LGBTQ+ Music Icons: Past and Present
The world of music would be both very different and much less interesting without the numerous contributions from members of the LGBTQ+ community. Coinciding with LGBTQ+ history month, here are some highly celebrated artists, both old and new.
A talented musician and performer, Freddie Mercury will always be remembered for his flamboyant stage presence and powerful voice. As the frontman of a band that rose to stratospheric fame, Mercury’s voice is firmly imprinted in the mind of all music lovers. Mercury’s unabashed engagement with femininity onstage paved the way for many more queer artists experimenting with their performances. His tragic passing in 1991 as a result of HIV is far from the defining part of his legacy: people will always appreciate Freddie, a true queer icon.
Another outrageous and experimental performer, David Bowie is an inspiration for many. His onstage personas bent the rules and overturned gender norms, and he was a trailblazer of glam rock. As well as being a talented musician, he was a huge influence and help for other musicians and their careers. Publicly declaring his bisexuality and experimenting with gender expression makes Bowie a favourite among many, and nobody can deny that he changed the face of music.
An openly gay black singer, Sylvester was an important part of the disco music scene and even earned the moniker “Queen of Disco”, rivalling the likes of Donna Summer. Sylvester embraced the support of the gay community and acted as a spokesman, although he wasn’t without his criticisms of some of the trends within the community at the time. After his death in 1988, all future royalties of his music was dedicated to two AIDS charities.
Jett was the queer woman that rock needed, in a genre filled with straight white men. Plucky and defiant, and a talented guitarist, she never wanted her sexuality to define her or her work. Reacting against the belief that ‘girls can’t play rock’, she led a pioneering all-female band in her teens, and then became the frontwoman to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Opening up about her sexuality in more recent years has identified her as an important queer rock-star.
As singer-songwriter, rapper, bassist and vocalist whose work incorporates many different genres, Meshell is a verified musical legend. With ten Grammy nominations under her belt, and wide critical acclaim, she is another member of the LGBT community who has contributed strongly to the music scene, and left a great legacy. As an out bisexual and participant in activism, Meshell is an inspiration for many people all over the world.
Frank Ocean exploded onto the scene with Channel Orange in 2012, being recieved to great commercial and critical acclaim. Alongside this he wrote an open letter, detailing his first and unrequited love for another man, and coming out as queer. This move attracted great amounts of support from the rest of the music community, and Ocean is lauded as one of the most talented musical voices of this generation.
As a woman and a lesbian, Young M.A is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of rap. She includes this aspect of her identity in her music, and says that it is a welcome release after years of hiding her sexuality. In the saturated world of hip hop, it’s refreshing to see an out queer woman like Young M.A enjoying success.
Tegan and Sara
These identical twin sisters are both openly gay, and take part in activism for the LGBT community. They have created a visible queer presence on the music scene, and have been honoured with a GLAAD media award for their hard work and contributions to representation and activism, and have had a long career in the music scene.
Kergil is a trans singer-songwriter and activist, who has been documenting his transition on YouTube since 2009. This has given viewers valuable education about gender identity and different aspects of the experience of being transgender. He has a large internet following, and has released both and EP and an album, funded by Kickstarter.
‘I know a place we can go/ Where everyone gonna lay down their weapon’ MUNA sing on ‘I Know A Place’ – a song in tribute to victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. Three piece LA band MUNA want to create a safe haven in their brooding but heartfelt pop. With a synth heavy sound akin to Haim but with a gothier aesthetic, MUNA surprisingly supported Harry Styles on his North American tour this year. Defining themselves as ambiguously ‘queer’, they have decided to ditch all gender pronouns from their lyrics and instead focus on making their music as inclusive and unifying as it can be.
You may know Syd from Kaytranada’s ‘You’re the One’ or maybe you recognise her name from when she was part of the hip hop collective Odd Future. However you know Syd, you may know that she is an artist of many talents; a DJ, producer, singer, rapper and sound engineer, it’s astonishing that she is only twenty five yet has so much to put her name to. Although she has had her fair share of controversy, she has reconnected with the queer community since and reviewed her past associations. Check out sultry number ‘Girl’ from one of her many projects, The Internet, for some killer beats and a surprisingly hard to find gay female perspective on today’s R&B scene.
Not one to shy away from the political or pressing issues of our generation, ANOHNI is a trans pop star in her own right. With her uniquely compelling voice, and often sombre tinged pop, ANOHNI has already received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for her dark electronic track ‘Manta Ray’ which appeared in 2015 documentary Racing Extinction.
It’s a great year for Hayley Kiyoko so far. She’s come into her own since her first internet break with ‘Girls Like Girls’ back in 2015. Now she’s the star of her own videos and she completely owns every queer second of it. Hayley’s electro pop hits are drenched in feeling: she writes about the trials and tribulations of relationships, unrequited desire and complicated love triangles. Besides self-directing her own beautifully aesthetic music videos, Kiyoko is famously candid about the same-sex romances she sings about, and aims to inspire confidence in those who have ever felt unsure about being open about their sexuality for fear of judgement or rejection. Her debut album can’t come soon enough.
The Magic Fountain
Fronted by openly queer Tom Lizo, The Magic Fountain has its roots in the indie DIY world when it was formed back in 2014, and describes their music as ‘queer rage that doesn’t alienate people.’ While they cite Jeff Rosenstock and Bomb The Music industry! as their musical influences, their lyrics deal with issues of self-exploration, personal expression, and negotiating experiences of abusive relationships. As singer and guitarist Tom Lizo wants to get across through the band’s punchy punk rock: ‘People should just be allowed to be who they are and like what they like and not be so worried about keeping up appearances’.
Ella Durant & Tash Lyons
ANOHNIdavid bowieElla DurantfeaturesFrank Oceanfreddie mercuryHayley KiyokointhemiddleJoan JettLGBT monthMeshell NdegeocellomunamusicqueenSkylar KergilsydSylvesterTash Lyonstegan and saraThe Magic Fountainyoung m.a