All hail Ezra Furman, the androgynous angel blessing us with her rebuffal of gender norms, and the soundtrack to Netflix zeitgeist Sex Education.
I was checking tickets at the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) where I work, when Ezra Furman caught my attention. The gravelly voice, the catchy beats, an angry guitar here and there. Something struck me as familiar. Another worker made an off-hand remark that the musician playing had featured a lot in the Sex Education soundtrack. A casual viewer of the Netflix show, like a lot of other young adults, I had enjoyed it but hadn’t investigated the soundtrack - I wanted to then. I hear a lot of live music at the QMU, but none so evoking as Ezra Furman. Her disembodied voice didn’t drift into the reception, it leapt in.
My interest was further demanded by the strikingly diverse crowd. Normally a crowd has a general look, a certain aesthetic that binds them together as one body. Ezra Furman’s crowd did not possess one body or one look. There were young teenage boys escorted by their parents, older couples, androgynous people, and everything in between. This crowd’s refusal to submit to one singular representation is replicative of Furman's own breakage of binary. Furman often refuses to conform to gender norms whether male or female. Red lipstick is always a staple for her no matter what else is being worn. A rebellious streak of supposedly devilish red. But she seeks to rewrite this idea of devilish and deviant binary defiance. Her love is not “so bad”, her love is normal.
After leaving that shift, I listened to Furman on the walk home - and I quickly realised the triumph of her music. It’s obviously no accident that she was chosen to be the musical voice of Sex Education. Her music and lyrics act as a pulsating heart behind the actions of sexual exploration and freedom. Her refusal to follow not only suffocating gender binaries but a single musical genre (punk, pop, and alternative indie are all in Furman's catalogue) makes her an ideal voice fuelling the defiance onscreen. Sex Education depicts what many shows about teenage sexual expression and questioning have before: confusion, exploration and desire, but it’s also joyous and funny. It’s an enjoyable celebration of discovering love and sex. The characters are human and as such diverse and difficult. They acknowledge that not fitting into stereotyped gender binaries is a universally normal thing. The popularity of Sex Education – 40 million people watched season one within the first month of its release according to The Independent – speak of massive audience appeal and resonance. Audiences identify with a diverse range of complex characters because they themselves are complex. All manner of sexualities, nationalities, genders, and bodies are represented in Sex Education. Whether it be through homosexual drag-queen Eric, heterosexual nerd Otis, or confident pansexual Ola, audiences are rejoicing in realistic representations of teenagers on screen.
Ezra Furman's latest release, Sex Education Original Soundtrack, undeniably demonstrates her embracing of the Netflix series. The show has brought a career enhancement and audience reach to Furman that would have been otherwise perhaps unavailable. She considers her old and new work a branch of Sex Education’s pulsing body. Furman and the show are inclusive, and importantly realistic expressions of human desire to escape imposed binaries.
I think I’ll keep listening to her on my walks home.