June is Pride Month – a global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and its culture – a reminder not only of how far we've come and the distance we must still travel on the road to true equality.
When you think of LGBTQ+ anthems, old-school bangers by glamorous pop divas might come to mind. But while those songs have a much-deserved place in our hearts, minds and dancefloors, we take a look at some other popular LGBTQ+ themed tracks from recent years.
Years & Years - Starstruck
Olly Alexander is possibly one of our frankest pop stars, speaking openly about his sexuality, struggles with anxiety, and other issues affecting his generation. His music reflects this, and 2014's Desire and 2018's Sanctify are among his most evocative tracks, but his latest single Starstruck - a shimmering slice of pure pop "about holding onto a good feeling and not letting it go" - feels more needed than ever right now.
Lil Nas X - Sun Goes Down
happy pride month 🏳️🌈🤍 pic.twitter.com/HwvtR8KcmP— nope 🏹 (@LilNasX) June 1, 2021
When Lil Nas X's Old Town Road turned him into a global superstar, he planned to hide his sexuality. Two years on, and he is now fully embracing his queerness and channeling it into his music. This year saw him release Montero (Call Me By Your Name) - a track named after himself and the gay romance novel/film - which became his second Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart. His latest single Sun Goes Down sees him address his closeted younger self and the struggles that LGBTQ+ people face growing up.
Janelle Monae – Make Me Feel
During the campaign for her Dirty Computer album in 2018, Janelle was uncompromising in her discussion of sexuality and gender. Pynk was a love letter to all things feminine, and in the stripped-back, hot and heavy funk of Make Me Feel, and its accompanying video, Janelle acknowledged there was more than one way to get off, thank you very much.
Rina Sawayama - Chosen Family
Teaming up with all-round icon Elton John, Rina Sawayama addresses a core tenet of the LGBTQ+ community, that family is not always the people who share your last name, but those you surround yourself with a support your unconditionally.
Troye Sivan – Lucky Strike
If there's one thing Australian YouTuber-turned-popstar Troye Sivan is good at, it's writing deep, catchy and uncompromising songs about sex, boys, and romance that everybody loves, whatever their orientation. The title track of his latest album Bloom is a celebration of sexuality, and it doesn't take too long to decipher the lyrics to work out exactly what he's on about.
In the video for recent single Lucky Strike, Troye finds himself in the midst of a summer romance, while on the song, he confesses to his lover all of the reasons he finds him so attactive.
Sam Smith and Normani – Dancing with a Stranger
Sam Smith has always sung about relatable situations like heartbreak, unrequited love, being James Bond (OK, maybe not that one). Recently, Sam has embraced the dancefloor more, following their chart-topper with Calvin Harris, Promises. Sam has been more open about their gender identity and came out as non-binary in 2019. That same year, Sam released Dancing with a Stranger, teaming up with Normani for a moody, end of the night moody banger.
Halsey & Lauren Jauregui – Strangers
On the surface of it, this is just another (very good) song about a couple who don't want hooking up to turn into anything more serious. The difference? It's about two women and, the bonus part, sung by two LGBTQ artists. Fifth Harmony's Lauren Jauregui came out as bisexual in 2016, in an open letter to Donald Trump supporters, and has been overwhelmingly supported by fans.
MUNA – I Know A Place
American trio MUNA all identify as queer, and wrote this song in response to the shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, where 49 were killed at a club night for Latinx people. I Know A Place talks about the importance of spaces where you can be yourself, among people you can trust.
Perfume Genius – Slip Away
American Mike Hadreas has never shied away from dark themes, and uses his music to express his feelings on sexuality, identity and other issues he's faced as an openly gay man. On The Floor is about a crush that turns into an obsession, telling Pitchfork about the song: "When you’re queer, you’re taught that who you want to have sex with is the shameful part of you, and that’s before you’ve even done it yet."
Sia – The Greatest
She may not have shown her face on stage for a while, but Sia has always been open about her sexuality. Perhaps that's why so many of her biggest hits – both her own and those she's penned for other artists – are about overcoming adversity, having faith in yourself, or being a little worried you don't fit in. The emotional video for The Greatest, which featured Kendrick Lamar, was widely acknowledged as a tribute to the Pulse nightclub shootings. See all Sia's hit singles and albums in her UK chart archive
Hayley Kiyoko – Curious
Hayley has gone from growing up as a Disney child star to being called "lesbian Jesus" by her adoring fans – what a career trajectory. Hayley has a sharp ear for uncompromising bops, starting with Girls Like Girls – "girls like girls like boys do, nothing new" being one sample lyric. Curious and its summery vibes have a deeper theme – the crushingly relatable situation of realising you may have been someone else's "experimental phase" and feeling more than a little put out.
Frank Ocean – Forrest Gump
Just days before the release of his debut album Channel Orange, intense speculation led to Frank confirming his sexuality on Tumblr, telling fans he fell for a guy when he was 19. Many of Frank's songs have explored sexuality, in a variety of ways, and this track uses the characters from hit '90s movie Forrest Gump to represent a story of hero worship and unrequited love. Take a look at Frank Ocean's UK chart archive
Mykki Blanco – High School Never Ends
American rapper Mykki has deconstructed gender, sexuality, identity, sexism, racism and masculinity in her music so far, and with tough tracks like Feeling Special taking no prisoners. High School Never Ends is one of her more emotive tunes, originally written with the refugee crisis in mind, but with a lot to say about finding your own space in the world and the hierarchies that try to keep us where we are.
Christine and the Queens – Tilted
Also known as Heloise Letissier, the French singer found herself a global star when Tilted became an unexpected hit in 2016. The "tilted" of the title refers to not quite fitting in and gradually becoming comfortable with it rather than worrying. "It's about embracing who you are," says Heloise, who identifies as pansexual. With follow-up album Chris, Heloise explored gender and attraction even further, starting with brilliant lead single Girlfriend.
MNEK – Tongue
The singer-songwriter-producer, who's been behind tracks by Beyoncé, Madonna, Little Mix and Stormzy, among others, preferred not to make a big deal about his sexuality until he was asked. Once out – and very proud – he's produced a number of LGBTQ anthems, including Tongue, which he found liberating. "Now I’m not afraid to touch on relationships and on my sexuality in my videos," he said in an interview with Billboard. And he certainly isn't – the video is a wildly colourful scene of gay seduction.
Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend
Openly gay Canadian duo Tegan and Sara have a knack for turning serious issues into danceable pop songs, and Boyfriend's theme will be familiar to millions of LGBT people. Experimenting with sexuality, the pain at being somebody else's secret, and standing up for yourself – it's got everything!
Listen to all our picks for modern LGBT+ anthems in our playlists on Spotify below: