Music has been a pillar of the LGBTQ+ community since the dawn of time. Providing representation and visibility, its importance in our culture cannot be undermined. In 2022, we now see an abundance of queer musicians trailblazing the charts, providing a level of queer visibility in pop culture that has never been seen before, but where did this all start? Below, we explore 15 albums that track the progression of LGBTQ+ representation and culture in music throughout the decades.
Billie Holiday – Billie Holiday (1957)
Billie Holiday is heralded as an LGBTQ+ icon due to her openness to the general public regarding her bisexuality. Her self-titled 1957 album is considered essential listening within the queer community, packed full of gender-non-specific love songs, Holiday’s influence is still felt today in the songwriting of younger queer artists such as Arlo Parks.
Sylvester – Step II (1978)
Sylvester stands as an icon in the disco and ballroom scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Sylvester was one of the first to openly challenge the gender binary of society with his androgynous style, paving the way for gender nonconforming artists today. Step II provides the soundtrack of the ballroom scene while also incorporating elements of traditional pop music, so as not to pigeonhole himself into one restrictive genre.
Diana Ross – Diana (1980)
Diana Ross has been an iconic diva in the LGBTQ+ community for decades, from her work with RuPaul to her progressive views on gay marriage. It is in her 1980 album that Ross cements her place in queer history with the lead single ‘I’m Coming Out’ becoming a staple in Pride playlists across the world.
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (1981)
Grace Jones exploded onto the scene in 1977 and was immediately adopted by the queer club scene at the time. Like all pop divas that have found their solace in the community, her lyrics positioning her as a heterosexual woman in search of a man were welcomed and met with solidarity throughout the gay clubs of the ’70s allowing Jones to propel herself to stardom. In Nightclubbing, Jones showcases her signature androgynous persona alongside an in-depth exploration of club-kid culture through her songwriting.
Bronski Beat – Age of Consent (1984)
Written against the backdrop of Thatcher’s England and the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there was little hope for the LGBTQ+ community at this time, and from the socioeconomic ashes, Bronski Beat appeared. Boasting an iconic title critiquing the archaic age of consent laws introduced in England in 1967, Bronski Beat’s politically charged debut is essential listening for LGBTQ+ history, and deservedly earns a spot on this list of influential albums.
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)
Chapman’s debut self titled album catapulted her to stardom as the lead single ‘Fast Car’ became an anthem for many queer women. While never publicly stating her sexuality, Chapman is a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, AIDS research, and gender and racial inequality.
Madonna – I’m Breathless (1990)
A long-standing ally to the LGBTQ+ community, the release of Madonna’s I’m Breathless saw the emergence of the groundbreaking hit ‘Vogue’ and the subsequent introduction of voguing and ballroom culture to mainstream media.
George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice (1990)
Eight years before George Michael’s groundbreaking coming out, the artist released his sophomore album that explored themes of LGBTQ+ isolation and coming to terms with his own identity. This inadvertently helped generations of future queer people to do the same through his music.
Bjork – Post (1995)
In Bjork’s sophomore album she pushes the boundaries of experimental and industrial music. In her search for her own authenticity, she cements herself as a queer icon, therefore earning a spot on our list of albums that have influenced queer culture.
Cher – Believe (1998)
Cher’s 1998 album acts as her induction into the queer pop diva hall of fame, and asks us the iconic question “do you believe in life after love?”. Title track ‘Believe’ popularised the use of auto-tune in pop music and allowed for the sonic bounds of traditional pop to be pushed further than before, a move that arguably would go on to influence hyperpop decades later.
Le Tigre – This Island (2004)
The fourth studio album from punk band Le Tigre provides an anthem for queer and Transmasc visibility in the song ‘Viz’, while also exploring other aspects of the queer experience.
Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011)
The next on our list of influential albums, is Gaga’s third release, Born This Way, which came just after the turn of the decade. With marriage equality only a few years away, Gaga created an LGBTQ+ anthem of self acceptance that would lead Pride parades for years to come.
Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom EP (2016)
Charli XCX’s contribution to queer culture is undeniable, however, with the Vroom Vroom EP, we see the launch of hyperpop in queer music. Produced by SOPHIE, the EP embraces hyperpop; a genre that has been wholly adopted by the queer community and creators alike in modern music.
Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You (2018)
The seventh album from folk artist Brandi Carlile explores themes of lesbian motherhood and heartbreak, showing the more somber side of the queer experience.
SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (2018)
Hyperpop pioneer SOPHIE’s debut is a piece of work that elevated the trajectory of the queer music scene, cementing her and hyperpop’s place in queer history for years to come. SOPHIE’S untimely passing sent shockwaves throughout the LGBTQ+ community and the music industry alike. Read more about her legacy here.
This is just a selection of some of the albums that have influenced queer culture. If your favourite isn’t included, be sure to let us know why it deserves a spot on the list!
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