It's important to support awesome LGBT musicians — both because they're very good at what they do and because they're LGBT. Why? Because throughout history, LGBT voices have been flattened, silenced, discriminated against or excluded — and today, we deserve music that represents our experience, or comes from somebody like us. Even if the songs these singers croon/yowl/rap aren't about LGBT life (and why should they have to be?), it's important to support them and their achievements.
While I understand that, to the people behind the microphone, it's probably all about the music, and their sexual or gender identities aren't even necessarily relevant to their songwriting process, that aspect adds to both visibility and representation. LGBT musical artists storming the charts? Yes, please.
We seem to be entering a new era of openness in popular entertainment. The LGBT identities of our generation's entertainers aren't minuses to be hidden on publicity tours, the way they were back when Ricky Martin was living la vida loca; they're just part of the package. For instance, press coverage aboout agender rapper Angel Haze has focused on their controversial album leak and relationship with Ireland Baldwin, not their gender identity.
And the five performers below aren't underground acts. They've been around for awhile, and have either just reached critical mass or are about to. They're people you should know now because, soon, everybody will — and we all love to be ahead of the curve. And if we can help LGBT visibility at the same time? Perfection.
1. Years & Years
Three-piece Years & Years, led by Ollie Alexander, play '90s-inflected pop songs that have made a huge splash in their native Britain, with the song "King" hitting number one. Which is all pretty cool — but the fact that all of their love songs feature the male pronoun is pretty cool, too. Alexander himself identifies as gay and is currently dating Clean Bandit's Neil Amin-Smith — though I can personally testify that at Years & Years' latest all-ages concert, that fact didn't damp the ardor of his teenage female fan base one bit.
Alexander also works as an actor, appearing in British dramas like Jane Campion's Bright Star, but Years & Years has proved such a success that he may have to hang up that hat for a while.
Lowell — otherwise known as bisexual Canadian pop creator Elizabeth Lowell Boland — is making serious waves on the music scene. MTV declared "LGBT," a track off her debut album We Loved Her Dearly, "your new LGBT anthem", which seems like a good summer jam to us.
Lowell's also a darling of the taste makers at Rookie Magazine for her slice-of-life tracks about rape, feminism and being a sex worker, amongst other things. After the success of her debut, another album for LGBT feminists (and everybody who likes a good pop hook) is hopefully on the way.
What's next: Lowell is currently on tour around Canada.
3. Ezra Furman
After years of stints in other bands, Canadian Ezra Furman is now releasing his second solo album — and it's garnering a lot of attention (and not just for its rock n' roll energy). Furman's live sets, in which he wear dresses and lipstick, have led to the inevitable line of questioning about his sexuality — and Furman has now explained that he see himself as "neither straight nor gay".
Furman's own take on this question is evident in his website (which is entitled "Ezra Furman: A Guide For The Perplexed"), where he answered an angry question about what exactly "neither straight nor gay" meant with the following: "Possible answers to this: 1) I don’t know 2) Bisexual 3) A human being 4) F*ck you leave me the f*ck alone." That's the sort of person I want to see winning all the awards, thank you very much.
What's next: Furman's sophomore album, Perpetual Motion People, was released this week to huge acclaim.
4. Brooke Candy
You'll probably recognize Candy as the futuristic girl-from-hell who starred in the spookily apocalyptic video for Grimes' "Genesis" — but Candy has her own rap career, which led to a recent major record label deal. Candy is openly bisexual, and delivers her sexually explicit raps in long cornrows and bikinis onstage, modelling her persona on Li'l Kim — but she might remind you more of an earlier, raunchier Gaga. (Her personal stylist for her latest video, "Opulence," is Nicola Formichetti, who's collaborated with Gaga for years.)
What's next: Candy signed with RCA Records last year, and girl-of-the-moment Sia has written at least one song for her.
Shamir Bailey, who sings well-crafted pop under the name Shamir, is basically the next big thing. The genderqueer singer with the acute countertenor was declared the "post-gender pop star of our time" by The Advocate, which is basically a sign that the hype around his work has reached fever pitch. (And he's lived everybody's dream: seeing himself in Muppet form, made by the Jim Henson Studio itself.) But the publicity frenzy has partially surrounded his talent, and partially fed on his comment that he has "no gender, no sexuality, and no f*cks to give." Shamir declares his own authenticity, and music sites like Pitchfork are raving about his music
What's next: Shamir's debut album Ratchet is out now.