“I just want this to mean something to anyone even if they don’t know who I am,” sings Brian Sella of the Front Bottoms in his against-the-grain, emotive, and raw voice. Though he is not an openly queer musician, his lyric shares the attitude that many LGBTQ artists have toward their work. LGBTQ music, like many other forms of art, gives a voice to the voiceless. Queer folks who are looking for a safe space can find comfort in listening to artists who aren’t afraid to publicly talk about all the amazing, devastating, exciting, confusing ーor any-other-strong-emotional-adjective-you-can-think-of ー aspects of being queer.
While it is incredibly rewarding to listen to relatable music, it can be a challenge to find new LGBTQ artists. This nifty playlist features 10 fantastically talented queer musicians and in the spirit of spring, each song expresses a motif of change and growth.
1. Avant Gardener: Courtney Barnett
This clever story about gardening superficially suits the spring theme, but it is also fitting on a deeper level. Courtney begins her song by examining an internal problem she has identified. She tells an over-the-top and ironically lighthearted story of her attempt to overcome depression. After taking up gardening, she has a panic attack, receives an adrenaline shot, and is ultimately taken away by an ambulance. Though her endeavor did not end well, her intention to defeat depression and create inner change is an important start for personal growth.
2. Fuck Was I: Jenny Owen Youngs
Jenny Owen Youngs, like Courtney, looks at her own flaws, and particularly, her tendency to impulsively jump into love. She discusses that naivité causes her relationship troubles and that she would like to change. She sings about “developing [her] sense of humor” to save herself future heartache. The song is one of regret– a surely upsetting, yet often critical first step in self-development.
3. Be Mine: R.E.M.
I’ll admit, this lesser-known R.E.M. track initially grabbed my attention with its mention of the “Easter bunny”. However, after several listens, I came to find Stipe’s expression of hope and positive determination to be a breath of fresh air. He plans for the future with his beloved and deeply believes that romance will change him by bringing inner peace. (Side note: I didn’t know Michael Stipes was openly gay until a few weeks ago and after I became aware, it totally changed how I listened to R.E.M.’s work. Yay queer artists!)
4. How to Be Alone: Allison Weiss
Ah, getting over breakups. Everyone’s favorite pastime. Like Youngs, Allison Weiss would like to change herself to avoid future heartbreak. The song’s hook, “It’s fine/ I miss you all the time,” uses a pause to cleverly discuss the assumed need to hide hard feelings from exes and friends; before the line break, Weiss repeats what she tells her friends, but after the pause, explains her heartbreak. Over the course of the song, Weiss overcomes her nostalgia and admits that her past relationship had severe flaws, thus, coming closer to a change.
5. Kreuzberg: Bloc Party
Bloc Party’s singer, Kele Okereke, discussed his internal debate over coming out during an interview stating, “my parents are getting older and I didn’t like the idea that they could possibly die without knowing something that is a big part of my life.” The song “Kreuzberg” seems to reflect his statement. As the hook explains “I have decided at twenty-five that something must change.” The idea of development is expressed musically, as well as lyrically. As Okereke comes to a decision, the song builds, adding rhythmic complexity, instruments, and sheer volume. The track is a clear representation of deep realization and personal evolution.
6. Cheerleader: St. Vincent
This song also discusses personal improvement, but it differs in its broader examination of gender roles. St. Vincent feels as though she is playing a part– a version of a woman that society wants her to be– rather than being herself (e.g. “I’ve told whole lies with a half smile,” “I’ve played dumb when I knew better”). She quietly explains the details of her deception in the verses, then abruptly declares in the chorus “I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more.” The juxtaposition between the two sections signals St. Vincent’s growth/ transformation from internalizing to challenging the gender roles placed on her. St. Vincent calls others to change their mindset in this direct anthem.
7. U-turn: Tegan and Sara
No queer playlist could possibly be complete without a Tegan and Sara song. “U-turn”, a simple and upbeat track, is a story about changing for another person rather than for oneself. The narrative begins with self-scrutiny, but ends with the singer deciding to put her ego aside and consider a relationship from a different perspective.
8. Two Weeks: Grizzly Bear
“Two Weeks” is not plainly a song of transformation. The singer explains the contrast between his beloved’s ever-changing external environment, a “momentary phase,” and his devotion, “I told you I would stay”. The singer promises to be the audience’s one source of stability, although his world is inconsistent.
9. No Destruction: Foxygen
Like “How to Be Alone,” this Foxygen song examines the process of overcoming nostalgia. The singer begins with a slightly sentimental undertone, but by the second verse it is clear that he now has little regard for his ex (“There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore”). At the end of the piece, the singer decides to put aside his anger and forgive his former lover.
10. Better Than I Was: Mal Blum
This cleverly worded anti-folk track seemed fitting to end the playlist. Mal Blum, like Courtney Barnett, explores their progress in their battle against depression. Lyrically, the piece is brimming with themes of change. Blum discusses, for instance, physicality (“you’d grown a bit taller, some grays in your hair that I saw on your mother”), personality (“the awkwardness finally burning off like a fever”), and outlook (“being left by someone who don’t get you isn’t wrong. It’s a favor”). Blum doesn’t feel that they have completely overcome depression, or that they have fully matured yet, but, by the end of the song, they allow themselves to acknowledge that they’re “better than before.”
In the spirit of spring, these artists reflect on changing and growing. All the while, self-awareness and honesty are key commonalities in their lyrics. Trying to live by these ideals is likely a struggle for all kinds of people. I know that as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have also had a hard time being honest with myself. In a society that seems to, at best, sweep LGBTQ+ folks under the rug and, at worst, works to systematically set us back in our everyday lives, it is easy to feel like a target of hate. There have been a lot of times where I decided to not be true to myself and shy away from vulnerability. During those times, it was important to hear these queer artists who were flawed, or confused, or hurting, like me, so I knew that I wasn’t alone and that I could be gay and make it out just fine. Listening to LGBTQ+ artists is an impactful way to emotionally resonate with relatable themes. I hope that many others find solace in this art.