Take, for example, Troye Sivan. A year prior to releasing his first major label EP Trxye in 2014, the Australian pop singer publicly came out to his dedicated online fanbase — which at the time was already comprised of nearly half a million subscribers on his YouTube channel. The star went out of his way to make his sexuality an inexorable part of his brand and identity, so that when the time came for him to sign his record deal, there was no going back. "In some way, that takes some of the risk away from the decision makers in the industry," says Stokes. "They know they're signing someone, or are putting their resources behind someone who already has a built-in fan base that's proven that they can sell records."
Not all aspects of being an out artist on the Internet are ideal, of course. As Shears points out, queer artists are mainly being shown to those who seek out LGBTQ content thanks to targeted algorithms on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. "I suspect often that those who are seeing it are being shown by the algorithms," he says. "Nobody is necessarily seeing the same thing. We’re looking and listening all day to feeds that are being catered to our online behaviors. Everyone just wants to see themselves, literally and figuratively."
Laws have changed for the LGBTQ community, too. In 2009, the United States was living in a pre-marriage equality world, where "don't ask, don't tell" was still a regular practice in the military and federal protections for LGBTQ people were nearly non-existent. Throughout the Obama era, much of that changed — queer people were no longer barred from serving in the military, same-sex couples were granted the right to marry, and more advancements were made.
With that progress came a major shift in public opinion on LGBTQ rights. The Pew Research Center has been polling Americans since 2004 on whether they approve of same-sex marriage. In 2009, 54 percent of Americans opposed marriage equality, while 37 percent said they favor it. But ten years later, the data shows that those roles have completely switched; in 2019, 61 percent of Americans were in favor of same-sex marriage, with 31 percent opposed.
But for the last few years, those protections have been put into jeopardy under the Trump administration. Whether in the rollback of protections for transgender students, in the transgender military ban, or in their support for legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in three different Supreme Court cases in 2019, the current administration has proven to be stalwart in its lack of support for the LGBTQ community. "When you think about just how far we've come, when it comes to public opinion and acceptance in the last decade, that has to play a big part in that success [of queer pop stars]," says Stokes.
With the general increase in LGBTQ acceptance from the public, but the decrease in support from the federal government, Bronski says this puts queer artists in an unprecedented position. For example, Bronski says queer artists likely expected Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 election, and probably continued making the kind of music they would have made regardless. "I think the music you are hearing that was intended for a Clinton administration most probably did continue as resistance, but was not made as resistance at first," he says. "People were probably thinking, 'Oh, we could do more under Obama, let's keep doing it.' When all of a sudden it was Trump, it became, 'Now we have to do it.'"
With major changes over the last decade with regards to how we consume music, how we connect online and the massive cultural shift toward acceptance, things seem to be better than ever for queer musicians in America. But by the end of the next decade, where should we aim to be? What still needs to change in the music industry to give more opportunities to queer artists?