Happy Pride Month! Ever since queer celebrations began at the legendary Stone Wall Inn in the late 1960s, music has been an essential part of LGBTIQ+ culture. We talked to some wonderful queer people about their relationship with music, and how they found their pride through dance floor-filling bops.
Throughout the month of June - and every other day of the year, really - the world celebrates the hard-won rights and overall fabulous existence of the #LGBTIQ+ community. The umbrella term stands for a multitude of colorful sexual orientations and gender identities that go beyond heteronormative standards - basically that anyone who is not simply heterosexual and identifying with the gender assigned at birth. Ever since the second half of the 20th century, LGBTIQ+ individuals frequently turned to bars and clubs to be among like-minded people. Historical places like the Stone Wall Inn at Christopher Street in New York City offered a home for queer people (of color) who felt out of place everywhere else. Back then and to this day, bars and ballrooms offer a welcoming environment full of warmth, pride, liberty, understanding - and of course: music.
Finding comfort in music
In adolescence, many members of the colorful community find comfort in music and often grow up to become part of the most enthusiastic concert crowds. As a big music fan, witnessing more seemingly heterosexual artists speak up about their queer identities and their complex sexuality has helped me identify my own bisexuality, for instance! So, as Pride Month is coming to an end, I wanted to share mine, and shine a light on the relationship of fellow LGBTIQ+ community members with music - what it means to us, how it has shaped us, and why it is essential to queer celebration. We are grateful to be able to share the experiences of amazing queer individuals from different countries and cultural backgrounds!
What does music mean to you?
"A lot. Especially when it comes to my sexual orientation, music has been vital in my self-acceptance. If it wasn’t for Katy Perry telling me I was a Firework in 2012, I don’t know what would have happened." - Robin, 26
"Music isn't one of my passions, however, I still love a good bop. Music for me is a pick-me-up, motivator, and mood setter." - Luke, 25
"Music is a very important thing in my life, I honestly wouldn't know how I'd live without it. I love to explore new upcoming artists, share them with others, and see them grow. I also lost count of the amount of gigs and festivals I've visited." - Lotte, 24
"Honestly, life without music would be like a colorless world. For every emotion I have, there is a song to match it. It has healed me, made me bruk off ma back, made me unwind, made me feel euphoria, provoked thoughts and provided a space that allowed me to be somewhere else for those few minutes." - Shaun, 24
Are there any (queer) artists you look up to? Why?
"Some role models for me are King Princess, Girl In Red, Christine and the Queens, Clairo, Frank Ocean & Tyler, The Creator. I look up to those artists, since they write songs about being gay, experiencing new feelings with someone of the same gender and that's what I find very inspiring. In Holland, I really miss music which can be relatable for the LGBTQ+ community, that is why all my role models in music are from other countries." - Lotte, 24
"I have so much admiration for Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kehlani, Lizzo, Frank Ocean, Lady Gaga and Janelle Monáe. Because these artists are unapologetic of who they are and are breaking down so many barriers in pop culture. It’s so admirable how artists like Harry Styles and Janelle express themselves in whichever way they see fit, regardless of the gender roles that society has constructed for us. I consider Bad Bunny to be an icon for the Latin queer community and an exemplary ally in an industry dominated by machismo." - Shaun, 24
"Rupaul. She is unapologetically herself and I stan a Queen. Slayyyy." - Luke, 25
"Troye Sivan, Harry Styles, Freddy Mercury, George Michael, Lady Gaga, Skin (from Skunk Anansie), Melissa Etheridge. [Looking up to them] makes me feel less alone." - Robin, 26
"Rina Sawayama, Christine and the Queens, Frank Ocean, Dai Burger, Kim Petras, George Michael - those are just a few on my list. I am a very lyrical music fan, so finding a song or an artist with lyrics that mirror or are similar to my experience as a bisexual woman... it makes me feel represented, strong and understood. Many queer artists on my lists have been assumed to be hetero throughout large parts of their careers. Them coming out and addressing their more complex identities gave me more courage to discover my own." - Rebecca, 23
What does representation of queerness in music mean to you?
"It means seeing people that share the same experiences as me and people that don’t conform to society’s standards of “normal” rise to the top of their field, despite all the obstacles we face in a world made for heterosexuals. When artists include same-sex relationships in music videos or queer people in their performances, of all shapes and sizes, they are celebrating the many identities that exist in the LGBTQ+ community and convey a message of diversity and inclusivity." - Shaun, 24
"Representation means I get to see or hear people that I can relate to which makes me feel normal! When you constantly see or hear from artists or figures which you have nothing in common with, that can really mess with your self image." - Luke, 25
"Since a few years I identify myself as a bisexual woman, and music helped me with exploring myself since I began to realize I relate to some lyrics. For example when I heard Hayley Kiyoko sing "girls like girls like boys do, nothing new" I was like wow, that is so empowering. I realized how free it felt to sing along with a female artist who sang about another girl or woman, instead of hearing her sing about a boy or a man.
Sometimes it is hard to put a label on yourself or figure out exactly how you'd like to identify and lyrics of some artists I look up to can really make me more confident about that. For example in "Chanel", a Frank Ocean song, he sings about "seeing both sides like Chanel", which is saying he could fall in love with a woman or a man and to me that is so important. Especially when you are young and unknown to the whole community, you may feel misunderstood or confused about it all and when you hear some artists singing about it, it feels like you are part of something more people understand and may be struggling with. That is why I am so happy with these artists." - Lotte, 24
"I find most enjoyment in music made by straight and queer females about the topic or about self-acceptance. I would like more men to do the same." - Robin, 26
How do your musical idols make you feel?
"They make me feel normal, empowered, seen, and safe to be my authentic self. Kehlani once tweeted: " if ur attracted to a man and then change your energy up when you find out he’s sexually ambiguous or queer, thass gross. you bout to miss out on some fye shit.". This kind of support raises important conversations about the stigma queer men face. Especially since our identity is constantly questioned as bisexuals from both the straight and the LGBTQ+ community." - Shaun, 24
"Strong and understood" - Robin, 26
"My musical idols are an important source for me to remind myself I can be proud of who I am. Sometimes people around me can't relate to what I am feeling and then there is this music, always. It feels like some sort of base that has your back, no matter what. It gives me the feeling that I am never alone in this." - Lotte, 24
"My favorite artists and queer icons inspire me to proudly live my truth - and that it's up to me to define what that is. It is incredibly empowering to see complex people who defy social standards rise to the top and be successful by being themselves unapologetically." - Rebecca, 23
"Like I can be a bad bitch too." - Luke, 25
What role does music play in fighting queerphobia, injustice and inequality?
"I think it is the same in every type of media, it makes it feel more normal. I think that the naming of genders in music should become less anyway. Therefore I can identify with straight male artists more." - Robin, 26
"Christine and the Queens is an artist who plays a big role in fighting queerphobia and inequality in my opinion. She identifies herself as a pansexual, which is for a lot of people an unknown label. During her first album release she had long hair, but over the years she started to transform her artist name from Christine into Chris. Currently, she has short hair and is dressed more masculine. She just wears whatever she is feeling at that moment instead of holding on to a certain image the world has created for her. In her music she sings about the intricacy of her thoughts. She is very open about her identity and also mentions in interviews she often thought she was a young man trapped in a woman's body. To me it feels brave and important to talk and write songs about those topics since it helps other people realizing how difficult it can be, or how misunderstood you could feel sometimes. We still live in a world where people outside of the LGBTQ+ community can be prejudiced and spreading opinions without even realizing how disrespectful it could be to someone else. The bigger your platform, the more you are in the spotlights all the time and having people talk about your appearance. When you are a famous artist in this position and still stay true to who you are, to me that is a huge inspiration the world can learn a lot from." - Lotte, 24
"It plays a HUGE role. People fear/hate what they don’t understand. I feel so grateful to be part of a generation where artists are proudly owning who they are and starting this self-love movement, as this is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The world has a long way to go regarding acceptance but at least the queer community is gaining more visibility and appreciation. With more queer artists coming out, audiences will recognize that who you love is only a part of your story, of who we are as human beings." - Shaun, 24
"Like any media music serves as a medium to normalise queerness by appropriately representing various groups. Through normalising queerness in media people realise that people don't need a reason to be queer or different but are the way they are. Music fights injustice and inequality just by being and creating representation for underrepresented groups." - Luke, 25
"Art imitates life, and life imitates art."
Queer people of all kinds, origins, and cultures in music paint a more realistic picture of what society really is: colorful. They inspire other queer people to more radically love themselves, see themselves as normal, and pursue their dreams. Queer representation in music is important, especially for young people growing up in less open-minded environments. It's a rainbow-colored cycle: the more queerness there is in music, the more people will begin to celebrate pride in their own lives, too." - Rebecca, 23
For everyone, music can be incredibly moving and empowering. When it comes to pride, maybe music plays an even more important role: it can encourage us and bring us closer together. Let's embrace individuality, empower each other - and celebrate!