For a brief moment — 2001 through 2007 — these four English ladies made some joyful alt noise. 2004’s The Power Out — wherein The Velvet Underground met Stereolab — is my favorite (especially the driving “Take the Bit Between Your Teeth”), though great songs abound across their oeuvre.
Her big heart and bigger voice made her a star from the start, and even though she didn’t officially come out until the ’90s, one listen to “Bring Me Some Water” from her 1988 debut and we just knew. Along the way she’s won an Academy Award (“I Need to Wake Up”), a couple of Grammys and the respect accorded to a Midwestern artist who turned herself into an icon by sheer will and hard work.
Mark Feehily / Westlife
Because Irish boys — and Irish boy bands — need gays, too. (“Swear It Again”)
Dan Gillespie Sells and his compatriots in this English rock band kicked around for nearly 10 years before unleashing their tuneful debut Twelve Stops and Home in 2006. Why “Sewn” and “Never Be Lonely” didn’t blow them up worldwide is a mystery. But they’re still an active concern — last year’s eponymous release was a rocking one, featuring “Wicked Heart” — and here’s hoping they catch a break.
He hasn’t made his mark yet — though he had a moment with “Hollywood’s Not America” from his 2008 debut Aliens & Rainbows — but don’t count him out. Signed to Katy Perry’s Metamorphosis Music, Ferras Alqaisi should have new music coming down the pike. And if his 2014 eponymous EP, featuring “Speaking in Tongues,” is any indication, he’ll have his finger on the electropop pulse of the moment.
I should know more about this trailblazing artist than I do, though it’s enough to state how far her music reaches: Ani DiFranco, Mary Gauthier and Indigo Girls have all claimed her as an influence. You can hear it in tracks like 1980’s “Testimony” and 1984’s “Shadows On a Dime.” And young artists can learn a thing about sustaining: Ferron’s last record, Lighten-ing, was released in 2013 at the age of 61.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
This gender-fluid singer-songwriter (and observant Jew) is a striking original. It’s hard to tell where Furman might end up — Brill Building hooks (“Lousy Connection”), classic rock (“Restless Year”) and political protest (“American Soil”) all end up in songs as pointed as they are passionate — but one thing is certain: the journey will be unlike any other.
He could be Sufjan Stevens’ younger gay brother or a protégé of Rufus Wainwright, though those are just easy signifiers for this composer’s baroque traipses through pop’s leftfield. “Dirty Night Clowns” and “Fireflies” from 2009’s El Radio may give you a better sense of his sensibility.
Stephen Gately / Boyzone
Another boy band, another gay member. Gately’s 1999 coming out was trés public, followed by a ceremony to his partner in 2003 in Las Vegas and another in London in 2006. He passed of congenital heart failure in 2009, just months before Boyzone’s 2010 release of Brother (named in his honor) and the video for “Better,” wherein all the members sing to women, except for Gately.
Though she’d been kicking around since 1997’s Dixie Kitchen, chances are most of us hadn’t heard of Gauthier until 2005’s Mercy Now (and its trenchant title track). Talk about a slow burn. Amongst artists, however, she’s always been well-known, and covered by the likes of Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton.
Genesis P-Orridge / Throbbing Gristle / Psychic TV
A founding member of the iconic industrial band Throbbing Gristle, Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson) doesn’t identify as transgender but as third gender. Which makes an odd kind of sense, as the music of both Throbbing Gristle (“What a Day”) and Psychic TV (“Have Mercy”) is in its own unclassifiable category.
Tyler Glenn / Neon Trees
He had a huge hit with “Animal” in 2010 as the frontman for the indie rock group Neon Trees, and as catchy as it was (as were the band’s two follow-ups), it wasn’t until this Mormon-raised singer came out in 2014 that we really took notice. Last year’s solo debut, Excommunication, was a huge step forward for him, in which he laid bare his difficulties reconciling his sexuality to his faith (“Trash” and “Shameless”) to the accompaniment of some edgy electro-indie.
Ari Gold / Sir Ari / GoldNation
This singing child star (Pot Belly Bear: Songs and Stories, anyone?) has been a fixture on the club scene since his eponymous debut in 2001 and has been releasing music under his own name, as Sir Ari, and GoldNation (“Sex Like a Pornstar”) since.
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have released fascinating electro since 2000’s surreal Felt Mountain. They’ve pivoted between whiplash dance music (“Strict Machine”) and pastoral explorations (“Clowns”) nearly every other album. Both iterations make magnificent use of Gregory’s rich melodies and Goldfrapp’s malleable soprano. And 17 years in, they’re still making music worth hearing. This year’s Silver Eye — with the Teutonic “Systemagic” — is one of their best.
A chart-topping solo artist for a brief run in the ’60s — “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me” have stood the test of time — Gore co-wrote songs with brother Michael Gore for 1980’s Fame, and co-hosted PBS’s LGBT issues-oriented In the Life. As was the way, she kept her sexuality close to the vest until later in her career. In retrospect, however, isn’t it a rich irony that the voice of (white) teenage girls belonged to one of our own?
Laura Jane Grace / Against Me!
Before she transitioned, Laura Jane Grace was tearing up the alt-rock world fronting Against Me!, confronting the powers that be with the same scalpel she was using on her own emotions. So what a gift that she’s doing the same thing now and has blossomed into a forthright and powerful spokeswoman for the transgender community. The title track of 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues was notice to the transphobes and homophobes that it would be business as usual. And if you were too stupid to hear it, then feel free to fuck off.
It’s hard to talk about Steve Grand and not focus on his looks. I mean, the man is fine, as you can tell from every picture he’s ever taken (and his side career as a model). So let’s not make the mistake of thinking that’s all he is — another pretty face or set of abs — but let’s also admit that he has yet to prove himself as an artist. His one and only release, All American Boy, is good, not great. But he has talent — as “Stay” and “All American Boy” itself attests. Let’s hope his fame doesn’t distract him from the business at hand.
John Grant / The Czars
Six or so albums in and his Denver-based band The Czars were going nowhere. So John Grant took some time off, lived his life and came back strong with 2010’s Queen of Denmark. Sure, you could have guessed there was something gay going on back in The Czars (their cover of “Where the Boys Are” from 2005’s Sorry I Made You Cry — duh!), but Grant hasn’t been pussyfooting around the subject on his own. He’s become a bear icon (much to his delight, no doubt), and he’s one of the best songwriters in the world today. “Queen of Denmark” (either his or Sinead O’Connor’s cover), “Glacier,” “Guess How I Know” — each a great song from each of his three solo releases, and not the only ones. He’s making up for lost time and creating a modern classic canon in the process.
Though their breakthrough hit, “Longview,” was about the glories and boredom of masturbation, who knew that frontman Billie Joe Armstrong could have been jacking off to boys as much as girls? He declared himself bisexual in a 1995 interview with The Advocate — somehow we missed that issue — and has touched on it many times since (claiming that Dookie, the band’s massive 1994 album, touched on bisexuality a lot, especially in the song “Coming Clean”). And while Green Day is often derided for not being pure enough as a punk band — whatever the hell that means — the band has left behind a lot of great and forward-thinking material, from “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which became the go-to wedding song for ’90s kids, to the future Tony-winning American Idiot (about the Bush years, but even more prescient now).
Gregory Gray / Mary Cigarettes / Rosetta Stone / Perfect Crime
This Irish musician, born Paul Lerwill, began in the ’70s as guitarist for Rosetta Stone, fronted the ’80s band Perfect Crime, then released three records as Gregory Gray between 1986 and 1995. (Good luck finding them, though.) Proto-electro, before it was the rage; gay-specific without irony or distance or faux importance: he captured a moment in his life as an ex-patriot on foreign shores with some catchy tunes and thoughtful lyrics. And he wrote one of the best songs about AIDS ever, “Three Minute Requiem.” Do yourself a favor and seek it out.
Singer-composer Ed Droste is the openly gay one, and his songs tend to be more romantic and emotional, but just in degrees, as it’s often hard to tell his compositions apart from his bandmate Daniel Rossen. Their 2004 debut, Horn of Plenty, was demo ephemera; 2006’s Yellow House was experimental and uneven, though its high points were huge; and since then it’s been modest commercial success and a move closer to the center. Their cover of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” from their Friends EP caused some controversy, though more than anything it pointed the way towards their mix of classic girl group sounds and alt-rock. Their fifth release, Painted Ruins (due August 2017), adds electro-elements (at least on the first single, “Three Rings”).
Rob Halford / Judas Priest
As one of the (very) few out frontmen in heavy metal, Halford gives extra meaning to the phrase “rock out with your cock out.” Additionally, given the buggery laws in the U.K., it’s a kick to know in retrospect exactly what law this classic metal screamer was breaking when he was “Breaking the Law.”
Young, bi, still finding her footing artistically, but promising, promising, promising. Her sophomore release, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (featuring “100 Letters”), is ambitious and overreaching, but unlike some of her more underachieving contemporaries, at least she’s trying. And for her efforts she just scored a U.S. number one.
Mark Andrew Hamilton / Woodpigeon
Active since 2006 and fronted by the openly gay Mark Andrew Hamilton, this Calgary outfit — which is basically Hamilton and anyone who plays with him — gets compared to nearly any indie rock outfit of note. Last year’s T R O U B L E has some lovely work on it — “Faithful” and “Whole Body Shakes” — that is similar to Sufjan Stevens (but only because of the softness of Hamilton’s voice).
Debbie Harry / Blondie
She’s been an icon longer than many of us have been alive, and the proof is in the music. Not sure why we’d never known she was an out bisexual, but that’s one of the beauties of putting together a list like this: discovery. Oh, and remembering her great songs both with her primary band (“Call Me”) and on her own (“French Kissin’ [In the USA]”).
Sophie B. Hawkins
She’ll always be known for her 1992 debut, Tongues and Tails, and its inescapable hit “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” though there are good songs scattered throughout her other records. She’s been quiet since 2012’s The Crossing.
Darren Hayes / Savage Garden
Nona Hendryx / Labelle
As one-third of Labelle back in the ’70s, she helped to make “gitchy gitchy ya ya da da” into an inescapable hook (“Lady Marmalade”) and got us reprimanded in French class when we showed our mastery of the language by singing “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (But at least we knew the most important thing to ask a Frenchmen when we finally got to Paris.) She wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s best tunes and — inspired by New York’s downtown no wave scene, not to mention New Wave — had a fine solo career in the ’80s. She’s still active and a fierce fighter for LGBTQ rights. So, you know, respect.
Hercules and Love Affair
With a new release on the horizon, it’s time to praise this music project started by DJ Andy Butler that turned into a real, rotating rainbow coalition of artists. Their eponymous debut featured vocals by Anohni on club smash “Blind,” and subsequent tracks have included the protean John Grant (“I Try to Talk to You”) and, on the current single “Controller,” Faris Badwan.
The Hidden Cameras
Their second album and first major label release, The Smell of Our Own, featured a song about the glories of piss (“Golden Streams”) and, well, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Actually, you’re in the Canada of mastermind Joel Gibb, who has steered what began as, in his words, “gay church folk music,” through numerous genres and subject matters (the bullying “Gay Goth Scene” from 2014’s Age is a standout).
No doubt you’ve known Kristian Hoffman in some iteration or another: as a member of The Mumps (which also featured Lance Loud); as Loud’s friend in the PBS documentary and ’70s cause célèbre An American Family; his numerous collaborations with — amongst others — James White and the Blacks, Ann Magnuson, and the much missed Klaus Nomi; or his ongoing solo work. Both & (2003) and FOP (2010) are worth your time, especially &’s Matthew Shepard homage “Scarecrow ft. Rufus Wainwright.”
Hunx and His Punx / Seth Bogart
Hurray for the Riff Raff
This New Orleans rock band representing for sexual outliers and Puerto Ricans released its best record after a decade, this year’s The Navigator (“Hungry Ghost”). And though it’s taken some time, Alynda Segarra has become a forceful and necessary presence in the age of Trump.
Though not out until 1993, Ian’s best known songs — “Society’s Child” (interracial romance in the ’60s) and “At Seventeen” — understood otherness from the inside. She’s still writing and recording, with a Grammy win for 2013’s Best Spoken Word Album of her autobiography, also called Society’s Child.
Boy-girl queer alt-rock, but you take away the “queer” and this quartet is just a great indie band. Featuring Roddy Bottum of Faith No More, they release sporadically, about every five years, so it’s about time for new music to join the ranks of classics like “You’re One,” “Yoo Hoo,” “The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band,” and “Ivanka” (about you know who, and I wonder how they feel about her now?).
A bit too serious for some, but it’s no wonder legions of young lesbians have flocked to them since “Closer to Fine” was a modest hit in 1989.
Maja Ivarsson / The Sounds
These New Wave-loving Swedes, fronted by the bisexual Ivarsson, have been bringing their love of Blondie and Missing Persons to a new audience since 2002 (“Shake Shake Shake”).
Ivri Lidir / The Young Professionals
This big pop star in Israel came to our attention via the synth band The Young Professionals. Imagine Chromeo, but gay, and you’ve got it. And Lidir, with Johnny Goldstein, can rock some pumps (“D.I.S.C.O.,” “All of It but Me ft. Anna F.”).
Rock’s first openly transgender performer was there for the Stonewall Riots and is still performing today. Her best known song, “Are You Man Enough to Be a Woman?,” says it all; then again, so does “Fuck Off” back when she was still performing as Wayne County & The Electric Chairs.
Joan Jett / The Runaways
We’ve loved Jett since she power-chorded her way through The Runaways’ punk hit “Cherry Bomb,” but it wasn’t until the band imploded that she conquered the world. She made something of her cover versions — Tommy James and the Shondells’ pronoun-specific “Crimson and Clover,” Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” among them — while adding classics of her own to the history of a rock and roll she’s always loved and still embodies (“Bad Reputation,” “Any Weather”).
The first openly gay rock star to be signed to a major label, and if you didn’t know how that was going to end, then you weren’t alive in the ’70s. The man born Bruce Wayne Campbell came and went in a flash, and though glam rock encouraged all kinds of androgynous experimentation, the real thing was too much to take. He’s a legend now — as much as he wanted to be in his lifetime, cut short by AIDS in 1983 — in part thanks to Morrissey’s involvement in a 2004 compilation release, Lonely Planet Boy, and, of course, due to some songs that are both quite of their time and also timeless (“I’maman,” “Inside”).
Sure, he could have come out earlier, but then would the world have actually paid attention to this formidably talented piano player and hit machine? Or would generations of people — straight, gay, whatever — have seen the fashion-forward showman at his peak, making the world safe for platform boots and feathers and whatnot? He was something — still is — and his advocacy has no end. So thank him for “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” and, hell yes, “The Bitch Is Back” and too many more to mention. And find the wealth of great songs he’s been putting out in his late period renaissance (“Home Again”) because — admit it — we owe him.
This Hawaiian-born, Los Angeles-based up-and-comer has one EP out (Just for You) and the type of buzz money can’t buy. Her latest single, “Love Who You Wanna Love,” should put her on your radar, and once she takes off into the stratosphere — and she will — we can all say, oh, I knew about her back in the day.
She’s the female rock singer all other female rock ‘n’ rollers will be compared to, and not simply because she was the first; she was also the best. Her bisexuality seemed a byproduct of her hedonism, but she was in full formal flower during and after the Summer of Love (“Summertime”), so it was as much part of who she was as that freakish voice that knew pain and pleasure in ways we could only imagine (“Piece of My Heart”). She inspired the greatest rock movie thus far (The Rose). And her legend continues apace because she died young, before she really had the chance to, you know, suck.