by Janii Yazon
Almost 50 years since the beginning of the LGBT Rights Movement, the queer community still fights against societal oppression, a struggle that has, in recent years, overcome obstacles both great and small. But the battle for representation rages on. Fortunately, there has been a rise in queer and trans artists both coming up in the charts and coming out to the world. October 11, 2016 marks the 28th anniversary of National Coming Out Day (NCOD), an event which acts as a reminder of the power of coming out. Recognizing that LGBTQ folk historically could only act defensively in the face of anti-LGBTQ adversity, NCOD celebrates the societal opposition of coming out. Here are five up-and-coming LGBTQ artists to add some good, proud vibes to your Fall 2016 soundtrack.
Straying from her children’s TV beginnings as Velma (Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins) and Stella Yamada (Disney’s Lemonade Mouth), Hayley Kiyoko has been making huge strides in the music business in recent years. Most memorable is her 2015 single “Girls Like Girls,” the music video which went viral for focusing on the hesitation and excitement of falling in love with someone of the same sex. Her EP Citrine, which was released on September 30 this year, delves even deeper into Kiyoko’s personal struggle with her sexuality and her eventual pride and confidence. The music video for “Gravel to Tempo” shows Hayley both/either seducing and/or rebelling against the stereotypical pretty girl clique she sees in high school, with the song’s lyrics urging her to accept herself and what makes her different. One of the more popular songs on the EP is “Pretty Girl”, which her fan base has declared an anthem for young queer women grappling with coming out. Hayley Kiyoko follows fellow queer pop stars Troye Sivan and Halsey in bringing some Pride to mainstream pop music.
On their 2015 album You Look A Lot Like Me, Mal Blum intimately croons simple yet heart-wrenching lyrics over both familiar folk sounds and gentle acoustic guitars. The lead singer Blum, who identifies as non-binary and trans, celebrates and laments love in this album. Some tunes urge the listener to rock out and dance while others to provide the perfect soundtrack for staring out the window on a rainy afternoon. Mal Blum dismisses complex instrumentals in favor of using music as a medium for furthering the already intense expression that writing allows. This allows them to focus on the stories they’re telling, from bouncing around city to city to relationship struggles with women they loved to the inevitability of growing up. Throughout You Look A Lot Like Me, there are bursts of confidence and energy as well as moments of insight and insecurity, making it an incredibly human record.
Elizabeth Lowell is an openly bisexual electropop singer-songwriter who has been making her way through the music industry in recent years, most recently having a song with Icona Pop featured in the 2016 film Nerve, and releasing an EP titled Part 1: PARIS YK earlier this year. Before that, she released her first LP We Loved Her Dearly in September of 2014. This infectious, bubbly record features the anthemic number “Lgbt,” which centers around the chorus, “LGBT, LOVE, Don’t hate our love.” In this track, Lowell criticizes the “old people” who shame the “young people” for being who they are, saying they cannot accept change or recall what it was like to be young and see love as something pure, not something to be regulated. Her newer music may not include such obvious referrals to her sexuality, but Lowell nevertheless remains self-assured and an active critic of the encouraged conformity of society.
This Brooklyn duo made their debut just over a year ago with their album Ugly Cherries, and have since become an iconic name in the queer punk scene. PWR BTTM, featuring Liv Bruce on drums and Ben Hopkins on guitar, have struck a balance between maintaining their fringe identities as members of the queer community while also bringing that narrative to a wider audience. Their debut album matches their very, very loud characters: messy, idiosyncratic, chaotic, a collection of random pieces of random puzzles that have been haphazardly placed together in a way that adds new dimension to familiar styles, new definitions to the idea of completion. Ugly Cherries features songs about love interests all across the gender spectrum, as well as feeling comfortable not only in one’s own skin but in one’s own space. All these self-love and good love messages powered with vivacious, daring guitar riffs and mercilessly catchy melodies. PWR BTTM have come up at a time in history where societal understandings of sexuality and gender are at their most fluid to remind us that, no matter what the world throws at us, “Queer Is Invincible.”
Steph Knipe is a non-binary and queer singer-songwriter whose confessional lyrics have made them a prominent name in the indie music scene. Their latest LP Momentary Lapse of Happily covers a vast array of topics, including gender identity and expression, the ups-and-downs of love, and the ever-elusive frustrations and worries of young adulthood. Momentary Lapse of Happily is an album that shines due to Knipe’s candid sincerity, though their smooth voice and clean instrumentals help establish an atmosphere that welcomes and encourages change. Incredibly intimate and vulnerable, Knipe offers an experience with their music akin to listening to a close friend vent and feeling comfort both in being able to be a pillar for support and in realizing you are not alone in your anxiety, failures, or messy thoughts.
For other people, music is an escape from reality. But for LGBTQ folk, music is very much like coming out: an active effort to make oneself visible and heard. It’s also a way to come to terms with oneself and begin to have pride. And as long as there is hostility towards the queer community, there will be more passionate resistance from queer artists. Happy National Coming Out Day!