“I tried to think about all the songs that help me establish myself in a culture of LGBTQ art,” Carlile tells Billboard. “We’ve got Elton John, we’ve got Janice Ian, we’ve got Erasure, we’ve got Boy George. It’s almost an unfathomable truth that this is my community and I’m proud to be a part of it. My playlist serves the diversity and the honesty of that journey for me.”
Queen, “Somebody to Love”
I know that the lyrics are not necessarily joyful but it’s a joyful gay anthem. I love it so much — because the sentiment. I hear it from the voice of a very young person coming out of the closet and feeling like they’re the only gay person in the world, and you need somebody to love when you’re in that stage of life.
Neil Young, “Philadelphia”
That song makes me cry every time I hear it. The Philadelphia soundtrack had a really big impact on me when I was a kid. It kind of really opened my mind to a world that I really didn’t know existed.
Greg Holden, “Boys in the Street”
Greg’s not a famous artist, but when he put this song out I was so touched by it. I’d love to see more people hear it. He has a verse about his father and it goes “He still won’t hug me like my brother/ And he still won’t kiss me like my mother/ He’d say, ‘You are part of this family, I made you myself/ But the way that you act isn’t good for your health/ My son, stop kissing boys in the street’.” And I think it’s so powerful and a really brave song to sing. I’ve actually sung it with him before, and it’s really hard to get through.
Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
It’s a classic lesbian pick. It’s about expanding your mind. I see the Indigo Girls as maybe the most authentic political gay icons of the last forty years.
Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
I thought that was a very brave song for him because he’s calling out someone’s ability to change color and shape because they sit into a place in the gender paradigm that he didn’t fit into and he couldn’t change his color and shape and his in-love-ness is painful on this song. I love it. Even though it’s got a joyful sound, it has a painful sentiment.
Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”
I think that lesbians have a sort of knack of finding a gay anthem wherever they want to. There’s always gonna be that gay anthem where there’s nothing gay, but we hear what we want to hear.
Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Erasure is pure joy to me. I’ve loved them since I was a teenager. There’s no way to stay in a bad mood when you put Erasure on.
George Michael, “Father Figure”
I think George’s voice is totally one unparalleled. There was only ever one and there will only ever be one George Michael. His kindness and joyfulness just pour out of his voice.
Janis Ian, “At Seventeen”
“At Seventeen” is probably the original lesbian anthem. It perfectly articulates the awkwardness of youth, and it’s even more intense when you’re gay because you don’t have an explanation for why you feel so uncomfortable and so incapable of participating in the dance of youth, where you’re supposed to be attracted to the opposite sex. I’m hoping there will be a time when the song seems outdated because there will be an explanation for the awkwardness for LGBTQ youth.
Antony and the Johnsons, “You Are My Sister”
They are one of my favorite bands of all time. I Am A Bird Now is an insane album and “You Are My Sister” is a wealth of metaphor.
Elton John, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
Elton John is my greatest hero of all time and this song is a true story about when he was saved from living a lie and going through with an ill-fated marriage in his early 20s. In this song, he literally puts his head in the oven to end it all and is whisked away to the country where his parents live with his best friend Bernie Taupin, who has written like every Elton John lyric since like 1966. The Elton and Bernie story is my favorite platonic gay love story of all time.
Janelle Monae, “Pynk” (feat. Grimes)
I think she’s really revolutionary. In this particular video and song, the older generation of rock ‘n’ roll dude bands are getting a roast and I love it because you have to read between the lines. She’s totally roasting The Rolling Stones on this song.
Sam Smith, “Him”
I have a special affection for Sam Smith and both of his albums are in high rotation in my house. I said before that there will never be another George Michael and I agree that there will never be another George Michael but I think spiritually Sam Smith carries on his spirit of kindness and faith perfectly. He’s my absolutely favorite singer right now. He’s unapologetically gay in his art and his life.
Emily Saliers, “Train Inside”
This is a really lesbian song. I grew up in rural Washington state out in the sticks and there was a lesbian bar that I couldn’t wait to go to. It was called Tracks because it was near the train tracks. And they started letting me in when I was eighteen but they wouldn’t let me drink until I was 21. Anyway, I began to notice how few places outside the gay bar there were for gay women to congregate and hang out — we were all drinking a lot and almost every one of our relationships were based on it. It didn’t take me long to figure out how few of them would work out beyond the bar. So, I don’t know what Emily wrote this about, but for me, it feels like that time when these women are in love beyond words but only one is ready to leave the bar.
Amy Ray, “Lucy Stoners”
Amy Ray and Emily [Saliers] — they took a lot of the heat for us in the early 90s from the traditionally dude-heavy mags and rags. Amy Ray sprung from that LGBTQ verbal abuse with a punk ass rocker attitude about her. She has been calling out misogyny for almost 30 years from a place of total experience and in this song she does it in a way that youthful and exciting and guarantees that she’ll never get on the cover of any magazine ever again.