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Breaking Stereotypes: The Beautiful Surge of Queer Voices in the Music Industry

  • 9 min read

Breaking Stereotypes: The Beautiful Surge of Queer Voices in the Music Industry

 

Contributed by Amanda Long

It's been nearly impossible to open any social media app or publication these past few weeks without witnessing the explosion of the superstar sensation that is Chappell Roan. The rising pop artist has quickly solidified herself as a queer icon, with lyrics that openly center lesbian relationships and drag-inspired fashion choices. However, with her standout performances at major festivals such as Coachella and Governor’s Ball, and her opening slot on part of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Guts'' tour, Roan has gained a massive audience of both LGBTQ+ and straight fans.


Roan is, of course, not the first artist making waves to bringing queer music into the mainstream – other artists such as Reneé Rapp, Orville Peck, Doechii, Girl in Red, Kaytranada,and MUNA have all taken the internet and music industry by storm, creating spaces in every music genre where LGBTQ+ stories are finally being told. While these artists have a huge impact on pop culture presently, it is also crucial to remember that queer artists have always been a driving presence in pop culture and popular music. 


Genres like House and Disco originated and first gained popularity in LGBTQ+ clubs and ballrooms scenes, and still are heavily influenced by queer artists, such as Honey Dijon, who recently collaborated on Beyoncé’sRenaissance. Of course, it’d be impossible not to mention household artists like Elton John and Freddie Mercury, who both continue to hold massive influences on popular music and the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the music industry. But despite such legendary influences, queer artists have continued to face societal obstacles with acceptance. For example, artists from the ‘90s and early ‘00s, such as the Indigo Girls and k.d. lang, faced backlash for their open expression of their sexuality, but have continued to build successful careers around blending art and activism. 


This is all to say that the boom in popularity and more direct acceptance of LGBTQ+ artists and their music has been a long time coming. Lyrical references to queer sexuality that have historically been kept implicit and underlying are becoming more openly expressed, changing how the public perceives queer stories and experiences. While there are numerous established artists in the LGBTQ+ music space such as Troye Sivan, Janelle Monáe,and Sam Smith, it is also crucial to recognize the more up-and-coming artists that are just beginning to have their voices heard and uplifted. These voices span across every genre of music, and we have decided to highlight three that are each making waves in their respective spaces:  Chappell Roan, serpentwithfeet, and RaiNao. 


Chappell Roan

Despite only releasing her debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, less than a year ago, Chappell Roan is on a fast track to superstardom. Growing up in a very religious and conservative community in Missouri, Roan often discusses how she only felt truly accepted as a lesbian once she moved to Los Angeles. However, the star still pays homage to her midwestern roots, often repping sparkly cowboy hats and boots on stage during her performances. Roan’s open discussion of coming to terms with her identity while growing up in a conservative community has touched the lives of many other queer people currently living in the Midwest and Deep South of the United States, where LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance is harder to come by. Through her fashion, lyrics, and visual media, Roan has highlighted the fact that queer people exist everywhere, not just in the coastal cities, giving a voice and safe space to those who don’t yet have one. 


Roan’s makeup and fashion choices, often inspired by drag and ballroom culture, are also a driving factor in her growing popularity and admiration in the LGBTQ+ community. While embracing her own personal style, Chappell simultaneously uplifts the drag community and acknowledges their influence on her as a pop artist. With so much recent legislation and public rhetoric attacking drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community at large, Roan’s dedication to celebrating the influence of drag in her work is a notable component to her quick rise in the community. On her “The Midwest Princess Tour,” Roan booked local drag queens to open for each show, encouraging her fans to tip the queens if they can. In an article with Them, Roan explained, “I encourage people to tip the queens, that's redistributing funds within the community there, and also it just gives a platform for the drag queens” – further illustrating the artist’s commitment to uplifting every member of the community. 


While Roan has established herself as a beloved artist in the LGBTQ+ community, her mainstream attention has gained her fans amongst straight listeners. This April, Roan released her smash single, “Good Luck, Babe!”, which has currently amassed over 230 million streams on Spotify alone. The track became her first entry into the Billboard Hot 100, currently at #16 as of late-June, and climbing. The song details the woes of being in a secret relationship with someone who isn’t ready to come out.  The song’s explicitly direct and vulnerable lyric composition – not to mention catchy bridge with killer vocals – has won the hearts of those in the LGBTQ+ community who can relate to such an experience, further cementing queer experiences as important stories to spotlight in the mainstream media. 

 


"Good Luck, Babe!" by Chappell Roan single cover image. All rights reserved.


Roan has recognized the power of having a larger and more diverse audience, continuing to intertwine activism into her art. During her Governor’s Ball set earlier this month, Roan explained to tens of thousands of fans that she had declined performing at the White House for Pride Month, stating that “We want liberty, justice and freedom for all. When you do that, that’s when I’ll come.” She continued to speak about the importance of trans rights, women's rights, and the freedom of oppressed people in occupied territories — a powerful statement, especially in front of such a massive audience. As she continues to gain attention in mainstream media, Chappell Roan is an important artist to watch as she is moving the needle for the diversity of queer voices represented in entertainment.



serpentwithfeet

Another artist breaking barriers in the music industry is experimental R&B musician, Josiah Wise, also professionally known as  serpentwithfeet.  While serpentwithfeet is not a new artist – he released his debut EP, blisters, in 2016 – Wise has just begun to gain mainstream attention in the R&B and rap community.

Also growing up in a deeply religious community, Wise spent much of his childhood singing in church choirs and listening to gospel music, and these influences have transferred over into his songwriting. Wise blends these classical sounds with newer rhythms and club beats to illustrate the connection between spiritual and physical intimacy. In an interview with the Guardian in 2016, serpent dubbed his style of music, “pagan gospel,” citing his struggles with self-expression as a gay Black man in a church community and the simultaneous comfort he found in listening to gospel music. Navigating one’s religious faith in the context of their LGBTQ+ identity is historically a complicated journey. Wise, however, opts to openly discuss his Christian background. His choice of integrating gospel influences into his music while gracefully weaving in stories of queer intimacy and love is incredibly cathartic for individuals with similar backgrounds. 


On his most recent album, GRIP, serpentwithfeet continues to defy stereotypes placed on the LGBTQ+ community and uplifts queer stories through a lyrical and sonic exploration of physical intimacy and the needed safety in Black, queer spaces. The record’s lyrics openly discuss experiences of love and dating that feel familiar to the queer community. Songs like “Spades” and “Ellipsis” are tender, exploring the simultaneous fear and adoration that many people experience when experiencing their first queer relationship. Other songs like “Damn Gloves” and “Hummin’” lean towards the house music genre with more explicit and sensual lyrics. GRIP beautifully breaks down taboos surrounding queer spaces and experiences, such as gay bars, physical intimacy, and heteronormative society’s perception of the dynamics within LGBTQ+ relationships. 

 


GRIP by serpentwithfeet album cover. All rights reserved.

 

Wise’s use of visuals in his music videos also continues to normalize queerness and break down stereotypes surrounding gay male relationships. The music video for “Damn Gloves” is set in a nightclub featuring exclusively Black actors, and the video for “Gonna Go” also portrays a relationship between two Black men, utilizing warm lighting and soft filters to showcase that masculinity and intimacy can go hand in hand. The diversity of these videos showcases queerness as normalcy rather than a spectacle. Their representation of Black, queer people give more representation to people of color in the LGBTQ+ community who often don’t see themselves in the current media, where a majority of LGBTQ+ actors and celebrities are White. 


The genres of rap and R&B have been historically straight, oftentimes with homophobia preventing queer artists from reaching the same levels of success as others in the urban music space. Openly queer artists, such as R&B singers like Frank Ocean, have struggled with gaining respect from other artists in the industry. In an article with The Guardian in 2014, prominent hip-hop artist T-Pain spoke about the need for urban music to become more LGBTQ+ friendly, citing that he knew many artists who refused to work with Frank Ocean purely on account of his sexuality. 


Thus, it is incredibly powerful to see artists in this area of the industry, such as serpentwithfeet, openly express their sexualities and gain respect in the scene. Wise uses the platform he has built to promote the voices of LGBTQ+ people who have often not been able to see themselves represented in these genres. 


RaiNao

RaiNao, the third artist on our list, is a rising star from Puerto Rico fighting the traditional attitudes of machismo and heterosexuality that have dominated Reggaeton. However, for the emerging artist, discussing past relationships with women and queer sex in her music are simply a natural extension of herself. In an interview with Acero, RaiNao explained that while she is very candid in her lyrics, she does not do it specifically to combat homophobia in the industry: “Yo no lo hago expresamente para apoyar esa revolución, sino porque esa soy yo, esa es mi historia,”  (I do not do it expressly to support that evolution, but because that is me, that is my story).  By treating her sexuality as something natural in her music, Nao normalizes the expression of queerness in music just because – not trying to prove anything or teach a lesson, simply living a queer life openly and authentically.

The rise of queer femme voices in reggaeton such as RaiNao, along with more established artists like Villano Antillano and Young Miko, have created a space for more people to feel seen within the genre, specifically LGBTQ+ Latinas. Nao’s song “Tentretiene,” which was released on Lesbian Visibility Day last year, intimately details her attraction to another woman. In writing this music that discusses sex and romantic relationships with women, she reclaims reggaeton’s older characteristics of misogyny and homophobia. Younger people can listen to this music and recognize that the stories that dominated the past are not the same ones that have to dominate the future. There is room in the genre to embrace queerness and empower female sexuality, and through her normalization of queer stories in the alternative and reggaeton genres, RaiNao continues to empower a movement towards acceptance and diversity in voices represented in the Latin music industry. 

 

"Tentretiene" by RaiNao single cover. All rights reserved.


It is important to recognize that the movement for diversity within reggaeton comes from popular male artists as well. On his most recent tours, Bad Bunny made sure to highlight queer female artists at his shows, bringing out RaiNao and Villano Antillano on stage with him during concerts to perform songs together. RaiNao has also collaborated with other prominent male artists in the space such as Tainy and Alvalro Diaz. These collaborations allow smaller artists like RaiNao to get recognition and respect from these artists’ largely straight male audiences. Mainstream artists who do fit into the “norm” can be important allies in uplifting underrepresented voices in the industry. 


Allyship is crucial in pushing LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream culture forward. From Charli XCX’s upcoming collaborative tour with Troye Sivan, to Beyoncé’s intentional decisions to uplift and collaborate with Black queer artists to, Olivia Rodrigo’s choice to highlight two openly LGBTQ+ artists as openers on her “Guts” tour (Chappell Roan and Remi Wolf), there are countless opportunities for artists to participate as allies and supporters in the movement towards the liberation of queer voices. 


Ultimately, the rise in diversity of queer voices in the music industry directly correlates with stronger fan connections. For many LGBTQ+ people, especially those who are part of other minority groups as well, it is still difficult to find artists, concerts, and movies that they can see their experiences reflected in. As Maddy Carr, a writer at Boston College, explains, “There is a severe lack of non-stereotypical queer representation that features masculine, feminine, and genderqueer individuals of all ethnicities, body types, and abilities.” It is for these exact reasons that artists like Chappell Roan, serpentwithfeet, and RaiNao mean so much to queer people. 


Media holds immense power to share stories and control narratives, so by having more authentic and marginalized voices represented in music, more people in the queer community can feel seen and accepted. Seeing and hearing relatable, authentic portrayals of LGBTQ+ experiences on stage, on the radio, and within the broader music & entertainment landscape is critical to not only affirm the lived experiences of queer folks, but also to normalize, break stereotypes, and promote a more inclusive society that queer artists & fans feel comfortable in.

 

 

The Fan Focus blog is a corner of the Softside website dedicated to fan club deep dives, Q&As, community album reviews, artwork, and more.

All content reflected is drawn from fan inspiration and is not in official partnership with the respective musician unless stated otherwise.

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