instagram/janellemonae

Content note: This article contains mention of anit-LGBTQ violence.

The influence of artists from the LGBTQ community on popular music is great but also hard to quantify, especially because for much of music history, pressures put on entertainers has kept them in the closet, either to sell a family-friendly normativity or to maintain their safety. But in recent times, several artists are making waves, and even breaking into the mainstream, who feel emboldened to reflect our experiences in the work and proudly represent their community. As LGBTQ History Month draws to a close, it feels like an appropriate time to look to the future and consider the brightest queer and trans stars the music industry has to offer.

For an artist who was adored by the legendary Prince, a notoriously discerning artist, it is a crying shame that Janelle Monáe isn’t seen as the icon she is, a decade into her career. Her most recent offering Dirty Computer, accompanied with a visual she dubs an “emotion picture”, received universal acclaim upon release and a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. The common thread running through her work is her penchant for concept albums, her exploration of Afrofuturism in her aesthetic and visuals and the broad range of musical influences, including funk, soul, gospel and dance-ready pop. In addition to her stellar discography, she holds undeniable power as a proud and visible Black, pansexual and non-binary performer.

instagram/iamsheadiamond

Shea Diamond offers a perspective sorely needed in an industry which so often lacks substance. With a deep, full tone to her voice and a sound rooted in soul, the singer addresses a vast range of topics in her lyrics, including the beauty of dark skin, a longing for a fairer world and her life before she began a career in music. In her very first single she recites, “There’s an outcast in everybody’s life, and I am her,” reflecting on the ways that our society marginalises her and other Black, trans women, singing with gravitas and duly-earned conviction. While she hasn’t released anything new since last summer, her music is available to stream and purchase on all major platforms.

London-based artist Rina Sawayama is an eye-catching artist who also happens to be a Cambridge graduate. Influenced by 2000s-era rhythmic pop, her delicate yet agile voice is often stacked in airy harmonies which float over saccharine synths in much of her work. With fan-favourite single and music video “Cherry” the artist announced her bisexuality to her audience and extols the virtues of self-love, complete with expressive choreography and a soaring chorus. More recently, Sawayama released the nu-metal number “STFU!”, aimed at casual bigots who refuse to pipe down, as the lead single of her upcoming debut album RINA coming out this April. 

instagram/karnagekills

The next artist has been drawing attention in his London hometown for a few years now, but hasn’t yet gained the widespread visibility he deserves. Karnage Kills is a trailblazer within grime as a fearless femme gay rapper. With throat-cutting bars which drip with self-assurance and conviction, and a deft ability to flow over a variety of genres, the Grime Barbie is a force to watch, especially as other artists like him make room for themselves in the hypermasculine world of UK hip-hop. Among my personal favourites are the perennial “Hoe Diaries”, a summery hit reminiscent of the ‘90s where he runs down a list of his filthiest escapades, and new track “Vibes”, a chilled yet confident party tune. His mixtape Game Over, Vol. 1 dropped earlier this month and is available to stream on Spotify and SoundCloud.

Los Angeles native Syd can only be described as a hidden gem. Former lead vocalist of Grammy-nominated neo-soul band. Her timeless song “Body” is a strong contender for one of the greatest slow jams of the 21st century. She also lent her vocals to KAYTRANADA’s shimmering hit “You’re the One”, a queer dance floor anthem if there ever was one. The singer has confirmed a new solo album will arrive in the near future, and in the meantime, her debut effort Fin still sets her apart as an artist to watch, her warm voice floating over intimate bedroom R&B and slinking trap beats.


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As the drag queen with the most Instagram followers in the world, surpassing even legends established for decades, it is surprising that many beyond Latin America are still unaware of Pabllo Vittar. Her 2017 Carnaval hit “K.O.” has already surpassed 350 million YouTube views, a remarkable feat in a country with alarmingly high rates of anti-LGBTQ violence. Her music blends traditional sounds from the Brazilian north-east from where she hails, with from trans-Atlantic future pop, which makes for anthems rooted in the summery horns and upbeat rhythms of Brazil but marked with a keen ear for global trends. Those plugged into the pop scene might have already noticed her collaborations with artists such as cupcakKe, Charli XCX and Diplo. At the tail end of last year, she released a four-track teaser EP featuring songs in Portuguese, Spanish and English, the second part of which is due this year.