Twenty-Five Years After Ingénue, K.D. Lang Is Still a Trailblazer

K.D. Lang
Courtesy photo
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K.D. Lang is one of the most resounding forces in music. The androgynous Canadian singer with a tuft of dark hair, an angelic voice, and sensual, butch energy ushered in a new era of acceptance for folks who don't fit into traditional gender norms. Her gift for divine vocals was realized at an early age. In college, she formed the Reclines, a tribute band for the most delightful of all country music femmes, Patsy Cline. A rising star, Lang gained greater attention thanks to 1988's Grammy-winning duet of “Crying” with legend Roy Orbison. In 1992, the singer released her debut album, Ingénue, which features the romantic lesbian pop tune for the ages, “Constant Craving.”

At 56, Lang maintains her rightful place at the cool table. From singing "Jingle Bell Rock" in 1988's Christmas at Pee-wee's Playhouse to a 2014 role in the "Getting Away" episode that honors her part-time hometown, Portlandia, she is forever a relevant figure in pop culture. In 2016, she launched a supergroup with Neko Case and Laura Veirs — case/lang/veirs — and says that though the three powerhouses are busy, they are interested in continuing that incredible collaboration.

But right now, Lang is on her Ingénue Redux Tour, having re-released the classic album on Nonesuch Records in honor of its 25th anniversary. On this tour, she says, she and her band play Ingénue in sequence with both true-to-album takes and some next-level rearrangements. “The music has really surprised me in terms of the band and the songs and the communication and where we’ve taken it... It was an important record for me personally,” Lang says of the decision to revisit the album. “I think it was an important time in society because I came out and... the LGBTQ community — we were making an announcement, really, that we were coming out.”

A quarter-century later, is the record connecting with a younger generation? “I’m not sure about that... I think it’s just for the people who were engaged with the record 25 years ago," she says. "I think it’s a record that marks a moment in their own personal cultural history. With that in mind, I wanted to present the record again and let the listeners relive the last 25 years and how it’s been in their lives for the last 25 years.”

On September 12, just days after she'll take the stage at the Broward Center, Lang will be presented with the Americana Music Association's 2018 Americana Trailblazer Award in Nashville — an especially impressive feat for an artist with such a complicated relationship with the country-music establishment. In her earlier career, she says, “I was very active... in playing with the genre and the imagery of country music and trying to modernize it or bend it a little bit. There was a certain amount of success, but there wasn’t tremendous success." The conservative world of country music wasn't ready for her, Lang recalls. She says she still doesn’t feel fully accepted by that world. Still, she's flattered by the Trailblazer recognition, which puts her in a club with luminaries such as Lyle Lovett, Don Henley, and Iris DeMent.

Lang is also a longtime activist. “My perspective may be a little antiquated, but I feel like the number one priority in an activist’s manifesto is that the motivation is pure, that your passion really is the issue you’re taking on," she says. "I think that what happens is when people get involved in way too many issues, it gets diluted. I really think you should pick... two or three or one.”

She also worries about fake news on the web. “We're being played by so many trolls and institutions," she says.  "Understand your own true nature and your own true moral compass and make your own decision on things.”

Asked about the Trump era, she laughs: “Yes, I’m very happy to be Canadian.” But she's quick to add that she’s also a U.S. citizen. “It’s an important thing to me that we traverse this interesting conundrum that’s ahead of us and become better human beings out of the process.” As far as the effect Trump will have on the LGBTQ community, she reflects, “It’s the same as everyone is facing, people of color, women, even the GOP itself. Having to really examine all the aspects of hatred and racism and oppression is a helpful exercise, and I think that it’ll make us stronger.”

K.D. Lang. 8 p.m. Friday, September 7, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $30 to $79 via ticketmaster.com.

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