by Ryan Crawford, Queerspace Magazine
December 26, 2016
We lost David Bowie and wept. Then Prince passed away and we couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse. And then we said goodbye to Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, John Berry of the Beastie Boys, Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, Leon Russell, Vanity, George Michael, and DEAR GOD SOMEONE UNPLUG 2016 BEFORE IT CLAIMS US ALL.
In the midst of so much heartbreak in the music industry, a creative zeitgeist also occurred. Queer singers and songwriters are producing some inspiring new music during this troubling time of political distrust and slanderous—sometimes violent—backlash against LGBTQ Americans.
This “rainbow renaissance” is a beacon of hope for many, perhaps especially young sexual minorities who don’t yet have a sturdy support network. Here are the year’s top 20 queer artists and the brilliant new music they released to excite, titillate, grieve, groove, and awaken.
Highlight: Hang out with You
Most famous for the catchy “she keeps me warm” hook she contributed to Macklemore’s marriage equality anthem “Same Love,” Lambert is a Seattle local and songwriting gem who uses her musical platform for bettering the rights of—and attitudes toward—the world’s queer population. Plus, who doesn’t love a feel-good video about spending the day with a golden retriever?
Highlight: Can’t Fight It
A former American Idol contestant, Owen simultaneously released this debut single and came out to the public on February 12th this year. We’ve been sopping wet ever since. With shades of Miguel, Jussie Smollett, and Betty Who, Owen’s buttery voice is a welcome treat for a sexy evening. (And come on. Those lips. Jesus.)
Years and Years
Years and Years exploded last year with the quirky video “Desire” featuring Tove Lo, and is riding the comet tail of success with their new single “Meteorite,” featured on the “Bridget Jones’s Baby” soundtrack. Olly Alexander’s sequined backless ice dancing costume is the perfect gift for the sugarplum fairy in your life.
Highlight: The Big Big Beat
While Banks is infamous for petty Twitter battles and publicized altercations in which she shouts the slur “faggot” on several occasions, she is inarguably a rap prodigy. Think the bisexual female version of Kanye West with a little less ego and a lot more rage. Many former fans now refuse to support her music after her unapologetic use of homophobic language, and this has certainly affected Banks’ career. But she continues to remain in the conversation long after releasing her most popular hit “212” in 2012.
Highlight: A Woman’s Face: Sonnet 20
Wainwright developed the brilliant conceptual album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, released April 22nd of this year. A veritable triumph for his long career of musical genius and his resonant laser beam voice, the album includes diverse sung versions of The Bard’s sonnets, punctuated by spoken word tracks from actors like Carrie Fisher and William Shatner reading other sonnets aloud. Wainwright’s track featuring Florence Welch (“When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes: Sonnet 29”) is inspiringly light and beautifully composed, while “A Woman’s Face” remains Wainwright’s clear standout for the album.
Highlight: What Makes a Man
Starring in George Takei’s acclaimed musical “Allegiance” about a Japanese American family imprisoned in an internment camp during WWII, Leung shines as a multitalented performer who uses his platform for meaningful social commentary. The Broadway soundtrack, released January 29th of this year, includes Leung’s dramatic and gripping renditions of original music for the stage. If his gorgeous face wasn’t enough to make you swoon, his incredible back-row voice will finish the job.
Highlight: Pink + White
Ocean’s Blonde is arguably one of the best records of 2016. Period. It pairs best with introspection, a steady pot vape, and chill company. While the lyrics of the track “Good Guy” reinforce his love affairs with men, the R&B musical standout is “Pink + White” featuring a secret backup vocal from Beyoncé.
The queer lead singer of Neon Trees has set out on a solo career this year with his first album Excommunication, so named after his forced expulsion from the Mormon Church for being gay. The emotional powerhouse “Midnight” provides a dual glimpse of a relationship torn asunder and an existential crisis of faith, featuring a vocal performance reminiscent of Freddie Mercury’s powerful musical phrasing met with a smoky contemporary tone.
Highlight: The Love Within
Including this feel-good tune, Bloc Party’s album Hymns offers elevating, upbeat tracks that will surely be remixed in queer dance clubs everywhere. The band’s lead singer Kele Okereke has released incredible collections of solo work in past years, breaking off from the band’s peppy rock beats and experimenting with a darker shade of electro. Timeless talent.
Highlight: Look Away
Pairing up with Eli Lieb, Grand recorded the gay answer to Christina Aguilera’s duet with A Great Big World, “Say Something.” The gay country/pop crossover has stolen the hearts of white gay men and their mothers across America, and while his brand may border on vanilla (when he’s not modeling swimwear), Grand is a truly powerful singer and magnetic performer. More! More!
Highlight: Bad 4 Us
The vlog partnership between best friends Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi has led to the duo’s breakaway debut from their hugely successful acapella group Pentatonix. With a cute pop hit like “Bad 4 Us,” these insanely gifted vocalists and YouTube megastars are destined for a blossoming musical career as Superfruit.
Bright Light Bright Light
Highlight: Symmetry of Two Hearts
Welsh musician Bright Light Bright Light (Rod Thomas) released the album Choreography on July 15th this year, which featured vocal contributions from Elton John, Mykal Kilgore, Alan Cumming, and Scissor Sisters alumni Jake Shears and Ana Matronic. (BUT IS IT GAY ENOUGH!?) Then, because he must be a masochist for the recording studio, he released a follow-up EP cover album called Cinematography—a compilation of famous movie soundtrack songs—on November 25th. Bright Light Bright Light is a striking poet with a quiet charisma. His matured lyrics are given the spotlight with his pure voice and simple stylings, whether it’s on peppy songs like “Symmetry of Two Hearts” or his tear-inducing rendition of “Wicked Little Town” from the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
And there you have it, 20 of the year’s most prolific queer music artists. Support LGBTQ talent by checking out these musicians’ YouTube pages, streaming them on Spotify, purchasing their songs, and/or hitting up their next concert in your area!
Interested in the queer Seattle music scene specifically? Check out Sam Chapman’s video featuring the best LGBTQ music by local artists in 2016.
Who’s your favorite queer musician of the year? Let us know in the comments or on social media!
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Bloc Party