The evolution of “lesbian music”

Rising out of the riot grrrl scene in the ’90s, Sleater-Kinney offered up punk rock, feminism, and bisexual visibility. With frontwoman Skin, Skunk Anansie fused punk, rock, and even metal in the ’90s and has continued to do so (the band just released a new album this year!). Tegan and Sara ostensibly started in the singer-songwriter genre, but their past two albums have been firmly dance pop, a transition I welcome, but that is far from “The First” or “My Number.”

Skin, leader of the group Skunk Anansie, performing live atPhoto by Paolo Pizzi/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The point is, while lesbians and bi women are often associated with one musical genre, they are now in fact everywhere. Even before the 2000s, they have ranged from indie coffeehouse singers to legends of their genres. Increased visibility, however, means we can trace their presence in the current music industry all the more easily. The indie, punk, and other underground scenes offer far more queerness than the mainstream market, but just by looking at the more widely-recognizable names in major genres we can see the mark that these women are making. Here’s a short, by-no-means exhaustive list of some of the gay women who have made a name for themselves in popular genres.

Pop

Pop is typically a genre of heterosexual romance, but today we have some queer women cranking out some of pop’s biggest hits. Though quietly working under the mainstream radar since the ’90s, Sia is now a powerhouse who has never shied away from acknowledging her bisexuality. Some take issue with Lady Gaga due to the commercialization of her identity and her performance art-inspired exploration of the performer themselves as a commodity, but she has been vocal about her bisexuality in a way that few other pop megastars are able to manage.

Gay women of pop are also making waves outside of club anthems. Last month, Shura (who officially came out as lesbian late last year) argued for the rising new style of pop that defies the cute bubblegum image:

“We’re reappropriating pop and saying you don’t have to be an ex-Disney star to make pop music.”

Shura Performs At KOKO In London Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns

It goes without saying, of course, that Tegan and Sara have become essential figures in lesbian pop music. 

Rap

Angel Haze is often identified in the press as a lesbian but self-identifies as agender and pansexual. Their androgynous aesthetic and work have a particularly queer appeal because they deliberately avoid third-person pronouns in their lyrics, which allows listeners to interpret and relate to the songs as they see fit. Controversial and at times problematic tweets (some exchanged with Angel Haze) keep Azealia Banks in the pop culture news, but she also remains a very visible bisexual woman in the genre. Siya’s career has been a bit more of a slow burn, but being a regular cast member on Sisterhood of Hip Hop has helped put her name out there more. Dai Burger, hailed as an Artist to Watch by Rolling Stone in 2014, released her first EP back in December.

Angel Haze Performs At The Laundry In London  Photo by Gaelle Beri/Redferns

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