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
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
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.'
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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Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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Twenty-five years ago today, Cleveland-born singer/songwriter and Tufts graduate Tracy Chapman released her self-titled debut album. Even in a mainstream musical landscape ruled by hair metal and teen pop, Chapman's collection of sensitive, thoughtful and socially conscious pop/rock songs proved to be a massive success, the album going six-times platinum and winning Tracy three Grammys, including one for Best New Artist. However, the album is remembered today for its most enduring hit: Her top ten debut single, "Fast Car."
A meditative, guitar-led ballad with little rhythmic drive, "Fast Car" was and remains an absolutely arresting pop song, stunning in the stark beauty of its oft-imitated lead guitar riff and in the tenderness of Chapman's vocals. Chapman's romantic tale of small-town escape with her lover takes an unexpectedly sad turn when her guy turns out to be kind of a bum. The lyrical bargain "You got a fast car / I got a..." begins each verse, until Tracy decides she's had enough time in the passenger seat and tells her man, "Take your fast car and keep on driving."
Despite sounding like virtually nothing else on the radio in 1988, "Fast Car" has stood the test of time as one of the best and most enduring hits of the late '80s. It's been covered by everyone from R.E.M. to Wayne Wonder to Matchbox 20, and its signature guitar hook has popped up in hits by rap duo Nice & Smooth ("Sometimes I Rhyme Slow") and singer/songwriter Gabrielle ("Dreams"). Even 25 years later, it's a song that, when you hear it on the radio, you stop what you're doing an listen for five minutes. Twenty-five years from now, there'll probably still be aspiring singer/songwriters playing renditions of it on their acoustic guitars in coffee houses (or on reality TV competitions) worldwide.
It's a great, great song. But there's one very big problem with it, one that becomes less ignorable with each passing listen: It's one chorus too long.
It takes "Fast Car" three verses to get to its first chorus, by which point you're thinking maybe there's no chorus in the song at all. After all, the "You got a fast car..." intro to each verse sort of functions as its own refrain, and the instrumental break between each verse with just that lovely, unforgettable acoustic guitar riff is grabbing and hypnotic enough that the song doesn't really need any other hook—anything that distracts from the riff and the song's story would probably just be an unnecessary distraction.
But the chorus finally does arrive, over two minutes into the song, and it's really not even so much of a chorus as a repeated bridge. Everything about the song switches—the previously uninterrupted melody changes, drums and bass really kick in, Chapman's low tremble becomes more of an impassioned wail, and the song claims a new sense of urgency as Tracy remembers good times spent with her man in the Fast Car, "speed[ing] so fast I felt like I was drunk," and feeling "that I belonged...I could be someone." Just as jarringly as the chorus enters, so it exits, dropping us back off at the signature riff, and Chapman's next "You got a fast car..." verse.
It's actually a brilliant songwriting tactic, creating such an enrapturing, almost lulling atmosphere with its first few verses, than crashing us into an up-tempo chorus, but bringing us right back to the original groove before the song's prior hold is totally lost. It doubles down on the emotional intensity of the song, and makes sure that we're still paying attention. When Chapman returns to the chorus after the next verse, now it also feels familiar and welcome, a callback-to-the-callback—you're maybe a little more anxious for it to return to the main riff this time, but you're more than willing to indulge the switch-up one more time.
But then one verse later—the song's denouement, in which Chapman reveals her man to be a no-good drunk, totally changing the feeling of the entire song—and we're back to the chorus/bridge again. This time, it's a little too familiar and certainly not welcome—we're still trying to process the twist of the previous verse, which feels like it must be the song's last, and dropping us back into happy memories the couple driving around town (and breaking the song's hypnotic hold for a third time) feels totally needless and distracting. By the time Tracy comes back to the song's primary melody to end "Fast Car" with a repeat of one its early verses ("Is it fast enough that we can fly away?")—now nearly five minutes in—you're officially ready for the song to be over.
Tellingly, the music video edit of the song cuts out that final extraneous chorus, instead going right from the "keep on driving" verse to the "fly away" repeat, and it's amazing how much more successful the song is for it—without the final chorus, the sour taste of the song's late turn of events is allowed to linger unsettlingly, casting a pall on all that came before it, and adding a new dimension to the song's already incredibly evocative story-telling. With or without the final chorus, "Fast Car" is a classic, but only without it is the song truly perfect—as perfect as any other pop song celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.