MUNA What I Want

MUNA’s “What I Want” & the Pursuit of Queer Joy

On Pride, sobriety and seeking out that which sparks joy.

The irony of the first few opening lines of MUNA‘s latest single “What I Want” is that they contain about…maybe 3% of what I want.

When I go out again / I’m gonna drink a lot / I’m gonna take a shot ’cause that’s just what I want / And when I see my friend / Put something on her tongue / I’m gonna ask for one ’cause that’s just want I want.

I am still not drinking, four years later, and none of that appeals to me. In fact, it is the opposite of what I want, and mostly what I begrudgingly tolerate at best.

And yet, “What I Want” is exactly what I want.

That is, of course, because MUNA is nothing if not reliably consistent in their ongoing mission to deliver queer emo dance-pop magic, especially with their astoundingly good self-titled third studio album, which arrived Friday (June 24) in time for Pride weekend in New York City, when the girls out here most certainly did plenty of what they wanted.

The track was co-written with Friend to the Blog Leland, whom you also know as the creator of many a Drag Race earworms, including “UK Hun?”, as well as collaborations with superstars like Troye Sivan and Selena Gomez.

This one’s all about seeking out that which sparks joy, which looks different for everyone…especially the LGBTs.

Like MUNA’s most outright bangers, from “I Know a Place” to “Number One Fan,” it’s a start-to-finish euphoric synth-pop smash. And, also like any MUNA musical moment, there’s a specificity to the lyricism that makes even their most straightforward dance floor anthems more than just party music.

That pre-chorus – “I’ve spent way too-too-too many years not knowing what / What I wanted, how to get it, how to live it / And now I’m gonna make up for it all at once” – while a universal sentiment (we’re all figuring out who we are), feels undeniably queer, especially coming from an all-LGBT group. (Duh.) There’s plenty to said about growing up queer and in a constant state of self-defense for safety, and the effects of being closeted and delaying life as our true, authentic selves until we’re older. (The Velvet Rage also says hello!)

Then there’s that chorus: it’s got all the dopamine-drenched feelings of a classic swooning pop tune, a la Katy Perry circa Teenage Dream, just queerer: “I want the full effects / I want to hit it hard,” they urge, “I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar!

It’s the way that line is delivered – the urgency of that GAYYY ba-aaaahhhr – that makes it an instant highlight of the year. I love it. I love it. And it gives me that buzz. And of course, then there’s the actual mission statement of the song: “That’s what I want, there’s nothing wrong with what I want.

It’s a defying cry that comes perfectly timed for Pride, because that’s exactly the prevailing sentiment underlying all of the parties, parades and rainbow marketing: as long as I’m not hurting anybody else, there’s nothing wrong with what I want.

To add to the delight of the song itself, the accompanying Ally Pankiw and Taylor James-directed music video is right up my pop culture alley, and essentially a take on the mid-to-late ’00s tabloid culture and paparazzi chases, conjuring visions of the Paris-Lindsay-Britney front seat photos, the “Piece of Me” music video and Britney‘s “Human Nature” elevator scene for Madonna‘s Sticky & Sweet Tour. There are also a ton of fun cameos and familiar faces – Leland! Meg Stalter! Bronze Avery! Matt Rogers! Just great and talented LGBTs LGBT-ing about together.

Perhaps it’s just because Pride is an especially tricky time to navigate as a non-drinker, but “What I Want” resonates extra hard: it sounds exactly like how I experience gay world as a still young(-ish) gay person, navigating indulgences and intoxicated interactions all around me that I know won’t serve me, while still wanting to hit it hard on the dance floor among friends and future prospects just like everybody else. It also sounds like the starry-eyed thrill of being newly out and going to a bar for the first time. It could also be interpreted on a sadder and darker level too, as the lead-up to a cautionary tale about doing too much all at once.

There’s a lot of room for interpretation. Or, you could just take it at surface level and have a great time! We’re all chasing what little highs – the fireworks, the chemistry – we can in our own ways, especially when the political climate is consistently dragging us down and backwards at every opportunity.

Truly knowing what I want (or maybe even more accurately, what I don’t want), and holding to that – as frustrating and isolating as it can be sometimes, especially during holidays and celebrations – is still the best thing I’ve done for myself. That’s what I want.

And as cliché as it may sound, it’s the truth: sometimes you just need a perfect pop song to remind you that it’s never too late to do and be exactly what and who you want, too.

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