It’s hard to ignore the impact of LGBTQ musicians on the music industry today.
Gay rapper Lil Nas X’s debut album MONTERO comes out Friday, and his single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” has boosted the album to nearly a billion streams before it’s been released. A sensation on queer TikTok for her single “i wanna be your girlfriend,” girl in red released her debut album in May. Tyler, the Creator, bisexual rapper and hip-hop artist, made waves with a full rap album this year after his 2019 soul record IGOR. Moreover, these artists are all openly out to the public.
“If you look at some of the biggest artists out right now, they are minorities and come from underrepresented groups, which is amazing,” says Adam Hollmann, MU senior and co-host of Do Re Mi U and Music, a podcast that encourages its audience to diversify their music tastes. “The music industry has really taken the lead on … advocating for all people.”
The monumental rise of LGBTQ artists hasn’t come without backlash, though. Lil Nas X’s fame is buoyed by an army of loyal Twitter followers, but the replies to his viral tweets are often littered with explicit homophobia. Singer Demi Lovato has been constantly misgendered ever since they came out as non-binary in May. The larger sociopolitical climate in the U.S. still has a long road ahead toward acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
So, amid a barrage of mainstream homophobia and transphobia directed toward popular LGBTQ artists, how did we get here? How has pop music accumulated such a significant and diverse LGBTQ presence?
“[Queer artists] gain a following before they ever sign a record deal… and the algorithm helps them out tremendously to connect with people,” Claros says. “Based off of that, they can show that they’re profitable to a label, and a label cannot ignore these artists.”
Beyond initial popularity on social media, Hollmann says connections between queer artists and their audiences are fueled by LGBTQ representation in the industry.
“Having bigger visibility of celebrities in [the LGBTQ+] community has really driven acceptance of it,” Hollmann says. Increasing acceptance, in turn, encourages young LGBTQ musicians to continue to create, despite isolated incidents of homophobia and transphobia.
LGBTQ musicians might not see representation and activism through music as the most important part of their work. Melody, a local musician who goes by the project name Floor Fruits, says queer representation in the music industry would have been more valuable to them when they were grappling with their identity. They find that the “queer experience” in LGBTQ music and art circles often amounts to just making music as a queer person in those spaces.
“I don’t like queerness being the only thing about someone," they said. "I want to be seen as a person and an artist and all these other things before I want to be seen for just that identity. I think artists creating meaningful, complex, rich art about, yes, maybe queerness, but about a range of things — that’s what’s valuable.”
Melody says they haven’t used gendered language to refer to a romantic relationship in their music before. Maybe that’s the beauty of music — it can act as a language, an “engine to drive social change,” in Hollmann’s words, but it doesn’t have to say anything at all.