The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Musicians and Bands, Pt. 1 (A-E)
This is Part 1 in our series on LGBTQ musicians and bands. Click for “The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Musicians and Bands” parts Two, Three, Four and Five.
For even the most seasoned music lovers and sound hounds, discovering LGBTQ musicians can prove daunting.
Only a handful identify as “LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ musicians and bands, from T–Z:
We’re not positive that anyone from this English foursome is on our side of the Kinsey Scale, but frontman Matt Healy sure does love to flirt with boys and play with his feminine side. It also helps that they have a bunch of fantastic EPs (with the best version of their song “Sex”) and two hit records behind them — the singles-heavy self-titled debut and the follow-up I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unware of It. Two new records are on their way (one this November, one next May) preceded by the jumpy single “Give Yourself a Try” and the indie pop wet dream “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime.”
Kevin Abstract / Brockhampton
On the strength of 2016’s American Boyfriend — an album that details the trials and tribulations of high-school same-sex lovers — this L.A.-based wunderkind is an artist to watch. On tracks such as “Empty” and “Echo” he’s the natural heir to Frank Ocean, only less complicated and less artsy, though that’s not to say his music isn’t artful. And his “boy band” Brockhampton just dropped its own debut, Saturation (“Star”).
In 2015 this Australian queen released a five-track EP entitled Kaleidoscope, an album of electro-pop love songs. On a few of the album’s tracks, Act co-wrote with gay musicians Sam Sparro and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters. Courtney Act was also part of The AAA Girls with fellow Drag Race alums Alaska Thunderfuck and Willam Belli.
Fronted by the genderqueer Stephanie Knipe, this decidedly low-key indie act is a modern blueprint of bedroom pop. “Drive Me Home,” from 2017’s Soft Spot, is a good place to start — guitar jangle that starts sweetly and gently before revving up (or mid-tempo-ing up, as the case may be) into the type of anthem that should get out of its bedroom more often.
Whether he’s remembered as a public servant or musician, only time will tell. But this second place American Idol contestant from the early naughts has done his bit for the cause. How many musicians can you think of who tried to effect change not just through their artistry but by actually running for public office? Sure, he lost. So what? At least he didn’t remain “Invisible,” as one of his better songs puts it.
This Portland-based bisexual had a viral moment in 2008 with the slow-burning video for “End of the World” that showed off his fancy footwork with another man and revealed his steadfast way with a Rufus Wainwright-esque ballad. His sophomore release from that year, Hide Nothing, was a lovely surprise. And whether he’s kept a low profile since then because he’s living his life or because it’s hard for an independent musician to get traction in this world, he’s still the pining balladeer with which a young gay man might fall in love.
The Academy Award-winning Aussie songwriter was always served better by other artists than on his own — I mean, do you even know his version of the song made famous by Olivia Newton-John, “I Honestly Love You”? Still, he made an impression. It was a camp one, to be sure, as he became more flamboyant as he grew more popular. Yet back in the ’70s it was slim pickings for openly gay artists, and we all knew how to read an artist that made a joke about being “bi-coastal” (he even named an album that) while throwing himself across the stage like a hyperactive chorine on a Broadway belter like “I Go to Rio.
Marc Almond / Soft Cell
A New Wave dolly back when indie songs got played on the radio (and before there was such a term), Marc Almond and his Soft Cell instrumentalist David Ball brought us “Tainted Love” before our love was, well, actually tainted. But oh how he explored the beginnings of the decadent ’80s, from “Sex Dwarf” to the gloriously sleazy “It’s a Mug’s Game” through a solo career and reunion that’s lasted ages — longer than anyone who described such exploits had any right to expect.
Ames né Amy Kuney came to prominence as a co-songwriter with Kelly Clarkson and Michelle Branch, yet has been actively concentrating on her own music and solo career. She’s a smoky balladeer (her 2015 track “Fluid” is the place to start) influenced by other LGBTQ+ artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Hayley Kiyoko, and Ani DiFranco.
Neil Amin-Smith / Clean Bandit
Because all dance bands should have — or, sadly, should have had — a hot violinist to make them fly (“Rather Be ft. Jess Glynne”).
Indie pop Swede who invites you to “Smoke Weed Eat Pussy”, so what else do you need to know?
Anohni / Antony & The Johnsons
Here was the voice of an artist on the verge of transforming hearts and minds. Anohni may do even more with her electronic indie pop, the perfect Trojan Horse of commercial sheen and activism — songs about the NSA (“Watch Me”) and war crimes (“Drone Bomb Me”) — to administer lessons about the world we live in now.
The skittish electronics of Venezuelan musician Alejandro Ghersi — beloved by, amongst others, Björk — began to morph on his third, eponymously titled release into something resembling pop music. Not the expansive New Wave of the ’80s or the melodic grunge of the early ’90s, but the alternative, dystopian fragmentation that’s become the lingua franca of contemporary music (FKA Twigs, Anohni, etc.). His sounds are both scary and soothing, and his sound effects downright frightening, but try to stop listening or to look away from his videos. “Reverie” and “Desafío” — both from this year’s Arca — fetishize eroticism to the point of obsession.
Army of Lovers
If this Swedish pop outfit isn’t as well-known globally as Ace of Base or ABBA (what’s with all the ‘A’ bands, Sweden?), it’s because they didn’t have a song as catchy/annoying as “The Sign” or anything by ABBA. While they still perform live occasionally (without former leader Alexander Bard — songwriter and, uh, founder of a religious movement), they left behind four studio albums, of which “Crucified” might give you a taste of what you’ve been missing.
This Indian-born, NY-based dance music artist has released a string of singles since 2016 and is one of the few out Asian musicians in a woefully underrepresented demography. He reminds me, vocally at least, of Mika, which is no bad thing. Good things await him, and the world. (“Dance Like You”; “Feel Good Song”)
Best known as a trans model, Ashley’s music career is embryonic. The single “Can’t Wait” is pleasant enough for what it is — mid-tempo electro R&B — but there’s no way of knowing if there’s any there there. But he’s an exciting presence on the world stage nonetheless, so we are tipping our hat to him for his future accomplishments.
Katie Stelmanis, the lesbian frontwoman of Canada’s Austra, could hardly have predicted the world into which her band was going to release this January’s Future Politics — but here we are, post-Trump, and her songs have the feeling of prophecy or irony or both. The single “Utopia” is a louder cry for tolerance now, the title track a call to arms, and “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” a reminder that, in the midst of darkness, there’s someone there to normalize your feelings. Love is love, and while that’s not enough, it’s the right start.
Citing “punk, Boy George, Devo and Grace Jones” as musical influences, Aviance grew up as a member of the House of Aviance during the heyday of New York City ball culture. He has since released two dance albums, Box of Chocolates and Entity, and has even performed with musicians like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. Most recently Aviance performed with renowned DJ Junior Vasquez and released a 2008 track with the trans rap group La’Mady, entitled “This is New York City (Bitch!).”
These Brooklyn punks — who are all over the spectrum — returned four years after a self-released 2013 debut to further define their Liz Phair/Breeders indie anthems (“Nightcrawler,” “Spare Me”) for the rainbow coalition.
Long before I knew they were all gay (except for Cindy), I loved them for their crazy sound. No one sounded like these Athens, Georgia, transplants when “Rock Lobster” took over the world in 1979, and no one sounds like them now. They’re goofy but not stupid, and no live band has ever thrown a better party. Their artistic high points were the period from 1979 to 1983 (silly as it was, “Song for a Future Generation” was also heartfelt), they lost Ricky Wilson to AIDS in 1985, bounced back in 1989 with the ubiquitous “Love Shack” and “Roam,” and even released a super solid post-reunion record in 2008 with Funplex. Maybe they look like they’re having too much fun to be considered legends, but that’s what they are.
A transgender artist who hasn’t gotten as much traction as Anohni, Baby Dee’s been releasing music since 2001 in basically the same singer-songwriter vein as Tom Waits or early Antony & the Johnsons. Her voice, to put it mildly, is make or break for most people — displayed to great effect on this live studio performance of “Safe Inside the Day” (from her album of the same name). I wish I’d had a chance to see her when she was “an accordion-playing hermaphrodite” in Coney Island, according to her Wikipedia page, but life goes on.
Utah foursome traffics in punky uplift that harkens back to the heydays of Husker Dü or The Ramones, but multi-gendered and kind of tuneful. Check out their 2014 release, Maybe Ghosts (here in its entirety) and you will instantly know within the first three chords if this is your thing.
This Memphis songwriter, who got her start in the alt-rock band Forrister, has a strong, clear voice and a refreshingly direct emotionality that’s as deep as it is centered. Her songs — especially those on her second release, Turn Out the Lights — are deceptively simple: plucked electric guitars that gather force and amass into guitar orchestras and multi-tracked vocals both earthy and angelic, and they pack a collective punch (check out the title track and “Appointments”). She deserves more than a dedicated cult following, though that cult would be well-rewarded for their devotion.
Long John Baldry
The late blues singer was well-connected and openly gay in the ’60s — he had a brief relationship with Dave Davies of The Kinks. He worked early with Rod Stewart and Elton John, and had chart success in 1967 with “Let the Heartaches Begin.”
Though Greg Goldberg and Craig Willse had been releasing music since 2005, we didn’t know of them until 2019’s superb indie pop Matchy Matchy. They’ve taken on gay social media apps (“Personal” from 2006 and “Looking” from 2019”) and love to mess around with gay clichés (“But I’m a Top”). They cite The Magnetic Fields as an influence (you can hear it in their pithy lyrics, though Goldberg’s a more pleasant singer than Stephin Merritt), know their way around a synth-y hook, and just keep on keeping on. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Currently on her mea culpa tour (for, amongst other things, supporting Trump) and trying to get the focus back on her music, this mouthy bisexual MC threw away a lot of goodwill by turning her career into a spectacle of wrong-footedness — her use of slurs against gay men has been widely reported. So forgive us if it’s hard to hear her qualities through the ugliness, though it seems they’re tied in to her anger management issues. “212 ft. Lazy Jay” makes a good case for cunnilingus (amongst other things), and much of her 2015 debut Broke with Expensive Taste is fun enough (“Ice Princess”). Album two is in the offing, hence the current PR spin. Will it be enough? Stay tuned.
Having collaborated with both Charli XCX and Sophie, Banoffee brings her indie pop to the masses unfettered by the restrictions of gender or traditional values. (“Contagious”; “Tennis Fan feat. Empress Of”)
Richard Barone / The Bongos
Rumors have spread about Barone’s sexuality since he fronted the much-loved Hoboken cult-act The Bongos in the ’80s. What is no rumor is the depth of his talent, flaunted most spectacularly on 1987’s Cool Blue Halo, an acoustic-with-strings version of The Bongos and solo tunes long before MTV Unplugged became a thing. And his covers — whether it be his version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” from 1990’s Primal Dream, or last year’s Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s — are a thing of beauty.
Basinski is a Texas-born minimalist who makes his home in NYC. And while he isn’t as well-known as avant-gardist John Cage (elsewhere on this list) or Brian Eno (with whom he shares a fascination for ambience), he’s definitely world class. With just under thirty releases to his name (including a few collaborations), you’d have a lot of ground to cover to catch up. For drone lovers, “The Trail of Tears” from 2013’s Nocturnes is a perfect jumping off point.
Lance Bass / N’SYNC
It should come as no surprise how many members of boy bands are on this list, and while we can all shed a tear that Justin Timberlake isn’t one of them, we can take comfort that his N’SYNC compatriot is. Bass will probably be remembered more as a television personality and LGBTQ spokesman, but when we want to recall where he got his start, the pop-friendly likes of “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want You Back” are just a YouTube click away.
Baths / Geotic / [Post-Foetus]
Will Wiesenfeld’s electronic music has been released under a few monikers, including [Post-Foetus], Baths and Geotic, and what ties them together is his sonic exploration. [Post-Foetus]’s The Fabric remains the blueprint for all that’s come since — the glitch-y indie-pop of the confessional Baths (especially 2013’s aching Obsidian with its despondent anchor track “No Eyes”) and the ambient soundscapes of Geotic (Abysma, from this year, is a shimmering example of chillwave; check out “Nav”). Whether he wants to have commercial success or remain on the artsy fringes is completely up to him; he’s talented enough to have it any way he chooses.
Rostam Batmanglij / Vampire Weekend
It will be interesting to hear where Vampire Weekend goes now that one of its core members has ventured out on his own, but they seem like a nice enough and resilient bunch. As for Mr. Batmanglij, the world is his for the taking. As a collaborator and producer he’s extracted great work out of Hamilton Leithauser (“A 1000 Times”) and Ra Ra Riot (“Water”). And as a solo entity, ROSTAM, he’s just getting started, but his sophisticated ear (“Gwan”) and embrace of diverse genres means he’ll continue to surprise us for years.
Somewhat lost to history, Bean founded the inclusive Unity Fellowship Church Movement and was responsible for the early gay lib anthem “I Was Born This Way.” Hmmm, I wonder if Lady Gaga was old enough to know this track…
Jackie Beat / Dirty Sanchez
The L.A. electroclash band Dirty Sanchez included well-known drag performer Jackie Beat alongside Mario Diaz and DJ Barbeau, performing provocative songs like “Fucking on the Dancefloor,” “Really Rich Italian Satanists” and “We Hate Youth and Beauty.” While Dirty Sanchez performed mostly from 2001 to 2008, Beat is also well-known as one of the most famous, raunchiest drag queen musicians around by releasing numerous music parodies both on his own and alongside other drag performers.
His recent debut release, Boy in Jeans (read our review here), is a solid start for this young Californian, who wouldn’t be out of place on a private mix that includes Years & Years and Troye Sivan. “God in Jeans,” his latest single, would fit perfectly between Y&Y’s “Sanctify” and Troye Sivan’s “Dance to This (feat. Ariana Grande).
Andy Bell / Erasure
Known for a quick wit and sharp tongue, Belli followed up an unexpectedly short stint on Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race with hilarious music parodies of pop hits that mocked Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay politics (“Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A)”), praised well-endowed men (“Love You Like a Big Schlong”) and skewered secret bedroom submissives (“That Boy is a Bottom”). Willam Belli has released two albums and was a member of The AAA Girls with Alaska Thunderfuck and Courtney Act and — prior to that — the group DWV alongside Detox and Vicky Vox, who had us chuckling with the track “Blurred Bynes,” a parody of controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”
Oliver Kalb’s indie chamber pop couldn’t be more reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, but with less angst and religiosity and more, you know, gentle hooks (“Thick Skin” is a standout). With three albums and some EP’s beneath him, he’s ripe for discovery by the inward looking and sensitive gay boys who flock to, let’s say, Baths and Chris Garneau.
The bisexual brother of Chance the Rapper is still finding his way. He has one studio release, Broad Shoulders (a reference to his hometown of Chicago) and a series of mixtapes including his latest, Restoration of an American Idol, that features his brother, plus Lil Yachty and other luminaries. He’s a community activist and now, potentially, a spokesperson for our community. His music hasn’t quite caught up to his magnanimity, but give the young man time. For now, enjoy the buoyant grooves of “Neon Lights (ft. Supa Bwe & Lil Yachty)” or “Grown Up Fairy Tales (feat. Chance the Rapper & Jeremih).”
Ambient noise is the cri de cœur of this New Jersey guitarist whom, it seems, you can only find on his bandcamp site. All sales proceeds go 100% to The Trevor Project.
Freddie Ross, dba Big Freedia, is a local New Orleans artist who went nationwide on the back — and the backside — of the late 2000s bounce craze. (If you don’t know what this is, it will all be made clear to you in this video for “Gin in My System.” Now go practice.) Since then Freedia has parlayed the moment into a Fuse reality program, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, appeared on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and has kept a distinct brand of booty-shaking and rump-rolling in the public eye.
She’s a transgender hyphenate — rapper–activist–poet-etc. — with one studio release to her name, a few mix tapes, a few EPs and a point of view that’s changing as quickly as the gender she refuses to define or be defined by. It makes no difference what you call her. Transfeminine? Check? He/she/they/whatever. But listen and learn how a trailblazing spirit specifies itself from day to day and turns into the human being of his/her/their/whatever’s dreams (“High School Never Ends ft. Woodkid,” “Loner ft. Jean Deaux”).
Blood Orange / Lightspeed Champion / Test Icicles
Devonté Hynes is no stranger to bands. The sexually fluid singer/performer/producer had two before the one that’s solidified his standing in the alternative R&B community. And while I love his commitment to the cause, I find myself less moved by his recorded output (in any of the iterations). His latest, Negro Swan, is his Frank Ocean move – an inward-looking and sonically adventurous collection anchored by “Saint” and “Orlando.”
Grungy indie and gentle folk are the twin poles that Mal Blum has explored since 2007, when they released their debut The Malblum Album. Their last record was 2015’s You Look A Lot Like Me (with the fun tracks “Cool Party” and “Better Go”). They haven’t put any new music out since then, but they’ve been touring (as a three-piece and solo) in 2018, so we’re hopeful that new music is around the corner.
We struggled with including him on this list because, let’s face it, Bowie’s flirtation with bisexuality had the whiff of publicity about it; no doubt he dabbled and experimented and refused to be pinned down to one thing when others were available. Yet he earns his place here because, regardless of primary sexuality, he understood what it meant to be a changeling, an outsider. “Rebel Rebel,” as one of his tunes put it, and he damn well was. Long after he became famous — when nearly all artists settle into a contemptuous relationship with banality — he pushed the envelope beyond any natural constrictions. And he did it all the way up to his death (witness “Blackstar” and “Lazarus”), which he treated as the art project the rest of his life was.
Non-binary frontperson Benny Morawa limns Boyfrienders’ indie pop vibe with tales of triumphs and tribulations in the great borough of Brooklyn. (“The Lower East Side Blues”; “Meet Me at Prospect Park”)
Boy George / Culture Club
Though there were plenty of preening androgynes with flamboyant plumage back in the ’80s, Boy George was truly the peacock’s tiara. That he topped charts along with his Culture Club bandmates kept him, and them, in the cultural conversation for much of the decade. And though it isn’t as if the kind folks of the Heartland had never seen anything quite like him — believe me, I was there and they had — it’s just that they didn’t talk about it much. With our Boy (and such smooth radio hits as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon”) nobody could stop talking about him.
This singer-songwriter and actor came to our attention as part of the fearless cast of John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus wherein he played Ceth (pronounced, duh, “Seth”), the third partner in a threesome. Who knew while watching them in various permutations that Brannan could even sing (especially with, you know, that thing in his mouth)? Mitchell must have, because one of Brannan’s own compositions, “Soda Shop,” appears on the soundtrack, and, voilá, a star was born. Or, at least, a cult act, whose unflinching honesty and beautiful tenor could soundtrack the wet dreams of many budding young gay boys looking for a “Half-Boyfriend” or a breathtaking partner to leave you bereft (“Rob Me Blind”).
With only two albums to her name — Debutante and this year’s Third — Cait Brennan has proven herself to be an outstanding songwriter who knows her way around a hook. Third was recorded at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis — the same place Big Star recorded their album Third — with her producer/collaborator, Fernando Perdomo. She also has an amazing five-octave range. If you’re a fan of Harry Nilsson, Badfinger or David Bowie, you’ll want to check out songs like “Bad at Apologies” or “Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Bright Light Bright Light
Like his friends from the sadly silent Scissor Sisters, Rod Thomas has all the qualities necessary to make a real commercial impact: Big pop hooks. Smart lyrics. An enormous heart and an overall optimistic outlook on life that makes his melancholy all the more bittersweet. He also has an artistic benefactor in his friend Elton John. Kudos to Thomas for doing it all as an independent musician and entrepreneur. But, dammit, record companies (or whatever’s left of you), do the brother a solid and distribute him to the masses. If you can’t hear the hit potential in songs like “I Believe,” “Disco Moment” and “Into the Night” then all hope is lost.
In case anyone wasn’t sure, bedroom pop has no gender, as evidenced by Georgie Gould’s bulldog eyes project. It’s also not that conducive to relaxation as a normal bedroom might be. Alternating between noisy and tuneful (and sometimes both at the same time), you can find his work on iTunes and Bandcamp. Seeya, from 2013, which features “Boys,” is the one to which his admirers flock.
Cage’s reputation as the modern master of the avant-garde has no serious challengers to his legacy, and though much of his work was probably best experienced in performance (“4’33’” and “Water walk,” for instance), he inspired like-minded rebels everywhere, from Laurie Anderson to Sonic Youth, to truly push the boundaries of what could be considered “music,” including — and this was big for Cage — silence. His early piano pieces were more delicate than you could imagine (“Ocean of Sounds”), and he provided much soundtrack work for his romantic partner, the choreographer Merce Cunningham (“Roaratorio”).
Cakes da Killa
The rapper born Rashard Bradshaw has one studio album out — Hedonism — and a few mixtapes. He’s one of the bright lights in the still nascent LGBTQ hip hop genre, and his flow is rapid-fire. “Gon Blow feat. Rye Rye” will turn your head.
Michael Callen / The Flirtations
Callen will always be remembered for his tireless fights at the forefront of the AIDS crisis. Diagnosed in 1982, when the nascent complex was still called “gay-related immune deficiency,” Callen was — in essence — a first responder. Yet between his activism, authorship (How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach), journalism, and acting (Philadelphia, Zero Patience), he founded and sang with the gay acapella group The Flirtations (“Everything Possible”) and released one solo album, Purple Heart (“Talking Old Soldiers”), while he was alive. A second, Legacy, was issued posthumously.
The last time I was as excited by a new female artist prior to the 2011 release of Anna Calvi’s eponymous debut was way back in 1992 (PJ Harvey’s Dry, if you were wondering). Calvi came across with the same unbridled passion, both vocally and in the way she plays guitar. Her third release, this year’s Hunter, finds her exploring gender roles and sexuality with equal commitment, and stretching out sonically. She’s here to stay. (“Hunter,” “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy,” “As a Man”)
This generally ebullient female trio from Australia is still finding their way — they’ve released two albums in the last three years — but once they hit their stride they could well be unstoppable (for indie freaks only, of course). “Done,” from their eponymous debut, has drawn comparisons to Courtney Barnett (you know, because they’re both Australian and female), but their trajectory is more straightforward than that. Mostly, they like to rock. If you still do, this could be the band for you.
Brooklyn-based gay electropop artist formerly doing business as SEE is about to make a dent with her latest single “Girlfriend.” SEE traded in acoustic balladry (“She Cries”), while Car Astor is all indie electro, and though the template is familiar, her strong vocals put her a notch above the usual wan bedroom pop of her peers.
Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo is a young alternative type who can burn up a stage as well as any of his forefathers (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, etc.), and he gives presence to the confusions and joys of a young man making his way through the world of love, and the scarier world in general. After years of self-releasing his music, he signed with indie kings Matador and put out, in quick succession, Teens of Style (which comprised re-workings of his catalogue) and last year’s Teens of Denial — his first major label release of new music, which was also the best rock release of 2016. True, this might not be the historical moment for rock songs such as “Drunk Drivers (Killer Whales)” and “Vincent,” but when it comes back in fashion, as it always does, he’ll be ready.
She’s been out since before she recorded her 2005 debut, though it was no big deal. “There were people before me who paved the way,” she told the Los Angeles Times. And yet, while that’s true, she’s set her own bar for how to be authentic and make your way through the world of Americana and alt-country. Her 2007 breakthrough The Story, with its slow-burning title track, set the course for her career, and it’s being revisited this year as Cover Stories with interpretations by Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam and others, with proceeds going to War Child UK to benefit refugees.
This trailblazing transgender artist came to prominence under her birth name in the late ’60s with synthesized versions of classical music (Switched-On Bach sold over a million copies after its release in 1968). She was a pioneer in more ways than one, being one of the first musicians to come out as trans in the 1970s. She’s also known for her scores for Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange and The Shining) and the Disney film Tron.
Best known for her song “A Thousand Miles” from 2002, this singer-songwriter came out as bisexual during Nashville Pride in 2010. She’s been quiet since 2015’s Liberman, though no doubt busy raising her daughter; however, starting in March 2018 she’s been releasing one of six cover songs a month (here’s her version of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”) while working on her forthcoming sixth album.
This trio of queer-identified/LGBTQ+ allies from Canada are indie pop, pure and simple. Unlike, say, their homeland sisters Tegan and Sara, these women don’t take turns fronting though they all sing. Yet thanks to pioneers like T&S before them, lead vocalist Michelle Bensimon is free to muse about, rummage through, and ruminate over her sex life (“N.Y.P.”), potential girlfriends (“Obsessed”), old flames (“Find Me”), etc. Together with her bandmates Isabelle Banos and Lana Cooney, Caveboy’s bright pop contours and immaculate harmonies render them the HAIM of Montreal.
Caves / Worriers
More punk-ish songs split between Bristol’s Caves and Philadelphia’s Worriers, both featuring Lou Hanman. Caves is the more aggressive band (“Need It Most”); Worriers the more pop-friendly (“The Possibility”) featuring vocalist Lauren Denitzio.
Yet more indie rock and punk, this time from another all-female Philadelphia trio who do a stellar version of New Order’s “Age of Consent” and released a solid sophomore set with 2017’s New Kind of Normal (“Bus Ticket”). The way these queer-centric indie bands are proliferating, I’d say “new kind of normal” is just the norm these days.
Chanel and the Circus
Adam Klopp, who fronts for this ethereal electropop outfit, was called a “choir boy” (pejoratively, it seems) while he was growing up. Idiots. His angelic soprano (think Bronski Beat, Jeff Buckley) is what brings you to their music; the floating atmosphere and trippy synths is what makes you stay. “Sunday Light” is an appropriate taster.
Under the radar Michigan-based singer/rapper/producer inspired by, of course, Frank Ocean and Kevin Abstract, yet wholly his own person. Get him on the right major, and he could be enormous. (“Petrol Bliss”; “Lucky”)
A “human pissoir of raw unabashed sexuality,” CHRISTEENE’s queer punk persona is something to be seen. She’s toured with acts as diverse as Faith No More and Peaches; is a staple at SXSW in her hometown of Austin, Texas; and her videos have been showcased worldwide in LGBTQ film festivals in Paris and New York City. Among our favorite visual journeys into this drag terrorist’s mind are “Fix My Dick” and (the extremely NSFW) “Butt Muscle.”
Christine and the Queens
Héloïse Letissier, inspired by her London drag friends, named her band in honor of them and to channel their strength into her own electropop. It worked. Her one and only release thus far, Chaleur Humaine (simply Christine and the Queens in the dull U.S.), has been an international hit. And her approach to sexuality has been refreshing (“Jonathan ft. Perfume Genius”) with a series of graphically blocked and choreographed videos (“Tilted” is the best). We look forward to the next installment.
Lo-fi bedroom indie brought to prominence by YouTube and some silly “industry plant” controversy (her father is a marketing executive with ties to the music biz? That’s un-American, unless you’re Trump!), Claire E. Cottrill dba Clairo has long surpassed that speedbump concerning her 2018 song “Pretty Girl” and beefed up her sound once signed and with access to a studio. (“Bags”; “I Wouldn’t Ask You”)
Is it easier to be a lesbian than a gay man in the genre of country music? That homophobia runs deep, but the ladies seem to have an edge on their out male counterparts. This may come down to talent — Chely Wright and this Music Row songwriter offer detailed songs that speak to the heartland without labels, and Clark has co-written a number one hit for The Band Perry and collaborated with both Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert. She’s a Grammy nominee with a first-rate debut, 12 Stories. And like that other country singer (well, she was at the time) kd lang, it’s just a matter of time before the world recognizes her fully. Until then, enjoy Clark’s stoned housewife on “Get High” or her heartbroken hellcat on “Love Can Go to Hell.”
Cloher may be better known to audiences as Courtney Barnett’s partner, but she’s a righteous rock and roll force on her own (she’s been writing and recording since 2005). Her self-titled 2017 release is the best (so far) of what she has to offer. “Analysis Paralysis” will remind you of Barnett — their styles of guitar playing are similar — though her vocal delivery is dryer and more serious.
Cœur de pirate
The Pulse nightclub shooting opened a lot of closet doors, including the one of Béatrice Martin, who is the Canadian pop heart of Cœur de pirate. Her fifth release is the French language En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé (“Prémonition”).
Coil, the project of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Jhonn Balance — both of Genesis P-Orridge’s Psychic TV, and in the case of Christopherson, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle — were always very upfront about their gayness. They not only did the very first AIDS charity single (“Tainted Love“), they worked with Derek Jarman and scored a video called The Gay Man’s Guide to Safe Sex. They’re not for everyone — after all, their score for the horror film Hellraiser was rejected for being too scary. A famous slogan of theirs was “When you listen to Coil, do you think of music?” and you should.
This queen from Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race slayed the competition with imaginative fashion and Chicago attitude. Shea Couleé then went on to release a three-track EP entitled Couleé-D and has since released a handful of singles, including “Cocky” with Season 10 queen The Vixen and “Gasoline,” an ethereal R&B track with the U.K. psychedelic group GESS.
Bradford Cox / Deerhunter / Atlas Sound
The leader of the alternative band Deerhunter (and his solo project as Atlas Sound) identifies as queer, but more fully as asexual. He’s a tall, bony, awkward man with the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome, but his music has morphed over the years from a droning confusion to a muscular, eloquent directness. 2015’s Fading Frontier was a breakthrough — tuneful and tough, dealing with the aftermath of a near-death experience and reinforced love of life that lit up songs such as “Snakeskin” and “Living My Life.” Cox’s sensibility is more outlaw than outsider; he’s overcome more than you or I will ever encounter, and he’s turned himself into the beautiful man of his dreams by the sheer forcefulness of his talent and imagination.
Rock’s first openly transgender performer was there for the Stonewall Riots and is still performing today. Her best known song, “Are You Man Enough to Be a Woman?,” says it all; then again, so does “Fuck Off” back when she was still performing as Wayne County & The Electric Chairs.
With two releases behind them, this Australian band is poised to become the next Years & Years or Troye Sivan — an electropop indie concern that waves the gay flag proudly and produces beautiful synth-based tunes perfect for contemplation (“Chasin’”) and romance (“Crush”).
CupcakKe is sex — plain and simple. To be completely honest, she spits bars that make Lil’ Kim look like a prude. With a fanbase she’s dubbed “slurpers,” CupcakKe’s hypersexuality has resonated with the queer community outside the comprehension of heteronormative folks. Whether she’s in a video sucking down dildos or praising the LGBTs, Cupcakke is keeping it queer AF.
Cyberbully Mom Club
Great band name, but who’d a thunk they’d be bedroom pop and not indie rock? Well, they’re more Moldy Peaches than Sleater-Kinney, so if that’s your scene, Shari Heck’s quartet will rock (or not rock) your world. (“How Do You Tell a Girl You Really Like Her Eyes?”)
If you don’t know Miley Cyrus, the pansexual, sexually fluid pop star and ex-Hannah Montana star, you might be legally dead. But whether you prefer her poppier side or her gooey, glittery Flaming Lips phase, she’s unforgettable. Whether she’s fighting with the douchebags behind Dolce & Gabbana or squealing over Shea and Sasha, we love her.
Sharon Cohen, who does business as Dana International, was Israel’s contestant for Eurovision 1998 and a transgender pop artist with a handful of releases to her credit. This version of her international hit “Diva” features tons of semi-naked eye candy, and she’s got a great set of pipes. If she went head to toe with Conchita Wurst, I’m not sure who’d win, but the battle royale would be fierce.
Dare, whose drag persona is Visa Reasons, is an English rose hailing from Dorset with an arsenal of indie tropes and cabaret vibes reminiscent, by turns, of Patrick Wolf, Marc Almond, The Irrepressibles, English folk and madrigal, and even Goldfrapp at their most idyllic. He’s another in what is now a long line of tuneful, melodramatic U.K. songwriters for whom sexuality is merely one other useful color in a brightly hued box of musical crayons. (“The Joy in Sarah’s Eyes”; “New York”; “I Am Free”)
Dave Davies / The Kinks
So this was news to me — that Dave Davies, guitarist of The Kinks — identifies as bisexual. Well, Dave, in the words of your more famous brother, “You Really Got Me.” And though you only got one or two songs a record, you never wasted a moment. “Trust Your Heart” from 1978’s Misfits; “Death of a Clown” from 1967’s Something Else by The Kinks; “Strangers,” the best song on 1970’s Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One — they’re classics in a canon overseen by your brother yet impossible without you.
Vaginal Creme Davis
Part of the queercore movement of the 1980s, this intersex performer embodied the movement’s brand of gender-fucked politics through solo performances and collaborations with bands like Black Fag, ¡Cholita! The Female Menudo and The Afro Sisters, all of which dealt in overtly sexual and racial themes. Interestingly, Davis doesn’t self-identify as a musician and has said, “My goal has never been to purposely entertain anyone.”
Day is a handsome jazz singer with pop smarts who’s unafraid to plumb emotional depths in his music. His early career focused on standards, but he’s ventured far and wide since then. The Mystery of You, from 2013, is a song cycle about a doomed relationship and the struggles to make it out alive, and features one of Day’s best songs, “Nevermind.”
Dazey and the Scouts
They have one 2017 EP — Maggot — and they’re a foursome, and that’s about all I know about Dazey and the Scouts. Oh, and they’re keeping the fires of queercore burning brightly. (“Wet”)
Dead or Alive
Fronted by the androgynous and unclassifiable Pete Burns, Dead or Alive’s career basically ended after 1986 with Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know (with its massive hit “Brand New Lover”), but infamy followed Burns to the end of his life. What we’ve been left with are some classic New Wave disco cuts like “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and an idea of ’80s camp that looks quaint in retrospect (“That’s the Way (I Like It)”).
Six years before appearing on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adore Delano appeared out of drag on the popular reality TV singing competition American Idol. But since his Drag Race premiere, Delano has released three albums entitled Till Death Do Us Party, After Party and Whatever; has toured America and the U.K.; and subsequently got involved in a lawsuit with a former manager over performance fees.
Transgender soul/R&B/whatever-genre-floats-her-boat artist with a checkered past she not only survived despite of, but has triumphed over. If that’s not the definition of “fierce,” I don’t know what is. (“I Am America”; “I Am Her”)
Bisexuality’s always been a tough sell. Too weird for straights; too ambiguous for gays. But songwriter Ani DiFranco was its perfect spokesperson in the ’90s and tackled it head-on in her track “In or Out.” She’s been a great role model to a panoply of different communities, and she’s stayed true to herself as an artist and a human being. Her latest record, Binary, is out now.
Beth Ditto / The Gossip
Divine is among the most famous drag queen musicians on our list. John Waters‘ trashy muse re-imagined herself as a bathhouse disco diva in the ’80s and released four albums. Divine gradually integrated his songs into his nightclub and gay bar performances, and eventually he began touring the United States and Europe, where he gained a large following. Some of his hits include tracks like “Born to Be Cheap” and “You Think You’re a Man” and the albums Jungle Jezebel and Maid in England.
Arizona female rock quartet pounding out those three necessary punk chords with finesse. (“Let’s Be Honest”)
Born Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini, known professionally as Doja Cat, this rapper/songwriter come up through social media and exploded onto the scene out of thin air, it seemed. She became well-connected in a short period of time (Nicki Minaj even shows in a remix of “Say So”) and is poised to join the ranks of new rap stars such as Rico Nasty and CupcakKe. She’s said she’s bisexual, though qualified it with this quote: “I like both. I like dicks and I also like, um, I like people that I can have sex with. You can kind of have sex with anybody, right?” Well, you certainly can, especially when you’re providing the right soundtrack for a steamy encounter with the dick and/or pussy of your dreams. (“Juicy”; “Bottom Bitch”)
For those who believe nothing good ever came out of Providence, Rhode Island, we direct you to this fearsome bilingual, multi-racial and gendered quintet of political activists and punks. (“Wave of History”)
Gender non-binary Luwayne Glass is the architect of the musique concrete he calls “Nihilist Queer Revolt Music” and who are we to argue? (“Codeine Eyes”)
What began as a four-piece now seems solely the work of Jonathan Pierce. Their jangly indie pop remains the same, the gay content has expanded and deepened, and one day the cult that loves them for their melodic surf-guitar and fun grooves — “Let’s Go Surfing,” “Money,” “Let Me” (to name a few) — might have to share them with more people. Abysmal Thoughts — their fourth release featuring “Blood Under My Belt” — just dropped.
Inspired not just by Lady Gaga but by one of her Artpop producers, Madeon, this biracial Massachusetts gay boy could give Troye Sivan and Ryan Beatty some true competition on the pop charts. (“Makeup Drawer”; “Scorton’s Creek”)
Sadie Switchblade (probably not her real name) is Dyke Drama. The transgender artist traffics closer to the Against Me! strain of rock and roll than the punkier artists elsewhere on this list. “The Hardest Years,” from 2015’s Tender Resignation, is emblematic. Notable fact: after a transphobic Twitter war was started by the shoegaze band Whirr, that band’s label immediately dropped them. The current President of the U.S. notwithstanding, tweet at your own risk.
Early Day Miners
For a brief moment — 2001 through 2007 — these four English ladies made some joyful alt noise. 2004’s The Power Out — wherein The Velvet Underground met Stereolab — is my favorite (especially the driving “Take the Bit Between Your Teeth”), though great songs abound across their oeuvre.
Carrie Brownstein’s pre-Sleater-Kinney queercore trio of LGBTQ musicians were active between 1993 and 1995. They recorded two beloved records that have inspired countless humans to take up guitars. And they were best when they were revved up and raging. (“The Drop Dead Look”)
Head here for “The Ultimate A-to-Z Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Musicians and Bands” Part Two.
This article was originally published on August 30, 2020. It has since been updated.