Stefan Olsdal from iconic alt-rock band Placebo reveals that he’s feared for his life touring in some countries as an openly gay man, but it hasn’t stopped him from being outspoken.
“I got death threats in Morocco, and Russia as well,” he says.
“I walked around Red Square with it. I guess I was kind of rubbing up the authorities’ noses.
“I fear for my life sometimes, and that’s just something I have to deal with—to be cautious, but at the same time I’m not going to shut up.”
Russia isn’t the only country where Olsdal has made controversial gestures for LGBTI inclusion.
“Way back when, we played Singapore, and we weren’t allowed to ‘impersonate a female’,” he says.
“Well, I put on a dress—basically, middle finger up. We’re kind of contrarian in our nature. We’re not shrinking violets when it comes to standing up for what we believe in.”
Olsdal has been publicly out as gay since the 90s.
“I received a lot of homophobia and verbal abuse in my teens,” he recalls. “It was hard. I felt painfully alone for many years.
“When I came to London, the age of consent wasn’t equal yet in the UK. It felt like I was coming out in the face of adversity—not as much as homosexuals 50 years ago when it was criminal, but still it wasn’t as open as it is today. I think there were two other musicians that I knew of that were also openly gay.
“I just felt that I had to do it for myself. I felt it was wrong for me personally to not be out, because I felt that a lot of Placebo was about was telling it like it is, and what our lives are about and what we believe in. In terms of the band ethos I felt it was imperative for me to come out.”
Placebo have always challenged gender norms, with themes of androgyny and sexuality in their music since their first hit ‘Nancy Boy’ in 1997.
Olsdal says LGBTI acceptance has come a long way since then, and he believes part of the increased acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities is helped by music.
“I think ‘alternative lifestyles’ and gender issues have become much more in the open and much less taboo, especially in the past ten or fifteen years,” he explains.
“Through popular culture, film and TV shows and music, it’s much less of a deal now to have for example a gay character. Certainly I think it breaks down walls and makes people see others for who they are instead of putting them in a box.”
Placebo were recently in Australia for a tour celebrating their twentieth anniversary.
“I think culturally, Australia is a very welcoming and respectful country,” says Olsdal.
Asked about the marriage equality debate, Olsdal says most of the western world is on “more or less the same page” with same-sex marriage, even though some countries might be a few years behind. He thinks it’s important to consider the individuals in a country, not just the government.
“We’ve been asked many times why we would go and play certain countries because of their government’s policies,” he says.
“Well, music transcends barriers and borders and governmental ideologies. The individual a lot of the time is not responsible for what the government is doing. Therefore as a band, we go and play for the people.”