BEIRUT — A new, lesbian-themed music video by expatriate Iranian pop star Googoosh has sparked sharp debate among Iranians and controversy on social media forums in the Islamic Republic.
It started on Valentine's Day when the video for Googoosh's latest song, "Behesht," or Heaven, dropped like a bombshell on the singer´s official Facebook page, which boasts more than 1,5 million followers. The video features a lesbian couple and seems to champion gay rights.
"I am scared of this doubt, I am scared of this blind alley," Googoosh, 64, croons to the backdrop of a video showing a couple played by two well-known Iranian actresses.
"The end of this road is not clear, I know this, just like you do," sings Googoosh, who has lived in exile for 14 years and reportedly owns a home in Los Angeles. "Don't tell me to stop loving, You can't do that and I can't either," continues the Iranian chanteuse, who sports a black glittery dress in the video.
The video has been widely viewed and shared on social media networks and was immediately hailed by many supporters of gay and lesbian rights.
"Very simple and authentic video with a very strong message!," read one comment on Youtube.
The director of the video, Navid Akhavan, was not surprised that the clip stirred up emotions.
"We knew from the start that because of its topic the video is going to be very controversial among Iranians, that's why we expected negative feedback too, but that hasn't bothered me, nor Googoosh," Akhavan told Britan's Guardian newspaper.
In the Islamic Republic, where homosexuality remains taboo, conservative media have mostly ignored the video, though Googoosh has been assailed as an anti-revolutionary and a "prostitute" on some forums. Other opposing voices suggested the clip was a bad career move because it could alienate social conservatives in her fan base.
"In my family, gays aren't accepted," said a 40-year-old Tehran-resident who would only give his name as N.K. "The only option for them is to emigrate to societies where they can live as they want. I think Googoosh is spoiling her career with this sort of defense for gays."
Googoosh, whose real name is Faegheh Atashin and who is of Azerbaijani origin, is hugely popular among Iranians of all ages, maintaining a crossover appeal for various generations both in and outside Iran. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, she remained in Iran for more than a decade, though not performing because of the ban on female singers.
In 2000, Googoosh left Iran and resumed her singing career. She often performs to packed houses in U.S. and European cities with large Iranian populations, attracting both young fans born after the revolution and devotees who recall her from pre-revolutionary Iran.
At the conclusion of her latest video, the two actresses hold hands and an accompanying text reads: "Freedom to love for all."