These Queer Musicians Are All Deserving of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which took place April 14, is set to premiere tonight on HBO. What you will see, among other things, is Brandon Flowers of The Killers speaking of honorees The Cars, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes waxing elegantly on Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Howard Stern introducing Bon Jovi.
What you won’t see is the induction of any openly LGBTQ honorees this year. Granted, there is a 25-year lag between an artist’s or band’s debut release and their eligibility for nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the influx of openly gay or bisexual or gender fluid musicians has reached peak saturation only recently.
Yet that said, there is a woeful lack of representation. Of the roughly 726 inductees since 1986, there have been — give or take a few — around 12 LGBTQ musicians, or 1.65%. These include the inimitable Freddie Mercury of Queen, rock firebrand Janis Joplin and pop soul thrush Dusty Springfield. (The numbers for female against male honorees is still not enough either.)
So, to help the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame get woke, below are some LGBTQ artists they have overlooked and are currently eligible, as well as those who will be eligible in the future.
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. He has been eligible, and overlooked, since 1998, and his induction would check a number of boxes, including gay, gender-fluid and the seriously under-represented purveyors of that long-standing genre known as disco.
They weren’t all gay, just the “types” they were depicting when they took over the discos and the charts with their paeans to the YMCA (“YMCA”), servicing your country (“In the Navy”) and what it means to be a man (“Macho Man”). Sure, it was all a joke, but the joke sustains to this day. And the songs are classics — camp classics, for sure, but hard to ignore nonetheless. They’ve been eligible since 2002.
Long before I knew they were all gay (except for Cindy), I loved them for their crazy sound. No one sounded like these Athens 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. So maybe they look like they’re having too much fun to be considered legends, but that’s what they are. Eligible since 2004.
Her big heart and bigger voice made her a star from the start, and even though she didn’t officially come out until the ’90s, one listen to “Bring Me Some Water” from her 1988 debut and we just knew. Along the way she’s won an Academy Award (“I Need to Wake Up”), a couple of Grammys, and the respect accorded to a Midwestern artist who turned herself into an icon by sheer will and hard work. Passed over since 2013.
A chart-topping solo artist for a brief run in the ’60s — “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me” have stood the test of time — Gore co-wrote songs with brother Michael Gore for 1980’s Fame, and co-hosted PBS’s LGBT issues-oriented In the Life. As was the way, she kept her sexuality close to the vest until later in her career. In retrospect, however, isn’t it a rich irony that the voice of (white) teenage girls belonged to one of our own? She’s been left off the list of inductees since 1988.
Rob Halford / Judas Priest
Balls to the wall, motherfuckers! And as one of the (very) few out frontmen in heavy metal, he gives extra meaning to the phrase “rock out with your cock out.” Additionally, given the buggery laws in the United Kingdom, it’s a kick to know in retrospect exactly what law this classic metal screamer was breaking when he was “Breaking the Law.” Not included since 1999. Really, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
He won’t be eligible until 2040, but since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame committee is slow on the uptake, we’d suggest they add this one to their calendar now. With one album to his name, the young Sivan 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 I 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. His second release is nearly upon us, and the pre-release singles — including this week’s “Bloom” — have been more cause for celebration.
In 2032 this pansexual performer should be a cakewalk for induction. She’s the heir apparent to Prince — both an influence on her, a friend while he was still alive and deeply in the grooves of her recently released Dirty Computer — as well as continually evolving iconoclast. Her hyperactive imagination has served her well since “Many Moons” back in 2007, and the way through this year’s “Make Me Feel.” And there’s no reason to think she’s just hitting her stride.
Also eligible in 2032, this gender fluid singer-songwriter (and observant Jew) is a striking original. It’s hard to tell where Furman might end up — Brill Building hooks (“Lousy Connection”), classic rock (“Restless Year”), political protest (“American Soil”) and high drama (“Suck the Blood from My Wound”) all end up in songs as pointed as they are passionate — but one thing is certain. The journey will be unlike any other.
Laura Jane Grace / Against Me!
2027 is just around the corner! So, we hope that the nominating committee remembers that before transitioning, Laura Jane Grace was tearing up the alt-rock world fronting Against Me!, confronting the powers that be with the same scalpel he was using on his own emotions. So what a gift that she’s doing the same thing now and has blossomed into a forthright and powerful spokeswoman for the transgender community. The title track of 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues was notice to the transphobes and homophobes that it would be business as usual. And if you were too stupid to hear it, then feel free to fuck off.
Le Tigre / MEN / JD Samson
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 Aquilera. She’s eligible in one iteration or another as of 2024.
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. But other artists rallied around him — particularly Beyoncé and Jay-Z — and his otherworldly hip-hop has connected with millennials of every stripe. I think Channel Orange is significantly better than his last, Blonde (not to mention Endless), and no doubt there are those that 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. Eligible in 2036.
She’s eligible in four years, and though I’m 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. I discovered her, like so many of us, when her beautiful track “Breathe Me” guided the equally beautiful ending of Six Feet Under to its bittersweet conclusion. And though I don’t wish for her the real life antecedent that inspired it, I wish she’d write more songs as snappy and pointed as “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine.”
What do you think of our queer Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee suggestions? Sound off in the comments.