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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Featuring Tash Sultana, Anderson .Paak and Smokey Robinson, Khalid, Lostboycrow, MADELIN and more
This was an incredible week for music, with releases from the likes of Khalid, Sara Bareilles, Aurora, Marina and the Diamonds, Weyes Blood, Mac DeMarco, Vampire Weekend, and Anderson .Paak promising to brighten your day no matter what kind of music you're into.
Here are some of the week's best new tracks—some by lesser-known artists, some instant classics, but all finding some kind of peace within chaos, whether through forgiveness, self-love, wistful nostalgia, or comfort in one's makeshift family.
1. Anderson .Paak and Smokey Robinson: Make It Better
Anderson .Paak - Make It Better (ft. Smokey Robinson) (Official Video) www.youtube.com
This is the sonic equivalent of a long, deep drink of water at 3 AM; somehow refreshing on a soul-deep level, it's enhanced by cinematic strings and Smokey Robinson's '50s soul-style harmonies, which rise and fall over a punchy beat. It all comes together to form a song that's joyful and full of life, equal parts experimental and true to its influences. "Make It Better" is about deciding to work on a relationship instead of letting it fade away, and it's the perfect soundtrack for anybody trying to do the same. It also sounds tailor-made for a walk in a park on a spring day after a long, dark winter, or for a reconciliatory dance in the kitchen as the sun rises; in short, it sounds like a quiet redemption.
2. Tash Sultana: Can't Buy Happiness
Tash Sultana - Can't Buy Happiness (Official Video Clip) 4K www.youtube.com
Tash Sultana has returned with a luxuriously dreamy new single, her first release since 2018's excellent Flow State. "Can't Buy Happiness" is a slow burn, beginning with a still, quiet reflectiveness that bursts into full-on ecstasy about halfway through. Sultana has never been one to hold back, and here she unleashes the full scope of her voice, guitar, and creative vision, creating a psychedelic firework display that ebbs and flows with all the violence of a tropical storm. You might have to take a breath afterward because this is a rollercoaster in the best way, a wild ride through rich sonic textures, crashing waves, and flawless, emotive guitar riffs.
3. Noname: Song 32
Noname - Song 32 www.youtube.com
Noname is one of the best in the game right now, and she's returned to solidify this representation with a subdued new track called "Song 32." Her crystalline bars fit neatly over a sparse beat and erupt on the chorus, before settling back down into the rhythm and then rising back up again. It's a calm, gentle, and yet softly assertive composition; and ultimately, it sounds like a woman at peace with herself, keyed into her own strength. "I'm the best of America," she repeats, letting the music take over for a moment before launching back into her effortless, intricate verses.
4. Lostboycrow: Cody in the Valley
Cody in the Valley www.youtube.com
The rising singer from East L.A. has been touring relentlessly and steadily releasing bits of his first LP Santa Fe. This week, he dropped a new addition featuring the title track as well as "Cody in the Valley." The latter is misty, mournful pop at its purest; it's a sultry and unaffected tune that begins with pristine piano and builds up to a guitar-streaked chorus, fleshed out by rich harmonies. It's a song for sunsets and smoky nights and carries with it some of the nostalgic, saturated gloom of early Lorde; and it's a promising addition to Lostboycrow's growing body of impressive work.
5. MADELIN: Monarch
Experimental pop artist MADELIN just released a new single, and it's an eclectic and euphoric dance track that carries with it all the energy of a summer night in New York City. She told Popdust, "Monarch is inspired by the colorful intensity of the New York City and Brooklyn queer nightlife scene. I wrote it at a time in my life when going out and seeing all the unique, beautiful, artistic drag queens and club kids was the only thing making me feel truly alive. It's about being inspired by other people's creativity and getting closer to your own, feeling the collective energy of misfit humans together in one space, getting lost in the adrenaline, love, and beauty of a fleeting moment."
"Monarch" does justice to this mission. It's a gleaming collage of synths and beats, a danceable and energy-filled celebration of all the joy, strangeness, and communion that Brooklyn nightlife and queerness have to offer. Check out Popdust's 2018 interview with her here.
5. Khalid: Paradise
Khalid - Paradise (Audio) www.youtube.com
Though he's no longer a young dumb broke high school kid, Khalid is still just as good at creating effortlessly catchy tunes as he was back then. His songwriting talents have grown over the years, though, and Free Spirit showcases his knack for turning ordinary experiences into cinematic events. "Paradise" in particular is a casual, ultra-relaxed tribute to escapism, a song that seems made for smoke-filled rooms and late nights. His falsetto rises above a fluorescent beat, and a buoyant guitar outro adds to the song's carefree, dreamlike atmosphere. It's one of the highlights of his all-around fantastic sophomore album.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Find her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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I can't help but listen to Christmas music this week... so naturally I included some on #theradar.
Christmas has me like...
I'm honestly living for all of the new Christmas music that's been released lately. With the happiest time of the year just around the corner, I had to infuse some of my favorite new Christmas releases onto Release Radar this week (but don't worry, a full Christmas playlist is coming to you this #musicmonday). Get in the holiday spirit with some of my new favorite Christmas releases and a slew of other hot new tracks from: Cody Simpson and The Tide, Dana and The Wolf, Fascinations Grand Chorus, Eighty Ninety, Michael McQuaid, Max & Harvey, Cate Hamilton, Tash, and Umphrey's McGee.
Cody Simpson and The Tide | "White Christmas"
This beach-rock cover of the old classic is relaxing and will get you in the Christmas spirit even if your version of a white Christmas is sand. Being an former Florida girl myself, I appreciate this twist on the original.
Best for: a holiday beach bonfire
Perfect if you like: Jack Johnson
Dana and The Wolf | "Him"
This track is hauntingly good. Dana and The Wolf have been together for decade but only recently formed the pop duo comprised of Dana Hobson (vocalist) and Daniel Wolf (producer). Their dramatic pop music focuses on deep topics from religion to economics.
Best for: A lazy Sunday
Perfect if you like: The Daysleepers
Fascinations Grand Chorus | "Angelsea"
This slow burning track is mellow and builds over time. The sweet vocals contrast the rhythmic nature of the track. Part of their recent EP Angelsea. The title song is my favorite off of the album.
Best for: Road tripping
Perfect if you like: Tennis
Eighty Ninety | "Your Favorite Song"
I've loved this song for a long time and was anticipating this visual. The video is dream-like. Abner treks through city and beach terrain with a bouquet of flowers, only to leave them behind at the end of the video. All the while you hope he'll find this love he's singing about and bring her flowers (flowers fix everything, right ladies?), but instead, it's more symbolic of leaving a relationship in the past.
Best for: The post-holiday sads
Perfect if you like: Tom Petty and The Heart Breakers
Michael McQuaid | "Wild Love"
This dark pop jam from Michael McQuaid is hard-hitting and shakes the room. It explores the intense parts of love. His collaboration with Milly adds just the perfect touch to the rich song. It's a song about deciding to go all in together.
Best for: NYE dance parties
Perfect if you like: Sam Smith
Max & Harvey | "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday"
LOVE this take on the original classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday." Performed by Musical.ly stars Max & Harvey, the song is one of the first ambitions from their music project. This song is sure to bring the holiday cheer to your home.
Best for: Decorating the Christmas tree
Perfect if you like: Christmas music!
Cate Hamilton | "Euphoria"
This song from Cate Hamilton's debut EP has a lot of swagger to it. The trap beat underneath her haunting voice moves the song along in a slinky way. The whole EP Angel Baby is a good listen.
Best for: Ending a late night in the tub!
Perfect if you like: Esperanza Spaulding
Follow Cate Hamilton on Instagram
Tash | "I Don't Like Parties"
This amazing banger is smooth and has almost neo-soul elements though it falls strongly under pop R&B. This song speaks to anyone who's felt obligated to go to way too many holiday parties this year. The visual is cool, simple, and supports the song incredibly well.
Best for: Playing hooky from your office holiday party
Perfect if you like: Ariana Grande
Follow Tash on Instagram
Umphrey's McGee | "Half Delayed"
This is the perfect mellow jam to end your day with. I particularly love the unique guitar riff. The vocals are added in tastefully where needed but the song is ultimately minimalistic in all of the best ways. I could see it as the sound track to a movie.
Best for: Riding with the windows down, reflecting on life.
Perfect if you like: The Lumineers