Alternative rock group R.E.M held its popularity through its thirty-one year career in part thanks to lead singer Stipe’s clever (and often mumbled) lyrics. When he wasn’t writing and performing hits like “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Losing My Religion”, Stipe helped produce hit films like Velvet Goldmine, Being John Malkovich, and Saved!. A rewritten version of “Shiny Happy People”, a song about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was featured on Sesame Street under the title “Furry Happy Monsters“.
Stipe has been out as a queer artist since the mid 90’s, when he addressed (incorrect) rumors that he was HIV positive with the admission that he was “an equal opportunity lech.” Since then he has given multiple interviews in which he mentions his sexuality; the media’s annoying tendency to dub each piece a coming out event finally prompted him to film a deadpan segment in which he outs his bandmates as straight. The song 7 Chinese Brothers was, to quote Stipe, “about me breaking up a couple and then dating both of them – a man and a woman – which is a terrible thing to do. But I was young and stupid.” He describes his attraction to men and women as “80-20”, and is adamant about preferring the term ‘queer’ to ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’.