In a continuation of queer tradition, Nghtfall takes the stereotypical alignment of queer identities with bad behavior and reclaims it to their advantage for their latest single “Evil Eye.”
If you grew up in the early to mid-2000s, you likely consumed media with a subtly-cued queer villain or two. A character like Ursula in The Little Mermaid is a popular example with her appearance being based on popular drag queen Divine.
Scholars call this “queer-coding” and it means that creators never have to say outright that their villains are queer. Instead, it’s implied. The media companies of our childhoods used negative LGBTQ+ stereotypes like bold, bright colors, higher-pitched voices and “flamboyant” behavior and sent a message to impressionable cartoon watching kids — these villains were queer; they were different and that was bad.
This queer-coding of villains exists in many other media forms such as video games, books, short stories and even comics. It ingrains the belief into popular culture that being anything other than straight and cisgender is out of the norm.
Nghtfall, who uses they/them pronouns, had been drawn to these villains since childhood, though more in the horror story genre than the area of children’s animation. Their love for horror villains was born out of growing up queer, being treated as if they were a monster just for being different.
In a way, this adds to Nghtfall’s subversion of the queer-coded villain, as queerness, monstrosity and behavioral extremes often link together in pop culture. An early-career Lady Gaga comes to mind, with her fanbase of “Little Monsters” and outfits that were received as over-the-top for a pop artist.
Nghtfall said they drew inspiration from stories like Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” while writing “Evil Eye.” In Poe’s story, a man commits a murder, believing the man he kills has an evil eye.
Nghtfall said they wanted to take that imagery and apply it to the context of cutting out the queerphobic people in their life. The evil eye becomes a reference to the hurtful and bigoted way they’re viewed. It’s a vulnerable position that Nghtfall takes up, reclaiming the connotations of an identity their family believes is wrong.
“There is power and comfort embracing that image in fiction,” Nghtfall said, “owning what they try to use to hurt you.”
This vulnerability extends to their social media presence in their TikToks about their queerphobic family members. Nghtfall’s TikToks follow common patterns of sometimes directly talking about their family’s lack of acceptance and sometimes using popular sounds as a way of creating dark humor out of an otherwise painful (and all too familiar) situation.
As a queer person — and an avid TikTok user — it’s a move that’s much appreciated. In exploring our queer identities, and navigating the many layers the exploration exposes, we laugh, we cry and sometimes we wish ill will on those who make us feel less than the selves we’re growing into. Knowing we’re not alone in this cycle is a deep, deep comfort.
“Tiktok is so weird because the kind of content you see is split into sub-communities based on what the algorithm thinks you want to watch,” Nghtfall said. “So there’s definitely parts of Tiktok that can function as a safe space for queer people.”
“Evil Eye” opens with Nghtfall singing directly to the bigoted people they’ve cut off from their life. Hypothetical questions like “Why did you have to go treat me like nothing?” and “What did you expect?” fill up the lyrical space in the first verse, followed up with wishes of misery and regret on those who treated them with such disgust.
Nghtfall continues using their lyrics to set boundaries as the song moves into the chorus. They show the listener that they won’t let the wrongful behavior of the bigots slide away unnoticed. Pop-punk guitar layers back up Nghtfall’s decision, picking up little-by-little, as if to say, “I won’t let you treat me this way any longer. You’re no longer allowed space in my life.”
Nghtfall referenced Fall Out Boy when talking about “Evil Eye” and their choice of using live drums and distorted guitars to layer the song. They wished for more overtly queer music in the genre they grew up listening, so they decided to make some.
“I feel like the inherent angst of coming to terms with your identity and coming out etc. fits very nicely with the sound of that kind of music, and I’m surprised it’s not more common,” Nghtfall said.
Ultimately, “Evil Eye” allows Nghtfall to give those who’ve wronged them an overdue confrontation. The single stands as what they describe as a “queer revenge fantasy.”
In reclaiming the role of a villain, Nghtfall becomes what the bigots believe them to be, but steps into their power in the process. Nghtfall’s villainy and hopes for revenge give voice to what many in the LGBTQ+ community may be thinking about with their own situations.
“Evil Eye” is out as of Oct. 8 and can be found on Spotify & SoundCloud.
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