For even the most seasoned music lovers and sound hounds, discovering LGBTQ musicians can prove daunting.
Only a handful identify as “LGBTQ musicians” themselves, as most identify simply as musicians, preferring not to box themselves into a set sound, lyrical set or target demographic. For the same reason, it’s rare to find a comprehensive listing of LGBTQ musicians on online stores or streaming apps; all artists, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are typically grouped by genre.
But with a little research and a lot of listening, we’ve created this living encyclopedia of LGBTQ musicians that can be used to discover new queer artists and give music-lovers an even deeper appreciation for those you already loved.
Below you’ll find our comprehensive encyclopedia of LGBTQ musicians:
Kevin Abstract / Brockhampton
On the strength of 2016’s American Boyfriend — an album that details the trials and tribulations of high-school same-sex lovers — this L.A.-based wunderkind is an artist to watch. On tracks such as “Empty” and “Echo” he’s the natural heir to Frank Ocean, only less complicated and less artsy, though that’s not to say his music isn’t artful. And his “boy band” Brockhampton just dropped its own debut, Saturation (“Star”).
Whether he’s remembered as a public servant or musician, only time will tell. But this second place American Idol contestant from the early naughts has done his bit for the cause. How many musicians can you think of who tried to effect change not just through their artistry but by actually running for public office? Sure, he lost. So what? At least he didn’t remain “Invisible,” as one of his better songs puts it.
This Portland-based bisexual had a viral moment in 2008 with the slow-burning video for “End of the World” that showed off his fancy footwork with another man and revealed his steadfast way with a Rufus Wainwright-esque ballad. His sophomore release from that year, Hide Nothing, was a lovely surprise. And whether he’s kept a low profile since then because he’s living his life or because it’s hard for an independent musician to get traction in this world, he’s still the pining balladeer with which a young gay man might fall in love.
The Academy Award-winning Aussie songwriter was always served better by other artists than on his own — I mean, do you even know his version of the song made famous by Olivia Newton-John, “I Honestly Love You”? Still, he made an impression. It was a camp one, to be sure, as he became more flamboyant as he grew more popular. Yet back in the ’70s it was slim pickings for openly gay artists, and we all knew how to read an artist that made a joke about being “bi-coastal” (he even named an album that) while throwing himself across the stage like a hyperactive chorine on a Broadway belter like “I Go to Rio.”
Marc Almond / Soft Cell
A New Wave dolly back when indie songs got played on the radio (and before there was such a term), Marc Almond and his Soft Cell instrumentalist David Ball brought us “Tainted Love” before our love was, well, actually tainted. But oh how he explored the beginnings of the decadent ’80s, from “Sex Dwarf” to the gloriously sleazy “It’s a Mug’s Game” through a solo career and reunion that’s lasted ages — longer than anyone who described such exploits had any right to expect.
Neil Amin-Smith / Clean Bandit
Because all dance bands should have — or, sadly, should have had — a hot violinist to make them fly (“Rather Be ft. Jess Glynne”).
Anohni / Antony & The Johnsons
Let us admit that we miss the art cabaret that brought Anohni to the attention of the masses, with the help of the patronage of Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, when she explored in song the longing and awkwardness and awakening of the transgender consciousness. “For Today I Am a Boy,” from I Am a Bird Now, was a deeply felt novelty for many listeners that sounded like a rallying cry for the still-nascent transgender movement, and for those in the midst of their own transitions must have hit them like a comet from the heavens.
Here was the voice of an artist on the verge of transforming hearts and minds. Anohni may do even more with her electronic indie pop, the perfect Trojan Horse of commercial sheen and activism — songs about the NSA (“Watch Me”) and war crimes (“Drone Bomb Me”) — to administer lessons about the world we live in now.
The skittish electronics of Venezuelan musician Alejandro Ghersi — beloved by, amongst others, Björk — began to morph on his third, eponymously titled release into something resembling pop music. Not the expansive New Wave of the ’80s or the melodic grunge of the early ’90s, but the alternative, dystopian fragmentation that’s become the lingua franca of contemporary music (FKA Twigs, Anohni, etc.). His sounds are both scary and soothing, and his sound effects downright frightening, but try to stop listening or to look away from his videos. “Reverie” and “Desafío” — both from this year’s Arca — fetishize eroticism to the point of obsession.
Katie Stelmanis, the lesbian frontwoman of Canada’s Austra, could hardly have predicted the world into which her band was going to release this January’s Future Politics — but here we are, post-Trump, and her songs have the feeling of prophecy or irony or both. The single “Utopia” is a louder cry for tolerance now, the title track a call to arms, and “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” a reminder that, in the midst of darkness, there’s someone there to normalize your feelings. Love is love, and while that’s not enough, it’s the right start.
These Brooklyn punks — who are all over the spectrum — returned four years after a self-released 2013 debut to further define their Liz Phair/Breeders indie anthems (“Nightcrawler,” “Spare Me”) for the rainbow coalition.
Long before I knew they were all gay (except for Cindy), I loved them for their crazy sound. No one sounded like these Athens, Georgia, transplants when “Rock Lobster” took over the world in 1979, and no one sounds like them now. They’re goofy but not stupid, and no live band has ever thrown a better party. Their artistic high points were the period from 1979 to 1983 (silly as it was, “Song for a Future Generation” was also heartfelt), they lost Ricky Wilson to AIDS in 1985, bounced back in 1989 with the ubiquitous “Love Shack” and “Roam,” and even released a super solid post-reunion record in 2008 with Funplex. Maybe they look like they’re having too much fun to be considered legends, but that’s what they are.
Currently on her mea culpa tour (for, amongst other things, supporting Trump) and trying to get the focus back on her music, this mouthy bisexual MC threw away a lot of goodwill by turning her career into a spectacle of wrong-footedness — her use of slurs against gay men has been widely reported. So forgive us if it’s hard to hear her qualities through the ugliness, though it seems they’re tied in to her anger management issues. “212 ft. Lazy Jay” makes a good case for cunnilingus (amongst other things), and much of her 2015 debut Broke with Expensive Taste is fun enough (“Ice Princess”). Album two is in the offing, hence the current PR spin. Will it be enough? Stay tuned.
Her shambling story-songs might sound like the deadpan musings of an Australian slacker, but don’t mistake Barnett’s lack of affect for laziness. She’s clear-eyed and sharp — whether she’s wringing pathos from a suburban house hunt with her partner (“Depreston”) or describing an allergic reaction to a day of yard work (“Avant Gardener”) — and when the words fail her, which they rarely do, she knows how to make her guitar do the talking. She has one studio release to her name — a great one, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit — with a follow-up coming down the pike. Right now she’s a fascinating artist with the potential, and the chops, to become a great one.
Richard Barone / The Bongos
Rumors have spread about Barone’s sexuality since he fronted the much-loved Hoboken cult-act The Bongos in the ’80s. What is no rumor is the depth of his talent, flaunted most spectacularly on 1987’s Cool Blue Halo, an acoustic-with-strings version of The Bongos and solo tunes long before MTV Unplugged became a thing. And his covers — whether it be his version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” from 1990’s Primal Dream, or last year’s Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s — are a thing of beauty.
Lance Bass / N’SYNC
It should come as no surprise how many members of boy bands are on this list, and while we can all shed a tear that Justin Timberlake isn’t one of them, we can take comfort that his N’SYNC compatriot is. Bass will probably be remembered more as a television personality and LGBTQ spokesman, but when we want to recall where he got his start, the pop-friendly likes of “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want You Back” are just a YouTube click away.
Baths / Geotic / [Post-Foetus]
Will Wiesenfeld’s electronic music has been released under a few monikers, including [Post-Foetus], Baths and Geotic, and what ties them together is his sonic exploration. [Post-Foetus]’s The Fabric remains the blueprint for all that’s come since — the glitch-y indie-pop of the confessional Baths (especially 2013’s aching Obsidian with its despondent anchor track “No Eyes”) and the ambient soundscapes of Geotic (Abysma, from this year, is a shimmering example of chillwave; check out “Nav”). Whether he wants to have commercial success or remain on the artsy fringes is completely up to him; he’s talented enough to have it any way he chooses.
Rostam Batmanglij / Vampire Weekend
It will be interesting to hear where Vampire Weekend goes now that one of its core members has ventured out on his own, but they seem like a nice enough and resilient bunch. As for Mr. Batmanglij, the world is his for the taking. As a collaborator and producer he’s extracted great work out of Hamilton Leithauser (“A 1000 Times”) and Ra Ra Riot (“Water”). And as a solo entity, ROSTAM, he’s just getting started, but his sophisticated ear (“Gwan”) and embrace of diverse genres means he’ll continue to surprise us for years. His debut, Half-Light, drops Sept. 8.
Andy Bell / Erasure
Coming after Depeche Mode and Yaz (or Yazoo, depending on where you live), Vince Clarke’s partnership with vocalist Andy Bell as Erasure might have felt like a comedown. Neither as tinkling or experimental as early Depeche Mode, or as soulful as Yaz’s secret weapon Alison Moyet, Erasure was merely pop. Yet since 1986 Andy Bell has made it soar with his emotional vibrato and flights of falsetto. From “Oh L’Amour” to “A Little Respect” to this year’s bouncy “Love You to the Sky,” he shines a light on desire as inclusive as it is jubilant.
The bisexual brother of Chance the Rapper is still finding his way. He has one studio release, Broad Shoulders (a reference to his hometown of Chicago) and a series of mixtapes including his latest, Restoration of an American Idol, that features his brother, plus Lil Yachty and other luminaries. He’s a community activist and now, potentially, a spokesperson for our community. His music hasn’t quite caught up to his magnanimity, but give the young man time. For now, enjoy the buoyant grooves of “Neon Lights (ft. Supa Bwe & Lil Yachty)” or “Grown Up Fairy Tales (feat. Chance the Rapper & Jeremih).”
Freddie Ross, dba Big Freedia, is a local New Orleans artist who went nationwide on the back — and the backside — of the late 2000s bounce craze. (If you don’t know what this is, it will all be made clear to you in this video for “Gin in My System.” Now go practice.) Since then Freedia has parlayed the moment into a Fuse reality program, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, appeared on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and has kept a distinct brand of booty-shaking and rump-rolling in the public eye.
She’s a transgender hyphenate — rapper–activist–poet-etc. — with one studio release to her name, a few mix tapes, a few EPs and a point of view that’s changing as quickly as the gender she refuses to define or be defined by. It makes no difference what you call her. Transfeminine? Check? He/she/they/whatever. But listen and learn how a trailblazing spirit specifies itself from day to day and turns into the human being of his/her/their/whatever’s dreams (“High School Never Ends ft. Woodkid,” “Loner ft. Jean Deaux”).
We struggled with including him on this list because, let’s face it, Bowie’s flirtation with bisexuality had the whiff of publicity about it; no doubt he dabbled and experimented and refused to be pinned down to one thing when others were available. Yet he earns his place here because, regardless of primary sexuality, he understood what it meant to be a changeling, an outsider. “Rebel Rebel,” as one of his tunes put it, and he damn well was. Long after he became famous — when nearly all artists settle into a contemptuous relationship with banality — he pushed the envelope beyond any natural constrictions. And he did it all the way up to his death (witness “Blackstar” and “Lazarus”), which he treated as the art project the rest of his life was.
Boy George / Culture Club
Though there were plenty of preening androgynes with flamboyant plumage back in the ’80s, Boy George was truly the peacock’s tiara. That he topped charts along with his Culture Club bandmates kept him, and them, in the cultural conversation for much of the decade. And though it isn’t as if the kind folks of the Heartland had never seen anything quite like him — believe me, I was there and they had — it’s just that they didn’t talk about it much. With our Boy (and such smooth radio hits as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon”) nobody could stop talking about him.
This singer-songwriter and actor came to our attention as part of the fearless cast of John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus wherein he played Ceth (pronounced, duh, “Seth”), the third partner in a threesome. Who knew while watching them in various permutations that Brannan could even sing (especially with, you know, that thing in his mouth)? Mitchell must have, because one of Brannan’s own compositions, “Soda Shop,” appears on the soundtrack, and, voilá, a star was born. Or, at least, a cult act, whose unflinching honesty and beautiful tenor could soundtrack the wet dreams of many budding young gay boys looking for a “Half-Boyfriend” or a breathtaking partner to leave you bereft (“Rob Me Blind”).
With only two albums to her name — Debutante and this year’s Third — Cait Brennan has proven herself to be an outstanding songwriter who knows her way around a hook. Third was recorded at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis — the same place Big Star recorded their album Third — with her producer/collaborator, Fernando Perdomo. She also has an amazing five-octave range. If you’re a fan of Harry Nilsson, Badfinger or David Bowie, you’ll want to check out songs like “Bad at Apologies” or “Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Bright Light Bright Light
Like his friends from the sadly silent Scissor Sisters, Rod Thomas has all the qualities necessary to make a real commercial impact: Big pop hooks. Smart lyrics. An enormous heart and an overall optimistic outlook on life that makes his melancholy all the more bittersweet. He also has an artistic benefactor in his friend Elton John. Kudos to Thomas for doing it all as an independent musician and entrepreneur. But, dammit, record companies (or whatever’s left of you), do the brother a solid and distribute him to the masses. If you can’t hear the hit potential in songs like “I Believe,” “Disco Moment” and “Into the Night” then all hope is lost.
Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo is a young alternative type who can burn up a stage as well as any of his forefathers (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pavement, etc.), and he gives presence to the confusions and joys of a young man making his way through the world of love, and the scarier world in general. After years of self-releasing his music, he signed with indie kings Matador and put out, in quick succession, Teens of Style (which comprised re-workings of his catalogue) and last year’s Teens of Denial — his first major label release of new music, which was also the best rock release of 2016. True, this might not be the historical moment for rock songs such as “Drunk Drivers (Killer Whales)” and “Vincent,” but when it comes back in fashion, as it always does, he’ll be ready.
She’s been out since before she recorded her 2005 debut, though it was no big deal. “There were people before me who paved the way,” she told the Los Angeles Times. And yet, while that’s true, she’s set her own bar for how to be authentic and make your way through the world of Americana and alt-country. Her 2007 breakthrough The Story, with its slow-burning title track, set the course for her career, and it’s being revisited this year as Cover Stories with interpretations by Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam and others, with proceeds going to War Child UK to benefit refugees.
There’s nothing subtle about American rapper Luke Caswell, and that’s as it should be. He’s been representing since 1999 while his debut — Get Into It — came along six years later. He must have been amassing a lot of experience to put into his vulgar and funny and fundamentally out-loud songs. From “The Sex That I Need (ft. Avenue D)” to “Ice Cream Truck” to “Unzip Me” (with Peaches), he’s a sex positive love-master who’s all up in your face, or, as he likes to put it, “All Over Your Face.” And sometimes he runs into Queen Bey in the strangest places (“I Seen Beyoncé at Burger King ft. Jonny Makeup”).
The multiple Grammy Award-winning artist has always been coy about her sexuality, but no one is fooled. Almost from the get go — when “Fast Car” ruled the airwaves — we claimed her for our own. And though she hasn’t scaled the chart heights the way she last did with 1995’s “Give Me One Reason,” she’s still in the game.
A “human pissoir of raw unabashed sexuality,” CHRISTEENE’s queer punk persona is something to be seen. She’s toured with acts as diverse as Faith No More and Peaches; is a staple at SXSW in her hometown of Austin, Texas; and her videos have been showcased worldwide in LGBTQ film festivals in Paris and New York City. Among our favorite visual journeys into this drag terrorist’s mind are “Fix My Dick” and (the extremely NSFW) “Butt Muscle.”
Christine and the Queens
Héloïse Letissier, inspired by her London drag friends, named her band in honor of them and to channel their strength into her own electropop. It worked. Her one and only release thus far, Chaleur Humaine (simply Christine and the Queens in the dull U.S.), has been an international hit. And her approach to sexuality has been refreshing (“Jonathan ft. Perfume Genius”) with a series of graphically blocked and choreographed videos (“Tilted” is the best). We look forward to the next installment.
Is it easier to be a lesbian than a gay man in the genre of country music? That homophobia runs deep, but the ladies seem to have an edge on their out male counterparts. This may come down to talent — Chely Wright and this Music Row songwriter offer detailed songs that speak to the heartland without labels, and Clark has co-written a number one hit for The Band Perry and collaborated with both Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert. She’s a Grammy nominee with a first-rate debut, 12 Stories. And like that other country singer (well, she was at the time) kd lang, it’s just a matter of time before the world recognizes her fully. Until then, enjoy Clark’s stoned housewife on “Get High” or her heartbroken hellcat on “Love Can Go to Hell.”
Coil, the project of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Jhonn Balance — both of Genesis P-Orridge’s Psychic TV, and in the case of Christopherson, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle — were always very upfront about their gayness. They not only did the very first AIDS charity single (“Tainted Love“), they worked with Derek Jarman and scored a video called The Gay Man’s Guide to Safe Sex. They’re not for everyone — after all, their score for the horror film Hellraiser was rejected for being too scary. A famous slogan of theirs was “When you listen to Coil, do you think of music?” and you should.
Bradford Cox / Deerhunter / Atlas Sound
The leader of the alternative band Deerhunter (and his solo project as Atlas Sound) identifies as queer, but more fully as asexual. He’s a tall, bony, awkward man with the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome, but his music has morphed over the years from a droning confusion to a muscular, eloquent directness. 2015’s Fading Frontier was a breakthrough — tuneful and tough, dealing with the aftermath of a near-death experience and reinforced love of life that lit up songs such as “Snakeskin” and “Living My Life.” Cox’s sensibility is more outlaw than outsider; he’s overcome more than you or I will ever encounter, and he’s turned himself into the beautiful man of his dreams by the sheer forcefulness of his talent and imagination.
If you don’t know Miley Cyrus, the pansexual, sexually fluid pop star and ex-Hannah Montana star, you might be legally dead. But whether you prefer her poppier side or her gooey, glittery Flaming Lips phase, she’s unforgettable. Whether she’s fighting with the douchebags behind Dolce & Gabbana or squealing over Shea and Sasha, we love her.
Dave Davies / The Kinks
So this was news to me — that Dave Davies, guitarist of The Kinks — identifies as bisexual. Well, Dave, in the words of your more famous brother, “You Really Got Me.” And though you only got one or two songs a record, you never wasted a moment. “Trust Your Heart” from 1978’s Misfits; “Death of a Clown” from 1967’s Something Else by The Kinks; “Strangers,” the best song on 1970’s Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One — they’re classics in a canon overseen by your brother yet impossible without you.
Day is a handsome jazz singer with pop smarts who’s unafraid to plumb emotional depths in his music. His early career focused on standards, but he’s ventured far and wide since then. The Mystery of You, from 2013, is a song cycle about a doomed relationship and the struggles to make it out alive, and features one of Day’s best songs, “Nevermind.”
Dead or Alive
Fronted by the androgynous and unclassifiable Pete Burns, Dead or Alive’s career basically ended after 1986 with Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know (with its massive hit “Brand New Lover”), but infamy followed Burns to the end of his life. What we’ve been left with are some classic New Wave disco cuts like “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and an idea of ’80s camp that looks quaint in retrospect (“That’s the Way (I Like It)”).
Bisexuality’s always been a tough sell. Too weird for straights; too ambiguous for gays. But songwriter Ani DiFranco was its perfect spokesperson in the ’90s and tackled it head-on in her track “In or Out.” She’s been a great role model to a panoply of different communities, and she’s stayed true to herself as an artist and a human being. Her latest record, Binary, is out now.
Beth Ditto / The Gossip
She’s a big, beautiful lesbian, and don’t you forget it. Not that Mary Beth Patterson is going to let you. Not when fronting the punk-ish The Gossip (“Standing in the Way of Control”) or as she heads off into the unknown of her solo career (“Fire”). Her solo debut, Fake Sugar, is out now.
What began as a four-piece now seems solely the work of Jonathan Pierce. Their jangly indie pop remains the same, the gay content has expanded and deepened, and one day the cult that loves them for their melodic surf-guitar and fun grooves — “Let’s Go Surfing,” “Money,” “Let Me” (to name a few) — might have to share them with more people. Abysmal Thoughts — their fourth release featuring “Blood Under My Belt” — just dropped.