The ladies of synth-pop trio Muna have had a busy year. Last fall, the band supported Harry Styles as the opening act of his tour, and earlier this month, they made a cameo in Netflix’s new queer teen rom-com Alex Strangelove. Now, Muna is joining artists like Superfruit and Keiynan Lonsdale on GLSEN’s new musical collaboration with Heard Well, Pride, a compilation album of LGBTQ artists, out now.
The band’s three members — singer Katie Gavin and guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson — chatted with Billboard about the project, the importance of queer representation in music and touring with Harry Styles.
“I Know a Place” is become a gay anthem in a way. How has it been seeing this kind of feedback to this track?
Gavin: It’s been really cool. I wish I had a more eloquent answer, but it’s just really great. We’re really happy that people are connecting with the song that belong to the community that we also consider ourselves a part of.
McPherson: It’s been really joyful. I saw a video of someone doing a drag performance to the song, and that was such a joyful moment, so that would be my word.
Maskin: Yeah, every time we play it, it’s very centering, because it reminds me every time why we’re doing this and why music can still matter. It’s like when you are laughing really hard and all of a sudden you are sobbing.
Well, it’s the first track on GLSEN’s new collaboration with Heard Well, Pride, a compilation album of LGBTQ artists. Why is this project important to you?
McPherson: I think it comes down to the fact that obviously this isn’t the most important thing that can be done in terms of activist work, but representation is very important. People having access. The fact that there are openly queer artists that are able to sustain careers in music is a cool thing. GLSEN is such a great organization to support.
The past couple of years, especially this year, we’ve seen an influx of artists being very open about their queerness — not just in interviews, but in their music and videos. Halsey, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani are all finding success with music that has unquestionably queer messages. What do you think is causing this sort of shift in the music industry?
Maskin: I think the scales tipped. I think that it has literally been centuries coming, and then the scales tipped. It’s so interesting, because we started as a band jamming in 2013, and then in 2014, we released music and we were having conversations then about identifying as queer, and I think we were witnesses of this happening, because we were making choices when it was happening about our identity. The way that we imagined it would go is really different than the way it went. We just happened to be around when the scales tipped, so I’m so grateful to everyone who’s put out music, recognizing all the artists that were brave enough to keep being like, “We’re gay,” even when it didn’t have any type of capital benefit to them or put them in headlines in a favorable way.
Gavin: It took decades of hard work of a bunch of people in the music industry being in the closet and then coming out, thinking it may ruin the financial aspects of their careers or tarnish their image in some way. There are so many artists and bands that had to be brave before we could all do this and not really think twice about it. We’re really lucky. Super lucky.
I have a theory that with this political climate, people are waking up and are more interested in hearing stories from people that are different than them.
Maskin: I agree with that completely.
Gavin: We’re having the same kind of political backlash like any kind of alternative music in any decade that had included political strife. You could say the same thing was happening during Vietnam. There’s always an influx of creativity when there’s an influx of incredibly difficult social circumstances.
McPherson: My first thought would be, with this administration, people would think that now is the time to tell their stories honestly. But you think it makes people interested in hearing other people’s stories — what makes you say that specifically?
In music, you’re seeing all these artists who are minorities sharing their stories. You’re seeing movies like Love, Simon and Black Panther being successful. And TV shows like Atlanta, Handmaid’s Tale and Queer Eye all have massive followings. It’s not just that the stories are being told, but people are consuming them. So I think people are thinking, “We should be paying attention to people that aren’t just our straight, white selves.”
McPherson: The generation coming up is the queerest generation there ever has been in America in terms of how many of them identify, so it’s not even stories that are separate from their own. I guess it is an openness and a sense of okay-ness.
We joke about watching movies like But I’m a Cheerleader when we were younger. I remember watching that on a downloaded file in my room and cleared my history after. Now, it’s like if you watch Love, Simon on Netflix, you’re not going to be scared that you watched that. There’s less shame.
Speaking of Netflix, you have a cameo in the new queer teen rom-com Alex Strangelove. What was shooting that like?
McPherson: We had such a good time. Everyone was so wonderful. We were just dancing the whole day. The whole cast was so, so cute. We felt very lucky to be able to do it with such fun people.
Gavin: The boys were so sweet and I actually ran into one of them. I go to the Moonlight Roller Rink in Glendale, and I randomly ran into Antonio Marziale — the one with the curly hair — like two weeks before it came out. He looked amazing on roller skates; he looked just like his character. Like, I think he’s the same person as his character.
McPherson: Being in it was really such a dream because we grew up watching like 10 Things I Hate About You and all these movies that were cool — obviously the band in Freaky Friday, Pink Slip, is a huge inspiration.
I loved how after the scene they were talking about Katie’s hair.
Gavin: I screenshotted that. They’re talking about Josette, too. “I like when the guitar player throws her hair back.” Yeah, it was very cute.
You toured with Harry Styles, who is notorious for bringing a rainbow flag on stage. What was it like to tour with him?
Gavin: It was really fun. We played bigger shows than we’ve ever played which is bananas. We went to Europe and we’ve never been so that was really rad.
Maskin: Can you include this quote: “I’ll miss you forever. A part of me left when you did. An absolute delight. Take us again. Forever and ever. Xoxo.” Collectively from the band MUNA.
McPherson: Oh my God. I forgot that you did this every time we do interviews.
Gavin: You suggest a headline and a photo.
Maskin: There’s a photo of me eating a pizza with bean dip. Find it. I know that photo exists. Use that one. “Hungry for More Harry.”
Editor’s note: We couldn’t find the photo.