2017 was a year of trials and tribulations. Tests and troubles. Quandaries and challenges. In a word, this year sucked.
But in the face of a fascist U.S. administration full of transphobic, homophobic white supremacists who normalize sexual assault, we are seeing a lifted counterbalance of activists, artists, and agents of change. And one of the most galvanizing forms of this counterbalance is that of creating beautiful, powerful music from the brilliant minds of the global LGBTQ community.
As we prepare to be the warriors that 2018 requires us to be, let us celebrate the amazing sonic feats of the year. In no particular order, here are 20 of the best songs by queer artists in 2017.
Clairvoyant, by Nakhane Touré
From the small town of Alice, South Africa, openly gay Nakhane Touré showcases his poetic lyricism with a willing guitar and that smoky tenor voice. His work mixes enticing African rhythms into a melancholy pop genre that breaks the heart, moves the body, and affirms the soul.
Fleeting Moments of Freedom (Wooo), by Octa Octa
This DJ from Brooklyn, NY describes her electro music as “emotional” and “ideological.” After recently coming out as a trans woman, she has evolved her lyric-free dancefloor sound into a compelling new album, My Feelings Toward You.
Love, by iLoveMakonnen
Makonnen Sheran first budded into fame after Drake released a remix of his infectious song “Tuesday.” Now, after coming out as gay, shedding several pounds, and moving to Portland, the Atlanta native is putting his spotlight to good use with new hip hop tracks, including this catchy Beach Pop banger.
Bad At Love, by Halsey
If you turned on a radio sometime last year, chances are you’ve heard this megahit single from bisexual recording artist Halsey. She’s now poised for a lengthy career with thoughtful, expository lyrics and a genuine stage presence that invites concertgoers to obsess over her performances without shame.
Bad Dream/No Looking Back, by Syd
Syd tha Kyd, an out lesbian singer and rapper from Los Angeles, brings that luscious groove of modern music giants like Frank Ocean with the sensual phrasing of Neo Soul dynamos like Jill Scott. Her partnership with the hip hop group The Internet has given birth to her blossoming solo career—a career to watch closely.
Dark Red, by Steve Lacy
Another alumnus of The Internet, bisexual Steve Lacy also follows the lyrical hip hop footsteps of Frank Ocean. His track Dark Red illustrates his unique bebop style with simple melodies and impactful messages.
Impatience, by Sam Tsui
Sam has been a permanent, delightful YouTube installation with viral music content, including his particularly sentimental-yet-still-so-damn-heartwarming wedding video with husband Casey Breves. The guy is a feel-good pop master with a long career ahead of him.
Paradise, by Anohni
Famous for her work even before her transition, Anohni’s haunting voice is unmistakable well after her days of headlining Antony and the Johnsons. Her signature vibrato and deliberate consonants perfectly shape her intentions as a lyricist and vocalist.
Que Nada Nos Cambie, by (me llamo) Sebastián
Sebastián’s tender lyrics are often juxtaposed by driving rock beats, but the work of this openly gay musician from Chile never seems to be at odds with itself. The social activist, body positivity advocate, Spanish-language singer, and self-proclaimed bear achieves beautiful balance between sentimentality and force; between passion and purpose.
Roof Gone, by Taylor Bennett
Chicago rapper Taylor Bennett has begun “shining in the limelight” after coming out earlier this year as bisexual and developing new, meaningful tracks to launch his career. You might be familiar with his Grammy-winning brother Chance the Rapper, but Taylor’s exceptional talent proves he’s in nobody’s shadow and has earned a spotlight of his own.
Hiling, by Jake Zyrus
Jake has one of the most velvety voices of our time. Formerly known as the impressive young Philippine soloist Charice Pempengco who skyrocketed to fame after appearances on Ellen, Oprah, and Glee, Jake’s emotive vocal talent survived—and became even richer—after dropping a full octave during his transition. He performs both in English and Tagalog.
Same Set, by Young M.A
Brooklyn has produced another musical staple in rapper Young M.A. Her money-cars-hoes schtick is predictable par for the hip hop course as of late, but it’s a schtick that she has flipped on its axis as an out lesbian in the game. And with millions upon millions of YouTube views, her cocky swag is earned.
Ponyboy, by SOPHIE
Sophie Long is an electro goddess. Period. The trans DJ and performer has produced music for Charli XCX, Le1f, and a little someone called Madonna. Her own tracks span from industrialized singles like “Ponyboy” to catchy bubblegum pop gems like “It’s Okay to Cry.” Get ready to become obsessed.
Call Me Mother, by RuPaul
If you don’t know RuPaul by now, catch up. From hit music in the 90s to cameos in films and TV shows, producing Drag Race, and creating the new DragCon circuit, Atlanta native RuPaul Charles is now the undisputed mother of gay culture in America. He has created an economic entertainment engine that supports queers at the local, national, and global level. And while some argue this has commercialized the art of drag, it has also broadcast the craft of gender play and performance to those who wouldn’t otherwise seek it out. “Call Me Mother” was canonized with a sassy performance on So You Think You Can Dance (choreographed by Lady Gaga dancer Mark Kanemura) and has become Ru’s greatest dance hit of the year.
Reclaiming My Time, by Mykal Kilgore
This sensational Broadway star from Orlando, FL took a deliciously vindicating response from U.S. Representative Maxine Waters and arranged it into gospel gold. And while this wasn’t an official single, Kilgore developed all the same buttery harmonies and dramatic phrases in this remix that you can enjoy in his usual performances and recordings.
Cakes On Flame, by Creature Hole
Here’s how Creature Hole has just hypnotized you: 1.) their soulful vocals deliver unapologetically sexual lyrics via pure, simple beats, 2.) their playfulness with orientation and gender is refreshingly, authentically queer, and 3.) they have more fun than anyone else. The indie Seattle duo is a smart musical choice you can support while your money feeds the art, not “the machine.”
Low, by Greyson Chance
It’s affirming to learn that these touching lyrics and affectionate musical stylings could come out of Oklahoma, but Greyson’s emotional melodies offer a universality that other gay folks—and anyone else with a heart—can relate to.
Good Life, by Keiynan Lonsdale
After starring as Wally West on CW’s The Flash, Keiynan is now focused on his music production. The bisexual actor from Sydney, Australia has created a youthful pop ditty in “Good Life,” but also demonstrates a wide range of tone and depth in his artistic ventures.
I’d Love to Change the World, by Shea Diamond
Shea’s rendition of this song served as the soundtrack crown jewel to the LGBTQ miniseries When We Rise this year. Her powerhouse voice and vulnerability solidify her as an astounding talent, especially on the heels of 2016’s anthem for trans women of color, “I Am Her.”
Honey, by Kehlani
Sweet with an alluring grit, Kehlani Parrish is like diamond-dusted honey. And this year, she is getting paid. Makeup deals, style sponsorships, and popular new music is bringing in some well-deserved cash flow to this Oakland original. Her recent rebirth in the music scene and coming out as lesbian has burgeoned her rising star and inspired her international fan base.
Support these artists and other queer musicians in 2018, and comment with any others you love!