20 New(-ish) LGBTQ Musicians Speak Out On How Their Identity Transforms Their Art
They're out, proud, and singing about it.
Just a few decades ago, LGBT musicians felt like they had to hide behind a heterosexual facade to be successful. But now, there are a lot of seriously talented LGBT musicians who are out, proud, and making music about their identity. Here are some famous gay singers you should pay attention to.
20 New(-ish) Famous Gay Singers You Should Be Listening To
1. Mary Lambert
Most people know Mary Lambert from her collaboration with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their 2012 LGBTQ song "Same Love". Drawing from her experience as a lesbian growing up in a conservative Christian household, she wrote the chorus in two hours.
“There is a fear [you will] alienate your audience,” she told Huffington Post about her songwriting. “I’ve struggled with this too. Do I want to say ‘she?’ What pronouns do I use when I want it to be about universal love? But at the same time, you don’t want to hide.”
2. Troye Sivan
Before he hit the mainstream as a recording artist with his 2016 single "Youth", Sivan was a Youtube star who came out in a 2013 vlog post. Sivan makes no effort to pander to straight listeners, and staying authentic has worked for him. He isn't afraid to get sexual in his songs, but he does admit that he feels a bit of pressure being an openly gay artist.
“I do feel a little bit like a guinea pig sometimes,” he tells Billboard. “That the world or the press or whatever is sort of using me and a bunch of other young people right now as education points, [like] we’re teaching the world about all of these different things.”
3. Shea Diamond
When trans singer Shea Diamond was a teenager, she was so desperate to get money to pay for her transition that she ran away from home and robbed a store at gunpoint. She ended up serving 10 years in prison, and wrote many of her songs — including "I Am Her" — while incarcerated.
“Even the inmates on the inside were singing along to it and kept on asking me to sing," she tells Variety. "That has to mean something. I didn’t want to be buried with [my songs].”
4. Janelle Monae
When she came out with her first album in 2010, Janelle Monáe presented herself as an androgynous android, and for years, when questioned about her sexuality, would answer, "I only date androids." But earlier this year, she finally broke her silence and came out as pansexual.
She dedicates her latest album, Dirty Computer, to young LGBTQ people. “I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” she tells Rolling Stone.
5. Lucy & La Mer
Lucy LaForge of Lucy & La Mer came out last year as bisexual, and since then, she's shed the low-key melancholy of her earlier music and has taken on a more upbeat sound.
"I think with some of my former music, it was an expression of emotion and anxiety, sometimes an expression of the depression I was going through," she tells Billboard. "And that was beautiful and healing, but I'm at a point in my life where I really, when I was writing this, I was like, 'I wanna dance, and I want people to feel really good, and I want them to feel empowered.' So that's when we started playing with more heavy beats, and an energetic sound."
6. Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko has been in the entertainment industry for quite a while, getting a taste of the limelight on Nickelodeon, then later joining the short-lived girl group The Stunners (Fun fact: where she was bandmates with R&B singer Tinashe!). She then starred in the 2010 Disney Channel movie Lemonade Mouth, grew her fanbase, then released her debut EP A Belle to Remember.
It wasn't until her second EP This Side of Paradise that she became more open about her sexuality. Her song "Girls Like Girls" was an instant hit, and now has 97 million hits on Youtube. Now, her fans call her "Lesbian Jesus", but she still gets flak for expressing her sexuality in her music.
“There's still a force kind of questioning things," she tells Harper's Bazaar. "And that's why I do the music that I do, though; to normalize that and just have people be like, ‘Oh yeah, Hayley Kiyoko. I like that music. It's cool.’ And not be like, ‘Oh, there she goes again, liking girls.’ "
7. Hurray for the Riff Raff
Alynda Segarra, the frontwoman of folk-rock band Hurray for the Riff Raff, left home at 17 and hitchhiked around the US looking for a place she could call home, eventually settling down in New Orleans and starting her band. Segarra, who identifies as queer, likes playing around with pronouns in her lyrics.
“I feel like people get really caught up in that with me; my identifying as queer becomes saying that I’m gay, which is not true,” she tells Newsweek. “It’s all about this idea of sexuality being a spectrum and just talking about the different ways you can be attracted to someone and love someone. It reminds me of that Bikini Kill song ‘Rebel Girl,’ where [they’re singing], ‘I want to take you home / I want to try on your clothes.’”
Frontwoman of Canadian band Austra Katie Stelmanis identifies as queer, but she makes an effort not to be pigeonholed.
"I have always been careful to separate my sexuality from my music and have always made it clear in interviews that they are two very different things," she tells AfterEllen. "I am a musician first, and a lesbian second. But I think in doing this I’ve sort of discredited the fact that being gay is a huge part of who I am and definitely effects the music I make. I’d like to be recognized as someone who makes interesting, experimental music and also identifies as queer, especially because I really believe there needs to be a wider variety of queer representation in music."
Like Austra, the trio behind girl band MUNA has been wary about being pigeonholed as a "queer band". But they've changed their minds, and are now even more outspoken about their sexual identities.
“I’ve never been closeted necessarily,” guitarist Naomi McPherson tells Vice. “But I think it is important—and I’ve felt more passionately about this as the months have gone by—that if we’re lucky enough to have a platform, we should use that to help people. It would have meant a lot to me when I was, say, 12, to know of someone in a band and think they were cool and know they were out.”
On the surface, Canadian singer-songwriter Lowell sounds like just another bubblegum pop princess, but her lyrics are raw and brutally honest, dealing with topics like her former life as a stripper to her bisexuality.
"[Bisexuality] impacts my lyrics — I naturally write both towards women and towards men," she tells Huffington Post. "I’m not trying to do that, it’s just what comes into my head. On a larger scale, I have — definitely not the ability to 100% emphasize with the gay community because I do have that freedom, being bisexual, to live as a straight person and have life be easier for me — but I’ve been through some of the stuff on a really small, minuscule scale... like some of the bullying that people go through, so I have the ability to emphasize with the queer community.
Pentatonix's Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying formed Superfruit to have fun on YouTube and simply showcase their silly antics. Later, when they realised that their music videos were doing better than their vlogs, they decided to pursue music as a duo more seriously.
"It's so important to our fans because we are our pride and visible within the gay and queer community," Grassi tells Paper. "It's been really amazing to see our fans inspired by that. I feel our crowds are very gay and bring with them our pride flag and trans flag, it's really amazing."
12. Dizzy Fae
Dizzy Fae's music video for her single "Her/Indica" depicts how she fell for a woman for the first time.
“It might or might not have been real love, but it was something that helped me love myself, which is very fun and very beautiful,” she tells Gay Times. “I believe that queer is the blanket for it all. It’s knowing who you are, and being okay with who you’re not.”
13. Lauren Sanderson
Before Lauren Sanderson started her career as a musician, she was first a motivational speaker and vlogger, urging her fans to find happiness by embracing their true selves. She transitioned to music after she felt herself stagnating.
It just wasn't expressive enough,” Sanderson tells Billboard. “I just feel like the speaking was a good thing to teach me that I have that side to me, and I can motivate and inspire people. But making music out of it has made it more 'me.' The message was there and very in your face, like ‘I don't give a shit about what you think, I just want to be myself.’”
14. King Princess
Mikaela Straus aka King Princess may just be 19, but she's carries herself with the confidence and swagger of someone beyond her years. With her pop music, she aims to be a pop culture icon for queer youth, and she's well on her way to doing just that.
“I’ve always been kind of a genderqueer person,” she tells Them. “It’s something I kind of came into later ‘cause I didn’t really think about it as an identity as much as the way it had to do with the people I loved and the way I dressed…I like that I can ride that line on the periphery of femininity. I don't always have to be an active participant. I think that's really freeing.”
Mexican-American sisters Victoriah and Hannah Gabriela Banuelos make up indie-pop band REYNA. Victoriah, who is openly gay, says that their band's diversity gives them an edge.
"The music industry is tough no matter what minority groups you belong to," Victoriah tells She Bops. "Gabby and I play music because we love it and we see the diversity in our band as our superpower! Yes, there are challenges and stigmas but we come from a place of love and inclusivity and that’s the message we want to spread."
16. Christine and the Queens
For her second album Chris, Héloïse Letissier aka Christine and the Queens, aims to make us question social norms by cutting her hair, dressing in "menswear", and calling herself Chris. This decision to make a statement to educate, however, can get a bit tiresome.
"It's kind of weird. I have to educate journalists about queerness and feminism," she tells The Fader. "And I'm like, 'Are we there again?' ... I'm a huge advocate of explaining and educating, and I was like, well it's useful, I should explain, but recently I was like, is it even worth it?"
17. Bronze Avery
Up-and-coming pop musician Bronze Avery started releasing music in 2015 under his real name Gabriel Brown, but took on his moniker to separate his music from his other creative work. In his earlier music, he avoided delving into his sexuality, but has changed directions in his 2017 EP American Dream.
"I avoided my sexuality in my original music and now I think it’s something that makes me special and I want to embrace," he tells Local Wolves. "I have a voice and an opportunity to showcase diversity within pop music... There’s such unique perspectives and stories that aren’t being told because people simply don’t have a voice. I wanna make it my goal to be as transparent as I possibly can."
18. Rina Sawayama
Model-slash-singer Rina Sawayama's brand of pop music is subversive and political. Earlier, she identified as bisexual, but recently has started calling herself pansexual. With her music, she hopes to make it easier for queer youth to embrace their true identity.
“For me there’s still a lack of representation,” she tells Broadly. “I just think the reason I wasn’t so comfortable with my sexuality was because there was no one on TV or anywhere that I could point to and go, ‘Look mom! This person is what I was talking about!’”
Pop musician Zolita has been outspoken about gender and political issues from the get-go. She's not one to shy away from her queerness, and actually makes it a project to be in-your-face about it.
"There are so many artists in pop music who claim queerness (which is great), but they are so afraid to make art that is actually queer," she tells Out magazine. "They run away from using pronouns in lyrics or same-sex partners in music videos because they want to be palatable to the general public. I want to make pop music that queer and marginalized people feel like is made especially for them."
20. Michael Blume
Michael Blume is a lot more self-assured about his sexuality now, and it shows in his music.
"If you listen to my first EP I’m referencing sucking dick: 'Fuck you! I’m a faggot!'" he tells Gay Star News. "Now I’m like, a little more settled into myself. I love myself and don’t necessarily feel… I know that I’m good and don’t need anyone else to say 'You’re good', which wasn’t the case four or five years ago."
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