If there's one thing that could be said of our modern era, it's that nothing exists in isolation.

One could even say that nothing goes in just one direction anymore—instead, things are moving in multiple directions, operating in loops, often meeting at crossroads. For a long time, at least in the music industry, things appeared to be stratified, separated by genre, linear visions, and arbitrary categories. Rock artists toured with rock artists; indie stars opened for indie stars. Patrician music lovers looked down on pop-lovers, and pop-lovers bullied indieheads. Success could be purchased with a record deal and marked by a position on a top chart. Gender was divided between a man and a woman. Feminism was disconnected from race and class.

Times are changing. Pop, like fashion, has become fluid and multidimensional. Elton John can collaborate with Young Thug. Lady Gaga can ricochet from electronica to folk and back. Harry Styles has become a bisexual icon and a truly great songwriter, capable of drawing from multiple genres to create nuanced and political pop music.

And now he's going on tour with Jenny Lewis, Koffee, and King Princess. They'll all be opening for him on different stops on his 2020 "Love on Tour" tour, which will begin in April.


A little background: Jenny Lewis is an iconic songwriter who fronted the band Rilo Kiley before creating a body of intensely powerful solo work. Koffee is a singer-songwriter, rapper, and musician from Jamaica who's generated a huge amount of buzz in a short time by putting a fresh and experimental spin on reggae. King Princess is a dream pop star who may or may not be capitalizing on queer aesthetics but still embodies an inspiringly out and proud image.

Styles' choice of openers is brilliant because it brings together so many different devoted and passionate fan-bases. Queer fans will relish the chance to dance along to King Princess, while indie traditionalists and older millennials will come for Jenny Lewis, and Gen-Z fans of cutting-edge music will show up for Koffee. All these musicians are bound together by one common thread: Their music is really, really good. And isn't that what matters in the end?

Rilo Kiley - A Better Son/Daughter www.youtube.com


King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com


Koffee - Toast (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Unfortunately, the existing tickets sold out with stunning speed and cost an exorbitant amount of money, sadly prohibiting many of Styles' fans from enjoying the experience. (Many of them feel scammed). If Styles were to truly embrace the ethos of his commitment to breaking down all genres and boundaries, he'd make his concerts free, but alas, one can only dream... Until then, let us keep listening to our descriptively titled crossover Spotify playlists (shoutout to "Creamy" and "Pollen"), saying "okay" to Boomers who insist that there are only two genders, checking Co-Star for evidence of discernible meaning, and praying for the day when everything and everyone will truly be free.

Harry Styles - Sign of the Times (Video) www.youtube.com

MUSIC

King Princess's "Cheap Queen" Is Performative Queerness

Mikaela Straus's debut LP raises questions about the boundary between using queerness as a brand and using one's power to create an inclusive community.

King Princess is a different kind of gay icon.

While many stars have indoctrinated themeslves into the gay community by becoming beloved by mostly gay men, it's rare to see a star become beloved specifically by the lesbian and bisexual/pansexual femme community.

King Princess (whose real name is Mikaela Straus) burst onto the scene at a cultural moment that seemed overripe for a queer femme-focused star. She was preceded by Hayley Kiyoko, whose openly queer music earned her the moniker "Lesbian Jesus," and she's very far from the only queer femme musician around. But other than Kiyoko, she's one of the few to build a successful pop career off of a specifically lesbian-oriented aesthetic. She's garnered quite a following, and her shows have become safe spaces for queer women looking to express themselves openly and loudly.

Strangely, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Straus implied that she's not well-versed in the queer female community that loves her so much. "My shows are [filled with] very queer females, which is interesting because I cannot tell you a community that I have been less apart of in my life than that," she said. "It makes me interested in what's happening with them." Presumably, Straus is saying that as she identifies more with drag and nonbinary communities than the queer female sphere, but it's still a confounding statement, delivered without context in an article called "The Unapologetic Queerness of King Princess."

This raises the question: Could all this be an act, a well-timed and excellently executed branding technique? In all likelihood, it probably is, at least in part. King Princess's authenticity (a generally meaningless term) has been criticized extensively, and for good reason—she grew up in the music industry, as her father was a recording engineer and owned Mission Sound Studios, and her great-great-grandfather was a co-owner of Macy's. All of this meant she was offered a record deal at age 11 (which she turned down), but it allowed her to release an extremely successful EP in 2017; "1950" rests at a cool 300 million streams on Spotify.

King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com

Probably at least a thousand of those streams are this writer's, as "1950" is a gem of a song. Fortunately, her debut LP Cheap Queen continues in that song's vein, keeping with the lush harmonies, hefty beats, and glossy 80s pop and rock influences that made that song such a standout.

In contrast to that song and much of her earlier work, Cheap Queen moves away from explicit references to queer culture and focuses on the dissolution of a relationship; take a step back, and it's largely about performance, curation, and fame. The songs are confident and forthcoming, buoyed by modern beats and rich, warm mixes. In some ways, the album's glistening, glittery finish is anti-DIY, totally committed to its own poshness and self-seriousness.

King Princess - King Princess: Deep Inside Cheap Queen www.youtube.com

In that way, you could see it either as the product of someone born with a silver spoon who's successfully capitalized on queer aesthetics and popular music's most familiar and trustworthy sounds and images—or you could view it as the passion project of someone who truly understands the meaning of drag and camp, and who is, as the Entertainment Weekly article states, "queering queerness, whether she knows it or not."

Ironically, in terms of its subject matter, Cheap Queen actually isn't that explicitly queer. It's more of a discussion of relationships, free from gender and sexuality; its lyrics are pure pop, cut through with a thread of Gen-Z angst but without becoming brooding. Sonically, it's relatively subdued and mellow, avoiding controversy or extremes, perfect for chill playlists or summer nights (perhaps it should've been released in June instead of October).

Cheap Queen is at its most out and proud when Straus sings about drag. The cover photo features King Princess clad in light drag makeup, armpit hair showing, casting a disdainful glare at the camera. King Princess identifies as genderqueer, still uses she/her pronouns, and drag has been a huge influence on her life and work. "Drag for me is just such an extension of my queerness because it was how I learned to become comfortable with myself," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I feel so grateful to drag because…RuPaul and everything that has made drag mainstreamed it in a way where a girl from Brooklyn, who didn't feel like a girl, saw drag, and learned how to become a woman."

King Princess - Playboy School Of Pop www.youtube.com

Drag, of course, began as a way for queer people to express themselves and their sexuality in a creative and liberating medium. Like its aesthetic sibling, camp, it originated largely in black queer communities, working as a subversive form of expression that existed outside of and in opposition to established hierarchies.

Women and lesbians have always dressed as men in drag, but of late, increasing numbers of women and nonbinary femmes have been using drag as a way to subvert expectations of femininity. In an article from The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson writes, "It's a deliciously complicated web to untangle: these are women, performing as what would have been (historically, at least) a man performing as a woman. These female queens are traversing gender boundaries as well as putting on outrageously entertaining performances, often in the face of prejudice and misogyny, even within queer culture."

The fact that cis women have begun performing femme drag has been met with some discomfort and accusations of cultural appropriation and fetishization, though these arguments have also been criticized. In Dazed, Jake Hall writes, "The irony is that drag is designed to disrupt gender norms – anyone can bind, stuff, pad and 'perform' gender to an exaggerated extent." Many have also argued that criticizing female drag performers places too much emphasis on genitalia and bodies themselves, when drag is supposed to be an inclusive space, one dedicated to the deconstruction of gender and exclusivity, and one that can be liberating for nonbinary people or anyone struggling to come to terms with their gender identity. Plus, queer women and nonbinary people have always been around, and trans women like Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were at the forefront of early battles for LGBTQ+ rights.

In the midst of this sacred tradition enters King Princess, who has largely avoided mainstream controversy thus far. Most publications have branded her as a victorious new kind of queer icon. It's hard to say how her legacy will hold up, but for now, she seems to have hit a sweet spot between ingenious branding and a genuinely meaningful message.

Whatever you think of King Princess and the way she uses queerness, she is creating an inclusive space where queer people can congregate and celebrate their identities, with all their inherent fluidity, confusion, and contradictions. And in a way, wasn't that always the point of queer activities like drag, which are inherently, beautifully performative? Aren't they supposed to be about the presentation, the artifice, and the show, highlighting the cracks in the idea that anyone has a fixed gender identity and shattering the idea that anyone is exempt from performing their gender, style, and selfhood all the time?

Maybe King Princess should have the final word on this. "Growing up, I thought it was much more simple," she told Vice. "I was just like, 'I'm gay.' But now that I have the words to describe how I've always felt, it makes it complicated." She's quick to clarify that this is a good thing. "I like that complication, because we are all walking dichotomies of some sort. We are all just walking contradictions. I don't think any of these identities are mutually exclusive."


MUSIC

Happy #LesbianVisibilityDay: 10 Queer Musicians Who Are Changing the Industry

They make up just a fraction of the many lesbian and queer musicians who are revolutionizing the industry, but you should definitely know each one of the artists on this list.

Friday was Lesbian Visibility Day, but lesbians deserve representation every day of the year—after all, they're not only around on April 26.

Here are 10 incredible queer musicians to know, each of whom has contributed to music and culture in hugely significant and inspiring ways.

1. Hayley Kiyoko

Hayley Kiyoko's exuberant pop has propelled her to the top of the charts and has made her a religious icon of sorts for queers everywhere. With her unabashedly gay lyrics and imagery, she's carving out space for a confident brand of sexuality that has long been relegated to ambiguous lyrics of even openly queer musicians.

Hayley Kiyoko - SLEEPOVER www.youtube.com

2. Hurray For the Riff Raff

Fronted by the Bronx-born Alynda Segarra, Hurray for the Riff Raff has created a blend of Americana so sophisticated that it merits dozens of listens, and each time it will inevitably offer up different bits of wisdom. Segarra, a former punk of Puerto Rican descent, has always traversed political and personal themes and is one of the strongest voices in protest music today. Her music explores the complexity of the queer, mixed-race experience, delving into politics and mixing English and Spanish into pure poetry. Her music does justice to its complex themes, while also maintaining a sense of hope and idealism. With her album The Navigator, she took on a David Bowie-type alter ego with her own twist. "I learned I could create a character, the Navigator, who would stand at the intersection of all these identities and weave in and out," she told The Times. "And I related to being the alien. I began to take that as a badge of honor."

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Pa'lante (Official Video) www.youtube.com


3. Janelle Monae

Sometimes it seems like there's nothing Janelle Monae can't do. She rose to the fore with her gender-bending, androgynous appearance, only to cast off even that label in exchange for truly fluid shifts from the silver screen to the largest festival stages. About a year ago, she told Rolling Stone that she identified with elements of bisexuality and pansexuality. "I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you," she said in an interview. "Be proud."

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture] www.youtube.com


4. Julien Baker

Now practically legendary in the indie folk circuit, Julien Baker made waves by speaking openly about her experiences growing up queer and Christian in Tennessee. Since then, her ingenious methods of looping, drawing spare melodies out of her Telecaster, and spinning pain into reverent poetry have made her a prominent and critically acclaimed solo artist in her own right. Plus, boygenius, the trio comprised of Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers (both of whom also identify as queer), is one of the best supergroups of our modern era.

Julien Baker: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com


boygenius @ Brooklyn Steel | Pitchfork Live www.youtube.com


5. King Princess

Producer-songwriter King Princess has never been shy about her identity as a lesbian—her first tour was called "Pussy is God," and she's referenced a variety of historical and contemporary queer themes in her music. Her best song, "1950," may be referring to the Lavender Scare, when homophobic paranoia reached a peak and many queers had to hide their identities in order to keep their jobs. Despite its heavy inspiration, "1950" is full of electric joy; though its political undertones are very intentional. "I want to get to a place where the story is less about me and my face and more about what the fuck's going on this world. How I can be an active voice for gay people but also the music industry," she said to Rolling Stone. "This is the art we need right now. This is what we need right now. We're in a renaissance, and we need people to rebel, come forth and bring messages into art."

King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com


6. LP

LP's voice sounds like a mix of Bob Dylan's and Stevie Nicks'—which would be enough to merit a listen on its own—but she's also a masterful songwriter and artist, as well as an open lesbian. Having written hits for Christina Aguilera and the Backstreet Boys, she's now taking the music industry by storm with her infectious, sophisticated brand of folk-rock. Not only does she shred on the ukulele she also wears sunglasses at night and has mastered the art of suit-wearing, so if you're looking for someone to fall in love with, look no further.

LP - Girls Go Wild (Official Video) www.youtube.com


7. ROES

Formerly known as Angel Haze, ROES has just released one track— "Brooklyn"—and if their future releases are anything like that one, we're going to be hearing a lot more from them. The song is a dreamscape, evoking the likes of Frank Ocean as they layer their vocals and bars over brooding electric guitar. The rapper-singer openly identifies as pansexual and has said that they don't consider themselves any particular sex or identify with any particular pronouns, and they prefer to keep their music ambiguous so that everyone can relate to it. They've also been a staunch advocate for mental health. "If I can't say how I feel I go crazy," they told The Fader recently. "Every day I wake up and I'm like 'goddamn, you lived. You're alive again.'

Brooklyn www.youtube.com


8. Tash Sultana

The virtuosic polymath gained fame after their YouTube videos took off, and they've been touring steadily ever since. With their blend of guitar, effortless vocals, and psychedelic grit, they should be on everyone's live show bucket list. Open about their experiences with drug abuse and queerness, they also identify as non-binary, use they/them pronouns, and have often spoken about the ways music has helped them overcome challenges.

Tash Sultana - Can't Buy Happiness (Official Video Clip) 4K www.youtube.com


9. Tish Hyman

A formidable talent in the R&B and hip hop spheres, Hyman has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the business. Having cut her teeth on battle rap in the Bronx, she moved to Los Angeles, worked as Lil Wayne's tour manager, and started writing with the likes of Alicia Keys and Kanye West before going solo. Her vocals have drawn comparisons to Lauryn Hill, and her first release, "Subway Art," is a tribute to the twists and turns of life in the big city.

Tish Hyman - Subway Art (Official Video) www.youtube.com


10. Young M.A.

The Brooklyn-raised rapper has always been committed to being authentically herself—the M.A. in her name stands for "Me, Always"—and it seems to be paying off. She sold out her North American tour with 21 Savage, opened for Beyoncé, and her first album Herstory is a triumphant reclamation of her queer black feminist identity. She's always been openly proud of her sexual orientation, telling Vogue that once she came out, she felt she was able to move forward with her career. "I held in being sexually attracted to women for so long that once I got that out of me, the music became easy," she said.

Young M.A "Stubborn Ass" (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com


Honorable Mentions: Let us give thanks to our queer foremothers—to Tegan and Sara, Tracy Chapman, and all the many others who paved the way.

Tracy Chapman - Fast car www.youtube.com



Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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