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Queering the Underground: Sam Barbera on Women in Rock and New EP

Queering the Underground: Sam Barbera on Women in Rock and New EP

Sam Barbera of Beginners
Courtesy of Sam Barbera

Being a queer woman in the alternative scene isn't always easy, but Sam Barbera of Beginners is sharing how we can advocate for ourselves even "if the world is ending."

To celebrate the release of their newest EP, front woman of Los Angeles band Beginners Sam Barbera recently sat down with The Advocate to share how living authentically has helped her face the world even as it feels like it's ending.

While Beginners is classified as alt-pop, Barbera likes to experiment with several genres, whether they be electro-pop or punk. She says that whatever it is, it has "a little bit of raw aggression to it."

Barbera has been in the music business for over 10 years, though she shares that she wasn't always able to be true to herself in her career. When she started appearing in various alt-rock bands, her style didn't fit the look her male bandmates wanted.

Whereas she preferred jeans and Dr. Martens boots, management would dress her in skirts and high heels to be more feminine. Barbera says she has always considered herself a tomboy and was unable to rock out in stilettos.

"I've never even really thought about it until now. At the time, it was just so accepted. If you're gonna be a girl in a band, that's what you need to do," she says. "I don't even think I knew how to advocate for myself in that way, because at the time, there weren't that many examples of other ways to do it. I just assumed that's what you would do."

When she came out as queer, she shares that she was "already kind of established in the scene as a straight person." While she personally has never placed too much emphasis on coming out, part of her was nervous as to how her fans would react.

"Will my straight cis male fans not like me anymore?" she asked herself. "Because now I've made it clear that I'm not into them. I'm not for them. I'm not their object."

Despite her anxieties, being authentic came naturally to Barbera, as her identity has always influenced her work. Coming out "just matched up with how [she] was living," as her songs ended up being about her women and nonbinary partners.

"I'm singing songs about queer relationships and queer experiences because those are my own," she says. "So it's like it just kind of happens naturally."

Barbera reveals that using she/her pronouns for the love interests in her songs is important to her, even if he/him would do better commercially for radio.

Now that she has the space to do so, Barbera loves to experiment with gender and queer culture. She expresses deep gratitude to the activists that came before her, as they paved the way for her to be able to be her authentic self.

"I feel very, very privileged to casually be able to be a queer artist and be authentic as a person and artist today because of all the work that other people did to get us here," she explains. "I feel like it's finally reached a point where it's celebrated."

While Barbera says being in L.A. is somewhat of a privilege, she's happy to be "living her truth" and able to reach LGBTQ+ fans who may not be as fortunate as she is.

"Delivering art that reflects my queer life and experiences. I think that creating that, it ends up being a little bit of a beacon for people who aren't in as fortunate of a position," she continues. "Like when I'm talking to fans that are in small town in the Midwest or in other countries where it's not as safe of an environment. And they don't feel that same freedom and support of queerness. So it is really nice, in that way, to be able to have a presence in the world that shows people this is OK. It's cool. You're not alone."

While Barbera is now able to truly express herself in her music, she believes there's still a long way to go toward queer acceptance. She calls on other artists to "talk openly about what you're behind and why" and to feature more queer performers to normalize their existence.

"Even within the queer community, I don't know that we're as activated as we really should be," Barbera says.

Beginners' newest EP, If the World Is Ending, released November 2, though Barbera shares she's already working on the next album. As she's "in a constant state of writing," the EP was her way of capturing the enclosing emotions she's felt in the past year.

Barbera envisioned herself as a Harley Quinn-like figure embracing the chaos of the world while writing the EP. Since 2021, humanity has endured COVID, war, environmental concerns, and attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. But even outside of the bigger picture, Barbera says people are feeling their worlds blown up on a personal level. Some, including herself, have experienced breakups, the loss of a family member, or economic struggles.

"If the world is ending, because it feels like it is, let's be free and present and enjoy it and go out with a bang," Barbera says. "Fight back, live your truth, live your rebellion, be a little chaotic, fall in love, be heartbroken, and just live to fight another day. Keep moving through it."

If The World is Ending EP

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