Look. I know you’d like this writeup to center exclusively on Beyoncé’s Renaissance. And though that masterpiece was amazing, this is a yearly spotlight on LGBTQ+ artists with ambitious visions and voices all their own.
While fun, dreamy, pop-focused records like Renaissance and Midnights and Loneliest Season dominated the mainstream in 2022, queer musicians reflected back the gritty edge and heartache that we all felt. In the midst of abortion rights being yanked away, a record number of anti-trans bills introduced in the States, a “tripledemic,” global humanitarian crises, and the world’s continued racist/bigoted bullshit, we were blessed with edifying and thought-provoking music from queer artists new and old.
In no special order, but sequenced for your listening pleasure on this Spotify playlist, here are 20 of the best songs by LGBTQ+ artists in 2022.
Anything But Me, by MUNA
For fans of: Carly Rae Jepsen, Chvrches, Allie X
Over the last couple years, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson have taken the music world by storm. And that storm gave us lightning when the Los Angeles-based band signed with Saddest Factory Records, Phoebe Bridgers’ label. McPherson is non-binary, and all three bandmates are queer, which is refreshingly evident in their lyrics about dancing in gay bars, falling in love with women, and recovering from heartbreak.
Sad Girl, by Vetta Borne
For fans of: Janet Jackson, Prince, Solange
Maribelle Añes is the kind of soulful singer, sexy bass player and meaningful songwriter that fills your heart and makes you want to move. The Filipino-Australian musician started her musical career several years ago under the name Maribelle, but rebranded herself and released her first new music as Vetta Borne in March 2020 – just as lockdown would prevent her from touring. But with a string of albums and music videos since then, Borne is poised for a big launch out of the Melbourne music scene.
I’m Too Much, by Saucy Santana
For fans of: Megan Thee Stallion, Azealia Banks, RuPaul(’s music)
You may originally know Saucy Santana (Rashad Spain) from guest appearances on Love & Hip Hop: Miami, or as a makeup artist for City Girls. But if you’re familiar with the Floridian rapper more recently, you’ll recognize him for TikTok famous songs like “Walk,” “Here We Go,” and “Material Girl” (which Madonna joined for a remix). Santana’s recent duet with Saweetie, called “Booty,” catapulted him to even more YouTube fame, but “I’m Too Much” did what needed to be done.
Yun Yun, by Willie Gomez
For fans of: Ricky Martin, Ozuna, swiveling hips and big arms
Forging his career as a backup dancer for the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, and Kylie Minogue, Willie Gomez is no stranger to the stage, or to worldwide tours. But the talented dancer decided to start recording music himself, releasing his first singles in 2019. Since then, his followers have multiplied. The gay Dominican performer finally released his first full-length album, Del Cibao, in 2022. Now we wait for the tour announcement.
You Can’t Erase Us, by D’Vorah Maya
For fans of: Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Ani DiFranco
The Chicago-turned-Portland artist D’Vorah Maya is a musician to watch. Her studio career has only just begun under this name as of 2021, but with powerful songs like the title track from her first album You Can’t Erase Us, she’s serving immediate proof that anti-trans rhetoric and legislation will meet fierce resistance.
Sugar, by Amythyst Kiah
For fans of: Tori Amos, Meshell Ndegeocello, Tracy Chapman
Southern Gothic and Lilith musical genres live on in Amythyst Kiah and her guitar. Born and based in Tennessee, the Grammy award-winning queer singer-songwriter got her recording start in 2013. Since then, she has released three studio albums and tours regularly. This song, which was re-released in Kiah’s single EP Pensive Pop in 2022, is a cover of Tori Amos’ 1992 B-side and the 1999 version from her live album Venus Live, Still Orbiting. Kiah beautifully and deftly makes the song her own with a driving rock beat and gorgeous vocals.
Tokyo Drift, by Mavi Phoenix
For fans of: Leyya, Siena Liggins, BLVTH
Austrian singer, rapper, and producer Mavi Phoenix has been visibly in the music scene since 2014. After transitioning and coming out as trans in 2019, he evolved his sound as a musician – both with a deeper voice, and with more sophisticated production. “Tokyo Drift” is one of his standout singles from his newest full-length album, Marlon, and proves Phoenix is experimenting even more with genre and sound.
<maybe> it’s my fault, by Willow
For fans of: Paramore, Perfect Circle, Brockhampton
In one project, she’ll serve us East Indian-inspired meditations. In another project, she’ll give us Rihanna pop. And with another, the bi daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith will serve up the early 2000s throwback rock that we love so fondly. While it’s clear Willow is still finding her voice, it’s also clear the multi-talented singer can’t be defined by any one genre – and that her music career is only just taking flight. She is currently based in Los Angeles.
My Old Ways, by Left at London
For fans of: David Byrne, The Vacant Smiles, King Princess
Seattle’s own Nat Puff is an indie artist for indie artists. She started with a band called Left at London, and kept the name even after she went solo, releasing a slew of singles since 2017 and a studio album in 2021. But Puff isn’t like all the other trans lesbians from Seattle you know – she also became Vine famous for parody videos of Frank Ocean, Mitski, and more.
Just Say, by Coco & Breezy
For fans of: Disclosure, Janelle Monae, Nao
What do you do when you have a wildly successful sunglasses line with your twin? You release a record! Queer sisters Brianna and Corianna Dotson did just that. After a successful breakout in the fashion world in 2009 at just 19 years old, Coco & Breezy ventured into music nearly 10 years later, with a steady string of singles. We hungrily wait for the full-length album.
Rolita Punky, by Niña Dioz and Chocolate Remix
For fans of: Princess Nokia, Ana Tijoux, Bad Bunny
Reportedly Mexico’s first openly gay rapper, Niña Dioz teamed up with fellow lesbian DJ Romina Bernardo (under her solo project moniker Chocolate Remix) to bring us a reggaeton bop about getting high and horny in the club. Dioz, a stage name for Carla Reyna, got her start with the album Marcapasos in 2007. Luckily for us, the intervals between her full-length records are becoming shorter and shorter.
Different Places, by Fifty Grand
For fans of: Misogi, Bones, Crystal Castles
Trap is solidly popular. However you feel about that, it’s just a fact. But Elliott Onofrio, aka Fifty Grand, gives us a trans masc update to what could easily become an obsolete and slaggy genre. Originally from Connecticut, Fifty Grand moved to California to produce music among the SoundCloud artist boom, and has elevated his craft since 2013. While his songs are usually rapped, “Different Places” offers tenderly sung vocals and a sonic tidal wave reminiscent of late 90s Euro trance with a current twist. Plus the Rankin/Bass-esque music video is a stunner.
Safe, by George Michael
For fans of: Sade, Peter Gabriel, Elton John
Music fans were devastated to hear of George Michael’s sudden passing on Christmas Day 2016. Michael’s resonant voice and undeniable star power were some of the most influential of his generation. But in 2022, his estate re-released his quintessential 90s album Older with an extended edition, including several previously unreleased tracks. “Safe,” originally released in 1997, graces this new edition as a melancholy groove about finally finding refuge with a lover.
Transgender Surveillance Agency, by CJ Run
For fans of: Tinie Tempah, John Maus, Bree Runway
You know that feeling when you’re being patted down by the TSA, and they expect your body to be a certain way, and then they get mouthy and bombard you with gender dysphoria? That’s what British-turned-Chicagoan rapper CJ Run addresses in this particular track. Non-binary and trans, they have been singing and rapping earnestly about their queer, trans, Nigerian, English, and American identities and experiences since 2016, thankfully with no end in sight.
Persuasive, by Doechii
For fans of: Doja Cat, Missy Elliott, Dizzy Fae
Doechii is fresh on the music scene, first breaking out in 2018. After blowing up on TikTok and enjoying award nominations for her many singles and features, Jaylah Ji’mya Hickmon from Tampa, Florida is riding a wave of growing fame and critical acclaim. She joins an expanding collective of queer and female pop rappers who are elevating hip hop one record at a time.
GOOD GOOD, by MRSHLL (feat. Moon Yirang)
For fans of: BTS, Super Junior, Calvin Harris
In 2017, Marshall Bang became the first openly gay Kpop star. Ever. The Orange County native had been building up a music career for himself in the states. After recovering from a throat injury, he competed on a Korean talent competition, then stayed in South Korea to cultivate a career in the booming Kpop landscape. Though he has only released singles and limited EPs, we’re eager for his soulful voice to grace a full-length album.
Cure for Me, by Aurora
For fans of: Sevdaliza, Katy Perry, Kate Bush
If you knew a child in 2019, chances are very good you lived through countless passionate performances of “Into the Unknown.” But less known was the eclectic pop star from Norway who provided the anthem’s sirenic background vocals. Aurora Aksnes’ global popularity took off after singing that bit on the televised Academy Awards with Idina Menzel in February 2020. With five full studio records, the openly queer, Grammy-nominated artist is now a mainstay for contemporary pop.
This Hell, by Rina Sawayama
For fans of: Lady Gaga, Shania Twain, Caroline Polachek
When the world feels like it’s going to hell, it helps when you’re in good company. Rina Sawayama’s music is just that: a purposeful, punchy companion on the road forward. The bi and pansexual performer was born in Japan but moved to London at five years old, holding a steady grip on British pop charts since her debut in 2017. Since then, she has released two studio albums, with duets featuring other queer icons like Elton John and Shamir. “This Hell” is a fiery counterpoint to all those bigots who accuse queer folk of being diabolical. Look at Karen, the whiny old homophobic pot, calling the kettle black. Get her, Rina.
Resist, by Janis Ian
For fans of: Joan Armatrading, Fiona Apple, Carole King
Before Ellen came out in 1994, there were a few mighty lesbian singer-songwriters who picked up their guitars and marched out of the closet in the late 80s and early 90s. K.D. Lang, Melissa Etheridge, and The Indigo Girls were joined by Janis Ian, an artist whose voice sang soft but whose words hit heavy. The 1960s and 70s saw Ian’s greatest commercial stint, but she has remained a critical darling for decades. Her latest album, The Light at the End of the Line, is a beautiful acoustic journey, but packs a punch with Fuck-SCOTUS-And-All-Misogynists tracks like “Resist.”
Children, by Billy Porter
For fans of: Audra McDonald, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross
You have a pulse. That means you know Billy Porter, whether from his debut on Star Search, his Broadway triumphs in Kinky Boots and Grease, his roles in films like The Broken Hearts Club and 2021’s Cinderella, or as Pray Tell in the TV series Pose. The man has as much staying power as he has talent, but it was only with the song “Children” that Porter finally broke into streaming music success with an original song. It’s the perfect anthem to remind LGBTQ+ elders to pay it forward to queer youth seeking a place in the world – and a warm reminder for those youth that the world is, in fact, theirs.
Support these amazing queer artists and more like them. Go see their shows, buy their music, and show them some love on social media.
Who knows what 2023 will hold. But we can count on music like this to hold us through it.