The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Musicians and Bands, Pt. 4 (P–S)
This is part 4 in our series on LGBT musicians and bands. Click for “The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBT Musicians and Bands” parts One, Two, Three and Five.
For even the most seasoned music lovers and sound hounds, discovering LGBT musicians can prove daunting.
Only a handful identify as “LGBT musicians” themselves, as most identify simply as musicians, preferring not to box themselves into a set sound, lyrical set or target demographic. For the same reason, it’s rare to find a comprehensive listing of LGBT musicians on online stores or streaming apps; all artists, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are typically grouped by genre.
But with a little research and a lot of listening, we’ve created this living encyclopedia of LGBT musicians that can be used to discover new queer artists and give music-lovers an even deeper appreciation for those you already loved.
Below you’ll find our comprehensive encyclopedia of LGBT musicians and bands, from P–S:
Genesis P-Orridge / Throbbing Gristle / Psychic TV
A founding member of the iconic industrial band Throbbing Gristle, Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson) doesn’t identify as transgender but as third gender. Which makes an odd kind of sense, as the music of both Throbbing Gristle (“What a Day”) and Psychic TV (“Have Mercy”) is in its own unclassifiable category.
Bostonian Ellen Kempner’s lo-fi indie project. (“If You Met Her”)
Owen Pallett / Final Fantasy
Along with Nico Muhly, Pallett is the go-to composer/arranger for Arcade Fire and other cinematic acts. He’s also recorded as Final Fantasy and, more recently, under his own name. His own music is less orchestral than you might be led to believe, but it’s certainly arranged beautifully (check out the title track of 2014’s In Conflict). And read this inspirational quote from the artist: “As far as whether the music I make is gay or queer, yeah, it comes from the fact that I’m gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m making music about it.”
Amanda Palmer / Dresden Dolls
An avowed bisexual now married to author Neil Gaiman, Palmer can be hard to take. But we love her and her loony flights of fancy. As one-half of The Dresden Dolls, with Brian Viglione, she turned cabaret into punk rock (“Backstabber”), and though she’s been releasing solo work since 2008, she loves to collaborate like nobody’s business, as she did this year with Edward Ka-Spel (“The Clock at the Back of the Cage”).
Chuck Panozzo / Styx
The bassist and co-founder of the Chicago progressive rock group Styx didn’t come out until 2001 (his autobiography followed six years later, The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life with Styx), but it should have come as no surprise. Of all the ’70s rock groups on whom one could cast aspersions, Styx was up there (somewhere below Queen, of course), no doubt due to the insanely theatrical bent of their output. (“Come Sail Away” even inspired a South Park parody from the musical theatre-loving Trey Parker and Matt Stone.)
The first queercore band out of San Francisco (where else?), songwriters and musical partners Jon Ginoli and Chris Freeman have been creating three-minute nuggets from the gay experience very specific to themselves yet universally shared since 1993. Because we love music with humor, we still get a kick out of early tracks like “Groovy Underwear” and “Dick of Death” even though the novelty is long gone. But like the smart fellows they are, they deepened their songcraft and emotional range and last year, 20-something years into their career, they released Quite Contrary, which gave maturity a good name (“Love Came Along”).
More guitar indie from LGBT musicians in Massachusetts. Their latest Now I Know You and See How Wide You Are to the World is a split with the band Loone. (“The Choice to Be Heard and Not Seen”)
When the book of electropop is written (not electroclash; that’s a different story), history will look fondly on Passion Pit, which began life as a band from Massachusetts and is now the brain trust of Michael Angelakos. He came out not long after 2015’s Kindred, and like the records before it the music was both fey and aggressive. But Angelakos doesn’t skimp on the pop with his electro, so early songs like “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets” are unhinged and catchy; while Kindred, recorded after a breakdown that put Passion Pit on hiatus while Angelakos recovered, is more reserved and emotionally direct, especially on the opening track, “Lifted Up (1985),” about the support he received from his then-wife.
The Canadian-born Merrill Beth Nisker is ‘anti-’ everything, so we’ll be damned if we’re going to stick her in a category. Gender norms mean nothing to her. Animal cruelty? Not on her watch. And roundabout 2009’s I Feel Cream, she began to take on ageism (“Trick or Treat”). Her best known songs are about sex yet so much more (“Fuck the Pain Away”), and anybody who names a record Impeach My Bush during the George W. years is on the right side of history. We wonder what she thinks about the Donald.
Pentatonix / Superfruit
The a cappella work of the Austin quintet Pentatonix is pleasant enough, but the side project of Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying is pop nirvana, featuring the big hooks of Years & Years (“Imaginary Parties”), the camp sensibility of hundreds of LGBT musicians past and present (“Heartthrob”) and — you know — actual instruments. The EP Future Friends – Part One is out now; Part Two drops Sept. 15.
Peppermint had an album out in 2009 (Hardcore Glamour) and three singles under her belt before she ever appeared on Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She has also appeared in a handful of music videos for Cazwell and comedic fellow NYC-based drag queen Sherry Vine. After appearing on Drag Race, Peppermint released an EP entitled Black Pepper, making her one of many drag queen LGBT musicians on our radar.
Mike Hadreas began as a sensitive troubadour of modern gay alienation. On his debut, Learning, his soft voice receded behind the plaintive melodies of a piano, as if he was imparting a terrifying secret to you alone and was frightened to be overheard by the adults in the next room who meant to do him harm (“Lookout, Lookout”). Yet over the course of his first four releases, he’s bloomed. That shrinking, tentative violet addressed every horrible slight in the canon of homophobia and, by the time of 2014’s Too Bright, owned himself. “Don’t you know your queen?” he asked in “Queen,” and there was no doubt in the slurred glam rock at its heart that our queen was Hadreas. His latest, the pop-centric and effervescent No Shape, is a love-letter to his domestic life (“Die 4 You”), and after the hell he went through to get here, he’s fucking earned it.
Full disclosure: We loathed 4 Non Blondes and “What’s Up” and am ever so grateful they never followed-up on Bigger, Better, Faster, More!. Because if they had, then Linda Perry would not have gifted the world with Pink’s “Get the Party Started” or Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” She’s a classy producer and songwriter (and sometimes song doctor for fellow LGBT musicians) who’s smart enough to focus in on what makes her clients shine. She’s so smart, in fact, that she called her old band “fluffy polished bullshit” in a 2011 Rolling Stone interview.
Petras, who went through gender confirmation surgery at age 16 after petitioning the German authorities for approval, has become a big deal amongst gay men and dance pop lovers of every stripe. It’s easy to hear why. Her tunes are catchy as anything and perfect for celebratory occasions. Yet beyond the obvious here, it’s heartening to watch her rise up as a successful pop artist who just happens to be trans as if it’s really no big thing (which, as we know, it isn’t or, at least, shouldn’t be). She’s more of a trailblazer than she knows. (“Malibu”; “Icy”)
Pet Shop Boys
For the longest time, this is what people thought about when they thought about music from LGBT musicians. (This, and disco.) And by people, I mean straight people who didn’t quite have a handle on their own homophobia, because for 31 years now Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have created a deep songbook that can stand up to any singer-songwriter or rock or hip-hop oeuvre — you know, those genres less ephemeral (and less “feminine”) than silly old pop. Talk about classics: “It’s a Sin,” “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” “Being Boring,” “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing,” “Into Thin Air” — to name merely five — tackle, respectively, infidelity, upward mobility, the decimation of a community from AIDS, the rush of first love and running away from the ugly world, only you have to pay attention, and that’s really hard to do when you bring your stereotypes to the listening station.
Austrian transgender artist using their firebrand pop tunes to preach the gospel of authenticity to a world of queers, bisexuals, and the rainbow flag of trans iterations for our community and advocates. If the unenlightened pop listener just happens upon their pop-friendly tunes and a lightbulb goes off over their head, then that’s a bonus we can all live with. (“Boys Toys”; “12 Inches”)
She was a lesbian folksinger, and if that gives you nightmare visions of overly serious, dour, depressing, womyn’s retreat kind of stuff, you are woefully wrong. Susan Gottlieb hasn’t recorded since 1998 — she’s more into visual arts these days — but one listen to “Bulldagger Swagger” or “M-A-R-T-I-N-A” or “I’m Not Romantic” and you’ll wonder why the world didn’t churn out more funny LGBT musicians with acoustic guitars.
Doug Pinnick / King’s X
Pinnick was the bassist/vocalist of the vaguely religious progressive metal band King’s X (“Dogman”) and has been recording solo since 1998 or in various combos. After spreading the good word since 1983, the good Christians who stocked King’s X records paid them back by boycotting the band after Pinnick came out in 1998. He identifies as agnostic now.
Stefan Olsdal, the bassist/guitarist for the glam alt-rock trio of LGBT musicians Placebo is the gay one; Brian Molko, vocalist, is the bisexual one; and they’ve done their bit for androgyny and flying your freak flag — whether rainbow-striped or not — since 1996. We’re crazy about 1998’s Without You I’m Nothing (“My Sweet Prince”) and 2006’s Meds (“Infra-Red”).
I love Ben Platt and rue the fact that I didn’t get to experience his Tony Award-winning star turn on Broadway in Dear Evan Hansen. His own music is sincerely emotional (some would say overwrought), yet it’s a testament to his artistry that he overcomes the stigma of a Broadway baby/geek with a real sense of pop outreach and drama. And that emotional sincerity saves him every time. (“RAIN”; “Ease My Mind”)
Glaswegian indie pop — think The Vaselines — big on jingle-jangle-jingle and good vibes. (“The Light”)
This session player extraordinaire has his fingerprints all over the history of rock ‘n’ roll, from his work with Little Richard, Ray Charles, The Beatles and more to a successful solo career that hit critical mass in the ’70s with the hits “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing” (and his co-write of “You Are So Beautiful,” for his mother). There’s a great biopic to be made from his deeply closeted life and closely held religious beliefs, a cautionary tale no doubt. And, let’s be honest here, the man gives good ‘fro.
Political D.C. punks of every flavor serve up snotty three-chord tantrums (“Pink White House”) on their 2017 debut Nothing Feels Natural.
Punks, of course, and winners of the truth-in-advertising award for best band name. (“Pretty Good for a Girl”)
The only thing continental about this Massachusetts band of LGBT musicians is their name. Over two releases — White Noise and last year’s All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell — they’ve overlaid their dark electropop with big rock choruses and anthemic singing by the big-lunged Lynn Gunn. (“What’s Wrong?,” “White Noise”)
With the sexual abuse allegations against Ben Hopkins, the music lover in us will mourn a wasted career. He and his bandmate Liv Bruce had the power to be real agents of change in the rock world. Beneath the camp posturing and outlandish costumes are two writers with a gift for observation and hooks that are obvious all over their 2015 debut Ugly Cherries (“Dairy Queen”). And the album Pageant, which was pulled in the wake of the allegations, kept their sense of fun while deepening their content (“Silly”).
Trans rapper Quay Dash is a force to be reckoned with. The Bronx-born performer is signed under Cunt Mafia’s label, a home to many LGBT musicians. Lively and ferocious, her EP Transphobic makes it clear that she’s wholeheartedly unafraid to be herself. But we think she sums herself up best: “I’m black, I’m trans and I can actually rap. Plus, I’m pretty…” Indeed.
Lou Reed / The Velvet Underground
While not gay per se, the man who implored us all to “Walk on the Wild Side” was no stranger to the great underbelly of sexuality in all its permutations. With his work in The Velvet Underground and then solo until the end of his life in 2013, he gave voice to the seedier mass amongst us, often eloquently (“Street Hassle”) and with harrowing detail (“The Kids”). He wrote a few of the great riffs in the rock catalogue (his solo version of “Sweet Jane,” anyone?) and could do tender like nobody’s business (“Perfect Day”). So you never quite warmed to his voice, that affectless Sprechgesang that’s half-sung, half-spoken. Get over it. His accomplishments were massive.
A collaborative singer/writer/producer before this year’s solo release Expectations (she’s written for Selena Gomez and Nick Jonas), Rexha is as mainstream as you can get. As an ambassador for fluid sexuality (which, we guess, means that she’s bisexual), she knows how to reach across the aisle with acts as diverse as Florida Georgia Line (“Meant to Be”) and Quavo from Migos (“2 Souls on Fire”).
Milwaukee sisters with pop sensibilities and harmonizing skills. Kind of like a more Southern Tegan and Sara, though that comparison is way too easy. (“Cool With It”)
Right Said Fred
In the throes of a current pop culture moment thanks to Taylor Swift’s interpolation of their only hit on her Kanye dis “Look What You Made Me Do,” the brothers Fairbrass sustained a career in the U.K. but will always be known in the U.S. for their number one “I’m Too Sexy.” Richard Fairbrass — the bisexual vocalist — also cohosted a U.K. LGBT program, Gaytime TV, from 1995 to 1999. And though the smooth, cut physique was everywhere back in their 1991 heyday, the bald pate was still a virile novelty and gave one more meaning to the phrase “good head.”
José Rivera Jr.
While reclaiming Queen’s “Somebody to Love” for the LGBTQ anthem it should have always been, this young model/choreographer/multi-talent announces his presence to the world with bright colors. An EP is on its way, and who knows where he will go after that?
Sex positive Latin rapper Robby Antonio Zumaya makes like Caswell, though not as funny. (“What’s Your Lyfe Like?”)
Edna Jean Robinson
A self-described “trailer park goddess,” Robinson released a 2005 album entitled All the Lives of Me that featured a 14-track compilation of jazz standards, making Robinson one of the only jazz drag queen musicians (if not the only). Robinson has also released a handful of music videossince then, including a dance song about materialism called “Shopping” and the campy holiday tune “Boobs for Christmas.”
Everyone screamed ‘turncoat’ when the man who wrote “(Sing If You’re) Glad to Be Gay” in 1978 met, fell in love and married a woman in the ’80s. But he still identifies as gay, and has been a tireless advocate for LGBT musicians since he began performing with the Tom Robinson Band and solo. If he’s fighting for our right to love, we should be protective of his own.
Romanovsky and Phillips
It’s surprising how few gay couples make music together, and though Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips split up their romance in the early 1990s, they left behind a handful of what could be considered musical comedy releases. (“If There Is a God, He’s a Queen,” “I Met a Man”)
Though we find the recorded output of this Amazonian drag queen more homogeneous than we’d like, we can’t help but adore RuPaul and everything he’s come to represent for our community. He’s been out canvassing for our rights — in giant pumps, no less — for more than two decades. He’s an Emmy-winning reality show host who will always be more famous and beautiful than the drag superstars that are crowned each season, and he gave us “Supermodel (Of the World),” the first volley in what has since turned out to be his multi-media supremacy.
Many have a deaf spot to this American composer, cellist, producer, etc., that hasn’t changed much since the reevaluation of his recorded output since his death in 1992. Though a minimalist as an electronic composer in the early days, he was inspired by disco and then, it seems, touched upon every genre that tickled his fancy. World of Echo is his most known release of experimental music (“Being It”), but I find him easiest to take on the lovingly procured compilations that were put together long after he was gone. Love Is Overtaking Me, from 2008, is the best.
The smart, brutally honest Sadie Dupuis fronts both the Massachusetts indie band Speedy Ortiz and her own indie pop side project Sad13 (prior to this, she was in a band called Quilty and played with an all-female Pavement cover band, Babement). Though she writes a lot of sexuality, she herself is demisexual or asexual, yet her attractions and thwarted desires motivate some of the best alt-leaning songs since the birth of The Breeders. I spark more to her band than to the synth-based side project, but those are just my preferences. In either form, she’s worth seeking out. (With Speedy Ortiz: “Villain,” “Raising the Skate;” as Sad13: “Get a Yes,” “Fixina/The Sting”)
Jesse Saint John
Co-writer of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” who’s collaborated with Kim Petras, Charli XCX and others. Also, accused of intoxicating Shamir to have sex with him, though at this point this is what lawyers would probably call anecdotal. (“Wiser”)
Androgynous NY synthpop singer-songwriter born Morgan Gildersleeve (which would have also been a great pop star name). (“god bless our souls”)
Evan Windom dba Saro is a bi-racial gay indie pop/folk singer who, like many others, has said that music is a form of therapy for him. Unlike many others, he really does sound like he’s working shit out through his raw, primal screams of balladry. He’s also been called a modern-day Morrissey, which is not the compliment it used to be. (“Sardonic”; “Boy Afraid”)
The four records these fun-loving and talented LGBT musicians released between 2004 and 2012 are all sorts of superlatives yet they are just shy of a masterwork. And, oh, how we’ve missed them since they went on indefinite hiatus. The single just released on June 9 — in support of the Contigo Fund established after the 2016 Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando — they could have done in their sleep (“SWERLK” by MNDR and Scissor Sisters), but here’s hoping the song portends more to come. Because we could all do with more of the likes of “Take Your Mama” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” and “Fire With Fire” and “Only the Horses.”
This New Jersey punk/pop trio is fronted by the openly gay Marissa Paternoster. They’ve been active since 2006 debut Baby Teeth; their latest, All At Once, came out earlier this year. (“I’ll Make You Sorry,” “Deeply”)
The semi-religious overtones of his performance name might give you some idea of what Josiah Wise is up to on record. “Pagan gospel,” he’s called it, but who knows what it will become once he releases a full-length CD. For now we have one fascinating five-track EP, blisters, and a visual aesthetic — as witnessed on “four ethers” and “penance” — that’s as stylish as it is colorful. Oh, and a voice as piercing, though quite different, as Anohni’s herself.
His 2015 debut Ratchet was a blast of upbeat pop that hinted at darker undertones — “Call It Off” is probably the happiest breakup song I’ve heard in ages. His voice, an androgynous countertenor, recalls Prince and a history of disco divas often in the span of the same note. He self-released a weird little lo-fi alt-rock collection called Hope on SoundCloud earlier this year, though it doesn’t feel like an official follow-up, more like the toss-offs Beck used to issue between major label releases. And one day soon — you can count on it — he’s going to be huge.
Pete Shelley / Buzzcocks
Co-leader of the seminal Buzzcocks (“Orgasm Addict”), he went solo in the ’80s with the teasing “Homosapien,” came out as bisexual, released one of the great undiscovered records of the decade (Heaven and the Sea — “On Your Own”), and then reformed his seminal band.
Dreamy electropop from a Manchester lesbian (“Touch”) with a fine debut, Nothing’s Real.
Though we’re tired of her hiding behind her hair and the histrionic vocalizing that’s paralyzed a few otherwise fine songs (most specifically “Chandelier”), she’s a strong pop songwriter/performer who’s as elastic with genre as she’s been with her sexuality. We discovered her, like so many, when her beautiful track “Breathe Me” guided the equally beautiful ending of Six Feet Under to its bittersweet conclusion. And though we don’t wish for her the real life antecedent that inspired it, we wish she’d write more songs as snappy and pointed as “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine.”
Sigur Rós / Jónsi
We’d understand why you might feel these Icelandic musicians are pretentious dolts — the droning tunes, the lyrics in a made-up language, the falsetto pitched so high it calls all the whales for miles to the nearest port (which is Icelandic for a milkshake bringing all the boys to the yard) — but we’d never understand why you don’t just admit it’s goddamned stunningly beautiful. The use of ‘cinematic’ to describe music was created for 1999’s Ágætis byrjun (“Svefn-g-englar”); they’ve gotten heavier musically as they’ve gotten older (“Brennisteinn”); and when Jónsi finally got around to doing his solo thing in 2010, it was exactly the pop move you’d expect, only on such an experimentalist (or pretentious dolt) it looked fetching (“Go Do”).
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Everyone’s favorite Gothmother divorced drummer Budgie in 2007 and came out as … well, I’m not sure. All she’s admitted is to being neither hetero nor lesbian. Regardless, her recorded output is all over the place, though the influence of Siouxsie and the Banshees cannot be understated. And her lone solo release to date, Mantaray, was a solid indie rock work from a semi-retired icon trying not to coast on her laurels. (With Siouxsie and the Banshees: “Spellbound,” “Christine;” solo: “About to Happen”)
With one album to his name, this young Australian is the gay Lorde (not a gaylord, you fools), though he doesn’t have her sales numbers or cultural cache … yet. He’s also the reason, along with Years and Years, that we started using the term ‘post-gay’ to describe Generation Z artists for whom sexuality — while still an issue for some — exists beyond reproach. If there is a problem, it’s your problem, not theirs. No doubt Sivan struggled as we all have at one point or another, but his easy approach (especially in his videos) downplays drama. “Bite,” wherein a first kiss is an act of liberation, and the Blue Neighborhood trilogy of videos (featuring “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down”), are succinct snapshots of the universal messiness of desire.
Bi, gay, straight — and, let’s be honest, nobody is really paying attention to sexuality when three women are rocking and communicating with as much focus and passion as they have for over 20 years. (“Entertainer,” “One More Hour”)
Yet another alt-rock band of LGBT musicians from Massachusetts; the soil there must be rich with Pixies-dust. This trio has been releasing records since 2012’s Feels Your Pain. Their latest, The Pact, is a solid entry in the legacy of the MA underground. (“Double Down,” “Peach”)
Lightyears from Bratmobile and Bikini Kill, here’s yet more hardcore from Olympia, Washington. (“Filth”)
Now that Smith has become the male Adele, let the backlash begin. Only let’s remember what we loved about them in the first place: the emotional voice, whether in the service of dance club bangers (Disclosure’s “Latch”) or sad love songs (“Stay With Me”), their humble demeanor in the face of meteoric success, and how well they handled the media hounding for them to come out (which they did, gracefully, right before In the Lonely Hour sent them into the stratosphere).
Irish songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson created her stage name SOAK by combining the words “soul” and “folk,” though her output to date is less of either of those genres and more inside-gazing indie rock. After a well-received 2015 debut, Before We Forget How to Dream, a sophomore release is nearly upon us. The first track, “Everybody Loves You,” is a lush, mid-tempo indie ballad ripe for festival worship.
Bisexual – or pansexual – soft-voiced French singer-songwriter. My limited understanding of the romance language keeps me from saying more about the content of her songs, but they certainly do sound sexual – bi-, pan-, or otherwise. (“Diabolo Menthe”)
The Oakland songwriter born Melina Duterte certainly has a strict work ethic: two releases in two years — 2016’s Turn Into and this year’s Everybody Works. Sounds like bedroom indie, tuneful enough, low key and thought through (“Baybee”). And as one of the two Filipinas on this list, let’s hope her shoulders are broad enough for all she has to represent.
Jimmy Somerville / Bronski Beat / The Communards
In 1984 the first sounds we heard from Jimmy Somerville, in Bronski Beat, were three words that comprised the gay scream heard around the world: tell me why (“Why?”). His falsetto was untethered and ratty around the edges — his emotion could barely be contained by technique. With that and “Smalltown Boy” from The Age of Consent, a new gay forthrightness was born. (All three members, including Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek, are LGBT musicians.) Then there was The Communards with Richard Coles, a New Wave pop combo (“There’s More to Love Than Boy Meets Girl”) that were over in a flash. And from 1989 onward Somerville has been a solo act with one eye on history — his covers have included “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “I Feel Love” (with Bronski Beat and Marc Almond) — and the other on recreating the disco and soul he quite obviously loves (“Travesty”). And though things are significantly better for our community now than in 1984, he still has plenty reason to scream.
The trans Scottish musician/producer creates soundscapes I would call industrial if that wasn’t also a genre of dance music that this artist sounds nothing like. But her music – for herself and other LGBT musicians – incorporates tons of digital and inorganic noises that dovetail into rhythms, counterrhythms, melody, dissonance, etc. Sounds – most likely all of them created by computers and synthesizers – fold in upon themselves, merge and mesh as if in a whirlpool, and transform. It’s hard to describe, but some wise soul called it PC music, which I guess is the modern industrialism. It’s a sound, or a template, taken up by many other gender fluid and/or non-binary musicians (Lotic and Yves Tumor come to mind), and it’s the perfect exemplar of the plasticity and flexibility of self. Her two releases – the songs collection Product and her official 2018 debut proper, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides, are stunning. (“Hard,” “Immaterial,” “Faceshopping”)
It’s been a long time since this handsome Australian made his acquaintance with the world on “Black and Gold.” His solid eponymous 2009 debut was followed four years later by Return to Paradise (“Happiness” — though that new mustache begs to differ). And then relative silence. Not inactivity, no. A few mixtapes and EPs have seen the light of day, but no long form. Is something in the offing? We hope so.
Casey Spooner / Fischerspooner
They were supposed to be the band that put electroclash on the map, but hype killed Fischerspooner before they could even get a foothold. Still, they had their moments — “Emerge” from 2001 and 2009’s “We Are Electric” — and they are currently working on new material with Michael Stipe producing. Spooner’s 2010 solo release, Adult Contemporary, was a highpoint — especially “Perfecto” and “Spanish Teenager feat. Jake Shears” — so there is life in him, and the band, yet.
It’s all about Dusty in Memphis, the 1969 masterpiece by one Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien that gave the world “Son of a Preacher Man,” though it’s by no means the entire story. Plagued by insecurities, drug addictions and her own carnal desires, the only place she seemed to be herself was in her creation of “Dusty Springfield,” where she exuded cool and control. Her forthcoming biopic should be fascinating. As is “Closet Man” from 1979’s Living Without Your Love, wherein Springfield lays irony upon irony as the beard to a conflicted boyfriend. “Your secret’s safe with me,” she sings, and I hope the filmmakers use that one to its full advantage.
Blair St. Clair
Unlike most of the other musical queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race, St. Clair’s 2018 album Call My Life wasn’t self-released but thrown out into the world under the Producer Entertainment Group label. Blair St. Clair released the first single from the album, “Now or Never,” the day following his Drag Race sashay.
She’s gone from hired player to spotlight performer, perfecting her craft in record time, without a hitch. Yet what Annie Clark learned in The Polyphonic Spree and as a member of Sufjan Stevens’ touring band is how to hold true to her own vision, which is still being decided. Yet each step she takes is a forward one, with amazing development from 2007’s Marry Me (“Paris Is Burning”) to 2014’s St. Vincent (“Birth in Reverse”), with time out for a first-rate side-project with David Byrne, Love This Giant (“Who”). And she can shred with the best of the LGBT musicians out there.
Michael Stipe / R.E.M.
Of all the great alternative bands from the ’80s (when they were still calling it “college rock”), we miss R.E.M. the most. We truly do. Yes, they petered out in a way you never thought they’d let themselves, having lost their way when original drummer Bill Berry departed the band. But from 1983’s classic debut Murmur (“Talk About the Passion”) through 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi (“Electrolite”) they were pretty much unstoppable. The band was a great one, in synch and inspired by each other, with Mike Mills’ bass and backing vocals adding sweetness to Peter Buck’s modern jangle and riffage. Yet it was Michael Stipe that made them memorable — his keening burr mysterious and timeless, even after he started enunciating words that you could understand. He’s been a fantastic collaborator with a wide array of artists, though the highlight is a gem of a song from 1 Giant Leap with Indian singer Asha Bhosle, “The Way You Dream.” And though he’s kept himself busy with activism and various projects, Stipe has still not released a solo album.
Eliot Sumner / I Blame Coco
One album as I Blame Coco, a second under her own name, and Sting’s daughter is just getting started. She can’t escape her father, not that she’d want to, because her vocal ID is too similar, but she rocks in a way he hasn’t since ending The Police (“I Followed You Home”).
Sumney has avoided conversations around his sexuality — he neither confirms nor denies whether he’s part of the LGBT musicians tribe — but he’s here because he’s made the exploration of what constitutes masculinity central to his music, and because — like Prince and Janelle Monae and Little Richard before him — he makes his case for the state of androgyny in songs that are iconoclastic and boundary shifting. (“Virile”; “Cut Me”)
Syd / The Internet / Odd Future
Her voice is such a calming instrument that we nearly missed the lesbian content on The Internet’s 2015 album Ego Death (“Just Sayin / I Tried”) yet that’s what’s also most interesting about Sydney Bennett. She’s not trying to out-scream anyone or one-up the competition. She’s a cool customer who knows her worth and is going to make you work a little to come to her on her own terms. And you will. Fin, her solo debut, is a feat for LGBT musicians and also one of the best of 2017 (“All About Me”).
Beloved in his adopted hometown of San Francisco, Sylvester was once part of the famed The Cockettes, fronted a rock band for a brief period and then went all the way with his love of drama and disco in his solo career. “Do You Wanna Funk?” is one of the greatest dance floor fillers ever. His loving cover of “Band of Gold (Remix)” could have inspired an ’80s LGBTQ kid to dream of marriage equality. And “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was the song that drag queens the world over didn’t know they needed until they heard it. When he died in 1988, he donated all his future royalties to HIV/AIDS charities.
Head here for “The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBT Musicians and Bands” Part Five.
This article was originally published on August 30, 2020. It has since been updated.