We are in the midst of an awakening of mainstream LGBTQIA+ representation in music where artists all across the spectrum can find success in their careers. Queer music fans, now more than ever, are desperately seeking the validation that their stories matter and that music written about their experiences can be shared with listeners across the gender identity spectrum.
Artists like Kehlani, Cakes Da Killa, Hurray for the Rif Raff, Kim Petras and Troye Sivan are showing the industry that there is an audience for their music and that, more importantly, queer artists deserve to be seen and heard like their contemporaries.
Thankfully, today we are seeing a growth of independent voices and talent that traditionally would have been kept out of the industry. And thanks to services like SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify, queer artists have been given a platform to release their music, gain an audience and prove that their stories not only matter to their queer fan base but to music fans at large.
Princess Nokia, a New York based rapper who spent years self-releasing albums on SoundCloud and YouTube, has gained a cult following both in and out of the queer community. Her initial success was driven largely in part by her embrace of the queer community and ensuring that her and their stories were heard.
Expressions of queer identities in popular music have evolved dramatically in the last few years, even months. In the decade-plus since Katy Perry sang her somewhat male-gaze-fueling "I Kissed a Girl" songs exploring sexuality have come to be far more overt. Now, pop albums speak frankly about the objects of affection. Empowered to sing about their lived experiences and to raise awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community's struggles, these artists are defining the current pop music moment. And they are everywhere.
So how did queer pop become so ubiquitous? Some of it is just plain ol’ talent — Kehlani and Troye Sivan both have an ear for ultra-catchy melodies — and the number of queer people looking for reflections of themselves in popular music surely bolster their fan bases. But the rest? That is all the internet at work. The modern, thoughtful, lively discourse about pop and its purveyors all happens online now, and when you are producing songs people have been waiting a long time to hear, word spreads fast.
Unlike in previous decades, when record companies controlled what records were released and manufactured much of a pop artist's look, queer performers now can release music with the messages they want and build fan communities themselves. And because their iTunes and Spotify streams and YouTube videos can now translate into chart success, their ability to shake up the world of pop music has never been greater.
From Bette Midler and Madonna all the way through Lady Gaga's Born This Way, performers courting gay audiences and incorporating lesbian, gay and bi-sexual themes into their songs is a pop music tradition. But increasingly, the latest crop is charging through the door, and it is more than just big-voiced divas tapping into the LGBTQIA+ community.
Hayley Kiyoko regularly struts the stage waving a pride flag, and songs from Troye Sivan's Bloom all sound like gay anthems. No one hides or switches up the pronouns in love songs any more. Even in Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani’s "What I Need" music video, they play friends who run away from a homophobic aunt. The video garnered more than 6 million views in two weeks and its YouTube comments section is a haven of rainbows and heart-eyes emoji.
Artists are creating a space for LGBTQIA+ fans to feel seen. That also translates into social media followers and other forms of engagement, making them a part of the movement of both the fandom and, to varying degrees, the cause of LGBTQIA+ rights.
Overall, queer artists are driving the change for stronger representation across the music industry. There is still work to be done and the entire industry will not change overnight, but significant strides and changes have been made thanks to some of these artists.