In 2015, Hayley Kiyoko was best known for roles in Lemonade Mouth and the straight-to-video Scooby-Doo prequels when she released Girls Like Girls, a stuck-in-your-head single that wasted no time telling the world that Hayley was officially out and proud. The video was even more in-your-face, showing two girls in love without sexualizing or fetishizing lesbian relationships.
Hayley flew under the radar for a bit longer — but this year, she’s back, and she’s gone all-out. Dubbing 2018 “20gayteen,” she’s embracing her title “Lesbian Jesus” with her debut album “Expectations.” The cover features a naked woman with her back to the camera, and Hayley looking on in appreciation, but once again, it subverts the male gaze and becomes an image of empowerment.
Alongside other out artists who are making huge strides in LGBTQ+ representation, such as Kehlani, Muna, and Shura, Hayley has helped listeners realize that it’s important to be unabashed and unashamed when it comes to your gender and sexuality. And people are definitely taking notice: newcomer King Princess pays tribute to decades of fighting to be open about same-sex love on debut single 1950, and it has had 30 million streams in less than two months.
Here are five other LGBT artists (among so many others!) to check out for music to suit your every mood, whether you’re queer or otherwise.
Kiley Lotz, who has opened for Julien Baker, makes raw and honest soft rock songs about love, ideas of home and comfort, and her anxiety. On “Magic Gone,” her sophomore album, she tackles “fighting for my right not only to survive but live all while coming to terms with encroaching adulthood,” as well as mental health, growing up closeted, and finally embracing her queerness. Petal’s music is refreshing and achingly real, as if you’re walking hand in hand with Kiley toward a common goal of self-actualization and clarity.
Their 2017 release “Silver Haze” unfolds from the dual viewpoints of Jade Payne and Mars Dixon (a.k.a. Mars Ganito), but punk band Aye Nako gives voice to the trans community, women, and people of color everywhere. Covering themes of blackness, self-acceptance, childhood trauma, and prejudice, their songs are all about rising up and telling important stories to reach out to and affect people who have gone through similar experiences. And, yes, the band owes its name to Mars’ Filipino heritage.
On folk-blues outfit Hurray for the Riff Raff’s latest album “The Navigator,” singer-guitarist Alynda Lee Segarra presents an overarching narrative about a woman coming to terms with her gender and sexual identity, class, race, and culture (she’s of Puerto Rican descent). “What’s interesting about all of those elements together is that it can attract a lot of different people, can relate to it,” she told NPR. “That’s something I’ve learned over time: learning how to be comfortable with yourself as a complex person, and feeling like you don’t need to throw away any part of yourself in order to become an artist, or feel connected to one particular group.”
An alien crash-lands on earth and takes refuge in a closet. This alien, an asexual and genderless creature called Bedspacer (pronouns he/they), comes from a planet where there’s no concept of gender or reproduction. When they’re not repairing their travel gear to make their way back to where they’re from, they make music — ambient and electronic tunes occasionally fused with trap and future beats, among others. The project heavily revolves around the theme of home and how its concept is ever-changing. It’s also an attempt to present an identity completely detached from gender and gender-related stereotypes.
Once a member of hip-hop collective Odd Future and currently lead vocalist of The Internet, Sydney Bennett, better known as Syd (formerly with the distinction “Tha Kyd”), is also a solo R&B artist and songwriter who writes songs about women — specifically, being attracted to them, pining for them, and entering into messy, intense relationships with them. In an interview with FasterLouder, Syd reiterated that she wants her music to speak for itself and resonate, and go beyond how she identifies. “I never really talk about being gay,” she said. “My songs are about women, but that’s just me writing about what I know.”