So, we can’t deny that while the rest of the world has been pretty cooked lately, at least we have music. Beats. Vibes. Slow jams. Hard fast club mixes. The lot.
And, while we’ve definitely spent an indefinite period of time blasting Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B and other big albums this year, there’s also a bunch of great queer artists we should all be listening to right now. So, in the spirit of Pride month, here’s a list of 20 LGBTQIA+ artists to enjoy, from K-pop to bedroom pop, non-binary Björk-inspired anthems to sad ballads about a gay cowboy.
Keiynan Lonsdale is best known for playing Kid Flash in CW’s The Flash and Blue in Love, Simon, but he’s also a bonafide pop and rap king. His debut album Rainbow Boy released this year. The album feels like if Childish Gambino and MF Doom made an album but made it queer, proudly boasting acts of queer sex, self-acceptance and pride. He literally has a song called “Gay Street Fighter,” a queer brassy rap anthem for “everyone who’s ever been told they weren’t the hero of their own story.”
Princess Nokia has spoken out about how they were raised by the queer community in New York city and how that has shaped their music and identity. They identify as gender non-conforming, describe themselves as a hippie, cyber-goth, raver and punk, and are a black Indigenous Puerto Rican person.
Earlier this year, the 28-year-old rapper dropped two albums aptly called Everything Sucks and Everything is Beautiful, perfectly describing the up and down rollercoaster of emotions that has been 20—fucking—20. Their slow jam raps are pumped with queer feminist commentary, they’re an exceptional wordsmith and they have an incredible cadence and performance persona. Just watch this clip of them performing their song “Gemini.”
It’s no secret we here at Syrup are big fans of Rina Sawayama. Sawayama is creating pop music that not only slips, slops and slaps but also includes some serious social commentary. In, “XS,” she criticises the harsh impact of capitalism on ourselves and the earth. In “Dynasty,” she tackles inter-generational trauma. And, in “Cherry,” a single released in 2018, she sings about living in a homophobic world.
Srsly, we have no choice but to stan.
Arca is a Venezuelean music producer who’s worked with FKA Twigs and Björk. Their music is the perfect mix of the two: alternate experimental sounds, art pop, evangelical passionate confessions about sex, gender and identity, blended with choral distorted pop noises.
The music video to their non-binary anthem, “Nonbinary,” sure is… something.
Facts are facts: Orville Peck is the one true gay country king. As a queer person, Peck draws on legendary country artists like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash and creates vulnerable country music for people that feel disenfranchised by the very macho heterosexual genre. Plus, he is a total yeehaw fashion icon.
Mike Hadreas, also known as Perfume Genius, is an indie soulful pop-rock singer who makes music for us sad gays.
In his latest album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, the artist explores his inner struggles with identity, self-image, depression and his emotional attachments through classic ballads, strings and euphoric sounds that ooze performance art.
The kind of music that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous author Ocean Vuong described as “music to both fight and make love to. To be shattered and whole with. If sound is, after all, a negotiation [or] disruption of time, then in the soft storm of Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, the future is here.”
Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract is an openly gay rapper. He’s undeniably one of the most prolific members of the former Kanye West tribute collective, and his album Arizona Baby slaps.
And, as an openly gay rapper, he is frequently asked why he keeps writing songs about his sexuality, a question he tackles in the intro to Arizona Baby, “Busy Wheels”.
“Why you always rap about bein’ gay?’/ ‘Cause not enough n—as rap and be gay/ Where I come from, n—as get called ‘faggot’ and killed/ So I’ma get head from a nigga right here/ And they can come and cut my head off.”
SOPHIE is a Scottish PC Music producer who creates explosive, noisy experimental pop with metalic, synthetic sounds. They identity as transgender and, in an interview with Paper, described their trans identity as “taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive.”
I have nightmares from a friend showing me the music video to their track “Faceshopping” at 3am but their music is damn good.
CW: Flashing images.
A literal pop Barbie, Kim Petras delivers fun, camp electro meets synth-pop soundtracks for a California Valley Girl lifestyle, summer and Paris Hilton. The German-born, Los Angeles-based singer is openly trans and has worked with Charli XCX, Troye Sivan, Jay Park and more.
Holland is K-Pop’s first openly gay solo artist. In an interview with Vogue, Go Tae-seob, who named his musical alias after the country that first legalised same-sex marriage, said that “no one else wanted to be openly gay [in the K-Pop industry]. So, I stood up.”
In 2018, Holland released “Neverland,” a dreamy K-Pop track reminiscent of Peter Pan’s innocent magical Neverland where people aren’t afraid, innocently and unashamedly being themselves.
“I wrote this song wishing not to lose that sort of innocence,” he told SBS PopAsia. “This song is for kids who are having a hard time because of their identity. I wanted to comfort them with this song while they’re struggling.”
The former Glee star is, actually, a total bedroom pop babe. Here he is dancing around his house as a virtual performance to his fictional boyfriend in the song “Help Me Now.”
Syrup fave Isaac Dunbar is a queer teen spooky bedroom pop sensation. His latest EP, Isaac’s Insects, is a haunted blend of bubblegum pop, synthpop and eerie bedroom pop, featuring songs about suicide, queer yearning, wearing makeup and abandoning internalised homophobia. He’s easily one of the most underrated artists on this list and going to be huge someday.
Another Syrup icon, Frank Ocean is the king of moody R&B slow jams and a passionate queer advocate. Last year, he opened up a club called Prep+ and described it as what he hoped the world of queer nightlife and Brooklyn’s club and ballroom culture would’ve been like if it weren’t for the HIV outbreak within the community in the 1980s. The artist debuted two new songs earlier this year and is rumoured to be releasing an album later this year, but nothing will ever capture my own queer heartbreak more than the feeling you get when re-listening to “Thinking About You.”
Pablo Vittar is a Brazilian drag queen, singer and producer. She’s worked with artists like Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama and creates high energy dance club house tunes rich with Latin American sounds.
Girl in red
Marie Ulven is a Norweigan indie pop singer-songwriter, also known as girl in red, who makes bedroom pop anthems about lesbian romance and mental health. Her song “we fell in love in october” about her Autumn romance with a girl in the Norwegian woods is the very definition of queer yearning.
Dorian Electra is an artist who fucks with gender. Electra identifies as transgender and genderfluid and their music is a celebration and exploration of that identity. In “Man to Man,” the artist styles themself like a drag king—a penciled moustache, boxing gloves, a sexy gladiator in black armour and a red-jacket wearing gang leader— and opens the genderfluid anthem confessing, “You know I ain’t straight, but I’m’a’ say it straight to you.”
Brendan Maclean is a Sydney-based queer artist who blends pop, love ballads and pop rock together with his quirky and lovingly camp stage presence and vocals.
Syd tha kyd is a former member of Odd Future (a creative group of rappers and R&B singers and songwriters including Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator) and The Internet’s lead vocalist. And, her vocals are so jamworthy.
I mean, the music video for “Come Over” by The Internet is all about Syd trying to get a girl to, well, come over.
Conan Gray is a bisexual bedroom pop king. Often spoken in the same breath as Billie Eilish, Gray has never been explicitly open about his sexuality. But, according to Pride, he has referenced his experience exploring his seuality in his music.
In “The Story,” he sings “When I was younger, I knew a boy and a boy. Best friends with each other but always wished they were more. ‘Cause they loved one another, but never discovered ‘cause they were too afraid of what they’d say. Moved to different states.” The song, he told Genius, “is one of the ones that means more to me. I like to tell stories and this song is the kind of a story about my life when it was before all of [my fame].”
Also, there’s, uh, this tweet.
Another member of The Internet, Steve Lacy is a bisexual bedroom pop bass king. His music is soulful and distinct, funky basslines matched with 80s inspired high pitched vocals and slow jam melodies.
Tyler, The Creator
You really thought I was going to write about the best queer artists you should be listening to and *not* mention my actual future husband and preppy rap king, Tyler, The Creator?
Tyler’s evolution from edgy boy rapper (Goblin, Wolf) to emotionally vulnerable synth and soul producing artist (Flower Boy, IGOR) is extraordinary. As well as being an incredible music producer he’s also a total fashion icon. The former Odd Future member has always teased his queer identity in his music but openly sang about kissing white boys in the character album IGOR.