24 Jun IT’S PERFECTLY QUEER THESE LGBTQIA2S+ ARTISTS ROCK
Disclaimer: This article uses the abbreviation LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit). We recognize that this term is not universal, and some people may use a different term.
Finally, June has arrived. Let me take you along for the Pride.
This Pride month marks the 51st anniversary of the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, a movement led by the Black Trans community that marks a pivotal moment in LGBTQIA+ history. CSD is celebrated worldwide in memory of the Stonewall Riots, a historic LGBTQIA2S+ uprising in 1969 New York. It is vital to remember the activists who made Pride month possible by courageously advocating for acceptance, love, diversity, queerness and to center the Black Trans community in historical narratives of LGBTQIA2S+ activism. Before this significant milestone, queer culture had thrived for decades through the world of art.
At Muse, we want to celebrate the artistic impact of the LGBTQIA2S+ community by highlighting the artists and songwriters throughout history that have been at the forefront of bringing queer culture into the mainstream.
We will walk you through the decades, beginning from the late 1800s until the present day, to reflect on the impact of spaces where queer artists have been able to express their identities. We’ve also linked our own Spotify playlist (insert link) to show you some more LGBTQIA2S+ artists that you can add to your listening library!
Beginning as early as the 1890s, gay jazz musicians such as Bessie Smith and Billy Strayhorn gained notoriety in New Orleans- Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s lifelong friend and composer. As one of the few openly gay artists at the time, Strayhorn’s lyrics reflected sexual freedom, passion, and individuality. He pioneered the inclusion of subjects that were considered taboo outside of the jazz scene.
Alongside jazz musicians, many queer blues performers also began singing about their homosexual encounters. While the blues genre is inherently linked to the Black experience, it also held space for queer people- namely, queer women of colour. The song “Prove It On Me Blues” by Ma Rainey was one of the first hit songs explicitly referencing same-sex desire. In the lyrics, Rainey sings, “I went out last night with a gang of my friends, they must have been women, cause I don’t like no men.” Similar artists such as Lucille Bogan, Mamie Smith, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe were also influential in challenging heteronormativity within the blues genre through overt queerness.
The 50s marked a shift that brought in more queer artists from a variety of genres. Little Richard, a pioneer of rock, was known for bending gender roles on and off-stage. Esquerita, an African American rocker, was known for his wild, flamboyant performances that left crowds in awe.
Disco Era and the 80s
The emergence of disco culture in the 1970s is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the rise of LGBTQIA2S+ artists in popular music. The community needed music that was loud, dramatic, heartfelt, but also could be danced to, and disco was exactly that. Released by Gloria Gaynor in 1978, “I Will Survive” became the quintessential disco anthem of the queer community.
Following the sexual revolution in the late 1960s, sexual and gender fluidity were more prevalent than ever. The Paradise Garage, a discotheque in New York City, became an iconic establishment for dance and pop music, and queer and nightclub cultures. Large queer communities existed within these underground nightclubs that were soundtracked primarily by electronic, disco, dance, and funk music.
Notable artists that stemmed from this era include Elton John, David Bowie, Prince, k.d. Lang, Freddie Mercury, and Grace Jones. These iconic names in pop and glam rock paved the way for queer musicians by blurring normative lines and embracing non-conforming and androgynous styles.
Punk and Queercore
Since the inception of punk, it has existed as a safe space for queer people to explore and express their sexualities. The genre is founded based on rejecting and questioning societal norms. During the peak of the punk era in the late 70s, we saw Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks open up about his bisexuality through the band’s hit song, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” referencing a friend turned love interest. In the New York punk club scene, artist Jayne Country (formerly Wayne County) gained renown as rock’s first prominent transgender performer.
In the 90s and early 2000s, an increase in pro-LGBTQ+ laws brought about Queercore, a punk subculture whose lyrics represented an LGBTQIA2S+ perspective. This genre came hand-in-hand with the Riot Grrrl movement, which set out to celebrate women’s sexuality and embrace feminine rage to normalize their anger. Queercore bands started to form, with Tribe 8, Pansy Division, and Sleater-Kinney being prime examples. When “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill starts playing, it is easy to see how this music provoked rebellion and revolution.
2000s and Present
The music industry began to transform as it reached the turn of the century. Popular artists like Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Adam Lambert grew as listeners became eager to support artists who advocated for equality and inclusivity. In 2012, lesbian singer Mary Lambert collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to produce the same-sex marriage anthem, “Same Love.” For many, including myself, the release of this song helped with the journey to acceptance and self-love by covering a topic that is usually swept under the rug in hip-hop.
Today, LGBTQIA2S+ music can be found across most genres and is appreciated by those within and outside of the queer community. To name a few, current (queer/queer-identifying) artists include Kevin Abstract (from Brockhampton), Dodie, Dua Saleh, Perfume Genius, Frank Ocean, Arlo Parks, and Moses Sumney.
When it comes to naming contemporary artists in the LGBTQIA2S+ sphere, I could go on forever. In the MUSE Pride Week 2021 playlist, you can find over 130 artists to check out this June- but let me get one thing straight, this music is not.