Queer pop icons: paving the way for representation in the music industry

Erin Burchill ‘25, Feature Editor

For decades—maybe even centuries—music has always been written to be heavily gendered, with most love songs using specific pronouns to address a significant other. These songs are most often written by and for heterosexual people, and there is nothing wrong with this; however, it is time Queer perspectives are given the spotlight in music.

Queer people have been around since the beginning of time, which is a fact that many people do not believe. This is due to the silencing of our voices and the denying of our identities for so long. Fortunately now, society has finally reached a point where Queer artists can create art that genuinely represents their LGBTQ+ identities without intensely fearing for their well-being. Since the late 2000s, “Queer anthems”—songs containing strong LGBTQ+ themes—have been gaining traction among casual listeners. It is not the first time such songs have gone mainstream, but the concept is certainly much more relevant in the current world.

The most current Queer musicians are more outspoken and honest in comparison to artists in the past. As we know it, LGBTQ+ lyricism dates all the way back to the 1920s, with artists like Ma Rainey and Gladys Bentley; however, because of the time period, they could not be as outspoken about their identities as is possible now. In this day and age, there are countless up-and-coming singers and songwriters known for their own Queer anthems, some fresh names being St. Panther, The Aces, Kelechi—the list goes on. 

Some artists have been able to make it big, touring in multiple countries and garnering millions of subscribers on streaming apps like Spotify and YouTube Music. Here are a few of my favorites:

FLETCHER

First on the list of well-known artists—known on stage by her last name—FLETCHER is certainly a promising pop icon. Identifying openly as Queer, she writes many songs about her attraction to women and femininity; one of her most popular tracks is a spin on Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” titled “girls girls girls.” Her most recent work, an album titled Girl Of My Dreams, features hits like “Sting,” “Becky’s So Hot,” and “Her Body is Bible,” all of which focus on getting hung up on someone out of reach. A review from media company Pitchfork said that “every track in Girl Of My Dreams is meant to be shouted at the top of your lungs as FLETCHER solidifies her position as more than just a Queer artist.” The review continued, “With this self-liberation and self-love manifesto, she’s bringing [woman-loving-woman] pop to the mainstream as the international pop icon she was born to be.” Her lyrics are catchy and hard-hitting, her rhyming structures are always fresh and satisfying, and her melodies are enough to get your foot tapping and your head nodding. She has amassed over six million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, and is touring her new album from October 2022 to March 2023.

Recommended songs: “girls girls girls,” “Serial Heartbreaker,” and “Cherry

girl in red

One of the most notable names in modern Queer music is girl in red. She hit the music scene under this moniker in 2016, releasing her first song,“i wanna be your girlfriend,” on SoundCloud. She received 5,000 streams in five months, and as the song was featured on a Norwegian music website—the singer herself hails from Norway—she quickly gained a large following online. In 2018, she began releasing single after single, even throwing in a few EPs until her debut studio album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, came out in 2021. Her most popular song, “we fell in love in october,” received its very own sequel on Oct. 14, and was met with much praise from fans. The standalone song, called “October Passed Me By,” was accompanied by a short film of the same name. She has since become such a popular and influential figure that the phrase “do you listen to girl in red?” has become a discreet way of asking women if they are queer. The feeling of normalcy that comes with her blatantly sapphic lyrics is refreshing for many young Queer people who have never felt truly represented in music. Judging by her large fanbase and passion for songwriting, it is safe to say that she will continue to release chart-topping hits for years to come.

Recommended songs: “kate’s not here,” “October Passed Me By,” and “i’ll die anyway.

King Princess

Finally, my all-time favorite musician, King Princess is a groundbreaking and relatively fresh artist. Kick-starting their career in 2018 with their first and most popular song “1950,” they quickly gained popularity after Harry Styles tweeted “I love it when we play 1950,” one of the song’s lyrics. They have continued on with many singles since then, leading up to their debut studio album Cheap Queen in 2019. Their latest work, the Hold on Baby album released in July 2022, features songs about Queer relationships, mental health, and gender identity. King Princess identifies as gay and genderqueer, meaning they do not define themself exclusively as male or female. They have also been a staunch advocate for pride and open self-expression. Hold on Baby sports phenomenal hits such as “Winter is Hopeful,” “Sex Shop,” and “Cursed,” and the album and some of its songs have been nominated for the 2023 Grammy awards. Moreover, in regards to the successful album, Billboard said, “Hold On Baby is a messy, melodramatic, metaphysical explosion of emotion—which is to say, it’s [King Princess]’s best project yet.” The album is very pop-rock, which is a refreshing new sound coming from the artist after the husky jazz feel of Cheap Queen. The lyrics, which are catchy and easy to relate to, are paired with genius backing tracks and instrumentals, which makes listening to the album an almost otherworldly experience.

Recommended songs: “Let Us Die,” “Ohio,” and “Upper West Side

It is extremely refreshing to see such tight-knit and safe communities bonding over music to which they can finally relate. These artists have truly changed my life; unlike a lot of Queer people, I am lucky to be surrounded by accepting individuals, but that does not mean being myself is not still hard sometimes. Hearing lyrics that represent who I am is a truly beautiful experience, and as someone who thrives on music, these artists changed my life.

While it is certainly wonderful to see so many Queer musicians making waves in the industry, this is just the start of this new era of representation. It is crucial that this Queer revolution within the music industry is carried on by future artists—the amount of emerging singers and songwriters is promising, and presents much hope for the next generations of LGBTQ+ music and musicians.

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