Eight Up-and-Coming LGBT Musicians You Should Know

You may wonder, why bother with a post about LGBT musicians? After all, good music is good music, regardless of sexual preference. There are two reasons. The first reason is awareness. Forty years ago, pretty much everyone was assumed to be straight, so that most people thought they didn’t know anyone who deviated from the norm. It was only those who were so far outside the margins they could never fit in that were noticed, leading us to have a stereotypical view of what it means to be gay, trans or lesbian. Spreading awareness about who falls into the rainbow spectrum teaches everyone that “what queer looks like” may look perfectly normal. When Ani Difranco sings, I’m writing graffiti on your body, I drawing the story of how hard we tried, we’re reminded the powerful emotion in those beautiful lyrics is no different because of the gender she is singing about.

Second, the people who need these LGBT role-models the most are those who struggle with these very issues. They too are subjected to the same misconceptions about stereotypes as straight folks. Finding out that one of his favorite musicians is gay may help a young man see that his sexual preference is just a tiny part of who he is. He can be a rock musician like Kele Okereke, or a pop diva like Fergie. The more that LGBT people learn that “their kind” is as diverse as the wider population, the closer we are to seeing that we’re all just one category: humankind.

However, if you prefer not to think about sexual preference, and take umbrage at this topic, then think of this as a list of up-and-coming musicians worth checking out. In narrowing this list, I chose to focus on lesser-known acts, as it is always my mission to help you find your new favorite band. Whether you like songs that are slow or fast, angry or delicate, masculine or feminine, there’s a little something here for everyone.

1. Tyler Glenn of Get Habits new on CD at Alibris.Neon Trees

Tyler Glenn is a fine example of how public visibility of gay figures can help individuals sort out their feelings. Seeing sport celebrities come out of the closet helped Tyler Glenn of rock band Neon Trees recognize and cope with his own sexuality. Glenn told Rolling Stone, “I appreciated Michael Sam was like, ‘I want to be able to go to the movies and hold hands with my boyfriend.’ Even hearing him say ‘boyfriend,’ I was just like, that’s cool.” Glenn had an especially challenging decision to come out because he and his bandmates are Mormons. He discovered his new wave identity before he discovered his sexuality, being rebuffed in church for his punk rock look and literally hiding in the closet …to listen to rock and roll.

The music that Neon Trees make falls squarely in the middle between post-punk and pop rock. It isn’t as angsty as the 90s alternative sound, nor is it as bright and dancey as bands like Pet Shop Boys. Fans of The Killers or new wave bands with an edge like Blondie will surely love their sound. “Animal” is probably the the song that you’ve most likely heard, but I’ve yet to hear a song of theirs that I don’t like, so I’m going to share a different one. Here’s “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)”

Neon Trees – “I Love You (But I hate Your Friends)”

Get 1000 Forms of Fear new on CD at Alibris.2. Sia

Sia is an Australian who writes sultry pop songs. She had hits with “Breathe Me” and “Chandelier” or you may have heard her singing back up for Zero 7. She’s also one of those acts you can find for sale at Starbucks.

Sia’s coming out was, if not accidental, at least haphazard, when she expressed her sexual confusion to a journalist friend. She said, “The thing is I feel kind of straight because she’s kind of like a boy. [My love interest] thinks I’m straight. She’s like, ‘You’re straight; it’s just that your girlfriend is gay.’” Sia’s candor is refreshing. It must be tough to sort through questions of sexual identity while in the limelight. A first world problem, perhaps, but maybe that’s why Sia titled her 2008 album Some People Have Real Problems. Not that Sia is complaining, instead she’s keeping all that spunk for her infectious songs.

Sia – “Chandelier”

Get Music for Tourists new and used on CD at Alibris.3. Chris Garneau

Chris Garneau writes delicate songs. A little piano, a little violin, some soft vocals. He is at times precious, at others, carnivalesque. The songs are quirky and beautiful. They feel small somehow, like an intricate antique toy that is all the more lovely because it fits in your hands. Yet peel a little deeper and you’ll find these pretty songs often as not have dark subject matter. Below is one of my favorites, one of his livelier numbers.

Chris Garneau – “Dirty Night Clowns”

Get Dirty Gold new and collectable on CD at Alibris.4. Angel Haze

Angel Haze is one of my favorite rappers right now. She can make inspirational bangers like “Tribe Called Love” and she can sing pretty, as in her acoustic rewrite of Macklemore’s “Same Love.” She’s not afraid to get real, like in her graphic retake of Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” that delves into her childhood abuse. As Angel Haze drops one hard-hitting line after another explaining all that she overcame, listeners are empowered to believe they might overcome too. “You’re the only person alive who holds the key to your own healing,” she raps in “Battle Cry,” and I get a little verklempt.

Angel Haze – “Battle Cry”

5. The XXGet The XX new or used on vinyl or CD.

As home production studios get more advanced, the tendency is for musicians to make music that is more and more complex. The XX is the opposite, stripping down a song into its simplest components. There are only enough moving parts in any XX song to make it work, and the marvel is that something so simple can be so beautiful. The XX is comprised of just three musicians, yet these slow songs feel so complete. Front woman Romy Madley Croft identifies as lesbian, but her heartfelt songs capture the any-kind of love.

The XX – “Islands”

Get Tales of a GrassWidow new on CD and vinyl at Alibris.6. CocoRosie

Bianca Casady is the lesbian half of sister duo Cocorosie. Though Casady frequently uses drag as part of her performances, her sexuality may go unnoticed by fans since the weird-factor on the music is already pretty high. Her voice is both husky and childlike while the arrangements are unexpected. Instruments and samples aren’t always immediately recognizable and the videos are even stranger. Yet you read a line like, “If you look hard you can find a Rainbow trail/It’s deep inside you/Fear not you’re a rainbowarrior” and the message is clear.

CocoRosie – “Rainbowarriors”

Get I Thought I Was an Alien new on CD at Alibris.7. Soko

Soko is an actress as well as a folk musician. Her sweet French accent is a pretty, and sometimes humorous, contrast from her straightforward lyrics. This is best displayed in the delightfully direct “I’ll Kill Her.” Perhaps you heard her song, “We Might Be Dead Tomorrow” over the viral sensation first kiss. About her sexuality, Soko says “I like people. I don’t care who they are. I’m just a defender of equality. Being equal on this planet is the most important thing and I like equal relationships.” Soko also appears in the “First Kiss” video, a simple concept wherein strangers are asked to kiss. But Soko asked if she could kiss a woman. She said, “I met [my kissing partner] Marianna five minutes before I kissed her and I assumed she was a lesbian…We thought it was fun, so we took our time, looked at each other and made it real, not mechanical. I wanted it to be special and it felt that way. Marianna then admitted it was actually the first time she had ever kissed a girl.”

Soko – “We Might Be Dead Tomorrow” (First Kiss)

Get Transgender Dysphoria Blues new and collectible on LP at Alibris.8. Against Me!

OK, this one is a bit of a cheat because Against Me! has been together since 1997. But I want to include a trans person on this list, and I think a lot of our readers might still be unfamiliar with this fantastic band. The musicians behind Against Me! have changed over the years, the one constant behind their politically-charged punk rock is Laura Jane Grace. Laura Jane was born Thomas James Gabel in Fort Benning, Georgia (the band formed in Gainesville, Florida). In 2012 she faced her gender dysphoria and came out as trans. Grace has never shied away from touchy political topics, but still it must have been hard to come out as trans in the hyper-masculine punk rock community. She faces these themes head on in their most recent release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Whether man or woman, Against Me! is still making explosive punk rock that gets under your skin.

Against Me! – “True Trans Soul Rebel”

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