Pop culture guru David Ferguson is back to share some of the best queer anthems from the 2010s. After curating lists of his favourite ’80s, ’90s and ’00s hits, it’s time to look at the more recent past and revisit some beloved chart toppers.
There’s been a bit of a gap since my last one of these, but the completist in me was always going to do a 2010s one. While this instalment has some quite sad songs, I think I picked some good ones, and hope you enjoy.
‘Gave It All Away’ – Boyzone (2010)
A sombre start. From Boyzone’s fourth studio album, Brother, this was the first single released by the group after the death of Stephen Gately. The song, written by MIKA, was recorded in 2008, so features both Gately and Ronan Keating on lead vocals.
It wasn’t released at the time for unknown reasons, but MIKA suggested releasing it as a tribute after Gately’s death. Garnering 3 million views on YouTube, the music video features the band reminiscing about their friend along with old clips of them together. The single reached number one in Ireland.
‘Born This Way’ – Lady Gaga (2011)
Probably the most obvious choice on the list, ‘Born This Way’ was the lead single of Lady Gaga’s second album of the same name.
In May 2021, she wrote on her social media “‘Born This Way’, my song and album, were inspired by Carl Bean, a gay black religious activist who preached, sung and wrote about being Born This Way.”
In 2023, Rolling Stone named the track the Most Inspirational LGBTQ Song of All Time, claiming that “few artists have had the kind of impact on the LGBTQ community as Lady Gaga, and few songs have fully captured the joy and resilience of the community as this one”. The single reached number one in Ireland.
‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ – Against Us! (2013)
While researching this piece, I checked out the GLAAD Awards for some pointers. It resulted in the discovery of gems like this one.
The single comes from American punk rock band Against Us!’s sixth studio album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which dealt with gender dysphoria, following lead singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace’s gender transition and coming out.
The album received widespread critical acclaim. Speaking about the album Rolling Stone wrote: “A series of bracing songs about a self-destructive girl in a boy’s body… it takes balls to come out this way, in this genre. Godspeed, sister.”
‘Writing’s on the Wall’ – Sam Smith (2015)
With several queer anthems under their belt from throughout the 2010s and 2020s, there wasn’t really any question that Sam Smith would feature on this list. I think most people would have gone with the single, ‘Stay With Me’, their first Irish number one from their debut studio album In the Lonely Hour (2014). However, I’m a bit of a Bond tune guy, and I prefer this addition.
Joining a list of huge names like Madonna, Shirley Bassey and Tina Turner, amongst others, their contribution was written for the movie Spectre. Despite its mixed reception, it became the first Bond movie theme song to reach number one in the UK. It got to number nine in Ireland.
‘for him.’ – Troye Sivan (2015)
Readers of my other GCN articles won’t be surprised that Troye Sivan made my list of favourite queer songs from the 2010s. For me, it was just a matter of deciding which song and from which album.
I personally prefer Blue Neighbourhood (2015) to Bloom (2018) but I did re-listen to a couple of songs from the latter while researching. I thought hard about his Bloom duet with Ariana Grande, ‘Dance to This’, but in the end, I opted for a Blue Neighbourhood song that was not released as a single and does not even have an official music video. You’ll have to settle for a video of Troye singing it live.
He doesn’t tend to fare well in the Irish charts.
‘Boyfriend’ – Tegan and Sarah (2016)
These lists have helped me discover a bunch of new acts. Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin are openly gay twins from Canada who perform as an Indie pop duo. Both are singers and multi-instrumentalists.
The song I selected is from their eighth studio album Love You To Death. The song tackles the subject of defining a relationship.
Speaking about the track, Sara Quin said, “Obviously, being gay, there’s sort of a bit of a gender twist in the song and I get that that sometimes doesn’t seem immediately relatable to everybody, whether they’re straight or whatever. But this idea, you know, that we’ve all been in that situation where we really like someone and we want to make it official and they’re not ready, that’s what the song is about.”
I feel this song should’ve been a bigger pop hit.
‘Los Ageless’ – St. Vincent (2017)
Of all the songs on the list, this one has become most lodged in my brain. I’d heard of St. Vincent due to her collaboration with Talking Head’s David Byrne but hadn’t delved into her discography.
‘Los Ageless’ comes from her fifth studio album, Masseducation. It has been said that it sounds nothing like her previous releases and maybe that’s what made it stand out to me.
Rolling Stone described it as “a gnarled, thumping dance-rock cut”, and I think the chorus is particularly memorable, while the video parodies the lives of Los Angeles socialites.
The song was used in the opening episode of season 5 of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman and may have been originally planted in my brain when I watched that.
‘Make Me Feel’ – Janelle Monáe (2018)
Janelle Monáe’s third studio album Dirty Computer was a departure from the more psychedelic sound of her previous releases, and is a pop, funk, hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul record. After listeners compared the sound to Prince, Monáe confirmed, “Prince was actually working on the album with me before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with some sounds”.
Listening to the single ‘Make Me Feel’ instantly gives you a Prince vibe and he reportedly wrote the synth groove used in the song. Monáe considers Dirty Computer to be “a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities” and her attempt to “step into a more authentic self”.
‘All for You’ – Years & Years
Years & Years and Olly Alexander only really appeared on my radar with the lead singer’s lead role in the series It’s A Sin and his musical duet with Elton John.
For this list of queer tracks from the 2010s, there were two albums worth of material to choose from (Communion (2015) and Palo Santo (2018)). I ended up going with another catchy number, which was the third single from their second album.
Alexander said this track is one to “get deep on the dance floor [and] release your inner demons”.
Describing the concept behind the music video, he said: “The idea that there is a fixed ‘authentic’ you is false to me, we constantly shift and get reshaped by the people who experience us, whether we like it or not.”
‘Sanremo’ – MIKA (2019)
We round out our list of queer hits from the 2010s with the artist who wrote the first song on it – Michael Holbrook Penniman Jr. aka MIKA From his 2019 album, My Name Is Michael Holbrook, comes ‘Sanremo’, which Billboard described as “a shimmering pop jam about finding a place just for you and your lover.”
The music video was directed by Andrew John ‘W.I.Z.’ Whiston, who had previously directed videos for Oasis. The director says the music video takes place in “an era when homosexuality, if not illegal, was socially unacceptable, a time of discrimination and persecution. ‘Sanremo’ represents his utopian dream, a fictional place of liberation and transcendence.”
That concludes this list of queer anthems from the 2010s, and marks the last instalment in the series (at least until 2030!)
For more of David Ferguson’s content, check out his previous GCN work here.
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