Tegan and Sara Explore All Types of Queer Intimacy in “Love You to Death”

Tegan and Sara have always been excellent at reaching into our chests and tugging at our queer heartstrings in an excruciatingly beautiful way. Their eighth full-length album, Love You To Death, out on June 3, branches out into new layers of emotional and musical depth, and stands up to their heart-wrenching standard.

It seems important to note up-front that I loved Heartthrob and it’s what really got me into Tegan and Sara. I’m entirely here for their pop era, and though I love their old stuff, too, I’m not pining for it. If Heartthrob represented a bold definitive splash into new musical territory, LY2D shows Tegan and Sara hitting their stride in creating music ready to find a home alongside today’s Top 40. LY2D is more refined than Heartthrob. The sound is cleaner and simpler, making room for honest and direct lyrics, some of which represent more mature and removed takes on their earlier angst, and some of which dissect the twins’ sibling relationship — a dynamic they’ve yet to deeply explore in their music.

Love You To Death cover art via Twitter

Love You To Death cover art via Twitter

Lyrically, this is my favorite Tegan and Sara album yet. As a writer, I’m a hell of a lot more comfortable deconstructing their lyrics, and I’ll do that in a moment, but first, let me put my new music critic hat on for just a second. LY2D sounds great. The belabored social media lead-up to the album’s announcement and the somewhat kitschy name “Love You To Death” made me nervous that the album was going to lean too heavily on a shallow and gimmicky sugar-pop feel, but I’m happy to say that my expectations were far surpassed. Despite some overdone distorted background vocals here and there, the choruses are catchy and the verses drive the narrative of the album. Since the head-bopping highs are matched with interesting emotions, LY2D retains a depth that keeps it interesting beyond a few listens — it’s excellent driving music, especially for when you have an existential relationship question to think through. On LY2D, Tegan and Sara kept up the “soaring synths” of Heartthrob‘s electro-pop feel, though they also stripped down to a single piano on “100X.” The twins didn’t touch their guitars to record this album, and I don’t miss them.

OK. Now the for the lyrics: LY2D is Tegan and Sara’s most identifiably queer album yet. Despite having been out queer artists since they first arrived on the scene almost twenty years ago, they’ve often shied away from making their music explicitly queer, partly because of homophobia and sexism in the music industry, which they recently discussed at-length with Buzzfeed. This isn’t to say LY2D is “queers-only” — a lot of people all over the sexual orientation and gender spectrums are going to be able to relate to and enjoy these songs — but the themes are ones I see repeated in my life and my queer communities over and over. In LY2D, Tegan and Sara wrote to queer experience, and were able to trust their audience to buy in.

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In many ways, LY2D is about the desire to be seen and understood, which caught me like a baseball bat to the gut more than once. The opening track, “That Girl,” begs, “So recognize me, so recognize me,” which will resonate for anyone who has gotten lost in a relationship, and asks “When did I become that girl?” The album continues, examining the struggle between trying to be the person you feel you are and trying to be the person who you think other people want you to be.

Tegan and Sara explore that tension in all kinds of relationships: In “Boyfriend,” which I think is their queerest song ever, they wrestle with the confusion of unspoken attraction in supposedly platonic relationships: “You call me up/like you would your best friend/You turn me on/like you would your boyfriend.” In “Faint of Heart,” they describe the disorienting frenzy of falling hard and fast for a person, even though the rational voice in the back of your head and all your friends are telling you the relationship seems inevitably doomed. They deconstruct the complexities of their identical twin sibling artist relationship in “White Knuckles” and “100X”: “Doubled like a couple we stood, stood out in the light/ …breaking each other like/ knuckles in a fight.” They vent about the frustrating erasure of queer love when it doesn’t conform to heteronormative standards in “B/W/U.” The album’s final song, “Hang on to the Night” answers the lingering question from “That Girl,” in an ’80s-esque ballad with soaring synths: “Hang on to yourself/no good will come from being untrue.”

photo by Pamela Littky via Twitter

photo by Pamela Littky via Twitter

While the twins’ on-stage and public image has always featured their ability to collaborate alongside some entertaining on-stage teasing, behind the scenes, things haven’t always been so relaxed. In 2008, they even got in a physical fight while on tour with Neil Young. They spent several years living in different cities, in part to have space from each other between tours. Though the dust has largely settled as they’ve aged, in an interview with Time, Sara also discussed how part of the reason they’ve avoided writing about their sibling relationship in the past to was to keep people from making comments “borderline suggesting [they] were incestuous.” She continued, “writing a song like ‘100x,’ which everyone will think is about a romantic relationship, that would have made me so uncomfortable even five years ago. I would have been afraid people wouldn’t underestimate how truly intimate and like a marriage my relationship with Tegan is.” In LY2D, the Quins took a chance by offering up vulnerability about their relationship, and it pays off.

It’s amazing to see a queer artist comparing her relationship with her sister to a marriage. It’s amazing to see the intimacy of a non-romantic relationship examined and picked apart. As queer people, we are often critically aware of how complex and many-layered our relationships are, across the board. It takes hard work to maintain any partnership — whether it’s between lovers or friends or the person you shared a uterus with. Ending or shifting a relationship with a friend or family member can feel exactly as dramatic and difficult and painful as breaking up a romantic relationship, and we don’t usually get to see that reflected back at us in songs.

Tegan and Sara’s opening up about their sibling relationship adds a profoundness to LY2D that takes it from a collection of songs about various stages of romantic love, which would have been fun and relatable, to a deep and complex exploration about sharing any kind of intimacy, be it romantic or platonic or familial, which I felt in the deepest and rawest pieces of my heart.

Love You To Death is out today, June 3. Buy it HERE, through our affiliate link and support Autostraddle while you listen!

Autostraddle staff writer. Copy editor. Fledgling English muffin maker. Temporary turtle parent. Zine creator. Swings enthusiast. Political human who cares a lot about healthcare and queer anti-carceral feminisms. I asked my friend to help me write this bio and they said, "Good-natured. Friend. Earth tones." Another friend said, "Flannel babe. Vacuum lover. Kind." So. Find me on Twitter or my website.

Maddie has written 100 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Stayed up for an extra hour just listening in bed, and even though I’m already up early this morning it was so so worth it. Also cried at the little letter they wrote to us/their fans? Can’t wait for another listen now that I’m not desperately trying to stay awake! Now I’m going to go listen to it on repeat until my family and/or girlfriend physically restrains me from doing so!!!

  2. So I dreamt about the album downloading as I was waking up/hitting snooze. Then I woke up to hear my wife playing LYTD in the shower, and to see that my phone had downloaded it and I felt like I had achieved peak gay… Truly glorious, and yes everything, everything, about the intimacy of non romantic relationships.

  3. Oooh I love it! “BWU” is super queer and great in multiple ways, but I felt an actual physical like, heart-leaping excitement at the lyric “All the girls I loved before.” And I just spent a couple minutes writing and deleting and rewriting a third sentence explaining that feeling–but come on, you get it.

  4. I’ve had BWU on repeat all morning. Somehow I think its the most romantic song Sara’s ever written, even though its anti-marriage. I LOVE the repeating line of “Keep your name” at the end; while I do want to get married someday I have very strong feelings about keeping my name – its been mine for 25 years, I’ve published things under it, and I’m never going to change it to match another person.

    I can’t figure out what BWU stands for though, do we have any ideas?

  5. Also there’s some kind of interesting parallel (intentional or not) between “Stop Desire” and “Northshore”:

    “Get me, feel me, want me/Like me, love me, need me.”

    Mk gonna stop dissecting and get something done today.

  6. I’ve always felt like I was super late on the lesbian train, I really only super got into T&S when heartthrob came out but I pre ordered LY2D Monday and honestly I’ve been listening to it since I woke up this morning, I feel like with this album T&S truly took me on a journey especially as a queer woman and even with things like the song Boyfriend and falling for straight girls this was such a phenomenal album I can’t wait for the tour.

  7. I love the album! I think U-Turn is my favorite song just because it’s so catchy but I’m gonna have to sit down and really listen to the lyrics. I absolutely love the more pop feel of Tegan & Sara’s last few albums because usually when I hear a pop song on the radio or in the grocery store I have to change around the lyrics in your head to make it fit with my experiences but with T&S it’s like they could be writing about things from my own life! Because who hasn’t been in love with a straight girl with a boyfriend….?!?

    Anyone else gonna see them on tour this summer/fall?? Trying to decide whether or not to buy tickets…I’ve seen them once before and the nearest concert to me is 3 hours away…

  8. Nope nope nope nope. I confess to being a moderate fan of T&S rather than some kind of Ultimate Fan. I am not emotionally invested in the direction of their music. I understand that they are at the point in their lives where they want to make bank, and I do not begrudge them that. But at the point in the article where it was noted that they “never pick up their guitars” for this album, well, that sealed the deal for me that I will not listen to it. I already disliked the direction they were going with Heartthrob, though it did have some enjoyable (and catchy) tracks. More of the same? No thanks. On the other hand, I have been listening to So Jealous a lot recently. That album is growing on me and I think there’s a lot of great stuff going on there, although it will not displace The Con as my favorite. A lot of the die-hard fans seem to love The Con the best, and I think there’s good reason for that.

    As an aside, I saw T&S in Beijing of all places during their tour in support of Heartthrob. They put on a great show. I was standing right behind the mixing board, which is a great place to stand for a concert if you’re not interested in cramming against the stage, and I could see their setlist. They played most of my favorite tracks from The Con including Call It Off as one of the encores. Good times.

    • I’m not as big of a fan as I was 6 years ago, and I really got into them because of The Con. However, listening to the rest of their albums made me fall in love with So Jealous. I love every single song in that album, and I still feel it’s the best one. That said, I feel the same way you do about Heartthrob and this new one. Although I enjoyed “Now I’m All Messed Up” and a couple others because I actually enjoy some decent pop music, I still believe they were way better with guitars. I’m giving LY2D a listen but I doubt it will hit me half as hard as their older stuff.

  9. I’m already screaming these songs at the top of my lungs in the car.

    I do have some feelings about their changing audience and style, but I can dig these new songs and I’m happy for their success. I’m glad it came out during A-Camp. At least I now have something to distract myself from all my post-camp feels.

    • I’m a little nervous to listen to this album. Should I be? Heartthrob took a long time to grow on me (because I’ve been listening to The Con and So Jealous and This Business Of Art A LOT!). I like Hearttrob (in a way but not as much as So Jealous or The Con) but I’m a little nervous to listen to this. Wish I had someone to listen to it with x.x

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