What does a queer song sound like? In the 1970s, the LGBTQ community worshipped at the altar of disco. In the 1990s, the riot grrrl movement coincided with New York City’s ballroom/vogue moment. But what will contemporary queer music be best remembered for?
The answer is complicated, in the best way possible. If queer music existed as a subculture in decades past, then the 2010s might be considered a mainstream Renaissance for LGBTQ sounds. Queer-created music was no longer limited by genre but expanded to a point where representation in the industry reached never-before-seen heights.
To celebrate the last ten years within the queer music space, Billboard Pride has put together a list of the 50 greatest LGBTQ songs of the 2010s — songs that represent the leaps and bounds made by queer people everywhere throughout the last decade.
Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town”
What happens when you mix a folksy soul sound with a thumping EDM chorus? If you’re Adam Lambert, magic happens. “Ghost Town,” Lambert’s biggest post-For Your Entertainment hit, shows the singer living his best life on the dancefloor as he whistles his way through this irresistible bop. — STEPHEN DAW
Against Me!, “True Trans Soul Rebel”
Laura Jane Grace leaned into the curve when she put together Against Me!’s “True Trans Soul Rebel.” Keeping the band’s folk-punk aesthetic intact, this cult-favorite cut sees Grace at her most defiant, as she details the struggle of transitioning publicly, conveying the truth that simply existing in society as a transgender woman is an act of rebellion. –– S.D.
Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me”
Despite its absolutely vicious subject matter, Anohni’s “Drone Bomb Me” is graceful as well. Told from the perspective of a young Afghan girl, the tragic song sees the subject singing a love song to a drone, begging it to take her life as it already had her family. Continuing the tradition of queer artists leading the way in songs of protest, Anohni showed definitively that hers was a voice to be remembered. — S.D.
Big Freedia, “Rent”
New Orleans bounce ambassador Big Freedia took a break from her bootylicious vision of the future for an 808-laden ’80s hip-hop throwback. The guitar riff nods to the historic moment when Run-D.M.C. met Aerosmith, but the mesmerizing chant throughout is pure Freedia – energetic, boisterous and inescapable. When she’s our landlord, paying rent is a pleasure. — JOE LYNCH
Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”
On her emotional ballad “The Joke,” Brandi Carlile had a message to send to the youth of the world — don’t let society tell you what you’re supposed to be. Singing with the kind of emotion not always present in modern music, Carlile spins a yarn for young queer boys being boxed in by toxic masculinity and young women being limited to the social status of their gender. But, as she so eloquently states, the oppressors won’t win because “the joke is on them.” — S.D.
Brittany Howard, “Stay High”
The Alabama Shakes frontwoman stepped out solo in 2019, and “Stay High” showed the world that she stands just as firmly on her own. With a gentle folk-rock vibe permeating throughout, “Stay High” sees Brittany Howard at her most content, as she wanders through a lyrical countryside with her lover. — S.D.
Clairo, “Pretty Girl”
With her lo-fi, bedroom pop aesthetic and buoyant personality, Clairo established herself early on as a breakout voice. On “Pretty Girl” especially, the singer-songwriter pairs her seemingly flippant style with poignant lyrics. As she sings about the expectations of her gender, a wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of self lets the audience know that she could care less about the labels society places on her. — S.D.
Christine and the Queens, “Comme Si”
Christine and the Queens disappeared in 2018, replaced by the enigmatic, gender-bending character of Chris. The world got to meet the singer’s new persona with “Comme Si,” a stunning pop confessional where the singer rejects the norms of successful pop stars and turns instead toward her fans on this instantly replayable anthem for individuality. — S.D.
If all allies were a bit more like Cupcake, the world would be a better place. On the Chicago rapper’s “Crayons,” Cupcakke takes a stand for her LGBTQ fans by spending the whole track roasting any and every homophobe on earth. In typical fashion, the star holds nothing back with her raunchy lyrics, which work especially well on a track where she is trying her hardest to piss off bigots. — S.D.
Frank Ocean, “Forrest Gump”
A deceptively simple McCartney-esque ditty from Frank Ocean’s classic studio debut Channel Orange, “Forrest Gump” finds the R&B auteur singing about his inability to get his old flame out of his mind: “You run my mind, boy… you’re so buff and so strong.” But instead of sounding heartbroken or lost, there’s a quaint affability to the tone: He’s not broken, but he’s not quite ready to move on from the sweet memories, either. — J.L.
Ever looked back on a bad relationship and wished you could erase it? Fletcher certainly has, and she’s got the song to prove it. Breakout single “Undrunk” sees the star reeling from a breakup and angrily recounting the ease with which she falls back into old habits. With utterly relatable lines and a devastatingly catchy hook, “Undrunk” saw Fletcher complete her rise and come into her own as our newest queer pop obsession. — S.D.
Gia Woods, “Only a Girl”
At just 18, pop ingenue Gia Woods was ready to burst out of the closet. With “Only a Girl,” the star did just that — she wasn’t out to her parents, her manager or her fans, but with her single, she couldn’t turn back. “Only a Girl” turned out to be more than just a personal milestone for the singer: the track ultimately became a unifying anthem for women around the world who wanted to see their experience represented in song. — S.D.
Halsey, “Bad at Love”
Representation is important, especially in the bisexual community where it is severely lacking, so getting to hear a mainstream artist like Halsey be completely frank about her past relationships with men and women on top 40 radio was a huge win. “Bad at Love” marked a moment not just for Halsey but for the world, proving that songs detailing queer relationships can be just as popular as anything else while also empowering millions. — S.D.
Hayley Kiyoko, “Girls Like Girls”
On her unofficial coming out song, Hayley Kiyoko managed to reverse antiquated wisdom within the music industry. While coming out was once seen as a destructive move for a rising musician, “Girls Like Girls” showed that it can have the opposite effect — upon its release, Kiyoko began her stratospheric rise to prominence as she sang about finding confidence in your sexuality. Needless to say, this pop gem gave birth to Kiyoko as we know her today: Lesbian Jesus. — S.D.
Lil Peep & iLoveMakonnen feat. Fall Out Boy, “I’ve Been Waiting”
With “I’ve Been Waiting,” iLoveMakonnen managed to craft a great song and pay tribute to his late friend and collaborator, Lil Peep. The song, originally written with his fellow queer rapper for their unreleased duo project Diamonds, ended up serving as a loving goodbye, with Makonnen teaming up with Fall Out Boy (one of Peep’s all-time favorite artists). This beautiful ode to true friendship stands easily as Makonnen’s greatest musical triumph to date. — S.D.
Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
Prince would be proud of Janelle Monáe. On “Make Me Feel,” the lead single of the singer’s masterful Dirty Computer album, Monáe honors the memory of her late friend and collaborator through slick guitar riffs, funky basslines and a sexually fluid message. The song’s lyrics and video proved to be so potently queer that even before she came out in the pages of Rolling Stone later in 2018, fans had quickly dubbed “Make Me Feel” as the latest of many bisexual anthems. — S.D.
“I like my women like I like my honey — sweet” is not a line you get to hear every day from a rising female star in R&B. Kehlani, however, is not your everyday singer. “Honey” saw her putting rumors about her sexuality to rest with a simple, beautiful ode to her lady love. With her glossy vocals and minimalist acoustic instrumentation, Kehlani made sure that the song went down just like actual honey. — S.D.
Kelela, “Truth or Dare”
By the time of 2017’s Take Me Apart, Kelela was openly embracing her queerness. With the funk-tinged electro-R&B odyssey of “Truth or Dare,” her confidence in the bedroom meets her confidence in the studio, and the result is one of the most musically sophisticated late-night jams of the decade. It’ll have you sweaty enough that when it’s over, you’ll also want “nothing on — just music, music.” — J.L.
Kevin Abstract, “Empty”
“Empty” is a far cry from your typical hip-hop record yet contains everything you look for in one. Kevin Abstract bares his soul as he relates the story of his high school years through affecting rhymes and an overpowering beat. But it’s the song’s subject, of a young man caught between his love for his family who won’t accept him and his boyfriend who will, that makes the song all the more relatable. — S.D.
Kim Petras, “I Don’t Want It At All”
Never has a song made us want to call someone a bratty sugar baby (in the nicest way) quite like Kim Petras’ “I Don’t Want It At All.” This electro-pop banger introduced the rising pop princess to the world with a flash as she struts her way down Rodeo Drive in search of designer clothes, a beach house and everything else she could ever possibly want. This infectious track allowed the world to see what Petras was ready to serve up and gave her the necessary velocity to begin her rapid rise to stardom. — S.D.
King Princess, “1950”
In her touching ode to Patricia Highsmith’s queer epic The Price of Salt, Mikaela Straus (a.k.a. King Princess) showed what emphatically queer songwriting looks like in the modern day. “1950” plays as a retro R&B song, where the object of Straus’ desire has transcended that of a normal love. It’s no wonder the song went viral and ended up garnering the attention of Straus’ now-friend Mark Ronson. — S.D.
Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
When you think of Pride anthems of the 2010s, there’s a reason that “Born This Way” is the first song that comes to mind. Lady Gaga took an empowering message of hope and love for her queer fans and spun it into pop gold. The song would go on to make history for Gaga: “Born This Way” become the star’s third No. 1, her first to debut in the Hot 100’s top spot, and even helped her become the first person to say the word “transgender” during the Super Bowl. With its undeniable hook and uplifting lyrics, “Born This Way” not only reflected Gaga’s own activism but helped pave the way for future queer artists to express themselves freely. — S.D.
Over an irrepressible horn sample and a stark beat, Le1f comfortably holds court on why he’s been “fantastic since Scholastic amongst dudes stiff like Mattel.” When the track was released in 2012, few queer rappers were bold enough to deliver lines like “Boys they wanna paint me like I’m canvas to do sumi on” and “I’m the kind of jawn closet dudes wanna go steady on,” but the NYC MC rapped about queer life with a bold candor that paved the way for plenty of followers in the rap world and beyond. — J.L.
Lil Nas X, “C7osure”
2019 was the year of Lil Nas X, and while “Old Town Road” broke records and dominated the conversation, the rapper’s deep cut “C7osure” turned out to be the song that made serious waves in the queer community. At the height of the star’s popularity (and 12 weeks of “Old Town Road” reigning at No. 1), LNX came out as gay on Twitter referencing this song. Listening to the lyrics, it’s easy to see why — in a song about growing up and becoming who he’s meant to be, the rapper makes it clear that the sentiment includes taking ownership of his queerness. — S.D.
LP, “Lost On You”
Undeniably LP’s most successful single, “Lost On You” is also her best, as the groovy rock track details the dissolution of a love gone sour. The singer’s raspy, sincere vocals add depth to her words as she lets her lover know that she’s had enough, making “Lost On You” one of the most essential queer breakup songs of the last decade. — S.D.
Madame Gandhi, “Top Knot Turn Up”
Influenced by baile funk but not too wild about its frequently misogynist lyrics, queer singer/activist Madame Gandhi took matters into her own hands and created a feminist, nonconformist Brazilian trap banger with “Top Knot Turn Up.” “This ain’t no time to come flirt with me / Pipelines and drills are destroying the earth you see,” she spits, urging the listener to tie up their hair, roll up their sleeves and get to work on our collective future over a hip-shaking, dancefloor-ready jam. — J.L.
Mary Lambert, “She Keeps Me Warm”
After finding mainstream recognition and success as a featured guest on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ marriage equality ballad “Same Love,” Mary Lambert decided to make her voice heard, this time entirely from her own point of view. Taking the hook she sang on “Same Love” and adding in a few verses, the star birthed “She Keeps Me Warm,” a touching, personal ode to queer love that helped shape the singer’s path forward toward a bright musical career. — S.D.
Muna, “I Know A Place”
In the 2010s, the political and personal became inseparable. As partisan divides continued to widen, fans looked to artists who could encapsulate the emotional impact of the political environment we all live in. Enter Muna. With their debut major-label single “I Know A Place,” the pop-rock trio made a modern anthem for the LGBTQ community that addressed the painful attacks at the Pulse nightclub in 2016, while also reaffirming the queer community’s desire to feel safe and seen. Especially with their later-added bridge addressing President Trump directly, Muna dared to speak out at a time when the community needed it most. — S.D.
Mika, “Good Guys”
Just because you’re making an important point doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun while doing it. On “Good Guys,” Mika lightly mocks Paula Cole’s 1997 hit “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” with his own lyrical twist, instead asking “where have all the gay guys gone?” Even when he’s making a cheeky joke, the star still makes a point to get real about his queer heroes who helped him get to where he was in 2015, while also looking forward to what the future holds for the LGBTQ community. — S.D.
MNEK feat. Hailee Steinfeld, “Colour”
With irresistible tropical rhythms, instantly memorable lyrics and a well-chosen guest in Hailee Steinfeld, MNEK’s uplifting queer anthem serves as a slice of pop perfection, and yet another example of the star’s undeniable talent as a writer, producer and performer. — S.D.
Mykki Blanco feat. Princess Nokia, “Wish You Would”
In the LGBTQ community over the last decade, Mykki Blanco has consistently challenged the idea that there’s one clear gender identification path that works for everyone — and on their haywire boast track “Wish You Would,” Blanco (with Princess Nokia along for the ride) challenges the notion that anyone can outpace them on the mic. Queer braggadocio has never sounded this delicious. — J.L.
Panic! at the Disco, “Girls / Girls / Boys”
Even before publicly coming out as pansexual, Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie made it clear that “Girls / Girls / Boys” was his ode to the idea of non-monosexual love. The electro-dance vibe of the song adds to its air of charged energy, as Urie belts out that “girls love girls and boys,” flipping one big middle finger to those who would try to erase his or anyone’s inherent pansexuality. — S.D.
Perfume Genius, “Queen”
Not traditionally known as a strict monarchy, indie pop had little choice but to recognize the rule of one Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius), following his posing of the highly rhetorical 2014 question, “Don’t you know your queen?” Resistance was futile — the hurricane winds he summoned with every sashay demonstrated as much — and more importantly, unnecessary, as the lush, sweeping majesty of the song’s slow-as-you-like strut was already stunningly regal. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
RuPaul, “Born Naked”
For more than a decade, RuPaul has been hard at work building the empire that is RuPaul’s Drag Race, and no song in the glamazon’s discography quite encapsulates the show’s philosophy better than “Born Naked.” Building off of Ru’s famous saying “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag,” the uplifting track sees RuPaul challenging the very idea of identity, saying that masculinity, femininity, all of it is simply the ephemeral and that at the end of the day, we’re all just people underneath. — S.D.
Sam Smith, “Stay With Me”
Sam Smith earned international superstardom and Adele comparisons with this still-rousing 2014 soul-pop ballad, proper evidence that such titular romantic pitches are always more convincing with a gospel choir behind them. “No it’s not a good look, gain some self-control,” Smith protests of their own emotional volatility in the second verse — luckily, they’d let themselves off the hook for that as the decade progressed, and by the end of the 2010s seemed to be having as much fun as anyone letting loose. — A.U.
Scissor Sisters, “Let’s Have a Kiki”
If you were a queer person living in the early 2010s, you most certainly have heard Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have A Kiki” to death. It’s more than just a fun dance song (although it essentially is the queer “Electric Slide”); it’s one about the reality of trying to live as a queer person in the early half of the decade. With the era’s constant policing of queer nightlife, sometimes it was simply easier to “lock the doors, lower the blinds, fire up the smoke machine and put on your heels.” — S.D.
Shamir, “On the Regular”
For a minute there in the mid-’10s, no artist seemed more on the pop vanguard than Shamir Bailey, a young disco disciple with innate cool and bangers like the percolating “On the Regular” to spare. “This is my movie, stay tuned for the sequel,” he teased in “Regular,” but listeners weren’t particularly ready for what actually came next with Shamir: A return to the heartfelt DIY indie he was truly passionate about that was largely ignored — a sad example of queer artists of color being limited to the boxes listeners feel comfortable pigeonholing them in. — S.D.
Shea Diamond, “I Am Her”
“There’s an outcast in everybody’s life/ And I am her.” With that statement, Shea Diamond defiantly declared her arrival into the music industry. “I Am Her” has gone on to become a rallying cry for the transgender people everywhere, claiming their rightful space in society and refusing to give it up just because it makes some uncomfortable. — S.D.
London singer-songwriter Shura released one of 2016’s most irresistible albums in Nothing’s Real. Real pop heads know she deserves to be bigger and pop-funk ballad “Touch” is a great example why. With typically incisive songwriting and hooks to spare, Shura croons about a relationship where the chemistry is still there but the timing is no longer right (“There’s a love between us still/ But something’s changed and I don’t know why”), while the synth hook burbles in agreement. — A.U.
St. Vincent, “Los Ageless”
A smirking, synth-y send-up of Los Angeles that doubles as a pulling-your-hair-out-by-the-roots lament for a lost lover, “Los Ageless” is both a bumping electropop bop and a heartbreaking dispatch from the emptiness you’re left with when a relationship collapses: “How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind too?” — J.L.
SOPHIE, “It’s Okay to Cry”
Progressive pop pioneer SOPHIE has had bangers to spare pretty much all decade, but the true show-stoppers are still her ballads, where she cuts away all the pling-ploings and squibber-jibbers that populate her frenetic jams for twinkling synths and heart-punching choruses. “It’s Okay to Cry” was both new and familiar territory for SOPHIE, escalating the sentimentality of “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” to pure synth-pop melodrama while rarely raising above a whisper — at least until the flash-flood climax overwhelmed then immediately exited. It still felt like the future, absolutely. — A.U.
Tegan and Sara, “Closer”
“The night sky is changing overhead,” Tegan and Sara portended in the pre-chorus to career change-up 2013 single “Closer,” indeed risking a perceived heel turn from their indie fanbase by going full synth-pop. The results might’ve been controversial if they weren’t so undeniable: With zooming synths, head-rush lyrics and a shouted ONE! SYL! LA! BLE! AT A TIME! chorus, “Closer” was little less than the queer “Teenage Dream” — which Katy Perry herself tacitly acknowledged by taking the Quin Twins on tour the following year. — A.U.
Tove Lo, “Habits (Stay High)”
Tove Lo introduced herself to the world the best way she knew how — with a sad-yet-danceable track about getting up to get over your problems. “Habits” sees the star throwing caution to the wind as she sings about sex shows, drug use and sugar daddies, all as the metaphorical vices she uses to get over her lost ex. — S.D.
Troye Sivan, “Bloom”
A song that Machine Gun Kelly definitely did not listen to particularly closely before accusing rising pop star Troye Sivan of stealing his stizz with his album title of the same name, “Bloom” was an impossibly alluring mid-tempo love song on an LP full of ’em. Rumored to be an ode to bottoming, the song’s promises of intimacy are sexiest at their most ambiguous, with a lyric like “Play make like a love song” suggesting so much with such economy that it’s a little maddening it wasn’t nearly as big this decade as even the eighth-biggest Chainsmokers single. — A.U.
The Internet, “Girl”
The seductive slo-funk of The Internet (and their singular frontwoman Syd) was about as exciting as much this downtempo got in the late ’10s, with “Girl” enduring as perhaps the group’s most captivating and accessible single — though still the slightest bit eerie and unsettling in its hypnotic lurch. Syd’s casual same-sex come-ons were hard earned after a long tenure as the out queer representative of the gay slur-infatuated Odd Future collective, a status that would later become ironic: “I went through all of these interviews, and everybody was gay the whole time,” she laughed in a 2018 Billboard interview. — A.U.
The Veronicas, “On Your Side”
After their breakthrough hit with “Untouched,” The Veronicas offered up the gorgeous pop ballad about commitment to your cause. While the lyrics certainly allude to a relationship, queer fans everywhere have interpreted the uplifting anthem as a declaration of unwavering allyship in dark times. — S.D.
Wrabel, “The Village”
After President Trump announced the removal of federal protections for transgender students around the country, pop singer-songwriter Wrabel felt it was his duty to make sure his trans fans felt seen. With “The Village,” the star paints a picture (both through the heartbreaking lyrics and powerful music video) of a tumultuous, bigoted home life, while making it clear to trans kids everywhere that they should not be treated with this kind of backwards discrimination. — S.D.
Yaeji was both a brand-new voice in dance music in 2018 and a gratifying throwback to sleek late-’90s house grooving, an irresistible combo of fresh and classic that blended best on “Raingurl,” a song you could lose your mind and body to while also deliberating which lyric would look best on a T-shirt. “When the sweaty walls are bangin’/ I don’t fuck with family planning.” Same. — A.U.
Years & Years, “Sanctify”
The British pop trio have Years & Years have never been afraid to shy away from raw sexuality, and their lead single off of Palo Santo, “Sanctify,” proves that point handily. A sensual song about a romantic tryst with a “straight” man, Olly Alexander controls the track with a sensuous confidence. — S.D.
Young M.A, “OOOUUU”
The consonant-less chorus hook of the decade, it’s probably reductive to call “OOOUUU” the “Bodak Yellow” before “Bodak Yellow,” but it generated the same excitement when its rise to power began — the feeling of just being in the presence of a true star, one who could peel off catchphrases like dollar bills at a strip club. Young M.A’s considerable talents are regularly re-proven in freestyles, one-off singles and even this year’s HERSTORY album, with any remaining doubters just serving as haters for the rapper to shake off her body. — A.U.