for him, the site I bought it from, it was selling them as a set. So it also had one for me. I took one and he had the other.

Allie X: Oh, cute!

David: He has the album and I had the seven inch single. And then I remember one day, a friend of mine on Twitter tweeted about his Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion vinyl and he was saying how much better it sounds on vinyl. I love that album so I was like, "Okay. Let me see how much this vinyl is." And it says "one in stock" and so I was on Amazon and in my head, I was like, "Oh, my god!" because I had thought like, "They won't print anymore. That would fucking sell. Like they just won't print anymore! So I just have to get this." So I got Emotion on vinyl. Then I got [Halsey’s] Badlands and eventually I had like 20 vinyls and no vinyl player. Iwas like, "Okay! Well this is kind of like wall art! But this is really expensive wall art at this point."

I did just buy Lemonade on vinyl because I was hoping to get the punk one. There was an accident at a plant in Europe and a huge batch of Beyoncé's vinyl for Lemonade accidentally, side A is by a Canadian punk rock band.

Allie X: Oh, my god! I did not hear about this!

David: So everyone was really confused and now they're worth so much because it was a misprint. So I bought it, but unfortunately I have the normal version, not the punk version.

Allie X: That's quite a vinyl story there. It's such a funny thing like how it becomes so trendy to buy vinyl, not even necessarily to listen to it.

Olshanetsky: Yeah. And I know people are really gonna come for me. I'm ready to get some Twitter messages of so many people just calling me a poser and you know what? I am. I am a poser.

Allie X: We all are, we all are.

For more stories about the LGBTQ community and our fiercest allies, follow Billboard Pride on Facebook.

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