Illustrated by Steph Liu/OutWrite
This article was originally published in our Fall 2022 print issue “Satanic Panic.“
On March 26th, 2021, Lil Nas X dropped “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” the lead single for his album “MONTERO” and a passionate declaration of queer love and desire. The single by itself would likely have received a largely positive reaction, as Lil Nas X already had considerable recognition. However, “MONTERO”’s music video featured Lil Nas X as an angel who rides down a pole from Heaven to Hell and gives the Devil a lapdance.
Virtually every queer person knows about this video, and virtually every queer person, regardless of religious affiliation, has been confronted with the “you’re going to Hell” speech at least once, whether directly at you or indirectly near you. It’s the age-old promise of damnation that is burned into our memories. So how do queer people learn to respond to religion-tinged hatred?
While “Call Me By Your Name” was certainly the most explosive instance of a queer artist using Satanic imagery and Hell in their music, it was not the first and it absolutely will not be the last unforgettable declaration of individuality and expression.
I put together a playlist of songs by queer artists who harnessed the themes of demons and Hell and gave an attentive audience a voice and a face to what was happening inside themselves and around them.
“Family Tree” by Ethel Cain
Hayden Anhedönia’s unnerving Gothic aesthetic and disarming, hauntingly beautiful voice are a staple for any demonic-themed playlist.
“Family Tree” is a song off of Anhedönia’s first full LP, “Preacher’s Daughter,” a concept album that follows alter ego Ethel as she escapes her sheltered religious home and embarks on a harrowing journey that ends in her gruesome, tragic death (the story is not for the faint of heart).
Anhedönia mentioned to Billboard last May that she plans on writing a book and potentially creating a movie based on the life and legacy of Ethel Cain, Ethel’s mother, and Ethel’s grandmother in the years to come.
“Gospel For A New Century” by Yves Tumor
Queer experimental artist Yves Tumor’s sound intersects somewhere between psychedelic electronic and retro rock music, with music videos that can only really be described as vivid.
“Gospel for a New Century” is a track off of their album “Heaven to a Tortured Mind,” released in 2020. The music video for the song shows Tumor crooning into a mic, sporting two large black horns and demon-like makeup with backup dancers in matching costumes and contorting demon-like figures projected behind them.
The lyrics detail the singer’s yearning for a romantic partner, and the melancholy underbelly of a love lost. My personal theory is that this heartbreak is meant to identify the “New Century,” and that the lustful passion embodied in this song is characteristic of sin, hence the demonic costumes and imagery. Either way, the song in tandem with the video creates an absolute masterpiece that I highly recommend for your viewing pleasure.
“This Hell” by Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama is a Japanese-British singer and musician who has been releasing music since 2017. Infused with a steady and infectious groove and strong vocals, the lyrics to Sawayama’s song “This Hell” center around embracement above all else, with cheeky confident lines such as “God hates us? Alright then / Buckle up, at dawn we’re riding.”
The music video itself is a commentary on religion and its role in discrimination. It opens with Sawayama in an all-white outfit being driven to a church where she is then walked down the aisle to share a group kiss with two backup dancers in front of a row of angry protestors. The second half of the video follows her, now in an all-red get up, dancing in a club amid a sea of people of all appearances, kissing and dancing with everyone in sight.
“Hellbound” by Dua Saleh
Dua Saleh is a nonbinary rapper and musician. While they’re best known for playing Cal in season 3 of Netflix’s “Sex Education,” they have been writing and releasing music since 2017.
“hellbound” was released in 2020 as the second single off of their EP, “ROSETTA,” and can best be described as a dark lo-fi track that explodes into gritty, power. The music video is made up of clips taken from the anime series “Devilman Crybaby,” says Saleh in an interview with Them Magazine, portraying images of epic struggles between good and evil. Saleh adopts a prideful and powerful attitude through lyrics such as “Jumped into the portal, call me Hades of the grim / No, I ain’t no angel, I ain’t fallin’ from the brim.” The song flips the classic damnation of queerness and instead portrays it as empowerment.
“Spookie Coochie” by Doechii
Doechii is a queer rapper who is picking up exponential recognition with her explosive delivery and unique sound.
“Spooky Coochie” was released as a single in October of 2019. The music video features Doechii in the recording studio dancing around, and while that by itself may not sound that interesting, her energy is so infectious and confident that you find yourself unable to look away. The song does not treat itself too seriously, opening with a recorded audial sketch where Doechii asks some trick-or-treaters, “Back the fuck up from my door / What the fuck is you supposed to be, a tampon?”
With lyrics like “I’m back like Chucky bride from the afterlife / Nothin’ nice, this the antichrist, it’s a bloody night”, Doechii turns these images into a source of confidence and creates a hype track that makes you excited for Halloween at any time of the year.
“Demons” by Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko (a.k.a. Lesbian Jesus) is a pop artist that took the LGBTQ+ community by storm. Her track “Demons” was released as a single preceding her 2019 EP, “I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kiyoko explains that the song was inspired by a voice memo she left for herself in a time of severe depression that said, “Please forgive me. I’ve got demons in my head. They’re trying to eat me until I’m dead” (now part of the song’s chorus).
Kiyoko created the dissonance between the lyrics and dancy instrumentals on purpose. In an interview with Nylon Magazine, she explains, “There was something so haunting about it that I wanted to try to turn it into something positive […] I wanted to sing about mental health and battling the inner ‘demons’ many of us struggle with. But with a heavy upbeat track that everyone can sing and support you with.”
“Judas” by Lady Gaga
Arguably one of pop culture’s most iconic artists, Lady Gaga has certainly left her mark on the music world. “Judas,” one of the tracks off of her hit album “Born This Way” (released in 2011), ignited considerable controversy in the public sphere.
The song itself is a jolting electronic house hit with heavy danceable drums and a pulse that could pull anyone onto a dance floor. The lyrics talk about betrayal, as Gaga compares her lover to Judas, the biblical figure who betrayed Jesus. However, the lyrics also address the portrayal of women in the Bible, with lines such as, “In the most Biblical sense, I am beyond repentance / Fame hooker, prostitute, wench, vomits her mind.”
While the video has been interpreted as mocking religion, Gaga has since clarified that the video was “a cultural statement;” “It’s a metaphor for struggle, for perseverance,” says Gaga in a 2011 interview with Fuse. Truthfully, the song and video together open a Pandora’s box of interpretation, from a feminist teardown of the Bible to a heartbroken lamentation of betrayal.
Author: Jennifer Collier (She/They)
Artist: Steph Liu (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/They)