LGBTQ Artists on Their Pride Inspirations

Illustration by Paul Tuller
Madonna and Sam Smith

LGBTQ artists reveal who they are inspired by, turned on by and listening to, and the songs and artists they associate with coming out.

I’M INSPIRED BY...

Courtney Barnett. She’s brave. No makeup, no bullshit, incredible lyrics and brilliant guitar player. If she were wearing a miniskirt, she’d be playing arenas!” 
-- Brandi Carlile​

"Andy Warhol inspired my generation to reinvent ourselves and become the superstars of our imagination."
-- RuPaul

​“Sam Smith. He was one of the first international artists who was just out. You knew it from the very beginning, and I think that’s important. You can see he’s taking care of himself while still being vulnerable in the music that he makes.”
-- Melissa Etheridge

"At the moment, I would say SOPHIE. Not only am I incredibly inspired musically by her work, but she also embraces her gender identity beautifully. In my mind, she sort of transcends any category. She is her music and her music is her. I’ve never seen an artist do what she does."
-- Mitch Grassi, Superfruit

"​Ma Rainey provides endless inspiration. She was a totally unabashed iconoclastic rabble rouser who is one of the most unjustly unappreciated blues pioneers. Her performances were legendary: allegedly sometimes including an ostrich feather in one hand and a pistol in the other, she hosted illegal underground queer orgies, and in her hit “Prove It On Me Blues,” she sang the incredible lyrics, 'Went out last night with a crowd of my friends / They must’ve been women ‘cause I don’t like no men / Wear my clothes just like a fan / Talk to the gals just like any old man.'"
-- Lilah Larson, Sons of an Illustrious Father

"'Beautiful' by Christina Aguilera is an amazing song that celebrates everyone being beautiful in their own way and the music video is very powerful. That is probably the first time I saw two people of the same gender kissing when I was a teenager. I feel like the more you see it the more people can accept it because it becomes normal."
-- Anne-Marie

I WAS TURNED ON BY...

“I first remember feeling sexually attracted to a woman watching Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ video. The bondage, the crawling on the floor lapping up milk -- I knew there was something there. Then, when ‘...Baby One More Time’ came out, I had a lot of confusing feelings of hate, jealousy and lust when Britney Spears put on that schoolgirl outfit. I later realized I not only wanted to be her, but I wanted her as well.”
-- Bonnie McKee

I ASSOCIATE COMING OUT WITH...

"I left South Carolina for NYC when I was 17, and I did so so early because of a trip I had taken to NYC with my mom. I saw people walking so freely loving who they loved and being themselves and it was this magic of the city that completely swept me up. I moved there and came out about a year and a half later and it was around the time 'Empire State of Mind' [by JAY-Z feat. Alicia Keys] came out. It was so anthemic and made the city feel even more magical and free if that’s even possible."
-- Parson James

"Celine Dion, All The Way, A Decade of Song. I know she’s not an LGBT artist, but this album was instrumental in my coming out and molding as an artist. She sang from a place I related to and celebrated love without gender constraints.  That’s what I needed during my youth!"
-- VINCINT

“Besides my own album? [Laughs.] I’d have to say k.d. lang’s Ingénue, because she took the dive first and I was like, ‘Well, look at her go!’ I just listened to it and that’s one of those albums you listen to over and over and over and over."
-- Etheridge

I’M LISTENING TO...

“My favorite LGBTQ+ artist right now is MNEK. The world better not sleep on him any longer! He’s our greatest hope, you guys! The talent he has is phenomenal -- the guy can sing.”
-- Olly Alexander, Years & Years

"I’m currently obsessed with Serpent With Feet. His voice is like Nina Simone, it’s phenomenal. His phrasing reaches into your chest and pulls out your beating heart, and his writing is poetic and haunting."
-- McKee

“Shea Diamond. Her voice is raw and vulnerable. She is unapologetic and honest and an incredible storyteller in her work. I am so excited at the prospect of her truly thriving.”
-- Parson James

"I’m actually really getting into Kehlani. Her voice and vibe is just so effortlessly cool. She’s also a queer black, white, Flipino, Spanish, Native-American woman that isn't letting anything hold her back. So dope. Also, her work ethic is just incredible."
-- Scott Hoying, Superfruit

"​Perfume Genius! For the life of me, I can’t believe how many times I find myself gushing emphatically over No Shape only to be met with a slight loss as the person has no idea who I’m talking about. In the vast sea of both sameness and eclectic-ness that is music right now, Perfume Genius manages to stand out and write some of the most beautiful and engaging pop music, and really digs into some heavy things lyrically, confronting sexual identity and the hardships that often come with it."
-- Josh Aubin, Sons of an Illustrious Father

A version of this article originally appeared in the June 15 issue of Billboard.