9 timeless queer songs from the '90s

From 4 Non Blonde's one-hit-wonder to Elton Johns' Grammy-winning ballad, here are some of the best queer songs from the 1990s.

Screenshots from three music videos for '90s queer songs.
Image: Left to right: Tracy Chapman, DisneyMusicVevo, 4NonBlondesVevo via YouTube

Shortly after listing his favourite ’80s songs, pop culture guru David Ferguson is back, this time exploring queer music of the ’90s. These nostalgic anthems have undoubtedly survived the test of time, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Ok. I was going to wait a while before doing a follow-up to my 1980s piece, but the 1990s songs sprang forth quickly, so I’m gonna dive right in. As threatened, some artists are back; actually, a lot are back, but I guess it says something about my taste in music.

There are a few songs on this list that mean a lot to me on a personal level – read on to find out my top queer hits of the ’90s.

‘In Private’ – Dusty Springfield (1990)


I’m cheating with this one a bit, as it was actually released in November of 1989. However, it became a dance floor hit in early 1990 in the US, despite never being released there commercially. Additionally, it got to number 13 in the Irish charts.

It comes from the Reputations album, which, as I mentioned in my 1980s piece, has a couple of songs produced by Pet Shop Boys. The record was only released in the US in 1997 under the new title Reputation and Rarities, featuring some additional tracks. It’s a great album that includes another Pet Shop Boy-produced song ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’. The song is basically about being the other woman in an affair.


‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M. (1991)

My second artist-repeat from the ’80s is my favourite band, with probably their most misinterpreted song.

Built on a mandolin riff, the song was the unlikely hit single from their album Out Of Time (1991). Its success was largely due to the critically acclaimed music video, which earned it airplay on both MTV and VH1 (and probably drew my attention to it). I loved the song initially as I was already at the age where I was questioning religion, and I took the lyrics at face value.

However, the title, ‘Losing My Religion’, is a phrase from the southern United States (R.E.M. are from Georgia), meaning to lose your temper or feel frustrated. Michael Stype has said it is, in fact, about pining for someone and unrequited love.

There is an excellent episode of Netflix’s Song Exploder featuring the band that discusses the song in detail. The single reached number 5 in Ireland.


The Show Must Go On – Queen (1991)

Next on my list of favourite queer songs from the ’90s is, appropriately, the final track on Queen’s album Innuendo (1991).

Written by Brian May, it deals with Freddie Mercury’s efforts to continue performing while dealing with the effects of AIDS. May was worried that Mercury might not be able to perform the song. However, he recalls Mercury downing a measure of vodka, saying, “I’ll fucking do it darling!” and do it he did. The music video showed no new footage of Mercury, instead relying on old footage of him and the band.

The single was released in October 1991 as promotion for the band’s Greatest Hits II album, just six weeks before Freddie Mercury died. A heartbreakingly beautiful song, it reached number 17 in the Irish charts.


What’s Up? – 4 Non Blondes (1993)

The 4 Non Blondes got their start in the San Francisco bar scene, especially lesbian bars, which garnered them a significant following of queer women.

The second single of their debut album Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, ‘What’s Up?’, actually originates from before the group started, with Linda Perry having written it before then. The title does not appear in the lyrics, but the phrase “What’s going on?” features heavily in the chorus. Linda Perry fought to get her version of the song released as she disliked the reworked version that featured different lyrics.

It topped the charts in a number of European countries, including Ireland, and appears on VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it can be heard at a few weddings and night-outs in Ireland too.


Go West – Pet Shop Boys (1993)

Originally a song by The Village People from their 1979 album Go West, Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys chose it for the duo to perform at an AIDS benefit at the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester in 1992. The duo then decided to record it, and it appeared on their highly regarded 1993 album, Very. The album was called their “coming-out” album due to its content, including this bizarrely moving cover, and Neil Tennant discussing his long-rumoured homosexuality.

The music video relies heavily on computer-generated imagery and features Soviet imagery and iconography. The single got to the top spot in Ireland, the last single of theirs to do so to date and their fourth Irish number one. The Village People only managed number 15.


‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ – Elton John (1994)

Unless I missed something, this is the first song on my list(s) that won an Academy Award. Unusually for Elton John, the lyricist is not Bernie Taupin but Tim Rice.

Played during the closing credits of The Lion King, the song was originally to be performed by characters from the movie, but John objected to its comical nature. He wanted it to follow “Disney’s tradition of great love songs” and said it had the potential to be used to “express the lions’ feelings for each other far better than dialogue could”.

The music video shows Elton John performing the song along with scenes from the movie. The song earned him a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and it reached number 9 in Ireland.


‘Give Me One Reason’ – Tracy Chapman (1995)

Another of my favourite queer songs from the ’90s is this single from Tracy Chapman’s fourth album, A New Beginning (1995), and her first single since 1992. The music video shows Chapman playing the song in a bar with her band. An underrated song; I just love its simplicity about looking for a reason to stay with someone. Chapman did a duet version of the song with Eric Clapton, which was released on a compilation album in 1999.

While it was a hit in the US, her biggest ever, it did poorly in the UK and I actually couldn’t find how it placed on the Irish charts.


‘No Matter What’ – Boyzone (1998)

I probably would have largely ignored Boyzone if it wasn’t for Stephen Gately. His voice was my favourite thing about the band, and he was something of a teenage crush of mine. His coming-out was significant as it was the first celebrity I remember doing so, and I still remember the headline I saw on the way to school: “Boyzone Stephen: I’m gay and I’m in love.” (I knew nothing of the alleged blackmail involved in this revelation).

‘No Matter What’ is one of my favourite of his performances, where he shares lead vocals. The song is from the musical Whistle Down The Wind and was recorded by Boyzone to tie in with the show’s first UK production. It appeared on the band’s 1998 album Where We Belong. It also appeared on the soundtrack to Notting Hill (1999).

Watch the music video for peak boyband fare. It reached number one in Ireland.


‘Outside’ – George Michael (1999)

This song is very different to my 1980s pick for George Michael and is chosen for very different reasons too.

It was his first single since his arrest by undercover police officers for performing a lewd act in public, which prompted him to come out as gay. The lyrics to the song disparage the incident and include the lines “I’d service the community, but I already have, you see” (he was given community service for the incident). Michael has said he wanted to lighten the stigma around cruising, and, for me, it lightened the stigma around being gay in general.

The music video features a police helicopter flying around Los Angeles, catching people, gay and straight, kissing or having sex in public. George Michael is dressed as a police officer and dances in a public toilet that looks more like a nightclub.

The track was the lead single from his greatest hits album Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael (1998). It reached number 7 in Ireland.


Hope you enjoyed the list of my favourite queer songs from the ’90s. Let me know if I have made any egregious omissions!

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