Louis Kevin Celestin is a Haitian-born, Montréal-based DJ/producer with one stellar release under his belt, 99.9%, and a Rolodex anyone would be proud of — Syd features on “You’re the One,” Anderson .Paak on “Glowed Up” — and no doubt we will be featuring him plenty in the years to come.
Here is a boy band — from Ukraine — unlike any before. They have since disbanded and, given the witch hunt happening in neighboring Russia, we hope they’re in hiding or seeking asylum in a more tolerant society. For now, we are left with their androgynous videos and hi-NRG Eurodisco (“Love”).
Kehlani / Poplyfe
This Bay Area biracial bisexual took on the world with her 2017 debut SweetSexySavage (“CRZY”).
A bad breakup precipitated this Minnesota folk singer’s best and latest record, Rabbit in the Road. She’s a sharp one, especially when she comes up with a title metaphor and a title track that encapsulates her broken relationship with damning efficacy.
Ezra Rubin (aka Kingdom) is a club music impresario who dropped his debut this year, Tears in the Club, with guest turns from Syd (“Nothin”) and SZA (“What Is Love”), and some deeply useful instrumental pieces that are dark and beats-wise, like the title track.
Kitchens of Distinction / Stephen Hero / Fruit / Lost Girls
Patrick Fitzgerald waved the shoegaze flag for gay boys everywhere, from 1989’s Love Is Hell through 1994’s Cowboys and Aliens, then went on hiatus and recorded under many other monikers, reuniting 19 years later for 2013’s Folly. Though under the radar then and now, some of their work broke through, especially 1991’s Strange Free World and its signature song “Drive That Fast.”
Jonathan Knight / New Kids on the Block
Another boy band, and this time the gay one is Jonathan Knight (who, with his partner Harley Rodriguez, participated in the 26th season of The Amazing Race). Though the New Kids aren’t so new anymore, they released their sixth album 10 in 2013, though it’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and “Step by Step” that burns brightest in our memories.
Not only is she a great friend to our community, she’s part of it. Her story is still unfolding as she stretches out to the world of TV and film, flitting from genre to genre as the shapeshifter she not only desperately wants to be, but actually is. After last year’s roots move Joanne, no doubt we all shared a sigh of relief when she dropped the electropop “The Cure,” but it’s churlish to deny her the opportunity to stretch out. The woman who unleashed our modern LGBTQ anthem on the world, “Born This Way,” can do whatever the hell she wants.
Ladyhawke / Two Lane Blacktop
Phillipa Margaret Brown’s Kiwi electropop made inroads worldwide with her eponymous 2008 debut singles “Back of the Van” and “My Delirium.” She stumbled with her 2012 follow-up, Anxiety, but returned to form last year with the strong Wild Things (“A Love Song”). Her lower public profile could be a result of too many similar artists coming up at the same time (La Roux, etc.) or the self-esteem issues she grappled with prior to her marriage to actress Madeleine Sami, but she’s back and raring to win you over again.
The career trajectory of this American Idol runner-up (quick, name the winner … didn’t think so) has been like a sales graph — up, down, way up, crash, etc. And, musically, he’s all over the place as well, but you would be, too, if you had the instrument to sing whatever you wanted. That was obvious on his first post-Idol debut For Your Entertainment (“Whataya Want from Me”) and solidified when he was asked by Queen’s guitarist Brian May to fill the shoes of Freddie Mercury on a world tour. His second release, Trespassing, debuted on the U.S. charts at number one (the first for an openly gay performer), and 2015’s The Original High showed enormous maturity in his writing (“Ghost Town”). There’s a masterpiece in him, and when he finally gets to it, he’ll be even more unstoppable than he already is.
Hers was the authentic voice — or, at least, the gay one — on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love,” and though it allowed her to quit her bartending job, it’s also overshadowed her solo work. Too bad, as her debut Heart On My Sleeve was prime pop (“Secrets”), and the stopgap EP she put out this year, Bold, bodes well for her next full-length (“Know Your Name”).
Daniel Land / Engineers / riverrun / Daniel Land & the Modern Painters
This shoegaze guitarist has been releasing music for eons with Engineers (former member) and a series of solo projects, but we hadn’t heard of him until last year’s gorgeous In Love with a Ghost, wherein he delineates the thrills and anxieties of life in a new city (“New York Boogie Woogie”) and falling in love (“Holes on the Dancefloor,” which cribs its opening melody from Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”).
She hasn’t released a solo record since 2008’s Watershed (though last year saw a collaboration with Neko Case and Laura Veirs called case/lang/veirs), but she’s kept herself busy with acting and activism. She’s damn near a perfect singer — live, we cannot recall anyone with the technical control she has — and Ingénue, from 1992, featuring “Constant Craving,” was a, ahem, watershed. She has a way with standards and covers (“Black Coffee”) and I wish she hadn’t forsaken her country roots as quickly as she did (“Big Boned Gal”), but she’s one of our best.
Le Tigre / MEN / JD Samson
This electroclash trio fronted by Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman, and later joined by out lesbian JD Samson, combined the grit and fun of The B-52’s with politics and social commentary (their eponymous debut, with “Hot Topic,” is the shit). Samson and Bateman went on to form MEN with a focus on gender politics (“Credit Card Babies”), and Samson has continued co-writing with various artists such as Peaches and Christina Aguilera.
Three mixtapes, two EPs and one full-length put the American rapper Khalif Diouf aka Le1f into the conversation, yet despite the highlights of that full-length Riot Boi (“Koi,” “Umami/Water”), homophobia in hip-hop runs deep. Maybe by the time his sophomore record drops — and thanks to the inroads made by Frank Ocean and others — he’ll get the public hearing he deserves.
Ivri Lidir / The Young Professionals
This big pop star in Israel came to our attention via the synth band The Young Professionals. Imagine Chromeo, but gay, and you’ve got it. And Lidir, with Johnny Goldstein, can rock some pumps (“D.I.S.C.O.,” “All of It but Me ft. Anna F.”).
Limahl / Kajagoogoo
Christopher Hamill is too boring a name to be a pop star, but the anagram Limahl, now that was mysterious! Add to that a cuckoo’s hairdo and a band name like Kajagoogoo, and any old New Wave song could be a hit (“Too Shy”). Their run was brief, then Limahl went on to solo glory with “The Never Ending Story.”
Patti Smith once said, “To me, Little Richard was a person that was able to focus a certain physical, anarchistic and spiritual energy into a form which we call rock ‘n’ roll. I understood it as something that had to do with my future. When I was a little girl, Santa Claus didn’t turn me on. Easter Bunny didn’t turn me on. God turned me on. Little Richard turned me on.” This Georgia native was an effeminate black boy severely punished by an unforgiving father and haunted by his sexuality for years on end. But he was also one of the primary architects of a still-young art form, rock ‘n’ roll, and while most of us may know more about the character he became on talk shows later in his life, let’s not forget that the roots of much of our most beloved genres — glam rock, rockabilly, it goes on — lives in his pompadour (“Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly”)
Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson wears her bisexuality like a well-worn pair of jeans; it’s easy and comfortable on her, even though her electropop has a grunge edge. Her debut, Queen of the Clouds, was Top 20 around the world (and featured the love-as-addiction anthem “Habits [Stay High]”), and her follow-up, Lady Wood (great title), was announced with a 31-minute short film, Fairy Dust, that included the first half of the record.
Laura Pergolizzi has been kicking around since 2001, though her star has been on the ascent as of late, thanks to last year’s Lost on You, centered around a breakup and its messy aftermath. The title track and “Tightrope” are standouts, and it’s easy to hear why she’s been a go-to writer for Cher, Christina Aguilera and others.
Three years after appearing on Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Luzon released the 2014 album Queen. Its title track is a piano homage to Luzon’s deceased drag queen lover, Season 2 competitor Sahara Davenport. Manila Luzon has also released a handful of singles, some solo and others featuring fellow Drag Racers, like “The Chop” with Season 4 queen Latrice Royale, “That’s a Man, Maury” with Willam Belli and “Bring It” with Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon.
A collective yawn went up when Manilow came out this past April, not because it wasn’t newsworthy, only because everyone already knew. And while his middle-of-the-road soft rock and pop has never blazed any trails, it’s impossible to deny the craft and comfort of his many, many hits, including “Mandy” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).”
Yet another performer with a boy band past, Martin’s not the chart-stormer he was back when “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was inescapable, but he’s living his truth openly now, a role model to a vastly underrated community, and looking damn good doing it.
The couple at the heart of Matmos — M.C. (Martin) Schmidt and Drew Daniel — have been terrorizing the world with their electronic experiments since 1997’s eponymous debut. Last year’s Ultimate Care II was put together primarily from the sounds of their Whirlpool washing machine (“Ultimate Care II Excerpt Nine”) and, as someone who admits to finding rhythm in both the bustle of a Xerox and the pounding during an MRI, all I can say is they fascinate me.
The winner of Drag Race All Stars 3 released his first studio album, Two Birds, in 2017 and One Stone the following year. Of all the drag queen musicians on our list, Mattel is the only to release country-folk music albums. With songs like “Mama Don’t Make Me Put On the Dress Again,” “Little Sister” and “Red Side of the Moon,” Mattel’s albums contain a mix of surprisingly deep ballads and country bops exploring the joy and melancholy of male femininity.
David McAlmont / McAlmont and Butler / Michael Nyman with David McAlmont
Black gay Brit McAlmont has released music both solo and with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, and I wish that he and Butler would record again, because 2002’s Bring It Back was a minor wow (“Falling” is a gay boy’s girl group nirvana). His neo-classical soul combo with Michael Nyman, The Glare, is also worth your time.
The sixth season X-Factor winner sounds exactly as you’d expect — high-gloss English pop — and his 2010 debut Wide Awake was a bit of alright (the title track and “Superman” were fetching). Since then, it’s been covers records and musical tours and the slow slide to oblivion (unless his forthcoming record reverses that trend).
Freddie Mercury / Queen
He was a great showman and a front-rank vocalist — how many singers for rock and metal bands wish they had half the chops of the man born Farrokh Bulsara? So he didn’t come out until just before he died of AIDS in 1991. It’s not like we didn’t know. The prancing, the spandex, that mustache in the ’80s, please! “Who Wants to Live Forever?” from Innuendo was haunting when it was released in 1991, and even more so after Mercury’s death. And so many of their songs — from “Killer Queen” to the drag video for “I Want to Break Free” — were delicious in-jokes that kept tongues wagging for years.
Stephin Merritt / The Magnetic Fields / The 6ths / The Gothic Archies / Future Bible Heroes
He’s a songwriting machine with a plethora of bands to channel his productivity, though most of us know him best for his work with The Magnetic Fields. Both 1999’s 69 Love Songs (with “The Book of Love”) and this year’s 50 Song Memoir (“’68 A Cat Called Dionysus”) are his masterpieces, but all of his projects cough up a great track or 12 when the mood strikes him. And because his voice is sometimes hard for folks to take, you might want to immerse in his oeuvre when other people take the vocal lead (check out The 6ths’ “San Diego Zoo ft. Barbara Manning”).
George Michael / Wham!
As talented as he was beautiful, this singer of Wham! and solo glory left us too soon. He set the standard for cheesy ’80s ballads with “Careless Whisper;” he turned a publicity scandal into music video fodder with “Outside”; and he made his ass as famous as his voice with “Faith.” Well played, sir. Well played.
We’ve never understood the divisiveness elicited by this pop star. Perhaps it was his coyness when confronted about his sexuality in the beginning — though it seemed screamingly obvious to most of us, and no doubt the community wanted him to state flat out that he was gay, not bi — but he was also born in Beirut and, culturally, that’s a difficult minefield to negotiate (he dealt with those expectations, wittily, on “All She Wants” from 2015’s No Place in Heaven). Over the course of four records he’s given us fun pop (“Lollipop”) and, in his best release thus far, The Origin of Love, real heartbreak (the title track, “Underwater”).
June Millington / Fanny
One of the first all-female American rock ‘n’ roll bands were the overlooked and ripe for revival Fanny, fronted by Filipino sisters Jean and June Millington. June was out to her bandmates, but that wasn’t a promoted fact. Maybe it should have been, because the American press — with the notable exception of rock critic Robert Christgau — basically ignored or belittled them. But they were fierce, as this live clip from 1971 of “Blind Alley” will attest.
After releasing his first single, “Ooh Lala Lala,” in June 2015, and his second, ”Bad, Bad Boy,” in October 2016, Ginger Minj debuted a 16-track pop album titled Sweet T the same year. The album features bisexual comedian Margaret Cho and Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips, plus a handful of heartbreaking covers like “Losing My Religion” and “Dream a Little Dream,” which capture the heartache of growing up gay in the conservative South.
Missal’s debut album, This Time, released September 2018, is a fiery, blues-rocking, soul-inflected platter that’s put the non-binary performer square in our sights. “Keep Lying” rages with old school grit while “Girl” doubles down on neo-soul. Good stuff.
Uzoechi “Uzo” Emenike has one EP to his name — 2015’s Small Talk — and some guest spots (Gorgon City’s “Ready for Your Love feat. MNEK”), not to mention writing and production credits with Madonna, Clean Bandit, Kylie Minogue and too many others to mention. He’s part of that new breed of gay pop stars whose sexuality is just part and parcel of the entire package. We think he’s ready for his close-up.
After winning Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this genderqueer cabaret and burlesque performer used that newfound fame to launch multiple albums, including The Inevitable Album (2014) and The Ginger Snapped (2018), the latter a reference to the performer’s tried-and-true hair color. Before releasing the albums Monsoon had also performed the titular role in the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and played the villainous Velma Von Tussle in an adaptation of John Waters’ Hairspray.
This religious gay songwriter’s 2010 debut — and only studio release, When Everything Breaks Open — was produced by Charlie Sexton and Justin Timberlake (“Live Forever”). He’s kept himself busy as a religious blogger and songwriter with Timberlake, Kimbra and others.
Morrissey / The Smiths
Beloved as the frontman for The Smiths, polarizing as a solo artist to this day: Steven Patrick Morrissey has always been a man of contradictions. Sensitive and belligerent. Shy and flamboyant. Asexual and … who knows? But love him or hate him, or love them and hate him, he’s amassed an impressive songbook, with help from Johnny Marr and the other members of The Smiths (“Ask”), or with his solo collaborators (“Suedehead”).
Bob Mould / Hüsker Dü / Sugar
This gay wrestling fan, along with the also gay Grant Hart and the mustachioed Greg Horton, fronted the seminal hardcore band Hüsker Dü (“Makes No Sense at All”), the seminal alt-rock band Sugar (“See a Little Light”) and his genre-hopping solo work (“Life and Times”).
This queer L.A. trio is rising up the ranks on the back of a fresh debut (About U), contemporary electro (“I Know a Place”) and a refusal to be pigeonholed. Keep an eye on them.
This out and proud South African son has two releases to date, 2013’s Brave Confusion and 2018’s You Will Not Die. His take on indie pop is lush and baroque — vocally similar to David McAlmont and as theatrical as Benjamin Clementine. Check out “Interloper” and “Clairvoyant” to see if he’s your thing.
This formidable bassist is the type of artist, or old soul, who — though known well enough — will most likely be rediscovered by future generations. Ahead of her time? Perhaps. But she is fully of our time as well — a bisexual firebrand who has tackled homophobia head on (“Leviticus: Faggot”) and does not suffer fools gladly, even during the times when that fool just might be her.
After dominating Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this ghoulish “horrorqueen” continued to work his macabre schtick with a handful of dark-themed singles and albums. While 2013 debut album PG-13 combined dance-pop, punk, metal and electronica, 2015 follow-up Taxidermy had more of an EDM and pop sound, while 2017 album Battle Axe went back to combining dance and rock. Sharon Needles’ revealing lyrics explore a dark obsessions with drugs, sex, deadbeats and the horrors of the entertainment industry.
Singer-actor Newell has one EP to his name — the delightful Power — and is known to millions as the transgender student Unique Adams from Glee. And his instrument, that gospel-inflected high tenor, has the power to keep drag queens wet for years (“This Ain’t Over”).
Unless you were in New York in the late ’70s you might only know Klaus Nomi — if you know him at all — from his appearance with David Bowie on Saturday Night Live in 1979 (“The Man Who Sold the World”). But Nomi was adored by the downtown crowd for his countertenor (and his surprisingly lyrical soprano when he sang opera) long before La Dame came calling, and he had some success with his glammy New Wave-y solo work (“Total Eclipse”). AIDS unfortunately took him from us too soon, in 1983.
Her own work was adored by a ravenous cult, though she achieved peak commercial success when The Fifth Dimension covered two of her songs, “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Wedding Bell Blues.” If you’re looking for a great singer-songwriter that exudes New York cool, you could do no better that 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession or 1969’s New York Tendaberry. And though she passed of cancer in 1997, her songcraft is resilient: every few years she’s rediscovered or reinterpreted by young artists, and there’s no reason to think this won’t go on for quite some time.
Brooklyn indie pop from Gabrielle Smith, formerly known as Eskimeaux. (“Breaking My Neck”)
Never a dull moment with this one! Still, her first two records are classic — the one with “Mandinka” and the one where she owns Prince (“Nothing Compares to You”). So she’s done a few crazy things along the way. Who hasn’t?
Frank Ocean / Odd Future
Not the first sexually fluid black artist to come down the pike, but in some respects Frank Ocean may be the most significant. We shall see. Other artists rallied around him — particularly Beyoncé and Jay-Z — and his otherworldly hip-hop has connected with millennials of every stripe. Channel Orange is significantly better than his latest, Blonde (not to mention Endless), and no doubt there are those who prefer his mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA. But whether it’s “Novacane” or “Bad Religion” or “Solo” you never doubt you’re listening to an artist who likes to push the boundaries of his music as much as he felt the need not to make a secret of his sexuality.
Kele Okereke / Bloc Party
Five albums in and the indie band Bloc Party feel tired, though they came out the gate fast with Silent Alarm and sustained through the late aughts. His solo work this decade has been more dance-oriented and — it has to be said — gayer. Good for him. While he was still in the closet, the claustrophobic indie rock of “The Prayer” was perfect, so it’s only fitting that, post-coming out, his grooves are liberated and joyous (“Tenderoni”).
Indie pop from New Zealand — think CHVRCHES and Ladyhawke and you’ll have an idea of their sound. (“Character Flaws”)