From left: Justin Michael Williams, BAUM, Shamir, Pronoun & Frankie Simone
From left: Justin Michael Williams, BAUM, Shamir, Pronoun & Frankie Simone
Courtesy Photos; Design by Jessica Xie

12 SXSW Performers Sound Off on the Importance of LGBTQ Representation in the Music Industry

The 32nd annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival is set to storm Texas next week, beginning Monday. With nearly 2,000 performers slated to take the stage, the festival will highlight musicians of all genres. In preparation for the colossal fest, Billboard Pride spoke to 12 acts slated to appear about the importance of LGBTQ representation in the music industry.

“The music marketing machine represents a very unrealistic view even for the straight community, let alone its almost 100 percent lack in representing the LGBTQ community,” said Middlespoon singer Alexander Beatz.

Portland-based pop artist Frankie Simone added that queer representation is more important than ever given our dark political climate: “The music industry is unique in that it is capable of spanning across all political parties and directly into the hearts of all identities. It's the perfect catalyst for universal growth and positive change.”

Check out 12 of our favorite acts set to take the stage at SXSW.

Tangina Stone

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

There are so many reasons. For one, I think that it is important because the LGBTQ community deserves to see themselves in this industry. Or community deserves to see themselves in every industry. Secondly, LGBTQ youth who are at risk and need creative outlets benefit immensely from knowing that it is possible for them to attain success and happiness in this field.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

They should expect a raw and unique musical journey. It's going to be beautiful. My band and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity and it will show.

Any upcoming plans?

I plan to tour a ton and work on a new project with one of my favorite producers, WOLFGXNG. I also plan to get a nice tan.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

“Anxious.” Listening to that song will really give insight about the way that I think, the platforms that I care about and who I am.

Troy Garrick

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

In a time when genres are a bit quirkier and more experimental, it’s important that there’s plenty of artists, especially LGBT+, to keep that momentum of change to inspire new sounds, style and artistry.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Think church choir solo meets the middle of nightclub.

Any upcoming plans?

I spent all fall and winter wrapping up new material, so I’ll be riding the post-release waves. Hopefully, that includes a tour.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

Soon, I could say some of my new tracks. But, “Slurrin’ Werdz” should be a good appetizer. It’s pop and R&B with uncertainty.

BdotCroc

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

It is important for music to be inclusive and also to reflect diversity so that we all get a chance to understand each other. Also, it is important to show others that it is possible to be authentic and be able to touch others who may not share the same beliefs.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

SXSW attendees can expect to get to know who BdotCroc is on a more intimate level. I’ve been on a journey of self reflection this last year, hence why my latest project is titled Detour. Life is full of detours, but it’s a part of the journey and you must embrace yourself and your passion about during that process. My musical road map will be displayed on stage; I plan to take the audience on a ride through the Detour.

Any upcoming plans?

My plans for this spring/summer is to continue to work on new music and release an official EP. I’m so excited about where this Detour has taken me, so I know this next season will be very special. I’m looking forward to doing more traveling, touring, spreading my fan base.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

“SPAZ” would be the record! Newly released for SXSW, it gives you a glimpse into my style as a lyricist, but also shows you the complexity of what I stand for as an artist.

DVWEZ

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

LGBTQ representation, as well as any minority representation, is so important in the industry because there’s an incredibly diverse group of players. We all have a chance to make an impact on how the industry grows, and it’s so important to be a part of the conversation.

My queerness seems like such a small part of who I am as a whole, but sharing my story authentically allows others to feel included and picture themselves in the industry. Just using “her” or “she” in my lyrics, which seems so natural, is just a small whisper of acceptance to someone who shares a similar experience.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Expect lots of open and relaxed energy -- I love to talk to the crowd and get us all on the save wavelength. I’ll be adding some new textures to the live set to give listeners a different experience from when listening to the records.

Any upcoming plans?

I’m really excited to be releasing new music after about a year. I took a moment to get back to producing more, so these tracks feel more personal. I’m working on telling a story from only a perspective that could be uniquely mine. I also explored more acoustic instrumentation with these new songs — it just felt so good!

I’ll be gearing up to perform the new music in summertime, to play some major cities and really connect with my LGBTQ fans during Pride season.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

Definitely “Celebrity.” There’s a sense of raw emotion in that song that can really be felt. It was my first release and such a special, intimate moment for me to be stepping out as a brand new artist. I still get lost in that song every time I perform it — I just get transported to a different place. “Celebrity” also captures that sultry, R&B, downtempo feel that I really connect to at the core of my artistry.

pronoun

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

All the different people working and playing music in general is what makes it so special. Otherwise we would just look like Trump's cabinet.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Old songs and new songs! I will be playing new music for the first time. Also likely a lot of sweat and stench because we'll be running around the entire week from showcase to showcase, ha!

Any upcoming plans?

I'm going on tour with Citizen! [I’ll be] gone for basically the entire month of May with them. Besides that working, finishing my album and endlessly hanging out with my Sleep Well family.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

I would say my new single "Run" because it just came out. It's a bit of a rockier direction. Plus I played all my other songs last year at SXSW!

Justin Michael Willams

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

In a world where we are creating art and music for the enjoyment of all people – shouldn’t we have an industry where all people are represented? Music should be a topical and sonic reflection of the world we live in.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

I’m really excited about my showcase because it’s the first time I’m ever performing without my full band – so the focus will be fully on my voice and the deep sounds of my electro pop music. I’m honestly a little nervous. When there’s no band, the artist has nothing to hide behind or lean on. As you can imagine, I’ve been rehearsing a lot for this one. My mantra for this showcase: I am enough, as I am.

Any upcoming plans?

New music is coming! I’ve been back in the studio recording and collaborating. Collabs are my favorite because they always give birth to an entirely new sound and vibe that you wouldn’t expect.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

“The Turning” will give people a really good idea of where my music is headed in 2018. I’m committed to using my music, my platform, and my voice for the power and liberation of our people. I believe in music and art that has a message, and this is my first original song that’s unapologetically and unmistakably for the movement.

BAUM

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

Everyone needs to hear music that speaks their truth or at least aligns with who they are. It’s detrimental for someone to look at the media and only see straight, white people being glorified — we need to see women, people of color, trans artists, artists with disabilities, anyone who has been marginalized, in the mainstream media so that everyone feels included and celebrated.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

My set for SXSW has a lot of new music. I’m going to play all five songs from my EP, and three or four new ones I’ve never played before. It’s a full band set up with tracks.

Any upcoming plans?

I’m going to be writing and recording this spring/summer, and I’m gonna play some shows.There are a couple of exciting things I can’t announce yet. It’s going to be a busy few months!

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

The title track off my EP is called “Ungodly," out March 16. I wrote it about being purposefully self destructive in order to have something to talk about and something to distract you from the hard parts of growing up. The whole EP is very much a coming of age story.

Lauren Ruth Ward

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

It is important for everybody to be acknowledged and heard, especially in an industry that has always helped perpetuate the understanding of the human condition. History has shown that the most meaningful music comes from strife and struggle. The LGBTQ community has only begun to skim the surface of being understood and valued. There is still a huge gap to bridge. Representation in the music industry will only help bridge the gap.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Love and energy. Thank goodness for my wireless microphone. When I am moving around the stage, I forget I am performing. I also love going into the crowd. It feels like a surreal love drug for my mind. It feels good when someone tells me they felt like I was “in my own world.” Sometimes it takes a song or two to get there but most times I can tap in immediately. I have my band to thank for that. They’re all so talented and are my best friends. I feel very safe. I feel very lucky for the entire experience.

Any upcoming plans?

East Coast tour in April and West Coast tour in May. June 7 we’re playing 89.7 WTMD’s First Thursdays in my home town of Baltimore. I met my fiancee, LP, at this fest in 2014. And June 9, we play LA Pride!

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

'Well, Hell.” It’s the title track of our debut album. There are a lot of words and feelings in that song about how I see the world right now. It’s one of our more energetic songs -- most are. It’s true to our live performance. Unless we’re playing a show in LA, where we’re based out of/have the biggest following, we usually only get about 25-30 minute to play. We currently have enough material to play over an hour so we like to keep those 30 min sets high energy. If you enjoy the track “Well, Hell”, you’ll enjoy the live show.

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Middlespoon

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

Growing up in a small Texas town, I didn’t have any gay role models. My conservative Christian family raised me to think that homosexuality was a sickness and a terrible sin, so I spent years pretending to be straight. I didn’t want to lose my friends and family, and I grew to hate myself and my sexuality. When I was 21 years old, self-hate and hopelessness consumed me. I was ready to end it all. I chugged a bottle of painkillers and chased it down with a bottle of vodka, and as I waited for the drugs to end my life, I called my family and shared my ‘terrible’ secret. Although they didn’t react well, it was the first step on a long road to self-love. I survived the incident, but many don’t. Unfortunately, this story is way too common.

I think it is important to represent the LGBTQ community in the music industry, because I know this story is still happening every day. I know kids are out there hurting. LGBTQ kids need to know that they are beautiful and that nothing is wrong with them. That they are loved! We will not be put into a box and swept under the rug. We are worthy. We are beautiful. We are proud. (Jinx McGee)

I think it is important as reality itself. My hope is that we can get to a place of total inclusion. The music marketing machine represents a very unrealistic view even for the straight community, let alone its almost 100 percent lack in representing the LGBTQ community. It’s always been odd to me, living in such a diverse culture with an immense amount of differing preferences, that the only preference that is presented is the straight, white perspective. This has never resonated with me because it’s not real. In fact, it’s never been the reality, but instead a mere one-dimensional projection of a dominant and domineering perspective that through time has always been afraid of truth and diversity. (Alexander Beatz)

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Our show is an expression of self love, an invitation to let your freak flag fly sky high. It’s not a “fuck you” to the man, but instead we invite everyone, including the man, to come and celebrate the beauty of individualism. SXSW attendees should expect the week’s best dance party saturated in freakiness, self-love and our signature feel-good vibes. (McGee)

Any upcoming plans?

This summer we will be touring in support of our debut EP, HouseWife due in May. Then we’ll be taking some time to record our first full length album in collaboration with some of Austin, TX’s immense talent. We’ll also be changing our live show to include choreography, dancers, lights and props. (Beatz)

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

“LightningBug” is a song about individualism. It’s a song about not only loving someone, but encouraging them to be their truest, freakiest self. If you don’t listen closely, it might sound like a regular love song, but embedded in the fun summer jam is a message of acceptance and openness. (Beatz)

Blonde Maze

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

I have two views on this. One is from the angle of an artist - think about all these LGBTQ artists who had a hard time growing up in their own skin, and now they are representing a large community of the music industry. That's amazing.

The other angle is from the listener's perspective. There are people who can't relate to anyone around them -- they're so incredibly confused about how they feel, and they can't change what's true about them them no matter how hard they try. Seeing an LGBTQ artist out there representing their community gives these people two things: 1) the opportunity to actually relate to something in the midst of their inner struggle and 2) possible encouragement for them to find their own medium of relief. Whether a listener looks up to an LGBTQ artist as an inspiration to be more comfortable with themselves, or as an inspiration to make their own creations -- musical or otherwise -- the comfort that can be provided is genuinely influential.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

This will actually be my first time playing the new set I've been working on. I've added a lot more live drumming, some instrumental interludes, and I focused more on the overall vibe I'd like the show to have -- something in between music to dance to and music to relax to.

Any upcoming plans?

I've got a couple of collaborations coming up which I'm super excited about, and an EP that will introduce the next stage of my music and who I am as Blonde Maze.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

Probably “Antarctica.” I think it was the first time I was able to properly expose vulnerability in my music, via the lyrics and the overall way it sounded. I wasn't in the best place when I wrote it, and I think you can hear that, which I hope comforts people who can relate.

Shamir

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

Queer artists are still seen as niche which can be frustrating when your identity is in the forefront, but isn't always linked to your art. LGBTQ artists should be comfortable being seen as artist first and not an “LGBTQ Artist.”

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

Me drunkenly screaming over broken guitar chords.

Any upcoming plans?

I’m chilling this spring before going to Europe and hitting the road with Unknown Mortal Orchestra this summer.

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

I think my song "Straight Boy." It’s a simple guitar song about toxic straight pride and masculinity and how its ultimately harmful to queer people.

Frankie Simone

Why is LGBTQ representation in the music industry important?

LGBTQ representation in the music industry is more important now than ever, because we're experiencing such chaos and divide in our political world. The music industry is unique in that it is capable of spanning across all political parties and directly into the hearts of all identities. It's the perfect catalyst for universal growth and positive change.

On a more personal scale, I think one of the most important reasons to have LGBTQ representation is for LGBTQ people to be able to look at, and up to, figures in the music industry and see themselves reflected back.

Growing up, I didn't feel like I could fully see myself in mainstream artists. I just didn't quite fit in. So one of my main driving forces in this work is to create more visibility -- to have queer-identifying people see what I'm doing and know that they can successfully be whoever they want to be. And that being LGBTQ is actually a superpower -- and totally normal.

What should SXSW attendees expect from your showcase?

A whole lotta high vibe magic! My dancers and I put on a fierce, sexy and pumped up show that aims to channel self-empowerment. We have energetic, synchronized choreography and a really raw, intimate dynamic between one another. Every show feels like a lit celebration of just being alive.

Any upcoming plans?

My debut EP comes out on June 1, and we plan to tour all summer long. I'm so incredibly excited to be sharing my music with so many beautiful souls this year!

Which of your tracks is the best introduction to your catalog?

Definitely “War Paint.” It's a reclamation of power and a celebration of surrender and arrival at ones most authentic self. In short, it's about all the shitty, derogatory things people have said to myself and my queer community, and us responding by reclaiming all of those hurtful words; standing in our power and knowing our truth -- that we are beautiful and worthy of all the good this life has to offer, just like everyone else.

Gay Pride Month 2017