Author: Elizabeth Gatten
I came out as bisexual in 2018 after many years of confusion, frustration, and self-hate. There are a lot of damaging notions out there about bisexuality — that it isn’t real, but just a pitstop to “gay town”; that bisexual people are promiscuous; that being bi makes you less part of the LGBTQ+ community than others. I bought into some of those stereotypes when I was younger, which delayed my acceptance of myself. Now, however, I am an out and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community! In honor of my queer brothers and sisters (and friends beyond the gender binary), I have created this Super Gay™ playlist. It features artists who identify in some way as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the songs speak to the artist’s experiences as a queer person, while others are just bops that happen to be written by queer folks!
1. Tegan & Sara — “Closer”
I wanted to start off with one of my old standbys — it is honestly amazing that I didn’t realize I was queer sooner considering how long I have been obsessed with Tegan and Sara. The Canadian musical duo are identical twins; both of the sisters are openly gay. Their genre is “indie-pop.”
I love “Closer” because it reminds me of the feeling you get when you have a crush and you start to realize they might also have a crush on you too. It perfectly captures that butterflies-in-your-stomach sensation:
“All I want to get is a little bit closer
All I want to know is
Can you come a little closer?
Here comes the breath before we get
A little bit closer
Here comes the rush before we touch
Come a little closer.”
The music video captures this nostalgic feeling by featuring high schoolers at a party playing spin the bottle, dancing, hiding out in blanket forts, and kissing on top of cars. Plus, the song has an incredible beat to jump up and down to while singing into your hairbrush.
2. Hayley Kiyoko — “Girls Like Girls”
When I first discovered Hayley Kiyoko, I knew she looked familiar. After some digging, I realized I recognized her from a brief stint she had on the Disney channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place. Kiyoko has definitely come a long way from her Disney Channel days — she is now known as “Lesbian Jesus” amongst her fans. Her music is aimed at normalizing homosexual relationships in our heteronormative society. For example, “Girls Like GIrls” features the lyrics:
“Saw your face, heard your name, gotta get with you.
Girls like girls like boys do,
Kiyoko also seeks to control the narrative of what it means to be a lesbian in a world that often fetishizes women loving women.
I encourage you to check out more of Hayley Kiyoko’s music, which discusses not only her own experiences but also various issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.
3. iLoveMakonnen — “Tuesday”
This song takes me back to my college party days. “Tuesday”, released in 2014, was a staple on any party playlist. In 2017, the singer announced he is gay via Twitter: “As a fashion icon, I can’t tell u about everybody else’s closet, I can only tell u about mine, and it’s time I’ve come out.”
4. Le1f — “Wut”
Le1f (pronounced “leaf”) is perhaps the most successful openly gay rapper out there. Raised in New York City, the artist began exploring the world of underground dance-music as a teen and spent years after working on his craft. In 2012, Le1f released “Wut” on the website, WorldStarHipHop. Rocking booty shorts and perching on an oiled-up man, Leif showed the world in “Wut” that he has no intentions of being anything other than unapologetically himself. I personally can’t get enough of it!
5. St. Vincent — “Los Ageless”
I’ll admit, I first heard of St. Vincent when she was dating supermodel, Cara Delevigne. However, after looking into her music, I discovered St. Vincent is iconic…plain and simple. She has shapeshifted through multiple genres with ease — rock, pop art, indie rock. As a queer woman in a field dominated by men, she has no qualms about disrupting the system. And why should she? She is one of the most talented lyricists and musicians out there.
“Los Ageless” is a perfect example of just how otherworldly St. Vincent is. The lyrics and video, first set to a new wave disco beat, poke fun at the fear of growing old in Los Angeles. As the song progresses, it somehow seamlessly ramps up to a raw, emotional climax with the repeated lament of “How can anybody have you? How can anybody have you and lose you? How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too?”
6. Tom Goss — “Son of a Preacher Man”
Two time winner of The Washington Blade’s award for Best Gay Musician, Tom Goss isn’t afraid to flip traditional masculine concepts on their heads. For example, his song “Lover” explores the experience of partners of gay servicemembers. Another touching piece from Goss is his cover of the Dusty Springfield song, “Son of a Preacher Man.” In Goss’s version, the implications are much different than the original — the video opens with a preacher condemning homosexuality. This spin gives the original lyrics “bein’ good isn’t always easy, no matter how hard I try” a much deeper meaning. Goss’s take on this classic song is equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. However, be warned that the video features violence and suicidality.
7. Tyler Glenn — “Shameless”
You might know Tyler Glenn from his former days as the frontman for Neon Trees. In 2014, the singer finally came out after nearly a lifetime of suffering in the closet. Glenn comes from Utah and was raised Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints condemns same-sex relationships. In turn, Glenn (who at first tried to continue as a practicing Mormon after coming out) has now condemned the Church’s views. In “Shameless”, Glenn demonstrates radical self-acceptance, with lyrics such as:
“Why not take me now as I am?
Why not take me now like a man?
You hate what you don’t understand
I live a life so shameless
Oh no, I don’t give a damn.”
The pop-rock song features Glenn wearing a mesh top, shiny silver pants, and eyeliner. He sings to a tied up, masked figure that is meant to represent the founder of Mormonism. He dances around with “[full-bodied], hairy dudes.” The song is not only a message to the Mormon church but to everyone, including the gay community, that Glenn intends to “do it in [his] own way.” Denouncing the Grindr culture of “no fars, no femmes”, Glenn told an interviewer for Billboard: “I wanted the video to represent me authentically. I’ve never felt like I fit into any group and know there are other people that feel the same way. There isn’t just a stereotypical one-way, even in the gay community.”
8. Orville Peck — “Dead of Night”
Described in the comments to his “Dead of Night” music video as “like Quentin Tarantino kissed Roy Orbison with a mouthful of whiskey,” Orville Peck isn’t afraid to push the envelope of country music. Orville dresses like the Lone Ranger with one fun twist– his mask is totally decked out in fringe! The singer, who identifies as gay, is a New Yorker in his early 30s.
9. Lil Nas X — “Old Town Road”
If I’m going to talk about new-age cowboys, I would be remiss to leave out Lil Nas X. The singer became a viral sensation at just 19 years old with his country rap single, “Old Town Road.” At first thwarted by the gatekeepers of the country music industry, Lil Nas X was vindicated when country legend Billy Ray Cyrus stepped in to collaborate with him.
Raised in a small conservative community outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the singer witnessed a lot of homophobia and believed he would never come out of the closet. Now, however, the singer is out and not afraid to show it! He has had some iconic looks that demonstrate his multifaceted nature. For example, his daring outfit for the 2020 Grammys: a studded, pink leather suit worn overtop a mesh shirt and harness, and accompanied by a matching cowboy hat.
10. Kehlani — “Honey”
Like Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani’s music is doing the good work of bringing same-sex relationships, particularly between women, into mainstream music. Kehlani opens the song, “I like my girls just like I like my honey: sweet.” It’s a matter-of-fact introduction of her sexuality that I appreciate — she’s not making the fact that she likes women into a big deal, because it shouldn’t be one.
Kehlani had been on the music scene for awhile, and has also been openly queer. However, in releasing “Honey”, Kehlani chose to live her truth not just in her personal life but in her music. I’m thankful to artists like Kehlani and Hayley Kiyoko who recognize that representation matters and who generate music that young, queer people can relate to. (For an added bonus, check out their collaboration, “What I Need.”)
11. Hollie Col — “Unholy”
Traditionally offering up indie-folk songs, Hollie Col traded her usual sound for a more electric one in “Unholy.” Hollie Col is a Sydney, Australia, native and her talents seem boundless — not only is she a talented singer/songwriter, but she also wrote, directed, produced, and starred in all of her music videos. As eloquently stated in an article spotlighting the artist, “Hollie has a knack of getting to the nitty gritty centre of love, life, and heartache….” I couldn’t agree more. In less than five minutes, “Unholy” tells the story of a girl in a strange love triangle with another girl who is in a relationship with a boy. Col described the song as an “upbeat guitar pop anthem for the hopeless romantics that loved too hard and were left on the sidelines.”
12. GRLwood — “Vaccines Made Me Gay”
As a Kentucky native, I had to include these “Kentucky Fried Queerdos.” If you were a baby punk rocker who loved to go to clubs and slam dance, then GRLwood would definitely be your jam. The punk duo has “a knack for wielding masculine braggadocio like the blunt, absurd thing that it is” and they aren’t afraid to be subversive, aggressive, or even flat out bizarre. The generous helping of personality being served by the GRLwood pair is matched by their talent. That personality and talent can both be found in “Vaccines Made Me Gay,” a tongue-in-cheek social commentary on the anti-vaxx movement that features smooth guitar riffs and wide-ranging vocals.
While I would be remiss as a Kentuckian to leave out these two, I would also be remiss as a bisexual woman to not comment on the negative implications of the duo’s song, “Bisexual”, which contributes to the erasure of bisexuality (particularly for bi folks who happen to be in a heterosexual relationship) by other members of the LGBTQ+ community. For more information on this song and why it is troubling, check out this article from the queer news and culture site Into.
13. Cakes Da Killa — “Gon Blo” (feat. Rye Rye)
Cakes Da Killa, when asked to describe his music in one word, replied, “energetic.” That is certainly true of “Gon Blo” which opens with a refrain of “just pump the beat” that makes you instantly start dancing. In the middle of the song, Cakes demonstrates his skills at spitting rhymes and, let me tell you, it is seriously impressive!
Like Le1f (who Cakes describes as one of his musical influences), Cakes had been on the scene for a while before his official musical debut of Hedonism in 2016. Cakes chooses not to center his sexuality in his music, and in fact resents the label of being a “gay rapper.” In an interview for the gay news site them., Cakes stated, “It just shows that even in 2019, people still have these little weird hangups with gay people, and also confident gay people. But that’s been my life’s work to just be like, ‘Hey, I’m gay. Shut the fuck up.’” I certainly appreciate him making the point that a person’s sexuality is not the most interesting thing about them, and his goal of normalizing out-and-proud queerness in the music industry without it having to be someone’s schtick.
14. Rina Sawayama — “XS”
I could’ve sworn I was listening to vintage Britney Spears when I first heard Rina Sawayama’s music. Her songs transport me to my childhood, but they have an added layer that most of those early 2000s hits didn’t have: social commentary. Sawayama explained her inspiration for “XS” (excess):
“‘XS’ is a song that mocks capitalism in a sinking world. Given that we all know global climate change is accelerating and human extinction is a very real possibility within our lifetime it seemed hilarious to me that brands were still coming out with new makeup palettes every month and public figures were doing a gigantic house tour of their gated property in Calabasas in the same week as doing a ‘sad about Australian wild fires’ Instagram post. I mean I’m guilty of turning a blind eye too, because otherwise it makes me depressed. We’re all hypocrites because we are all capitalists, and it’s a trap that I don’t see us getting out of. I wanted to reflect the chaos of this post-truth climate change denying world in the metal guitar stabs that flare up like an underlying zit between the 2000s R&B beat that reminds you of a time when everything was alright.”
It’s this type of frankness that makes Sawayama so relatable to her millennial fans. On a personal level, I identify with Sawayama’s struggles with self-acceptance as a bisexual/pansexual person, which she addresses in her song, “Cherry.”
Finally, Sawayama has provided important representation for queer Asians. One YouTube commenter noted on the “Cherry” video, “I think this means an incredible amount to me because [she’s a] Japanese queer icon?? My mum is insanely bigoted and […] Japanese media and society in general is v[ery] unaccepting and I hate it so I needed this.”
15. Mary Lambert — “Secrets”
Mary Lambert is an angel! At the very least, you are probably familiar with her from “Same Love”, the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis track that featured vocals from her song, “She Keeps Me Warm.” She has been representing queer women so proudly for so long that my repressed teenage self used to change her music because I didn’t like the part of me that identified with it.
Lambert bares her soul to the world in a way that not a lot of artists do — she “has long been open about trauma, depression, and coping with being bipolar in her spoken word anthems and her songs.” For example, in another of her more popular songs, “Secrets,” Lambert opens with, “I’ve got bipolar disorder, my shit’s not in order, I’m overweight, I’m always late, I’ve got too many things to say.” Her candor is refreshing, as well as her presentation as a feminine lesbian woman in a world that often separates femininity from identifying as a lesbian.
Returning to her music after coming out, I realized I identify with Lambert’s lyrics even more than I previously realized. In the hook for “Secrets,” Lambert sings:
“They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I’m over it.”
Rehearing those lyrics from one of the artists who helped me begin the process of coming to terms with my sexuality made me emotional. It is true, I spent a long time attempting to be someone else. And, when the time came that I was ready to come out, I felt the same way as Lambert when she breezily sings, “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are.”
Elizabeth Gatten is a rising 3L dedicated to public interest work. She currently serves as the EJW Rural Summer Legal Fellow at Cincinnati Legal Aid. As a bisexual woman, Elizabeth is passionate about championing the LGBTQIA+ community. In her free time, Elizabeth loves baking, and spoiling her pug, cat, and bearded dragon.