With queer visibility and acceptance on steady rise, pressure for LGBTQ musicians to maintain a “universally relatable” (aka straight) image in order to appeal to a mainstream audience remains. Luckily, an increasing number of artists are starting their careers by actively avoiding that trap.
The impact this has on fans, particularly young, LGBTQ fans, cannot be overstated. These six artists may create music that’s hard to compare, but they share a fearlessness to harness their passions to challenge heteronormativity in their careers. And they’re making it that much easier for the next wave of artists to follow suit.
Scroll through to meet the Pride50 music honorees…
1. Orville Peck
Who is this mysterious queer cowboy, exactly? Orville Peck chooses to keep his personal life very personal; he never appears in public without his now-iconic tasseled mask. But it’s precisely his image that’s pushing the culture forward — challenging Western tropes of heterocentric masculinity, to be precise. While his sound harks back to country music from the mid-20th century, Peck’s style is distinctively queer, proving there’s room in any musical genre to live authentically.
“As a little gay boy out in bumf*ck who always felt disenfranchised by country music. I love seeing an openly gay man becoming successful trailing a path forward,” one commenter wrote on his latest video release, “No Glory In the West.” That about says it all.
2. Moses Sumney
When Los Angeles-based Moses Sumney arrived on the scene with his 2014 EP “Mid-City Island,” his vocal talent and ability to move an audience by bearing his soul was instantly clear. Perhaps that’s why he was soon opening for artists like James Blake, Solange and David Byrne. In his latest album, 2020’s “Grae,” Sumney sets his sights on affirming fluidity while untangling and dismantling the walls of gender, and looking inward to uncover sometimes-painful truths.
On the track “Also Also Also And And And,” he proclaims: “I insist upon my right to be multiple — even more so, I insist upon the recognition of my multiplicity”.
And in “Neither/Nor,” he sings: “I’d become one with what I was scared of/I fell in love with the in-between/In the valley of the sure/You cannot be a neither/nor”.
3. Olly Alexander
The Years & Years frontman is admired by a legion of queer fans. Alexander doesn’t take this fact lightly. He’s leveraged his success to amplify LGBTQ charities and initiatives that hit close to home for him and his audience. That’s included promoting safe sex and HIV services, speaking out against LGBTQ bullying, and opening up about his own struggles with depression and self harm.
Later this year, he’ll heave a new opportunity to further educate fans, many of whom are young and perhaps uninformed on the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Alexander will star in Russell T Davies’ (Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal) Boys. The 5-part BBC drama will follow the lives of young, gay men coping with life under the spread of the virus. Rounding out the cast are Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry.
Here he is giving a quarantine concert from the (dis)comfort of home:
This synth-pop trio found widespread success with their 2016 single “I Know a Place,” and have been queering up the pop scene ever since. Group members Katie Gavin (vocals), Naomi McPherson (guitar, vocals), and Josette Maskin (guitar, vocals) all identify as queer, and make us wish they’d been around when we were coming of age. But we’re just as happy they’re here now. In their lyrics, MUNA purposefully opts to avoid gendered pronouns, giving the listener the opportunity to do the same and focus on the shared emotions that connect us.
Here’s “Stayaway” off their sophomore album “Saves the World” that looks at the age old game of “what if…”:
5. King Princess
There still aren’t a ton of overtly queer love songs out there, but don’t blame King Princess, aka Mikaela Straus. The Brooklynn-based songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist doesn’t mince her words. Her breakthrough single “1950” offered a story of distinctly queer love, and followup tracks like “Talia” and “Pussy Is God” only cemented her place as an artist with much to offer straight and queer fans alike. King Princess released her debut full-length, “Cheap Queen”, in 2019, earning a spot on the Top 20 of the Billboard Top Alternative Albums chart.
Reminding fans and fellow artists you don’t have to conform to anyone else’s standards to find success, here’s the title track from “Cheap Queen”:
6. Emily Estefan
Miami-based singer Emily Estefan has never shied away from her sexuality, sharing her relationship with Gemeny Hernandez openly with her fans for years. The daughter of Cuban-American stars Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Emily brings a distinctly free-spirited essence to her music, combining elements of jazz, rock and Latin music. Though she’s still building her career, Estefan has been studying music her whole life and played nearly every instrument on her debut album, “Take Whatever You Want.” She’s certainly one to watch.
“I just want to tell my stories, put out good energy and love into the world, and not be afraid to be my true self in my music,” Estefan says of her art.
Orville Peck is easy to figure out who he is…And he has nudes online
Funny. All this talk about queer artists being themselves, not compromising, and achieving success, yet no one mentioned Rufus Wainwright who was doing this before these kids were in diapers. These are more or less been there done that.
Rufus was one of a couple, but ask a young person is they know, who is Rufus Wainwright? Apart from a couple possibly knowing his work etc, most wouldn’t have a clue. The context of this article was influence on ‘young’ people.
Yeah and Gary Floyd, Randy Turner, Jayne County, Darby Crash, Pat Smear and Roddy Bottum all predate Wainwright. So by your count he was also been there done that. Or we can continue to celebrate queer musicians instead of bashing them for not being the one you like.
That may be, but Rufus must of had an effect on young people when he got started. Besides, his story is one that young people need to hear. Might prevent so many from getting hooked on Tina.
Emily —– meh average girl!
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