A wave of LGBTQ artists and allies have made strides with their music videos in recent years, spotlighting narratives and stories that affirm queer and trans people, and create a greater understanding outside of our communities for the joys and hardships that we experience on a daily basis.
The music videos below capture the breadth and complexity of the queer and trans experience — coy adolescent crushes, entrancing displays of sexuality and desire, heart-wrenching reminders on the loss and isolation.
From #20Gayteen MVPs Hayley Kiyoko and Troye Sivan, to LGBTQ allies like Little Mix and Avicii, a wide range of artists have instilled a new virality and urgency into the form by celebrating the LGBTQ community in all of its beauty. Here’s some of our favorites.
“Beautiful,” Christina Aguilera
When the video for “Beautiful” debuted in 2002, Christina Aguilera broke new ground for trans and queer visibility by bringing to light the isolation that comes with living and loving as an LGBTQ person. To this day, Aguilera continues to advocate for LGBTQ people, sharing the stage during her most recent Liberation tour with drag icons like Lady Bunny and Carmen Carrera and donating the proceeds from her 2016 single “Change” to the families affected by the horrific shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that year.
“What’s It Gonna Be?,” Shura
Shura’s vision of high school on “What’s It Gonna Be?” is romanticized, somewhat implausible, and, as a result, way better than most queer people’s lived experience of their teenage years. In the Set It Up-esque visual, Shura and her (real-life) brother conspire to win over their long-time crushes. For Shura, it’s the pretty-boy jock, and for her brother, the even-prettier female classmate. Queer bliss ensues, however, when the plan goes awry. Shura ends up falling for her beautiful lab partner gal, and her brother makes moves on the jock — on a soccer field, no less.
“Lay Me Down,” Sam Smith
Sam Smith’s elegiac ballad gets a beautifully somber music video to match. As the melancholy song soundtracks a funeral service for his spouse, Smith reminisces about happier, more blissful times, as the song’s epic third act blossoms into the wedding that was held at the same church.
“Pynk,” Janelle Monáe
From the iconic pussy pants (which were on sale for a hot second) to, well, Tessa Thompson’s head poking out of the aforementioned pants, Janelle Monáe’s visual for the Dirty Computer highlight is a testament to the power of pink. After the release of the Prince-indebted jam “Make Me Feel,” “Pynk” etches a clearer portrait of Monáe? and Thompson’s largely-private love life. (Catch the full “emotion picture” Monáe? released in conjunction with the album to witness the two kissing.)
“Keisha Complexion,” Shea Diamond
Soul singer Shea Diamond’s own revolution will be televised. Dressed in a barely-there negligee, she becomes a steaming sexpot, turning one man’s curiosity into full-on lust. Diamond became a critical darling with the release of “American Pie,” a scorching, Stax-like blues number about finding her place in society as a trans woman, On “Keisha Complexion,” she has so much fun playing the coy vixen and nothing more. It makes you wish that there were more unabashedly joyous representations of trans desire in media.
“What I Need,” Hayley Kiyoko (feat. Kehlani)
#20Gayteen reached its peak when the steamy, fan service-y “What I Need” dropped. A Thelma and Louise-style adventure between two lovebirds — played by queer pop idols Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani — goes south when the couple’s getaway car breaks down in an unknown patch of desert. Wait until the end, though: There’s a roadside kiss between our two heroes as passionate as you’re ever to see in a music video.
“Come Over,” The Internet
Think of this brightly-hued video as every ‘90s sitcom blended together into a four-minute jam. The Internet’s members all live in a house together, and they’re all pining for someone. Frontwoman Syd playfully tries to vie for a gal’s attention by throwing rocks at her window and serenading her during band practice, and, well, it works. (Catch guitarist Steve Lacy’s boyfriend, too, as they wear matching yellow shirts in his rocking guitar solo sequence.)
“1950,” King Princess
You want to be immersed in the world of “1950” — at least in the way that Mikaela Straus, more famously known as the retro-pop revivalist King Princess, portrays it. Straus is mustachioed in Sharpie, has flowers in her hair, and, all the while, presents a vision of love that’s so quaint and lovely that it’s impossible to not get swept up in it all.
“Bounce Back,” Kodie Shane
The female gaze is alive and well, as Atlanta rapper Kodie Shane spins the objectification of women in rap into something very, very queer on the video for her 2017 single “Bounce Back.” It’s characteristically dark and brooding, like most sensual rap music videos, but Shane’s admiration of the feminine form becomes something radical here.
“Heaven,” Troye Sivan
The rich history of sacrifice that our queer forebears faced lives within the modern-day LGBT experience, as Sivan astutely shows in the music video for the Blue Neighbourhood favorite. The personal and the political truly collide, as images of LGBT rights pioneer Harvey Milk, Pride rallies, AIDS marches brush up against Sivan embracing a man in the rain. “Without changing a part of me, how do I get to heaven?” he sings.
“Sick of Losing Soulmates,” Dodie
Anchored by a lonely guitar line, Dodie’s “Sick of Losing Soulmates” captures a blossoming relationship bogged down by the weight of the past. The video is devastating, showing the nuances of a relationship between two young women experiencing their first queer love and its eventual downfall. For more heartbreak, scroll through the YouTube comments section for a while — it’s like you’ve caught a glimpse of hundreds of too-personal diary entries.
“Kiss the Boy,” Keiynan Lonsdale
The Love, Simon star’s song to is set to a sweet home-movie style collage of real-life couples — across genders and sexualities — kissing each other gently on the cheeks. “Love is a game we deserve to play,” sings Lonsdale, as he shows an intimate, reel-to-reel display of folks who have won the game of love for themselves, and want to share the brighter possibilities ahead.
“Naked,” Siena Liggins
Siena Liggins oozes confidence and braggadocio on this ode to the divine beauty of the feminine form. Think “New Rules” — bright tones, beautiful gals, coordinated choreo — but way, way, way more explicit. “Girl let’s get naked/ I been anticipating,” sings Liggins in her unexpectedly soft coo, a filthy come-on wrapped in silk sheets and rose petals.
“Only You,” Cheat Codes (feat. Little Mix)
Electronic duo Cheat Codes’ collaboration with U.K. girl group Little Mix is an anthem to all-consuming love that can overpower even the most powerful forces of nature. In the dreamy, supernatural video, a red-headed wallflower stumbles into a house party only to find a romance for the ages with an ethereal, fantastical stranger. They share a night together, only for it to be spoiled by the grips of reality.
“The Village,” Wrabel
The video for “The Village” bills itself as a dedication “to all the colorful birds” forced to molt themselves into an identity that does not belong to them. One trans teen finds their true colors in a brave, subversive acceptance of their identity, despite finding themselves isolated at school and in a conservative home life — a reality for many LGBTQ kids forced to constrain their true selves for the sake of fitting in.
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Directed by Ryan Lewis and Jon Jon Augustavo, the beautiful short film captures one man’s path to same-sex love — from the first touches, to the first (tense) family dinners, moving in together, taking his hand in marriage — leading up to their wedding day. As home movies from people’s childhoods play early on, the visual serves as a reminder that, despite the strides the LGBTQ community have made in visibility and acceptance, that there’s still so much to go to ensure equality for future generations ahead.
Los Angeles is a desolate city. Sprawling out hundreds of miles and, really, only easily accessible by car, it doesn’t make itself conducive to romance. Not only does R&B artist Asiahn get to the lonely heart of the City of Angels, she ties it into her own quest for connection — as she sits on a bed with an unloving woman, her voice provides the emotional wallop for a line as vulnerable as “Open your soul to me.”
“Symphony,” Clean Bandit (feat. Zara Larsson)
The British electro-classical trio give space for a devastating rumination on grief in the video for their ecstatic dance-pop jam “Symphony,” as we witness a loving black queer couple torn apart by untimely catastrophe. Zara Larsson takes charge of an orchestra, bending the stirring strings and dissonant synth lines to her soprano. But more importantly, the video is a startling reminder of how crucial art can be in overcoming loss, and in celebrating our loved ones.
“I Know A Place,” MUNA
Like that one iconic Flower Power photo from the ‘60s — where a man places a flower delicately on the barrel of a gun aimed at him — MUNA preaches unconditional acceptance and peace as they assemble in front of a militarized police line. It serves as a testament to the power of enacting change and progress systematically, by convincing an individual person to “lay down their weapons” and come join your side in peace.
“We’ve come a long way since that day,” sings featured vocalist Salem Al Fakir on Avicii’s “Silhouettes.” The music video for the late EDM pioneer’s song of resilience and overcoming depicts a trans woman’s gender-affirming surgery in all of its difficulties, and a newfound life of joy, pleasure, and understanding that she has found for herself since undergoing the procedure.
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