Queer artists in music are often invisible or ignored. Michael Paramo compiles a list of 20 of the best songs released by queer artists in 2016 that you should know.
Queer people often lack visibility because of the domineering societal powers of heteronormativity and cisnormativity that are pervasive throughout all facets of society. Whether easily identifiable or not, these norms dictate who can more effectively gain opportunities, navigate certain spaces, and have access to certain resources. These unspoken rules often possess a bearing on who has the potential to achieve mainstream success in media, and music is no different.
This list was not created to classify the music of queer artists as fundamentally “queer,” as has been done with the materialization of problematic genres like “LGBT hip hop.” This list was created for the simple purpose of amplifying queer voices that so often go unheard, as is the purpose of The Queerness itself. It was also created to connect music lovers to artists who they may have not previously known. Here are twenty of the best songs released by queer artists in 2016:
RuPaul’s Drag Race has produced a multitude of talented drag queens, yet many of their subsequent albums often lack the same level of skill that they brought to the runway. Adore Delano’s latest release After Party is different. It is a solid pop effort that would have undoubtedly been far more commercially successful if a mainstream pop star had released it. The intro song ‘I.C.U.’ is a ready-made hit that exemplifies the range of genre Delano can effectively cover. The song takes a somber and more serious tone – something that many queens often shy away from. Delano owns it well here though, and it is beautiful.
Canadian artist Rae Spoon has been releasing albums for well over a decade, and their latest effort holds the same sincerity as their earliest works. ‘Jump with Your Eyes Closed’ is the intro song on their most recent collection of tracks of the same name. It is a simple song in many respects, just a soulful voice and an acoustic sound. However, the pureness and sincerity of Spoon’s voice propels it beyond average. The way they capture the song’s powerful lyrics, intertwining them effortlessly with the soft instrumental is sincere. It embodies an aura that yearns to join your soul, even if only for a moment.
It is the delicate voice of HEIDRIK on his song ‘Red Hair’ from his latest album Funeral that captivated me more than anything else upon my first listen. His flowing vocals float softly over the beautiful instrumental. It is like a lullaby to a lost love, embodying a precious sound that is so smooth, utilizing the tranquil acoustics and sweet lyrics to their greatest extent. And as his voice cascades down, singing “you build your characters around illusions,” I feel a certain sense of peace, as if I could feel the velvety red hair the song is named after for myself.
I have been enthralled with Australian artist Courtney Barnett ever since her incredible debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit released in March of 2015. Barnett’s ‘Three Packs a Day’ is a standalone track, and yet it still manages to be a bright moment of the year despite its simplicity (being a song about her love for Ramen). It is Barnett’s vocal style in combination with the song’s classic sounding instrumental, of which she produces plenty, that raises this ode to noodles above mediocrity, a task that many artists likely could not pull off.
16. Lily – ‘Praying’
Lily’s introductory song ‘Praying’ on her new Burning In The Grave extended play, simply put, is a bouncy track of joyous synths. It revolves around a hypnotic instrumental that makes me wish as if my body and my spirit were separable. It lifts my aura up above my physicality – away. To the soundtrack of ‘Praying,’ it is shooting through space like a hyper bullet. In a perpetual state of motion, light-years away from Earth, watching the vibrant blur as they pass me by forevermore. Realizing that it is not where we have been that is more important, but where we are going.
“Am I good enough? / Am I high enough?” is the question posed throughout the ethereal chorus of Canadian singer Lowell’s single ‘High Enough.’ The song is constructed on her echoing vocals, perfectly accentuated by the vibrating bassline and simple drumming instrumental. It is a song that drifts through your soul; you are the reed and it is the river. It abounds through you, and you wish it to flow on forevermore. Her voice calls out in a performance of self-questioning. She wonders if she fulfills the expectations, just as so many of us do. This is a simple call, yet it is one that is universal.
On KAYTRANADA’s debut album 99.9%, the Haitian-Canadian DJ and record producer delivers an incredible collection of fifteen songs that dabble in the genres of electronic, hip hop, alternative, and R&B. Perhaps the strongest of the album is the song ‘You’re the One,’ which features artist Syd providing smooth vocals that flow with the production perfectly. Electronic pulses and a captivating beat meld together with crisp, but soft, vocals in a sublime fashion on this collaboration. ‘You’re the One’ produces an alluring aura that is undeniably unique and proves that KAYTRANADA is one to watch.
In a fury, ‘Diamonds’ welcomes you into the embrace of Red Devil, the latest full release by South African producer ANGEL-HO. It is not so much a track that stands alone in its independent brilliance, but one existing as an opening that establishes the tone to a collection of intense work. In this manner, the song functions as a stepping stone to the inner chasms that are to come. This is not to devalue its strength, only to accentuate its power as a worthy force that commands your attention. As ‘Genesis’ was to Justice’s Cross, ‘Diamonds’ is to ANGEL-HO’s Red Devil.
As some of the best pop songs in history have proven (ex. The Ronettes with ‘Be My Baby’ and The Crystals with ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’), pop music tends to be at its strongest when it is at its most simplistic and enjoyable. Tegan & Sara’s lead single ‘Boyfriend’ from their latest album Love You to Death wholly embodies these characteristics. Their bubbly vocals bounce along to the uplifting energetic production, surging in beautiful repetition like calculated geysers. Just like those original great pop songs, it is not always so much about what it makes you think, but how it makes you feel.
Here is just some advice: be sure to adjust your headphones down – way down – before you let the infectious static sounds of Dreamcrusher’s ‘Codeine Eyes’ enter your soul. Start low on the volume, so you can turn it up and let it fill you up gradually. Because of its intensity, it may be a difficult process to become acclimated to the sound of the track itself. ‘Codeine Eyes’ is art that may conflict with your general music taste, yet those who give it a proper chance will always be rewarded. This is a song best screamed along to, even if that means without releasing a single sound.
‘Lady Vengeance’ serves as the introduction to producer LSDXOXO’s latest mixtape Fuck, Marry, Kill and it handles this position very well. It immediately garnered my interest for the rest of the collection upon my first listen. According to my personal statistics, the song has racked up over sixty plays since I was originally blessed by its beat. Throughout all of these plays, it has never failed to get me moving. With ‘Lady Vengeance,’ LSDXOXO has crafted something that is undeniably for the dance floor. As an alternative though, the bedroom floor works just fine.
It is a seemingly impossible task for some to separate the controversy surrounding Azealia Banks from her music, and yet, ‘Used to Being Alone’ off her latest Slay-Z mixtape instantly should make you forget. Amidst the highest peaks of her vocal delivery, you can simply allow her soaring “oh, it took so long to get over ya / How do I prepare? / When I swore I’d never see you again?” to envelop you completely. With this special track, Banks proves that she possesses the same prowess with her singing that she does with her rapping, and it is glorious.
‘High School Never Ends’ is a collaborative track with producer Woodkid, originally being released as the first single from Mykki Blanco’s debut album Mykki. The song is constructed on an absolutely fascinating beat, which has me feeling as if I should be floating on dark clouds, suspended in the atmosphere, amidst pouring rain. Blanco’s flow is direct, yet ultimately reflective and relaxing, melding flawlessly with the orchestral instrumental that eventually comes to envelop the conclusion of the track. It is ethereal.
Cakes Da Killa’s collaboration with Canadian artist Peaches on ‘Up out My Face’ on his latest album Hedonism flawlessly blends both of their vocal deliveries, intertwining them brilliantly with a bouncing synth. The track is bold and unapologetic, as one would expect with such a title, but only in the most infectious way. It exists as a lighter moment, a fierce eye to the storm. Its message ultimately instills confidence within the listener, encouraging them to return to its brilliance time and time again.
‘Teddy I’m Ready’ builds with Ezra Furman’s huge voice, soaring over beautifully constructed lyrics that resonated with me deeply. It was one of those songs that I instantly connected with upon first listen, especially in regards to lyrics like “I think I might do something drastic / If they don’t let me go away from it all” and “But they don’t allow no crying / In the cold straight world of men / So I build my little fortress / ‘Til I can get even.” These passages have since become some of my most treasured, and I know I will be singing along to them for many years in the future.
There was no stopping the flutters in my soul from emerging upon first listening to ‘blisters’ from serpentwithfeet’s first extended play of the same name. There are many unique sounds utilized here, and yet all of them manage to come together in such an impeccable manner. The lows of the production, they sound like the deepest blaring horns in the unknown distance, interweaving with the highest highs of angelic vocals. It is a timeless sound, as if ‘blisters’ could be the opening or closing call to life itself.
Whenever I listen to ‘The Demon City,’ a collaboration by artist Elysia Crampton with producer Rabit, I imagine myself in a some form of virtual reality, deep within the catacombs of an ancient temple of some variety. Although I am lost in the hallways of weathered stone within this forsaken tomb and I can hear the electronic cackles emanating from nowhere, I find enjoyment in their maddening calls. I silently laugh along to them, embracing them. And in this artificial hysteria I discover that there is no where else I would rather be.
A dance anthem that utilizes this unapologetic statement of defiance: “no doubt you wrote me off long ago / but now I won’t give up / this ain’t over over over.” This is empowerment to its maximum – almost hyperbolic – yet wholly strong and never doubtful. With a vocal mastery that Alex Newell possesses, the highs of this track seemingly become calls from the empyrean. Newell’s voice enters your soul, every lyric commanding your body, and there is no reason why you should not let it.
Your skin may shiver as Arca’s words of agony envelop you: “vengo a adorarte / pero desde la distancia / desde la distancia te añoraré,” roughly translating to “I come to worship you / but from the distance / from the distance I’ll long for you.” ‘Sin Rumbo’ features the producer offering vocals in one of his most vulnerable states. They echo through your body as if it were hollow. You have become a vessel for his sound – a chamber where the words flow through bloodless veins – summoning an entity of emptiness deep within.
One does not expect electronic pop music to generate powerful proclamations of subversion to the dominant oppressive structures of Western society often. To effectively insert these messages while simultaneously retaining the potential to inspire dance is unheard of, yet Anohni achieves such a feat with ‘Drone Bomb Me’ and essentially her entire album Hopelessness. “So drone bomb me / blow me from the mountains and into the sea / blow me from the side of the mountain / blow my head off” she sings, and you feel the tears running down your face as you move.
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