Since Hayley Kiyoko’s “#20GAYTEEN” hashtag went viral on New Year’s Day, 2018 has been an impressive year for LGBTQ musicians, with Troye Sivan, Janelle Monáe, Halsey and Kiyoko herself all highlighting the rainbow hues in pop culture. But not every queer musician got the attention they deserved: Across genres -- from hip-hop to K-pop, from folk to house -- queer artists released some of the coolest, most forward-thinking music without due fanfare.
That’s where we come in. Before we move on to 2019, here are 50 great songs you might have missed by LGBTQ artists that deserve your full attention. If there’s any justice, maybe some of these standout tracks will see a delayed (but overdue) surge in the new year. See them all in alphabetical order by artist below, and find a Spotify playlist with all 50 of them at the end of the post.
Bay Area transfemme musician Star Amerasu flips the script with the futuristic lead single from her exceptional debut full-length, Star. Tired of being heartbroken, she revels in her new role of ghosting and running away from men before they can crush her.
Aja feat. Mitch Ferrino, “Brujeria”
Drag Race fav Aja delivers aggressive bars -- and shoutouts to witchy favs like Stevie Nicks, Glinda and Marie Laveau -- over a drum-heavy tribal beat.
Alextbh, “Still Mine”
Those looking to spice up their sexytime playlist need not look further: queer Malaysian singer Alextbh delivers on this vibey ‘90s R&B-infused bedroom jam.
Ames, “Picture in My Mind”
Songwriter Amy Kuney (Kelly Clarkson, Michelle Branch) recounts the modern day horror of seeing an ex’s every move on social media with this hazy slow jam. “I’m happy for them, but also -- they’re like flaunting this stuff,” she tells Billboard. “I shouldn’t have to see that.”
Baum, “This Body”
“Don’t call me Barbie/ does it look like I own a fucking thing in pink?,” asks Baum in the first verse of this empowering middle finger to gender roles. She says that she wrote the song after she was aggressively catcalled: “In that moment, I felt like all my power was taken away.”
Big Momma feat. CupcakKe, “No Fats, No Femmes”
Florida rapper Big Momma turns the popular cringy Grindr profile disclaimer “no fats, no femmes,” on its head for this empowering rap anthem -- with a guest verse from the biggest LGBTQ ally in hip-hop, CupcakKe.
Brandi Carlile, “Every Time I Hear That Song”
While this track is a breakup ballad, the first line in the chorus doubles as the title of Brandi Carlile’s critically-acclaimed sixth studio album, By The Way, I Forgive You. Ahead of the album’s release, the folk singer (and most-nominated female artist headed into the 2019 Grammys) launched an initiative to have fans share their stories of forgiveness. Carlile shared a story of a pastor who refused to baptize her when she was a gay teenager: “It was not so much that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do it because of the tenants put in place by the Baptist rules and traditions, but because you waited until all my family and friends were present and waiting in the pews for the ceremony.”
Brandon Stansell, “Hometown”
LGBTQ representation in the country scene is stil sparce, but artists like Nashville-native Brandon Stansell are making waves: his touching music video for “Hometown” -- which draws inspiration from his own coming out story -- debuted on CMT in November, bringing a queer storyline to the network's country music fans. “I think that people, especially in the south, who listen to country music are more open and loving than we give them credit to be,” Stansell tells Billboard. “We just have to give them the opportunity to show us."
Brooke Candy feat. Lil Aaron, “Nuts”
“I go nuts/ They call me nuts/ I go nuts/ So don't you wanna go fucking nuts?,” shouts Brooke Candy as she channels her inner ‘90s riot grrrl over a crunchy guitar loop and skittering percussion.
Carlie Hanson, “Mood”
It takes a very specific conviction to sell lyrics like “Taking pictures of our pictures so they know we cool/ That’s my mood,” but Gen-Z pop singer (and Troye Sivan tour mate) Carlie Hanson pulls it off with unflinching confidence.
Carlos Vara, “Numb”
This bluesy wave-crasher may sound like a break-up jam at its surface, but Carlos Vara wrote it about the numbness he felt after coming out. “It was really written at a time in my life when there were just so many emotions going on with a bunch of different relationships and I felt, well, numb to it all,” he tells Billboard. “It was all a blur.”
Dizzy Fae, “Booty 3000”
“Play with my booty and tug on my hair,” teases Dizzy Fae on the chorus of “Booty 3000,” a standout among several gems on her genre-bending Free Form mixtape. This track deserves to be in regular rotation at queer bars.
Donna Missal, “Girl”
Bisexual singer/songwriter and King Princess tourmate Donna Missal bares her deepest emotions to a girl who has her “all fucked up” in her feelings on this soul-rock ballad.
Frankie Simone, “War Paint”
Portland-based Frankie Simone’s debut is a percussion-heavy joint demanding to be synced in an Apple spot -- but its lyrics are less playful than the clap-happy beat implies. “The meaning itself is really about all of the shitty things that people have said to myself or my friends in the queer community,” Simone tells Billboard. “I feel like it can relate to anyone who's ever felt ostracized for being who they are.”
Layered vocal loops ungulate through this sparse, indie track which the non-binary LA-based singer-songwriter says is about “the sometimes chaotic relationship with yourself, and everyone else.”
Holland, “I’m So Afraid”
After topping the fan-voted Dazed 100 list, K-pop’s first openly gay idol released both “I’m So Afraid” and “I’m Not Afraid,” contrasting tracks that deal with the fear he had in coming out publicly and the subsequent feeling of freedom. He tells Billboard that he hoped the songs would bring his fans comfort, adding that “it was also important to show the fear.”
Jaimie Wilson, “Everything Is New”
“Everything Is New” is one-of-a-kind: singer-songwriter Jaime Wilson originally recorded the folk-leaning track when he was 18-years-old, female-bodied, and not out as a transgender man. Five years later, Wilson rediscovered the track while scrolling through old emails and decided to release it as a duet with himself. Wilson says the song is about the struggles of life: “sometimes the only thing holding us back is ourselves.”
Jessie Saint John, “Move”
Songwriter Jesse Saint John (Britney Spears, Camila Cabello) makes a solo play with this cowbell-beating swerve left. The track wouldn’t be out of place on a turn-of-the-millennium teen flick, which makes sense given his influences: “When I was approaching writing for myself, I found myself inspired by a lot of ’90s cinema, quirky, dangerous, wild films -- like Go and The Doom Generation,” he tells Billboard.
Jordy, “Just Friends”
Jordy Shulman’s brand of nothing-to-hide honesty makes his “Just Friends” instantly relatable. The memorable hook pleas to an unrequited love and is the perfect preview for Jordy’s upcoming EP, appropriately titled Welcome to the Friendzone.
Kandy, “Feelin’ KNT”
Whether you’re about to roll up to a club or your stomping a makeshift runway in your living room, Kandy’s caffeinated EDM banger is sure to make you feel your fiercest; it was inspired by the drag scene in NYC after all!
Keiynan Lonsdale, “Kiss The Boy”
It was impossible to watch Love, Simon without falling in love with Aussie actor Keiynan Lonsdale. Consider it a bonus that he can sing and write too: inspiration for his soulful slow jam “Kiss The Boy” struck when The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss The Girl” popped up on his social media feed. “I was like, ‘Oh, that's so funny. I wonder if I can do a cover of that song, but change it to about a boy?’ It didn't work, but I was thinking about the Love, Simon trailer and I was really happy.” The rest is history.
Kiddy Smile, “Be Honest”
As a member of the House of Mizrahi, Paris-based performer Kiddy Smile is a prominent face of France’s ballroom community -- he even performed for the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron. On “Be Honest,” Smile tells the story of a gay kid being fired from the church choir over a gospel-charged house beat. “That’s my story and that's the story of thousands of black kids -- gay, black kids,” he tells Billboard.
Kim Petras, “Can’t Do Better”
Few are poised for a major breakthrough in 2019 as Kim Petras. Her bubbly, synth-heavy “Heart to Break” got some love on pop-friendly corners of the Internet, and she caught Halloween fans’ attention with her brilliantly dark holiday-themed EP Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1. As her enchanting collab with Cheat Codes (“Feeling of Falling”) starts to take off, it’s important not to forget “Can’t Do Better,” a power-ballad that sees Petras channel her inner Pat Benatar.
King Princess, “Pussy Is God”
Mark Ronson signee King Princess saw some success on the Alternative Songs chart with her debut “1950” (it peaked at No. 17), a song inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book, The Price of Salt, which depicts a lesbian love story. She followed up her debut EP Make My Bed with “Pussy Is God,” an irresistible mid-tempo track co-written with her famous girlfriend Amandla Stenberg, which updates her bluesy-pop sound with some hip-hop flourishes.
Leadr feat. TXVX, “11:11”
From the start, “11:11” sounds like magic. Between Leadr’s delicate vocals and the ethereal trance beat, this track is a spa day for your brain.
Leo Kalyan, “The Edge”
Don’t let the twinkling ornaments fool you; under its shiny exterior, London-based Leo Kalyan’s “The Edge” is a heartbreaking song about the execution of gay men who are being pushed off the tops of buildings in Muslim countries because of their perceived sexuality. “In childhood I would cry but now my dreams are dead/ I wonder if love is a crime as I stand on the ledge/ I’m guessing that this is my time as I stand on the edge,” Kaylan sings on the heavy chorus.
LP, “Girls Go Wild”
Laura Pergolizzi — better known as LP — buckles up her boots and gallops to the wild, wild west on this doped up, rockabilly-lite ode to her own June Carter.
Lucy & La Mer feat. Bugsy, “Rebel Babe”
“It’s my right to misbehave/ Cause I’m a rebel babe,” declares Lucy LaForge, known as her stage moniker Lucy & La Mar, on the bridge of her feminist call-to-arms. Despite the song’s angsty message, the lyrics are buoyed by LaForge’s sunny voice and a spunky, new wave veneer.
Maggie Lindemann, “Obsessed”
Maggie Lindemann broke out of her “social media star” shell with this trop-pop takedown to the narcissists in your life: “You’re so obsessed with yourself/ Maybe you should undress with yourself,” she sings matter-of-factly on the chorus.
Mila Jam, “Bruised”
On “Bruised,” Brooklyn artist Mila Jam paints a glum picture of the cycle of violence and abuse that transgender women of color often fall victim to. “This is just another layer to [the #MeToo movement], where your voice isn't even being heard, and you're silenced because of death,” tells Billboard.
“I’m putting both hands over my mouth/ I can only hope nothing’s gonna come out/ But there it is, at the tip of my tongue/ I think I love you, I think you’re the one,” chants MNEK over a beat that modernizes the complicated R&B-pop sounds of the turn of the millennium. After high-profile co-writes for the likes of Beyonce, Madonna, Dua Lipa and more, “Tongue” and the rest of MNEK’s own glorious debut LP Language are owed a listen.
Pabllo Vittar, “Problema Seu”
After high-profile collabs with Charli XCX and Diplo, Brazilian mega star Pabllo Vittar is starting to gain traction in the States. As the most followed drag queen on Instagram -- she has more than three times as many followers as RuPaul -- it's only a matter of time before her flamboyant brand of technobrega tracks, like “Problema Seu” and its espionage-themed video, see Stateside appreciation.
Punk Adams, “Corner Store”
There is little information available about NYC-based Punk Adams, but if the wobbly drone of “Corner Store” is any indication, this won’t be the last we hear from this self-described “big, fat motherfucker with the puffs.”
Rayvon Owen, “Like a Storm”
These days, being a former singing reality TV competition contestant carries a stigma -- one that former American Idol fourth placer Rayvon Owen quickly dismantles on his sexy, dark pop offering “Like A Storm.”
Milwaukee-based sisters Victoriah and Hannah Gabriela conjure up a happy medium between Carly Rae Jepsen and Haim with this twinkling synth-pop breakup bop.
Rina Sawayama, “Cherry”
London-based Rina Sawayama takes it back to the late ‘90s with her super-sweet R&B-pop “Cherry,” a track that served as her coming out as pansexual publicly. The feather-filled music video is just as fabulous: “It was an all-queer POC cast. Literally everyone on the creative team and on set was queer, so it was such a celebration,” Sawayama shares with Billboard.
Roy Kinsey, “Mississippi Mud”
Upon listening to Chicago-based rapper Roy Kinsey’s witty lyricism and smart references, it shouldn’t come as a shock that he also has a gig as a librarian. “Mississippi Mud,” a harrowing joint off his poignant debut album Blackie: A Story By Roy Kinsey, finds the rapper critiquing racial injustices of America's past and present over interpolated old spirituals.
Ryan Cassata, “Daughter”
“I didn’t change who I am/ I’ve always been a man/ Still it changed your world/ But dad, I’ll always stay your little girl,” singer/songwriter Ryan Cassata sings in one of his most personal tracks to date. The folksy manifesto details Cassata’s experience coming out as trans to his father. He tells Billboard that the experience was difficult at first, but ultimately led to better understanding on both sides: “My parents treat me with love and respect and support me in everything I do, so to me, being their daughter and their son is not bad."
Sakima feat. Robokid, “Apps”
Emerging R&B singer Sakima is over hook-up culture -- a sentiment made clear on his menacing, bone-rattling collab with LA-based artist Robokid: “If I’m the only bitch on your map, you gotta delete all those other apps,” he commands at the top of the track.
Shea Couleé feat. Gess, “Gasoline”
While most Ru girls rush to release cheesy, club-friendly tracks after their time on Drag Race, Shea Couleé serves up shades of Zayn on her lethargic R&B team-up with singer/songwriter Gess.
Shea Diamond, “American Pie”
Empowerment anthems can easily teeteron the cheesy side, but that’s not an issue with trans soul singer Shea Diamond. Given her backstory -- one that includes a decade served in men’s correctional facilities -- it’s obvious that ability to deliver stirring, raw lyrics comes from a sincere place.
Siena Liggins, “Flowerbomb”
Detroit-based singer/songwriter will charm the pants off your girlfriend with this flirty serving of pop perfection. “I know that she ain’t doing her job/ So when she slip up/ I pick the shift up/ And put in work overtime,” she sings.
Solomon Ray feat. Rob.B and Mancandy, “Así Así (Remix)”
With the help of Rob B. and Mancandy, reggaeton artist Solomon Ray delivers the type of sizzling, sex-positive lyricism usually reserved for hetero musicians. Why should straights get to have all the fun?
An instant highlight from Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, Sophie does Madonna proud by distorting the chorus of the pop icon’s 1984 mega-hit "Material Girl" and re-working it into her own short-circuiting dance club soundtrack.
Starrah, “Codeine Cowgirl”
After co-writing hits for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Camila Cabello, Rihanna and Drake, superstar songwriter Brittany Talia Hazzard (better known as Starrah) makes a play for solo stardom on this sedated, Auto-Tune-heavy banger.
Trixie Mattel, “Little Sister”
Of the 126 drag queens to prance into RuPaul’s Drag Race’s bubblegum pink werk room, a healthy number have released musical projects, but few are in the same league as Trixie Mattel. The All Stars 3 winner isn’t just a singer -- she does it all: Mattel writes, produces and play her own instruments. It makes the tracks off this year’s charming folk-pop One Stone even more impressive -- especially album highlight “Little Sister,” which sees the drag star channeling Dixie Chicks.
Vardaan Arora, “Dance Like You”
“I wish I could dance like you/ Throw it back in a dive at 2:00,” slurs New Dehli-born pop singer Vardaan Arora over a thumping beat perfect for a boozy weekend outing. The track is complete with a Britney Spears-esque spoken word breakdown: “You thought I was going to sing a bridge, didn’t you?,” Arora laughs.
Vincint, “Remember Me”
Vincint caught attention after his rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” on the Fox reality competition The Four went viral. With his own solo tracks, “Marrow,” “Mine,” and especially “Remember Me,” Vincint has proven he can take his vocal prowess and transform it into delicious, sweet-as-honey pop.
Years & Years and Jax Jones, “Play”
Olly Alexander and Co. already delivered their epic concept album Palo Santo this year, so we were caught off guard when they announced a separate team-up with English DJ Jax Jones. The result is Years & Years’ most danceable record yet -- a must for anyone craving something with some pep in its step.
Zee Machine, “Brainchemistry”
LA-based Joe Bissell, known under the alias Zee Machine, kicks off “Brainchemistry” with a powerful sample from a 1993 RuPaul interview: "The pendulum swung so far to the right, that it's gonna come crashing back to the left.” The track, which doubles as a Sparknotes lesson in queer history, is a funk-infused reminder of the strides the LGBTQ community has made since 1969’s Stonewall riots.