Madison Rose and Binoy on Loving Boys and Girls

Madison Rose and Binoy on Loving Boys and Girls

BYJustin MoranMay 07, 2024

Separately, Madison Rose and Binoy know how to make their own banger. So when the artists join forces, the result is undeniable.

Last year, Rose released her single “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS,” with a 2010s power-pop sheen about her love for Barbies, Bratz and any girl “that’s bad.” Serendipitously, Binoy also dropped a song in 2023 about his complicated addiction to boys, aptly titled “BoysBoysBoys.”

Both queer anthems were created with the artists’ mutual collaborator Arthur Besna and, naturally, begged for some sort of remix between the two. So Rose eventually hopped on “BoysBoysBoys,” exploring her own pansexual identity through a special feature: “It’s twice the fun dealing with a fluid king,” she teases over Binoy’s original cut.

Below, they dig deep for PAPER about their relationship to queerness and where that fits inside pop music today.

Madison Rose: I'm excited that our music video is out and that we were able to collaborate on the iconic “BoysBoysBoys.” I wanted to ask you: “BoysBoysBoys” is such a perfect blend of the sexy side of pop culture and the detrimental sides of it. Was there a particular moment that inspired the song?

Binoy: I was reflecting on my experiences as a queer person in my 20s when it came to dating, relationships, lust. That brought me to this conclusion that a lot of my interactions of the romantic nature have been hookups on apps, and the feelings and emotions that follow these hookups always felt the same. This sense of hollowness and emptiness that I had gone out, chased the cheap thrill that feels unavoidable. In a sense, it is such an inherent part of me: that longing for connection, intimacy, physical touch, but in each instance, leaving that interaction feeling worse than I did going into it.

All these experiences made me start thinking about the duality of hookup culture and the intoxication of it, but at the same time the sadness and pangs of insecurity. That's what inspired me to sprinkle a few shades of that insecurity [into “BoysBoysBoys”] because so much of lust is rooted in wanting what we perceive that we ourselves can't be wanting. So I'd say it was less a singular moment and more a collection of moments. But I have to ask, in listening to “BoysBoysBoys,” what was your reaction the first time you heard it?

Madison Rose: The first time I heard “BoysBoysBoys,” my initial thought was just: banger. You know, this is why I love music because you're drawing from your specific experiences as a gay man, a queer man. Actually, how do you identify?

Binoy: I identify as queer, I think it's a bit more of an inclusive term that accepts more femininity and androgyny in it. Sometimes the label “gay male” feels like it's sort of been hijacked and it tends to ostracize queerness.

Madison Rose: I highly agree. I often use queer to describe myself, as well as pansexual. But I will say that when I heard [“BoysBoysBoys”] the first time, I thought, I love that I relate to this and I understand this and I have my own stories with this, even though I'm not a queer male. Coming as a queer female or even relating to parts of the narrative pre-coming out, like my heterosexual relationship, I really loved the universal message I felt that “BoysBoysBoys” had. The sexiness that is there, but maybe we trick ourselves into it to be okay with these conquests. But also, where does that leave us when we leave those situations?

"We refer to ourselves as a community, but then we're really segregated within our community." –Madison Rose

When I listened to the song I was like, “I wish this was my own song. Maybe I could be on this song.” So I started to think of what narrative makes sense to where I'm involved. I thought of this meme I had seen where this girl was on Grindr and someone was asking her, “Why are you on here?” and she was like, “There's bisexual men on here, I get all the attention because I'm one of the only girls on here.” That has always stuck with me, so that inspired me to write this verse and try to be very bombastic and open about my desire for relationships like that, and infuse what I felt like was a great opportunity to unite all the sectors of queer culture. We refer to ourselves as a community, but then we're really segregated within our community. I have to ask you, what was your reaction to “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.” It's so funny that we have these songs and that they're produced by the same person.

Binoy: Also for our mutual collaborator, Arthur [Besna], to be this straight white man. But at the end of all of this, particularly with two queer POC creators, it's beautiful. The story of how I first heard “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS” is special. I was with Arthur and we were in a session in the late stage of working on “BoysBoysBoys.” I knew of you before Arthur and he mentioned, “Madison has a song called ‘GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS,’ would you like to hear it?” Of course, I was like, “Yes, play it for me.” You have such a particular approach to making pop music. There is so much unadulterated joy, not just the lyrics that you write, but your delivery and vocal tone. It feels like large-scale celebration.

As soon as he played it for me, I stood up on my feet and immediately was like, “How crazy would it be if we did a collaboration of ‘BoysBoysBoys’ meets ‘GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS?’" Sweet Arthur, he was like, “I think that's a great idea, but I would love it if you guys met in person first. I think it would be more organic and special if you had a personal relationship.” So I put the idea on the back burner, until the day that you shared your song and we started talking. Then you were the one who passed this idea to me of a remix. And I'm not even joking, I took a screenshot of the message you sent and I texted it to Arthur and was like, “The universe has worked in a strange way.”

Madison Rose: It was clearly some sort of co-manifestation. I'm grateful that Arthur left it to our devices and the universe’s devices for it to come together organically, because then it was undeniable that this is something we should do.

Binoy: There's a lot of power in that collaborative role, understanding where the boundaries are and trying to make things happen organically. But tell me, what inspired “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS”?

Madison Rose: There was a very specific person in my life that was key in my queer journey. I came out as pansexual in the pandemic — pan in the pan — and I was trying to figure out what that meant for me. When you come out later in life, it's like a second puberty. I had reached a point last year where I finally had what I felt like was a really solid queer experience, where I was courted and got taken out on a date. Then we spent the night together and had this really beautiful, full-fledged experience. It wasn't just a hookup, I felt like I finally got to really see what this kind of romantic life looks like.

I had been in the process of figuring out my next tracklists for albums and I always keep lists of words or phrases that I can revert back to. I had gotten a beat from this very talented producer, Liam Benayon, and I had this melody in my head and knew what I wanted to do. Then the phrase, “Girls, Girls, Girls,” came out of my mouth and I was like, “Wait, let me look back at my list of words,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” had been on my list for months. That song flew out of me in 20 minutes because it was time to be said, and I had had the life experience to back it up and really be able to explain that story.

To me, pop music was always an escape. I'm a 2010s pop girl until I die and I always loved how these writers would relay big themes in a way that was really digestible and catchy. So there's a lot of self-discovery and important life moments that informed “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS,” but ultimately I love that I could synthesize it in this very fun way. You did something very similar with “BoysBoysBoys.” We're writers, so we have to live our lives fully so we can make our art. And I was curious because, as a Kenyan native, I imagine there's a lot of internal conflict with that. That's your home, but also there's probably pain associated with the bigotry and laws against queer people in that country. How does that inform you?

"A lot of the leadership in these countries would love to say that queer people don't exist. That is not the reality." –Binoy

Binoy: It's something I'm still struggling with quite a lot. I came out at age 21 to my friends and then 23 to my family. From the age of around 23 to 27-28, that was a really strong period of personal growth. I started to become a lot more emboldened in my queer identity. It started to seep its way into my art and I wore it more on my sleeve, as opposed to suppressing parts of my identity. I still feel a strong tie to Kenya, but I've become a totally different person than I was for the 18 years that I lived there. When I go back, it feels like a part of me regresses into that unrecognizable version of myself. I code switch a lot more, my voice becomes a lot deeper, the way I dress starts to change.

That being said, I still very proudly show that part of who I am. I continually want to try and bring not just Kenyan, but East African culture into my art, whether it's visuals or the audio elements. It's a rich culture that has a lot of beauty to it, beyond the blatant homophobia. And even with the homophobia, there's so much to be said about where that comes from. Because for a lot of these cultures and tribes in Africa, transgenderism and homosexuality weren’t always ostracized or villainized. Colonialism came along and disrupted everything in very negative ways, and it's that climate we live in today that shapes a lot of these damaging belief systems.

On a recent trip back home, I met a couple of queer women and it was really valuable in terms of gaining insight into how queer rights are developing in the country. People are slowly, but surely becoming more confident in showing parts of their sexuality in public. Even with things as small as our song, when it came out it was on [Spotify’s] New Music Friday, Kenya. If there is a goal for my art, it is for it to turn into something bigger than me as a beacon of some level of hope.

A lot of the leadership in these countries would love to say that queer people don't exist. That is not the reality. The vast amounts of underground community and drag shows, all those people would disagree. Just in the way that here in the US and in other parts of the world, there's been increased understanding of the spectrum of sexuality as opposed to simple binaries, I hope some of that education starts to spread and make its way to younger people in these communities. It's not just the lesbian, gay, straight, there is so much fluidity. So tell me more about how you choose to identify.

Madison Rose: I always knew I wasn't straight, but there's so much internalized homophobia we all are working through. Once I found that term, [Pansexual], I was like, “This is actually all-encompassing of how I feel." Because it's not about any specific parts of a person, it's about the person themselves. I have my cheeky phrase, especially on stage, like I'm an “equal opportunity lover.” It's just about a vibe at the end of the day. And I definitely relate to you: I'm not from Kenya, but I'm from Ohio. I grew up in a very religious family and I'm always fascinated with how I can reclaim that within my own space. Someone could look at me and be like, “That's not what someone from the Midwest represents. It's not what someone who believes in God represents.” I feel like we're forging new paths and breaking down these narratives. And that's what's so hard because you look behind you and you're like, “Who's done this before?”

The labels are helpful in some ways and in other ways they can be really detrimental to us. Specifically within the queer, artistic community, we're hearing from newer voices coming up in music that we should be labeling our art as gay pop. I'm curious, what's your stance on that?

Binoy: My music is obviously so much more than being gay pop, there's multitudes to who I am as a person and the way I create. If I look at the project I'm working on right now, there are songs you could listen to however you identify and draw a fairly similar emotional resonance from it. The flip side of that, though, is otherness, which I have experienced otherness my whole life. Growing up, I was the short kid who was way more effeminate. My friends were all girls, so all the boys loved to bully me, but the girls were like, “He's still a boy, so he can't come to the sleepovers.”

Madison Rose: You don't quite fit here, you don't quite fit there.

"We're all not that different, we all have the same things going on just in different shades." –Madison Rose

Binoy: So much of that is related to me being a queer person of color. And because of how much of my perspective has been informed by those experiences, it almost feels impossible to separate the gay from the pop. There is a huge part of my creative lens that is rooted in queer culture and that wants to bathe in all of the beautiful art that queer people have created, and reference that and put that into the work I'm creating. But there is still the resistance to just being exclusively labeled as queer pop.

Madison Rose: Yeah, we are still up-and-coming artists and so labels like that, while I wish that wasn't the case, they actually can be damaging because this is why queer artists, and especially queer artists of color, we're fighting to not just get Pride bookings and to be seen as universal music. So it's tough because I understand the sentiment and if I thought it could be viewed right now as a sole, celebratory thing, then I would be all for it. But I do feel like we're still in this upward slog of being seen on the same level as our hetero counterparts and, for us specifically, our white counterparts in pop music. We're just trying to be seen as musicians first and foremost, in my opinion, but you don't want to feel like you're damning or moving away from your queer identity because it's informing what we do.

And, frankly, most mega-cultural artistic moments came from a queer person or a person of color or the intersection of the two. One day that label can make sense, but right now there's too many things we're fighting for. I'm always going to be proud of my queerness and my Blackness and my femininity, but at the end of the day I make music that I want to resonate, and I think can resonate with anyone because the stories are universal. We're all not that different, we all have the same things going on just in different shades.

Photos courtesy of Madison Rose and Binoy