It was the news which no one had been waiting for. Last week, Ricky Martin finally revealed that all those years he had been "Livin' la Vida Loca", he'd also been livin' la vida lie. Yes, the Latin pop star responsible for the unfortunately-titled "She Bangs" declared via his website that he was, in fact, "a fortunate homosexual". If coming out is a momentous step in any gay man's life, then the response to Martin's has been decidedly less momentous. Reactions have ranged from blank indifference to benign amusement at a "revelation" that has been considered an open secret in gossip circles for years.
Why has it taken Martin until the age of 38, a decade past his career peak, to confirm what most people thought they already knew? In Martin's own words: "Many people told me: 'Ricky, it's not important', 'it's not worth it', 'all the years you've worked and everything you've built will collapse'. Because all this advice came from people who I love dearly, I decided to move on with my life not sharing with the world my entire truth." It's a pitiful reminder of the rank disingenuity that has traditionally plagued the pop business when it comes to gayness: that while stars from Bowie to Morrissey have long turned ambiguous sexuality into a selling point, an admission of actual, full-blown homosexuality has long been considered tantamount to career suicide. And that while innumerable photogenic young wannabes have been readily targeted at a gay demographic, they've been fervently discouraged from appearing to be part of the demographic themselves.
But all the while Martin has suffered within an industry straitjacket, others have been cutting loose, offering a heartening indication that audiences are far less homophobic than they might once have been given credit for. In the past decade, we've seen Pop Idol winner Will Young steal a march on the tabloids by outing himself, only to go on to enjoy multiple Brit nominations and eight million or so record sales; while more recently another gay talent show graduate, American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, has found himself talked up as a male version of Lady Gaga. Elsewhere, the defiantly queer Scissor Sisters have emerged from the New York underground club scene to headline festivals and fill arenas, while boy-banders like Westlife's Mark Feehily, *NSync's Lance Bass and the late Stephen Gately have demonstrated that teenage girls will still adore you even if they know they can't have you.
Optimism must be tempered with a hefty pinch of salt, not least because of the narrow definition of "pop" to which the above artists conform. What of the realms of indie-rock or hip-hop, for example, in which you don't need two hands to count the number of out-and-proud stars? We're still waiting for the first, openly gay footballer; gay film actors are still routinely shut out of leading roles. Suddenly the collective yawns evoked by the Martin story begin to look like progress: we can only hope for the day when the fact of a leading Hollywood star or sportsman's coming out can be considered a similar non-event.
The final irony is that Martin's confession has only served to pluck him out of "Where are they now?" obscurity and could well help him revive his flagging record sales. Indeed, cynics have already been quick to suggest it's a publicity stunt designed to serve that very purpose. And if so, so what? Isn't it fantastic that coming out of the closet can be considered a more beneficial career move than staying inside it? Now here's just hoping that he does the only sensible thing and releases that "He Bangs" reworking forthwith.