As part of our 30 Days of Pride initiative, we’ve asked LGBTQ stars to create playlists to show what “pride” means to them. Just in time for the release of his Essential Vol. 2 album, RuPaul curated a list based on songs that made him feel emotional.
“It has to do with many years of going to Pride events and hearing the songs that actually move me to tears — actually, unsuspectingly stir something in me.” Give RuPaul’s playlist a spin below, and read why he chose each track.
1. Heather Small – “Proud” (Josh Harris ’06)
It’s really about the chords. The chords of this song summon this emotional response and then the chords of the song mix with what she sang, which is feeling proud of yourself and not just being proud but doing something about it. It’s one of my favorite workout songs too. I’ve actually been on the machines and just busted into tears. It’s all very emotional songs because they really get to the core of the human experience.
2. Gloria Gaynor – “I Am What I Am”
This is late ’80s gay pride in New York City. It brought me to tears.
3. Cheryl Cole – “Fight for This Love” (Cahill Edit)
Symbolically, I never heard this at gay pride, but what it says is our main focus on this planet is to experience humanity. And the greatest experience of humanity is through love. When you’re denied that, you gotta fight for it.
4. RuPaul – “American”
After that whole “wall” — trying to deport people, separating families — I got so friggin’ angry and that’s how that song came about. We are all Americans and we need to reclaim the American spirit. We need to reclaim what it means to be American because it’s broader and to have you believe.
5. Aretha Franklin – “Pride (A Deeper Love)” (C+C Hot Mix)
It’s a gospel song wrapped up in a beat. Nobody does gospel better than the Queen of Soul. The message is all there. These are all heart-rousing anthems that when you’re marching down Fifth Avenue or your town or wherever you’re gay pride it just brings the spirit.
6. Depeche Mode – “People Are People”
Now this has always been one of my favorite songs — in fact, I covered it on one of my albums years ago, my Red Hot album. The message is all there. The message is there. On top of it, it’s a great melody and it’s just magic. Love Depeche Mode.
7. Gladys Knight – “I Will Fight”
Well this is an Ashford & Simpson song recorded by Gladys Knight that, like the Cheryl Cole song, really speaks about what’s important in life and what is worth fighting for. If you get through this life and you find someone who you are lucky enough to fall in love and they love you — it’s worth fighting for.
8. Boy George – “Same Thing In Reverse” (Dance Mix)
This is great. That album — Cheapness And Beauty — was a great album and this was included. It’s a beautifully written song and it explains really simply to someone who may not understand what’s it like to be in love with someone of the same sex.
9. Carl Bean – “I Was Born This Way”
Well this is another gospel song wrapped up in a disco beat and it’s beautifully performed. Carl Bean himself is an ordained minister and this is from the disco era. Again, it recalls the spirit, all of these songs are all about the spirit and its chords. Not about what’s literally in your brain, it gets to the core of your being. And his performance is so spot on, so sincere.
10. Mel & Kim – “Respectable”
I’m a big Stock Aitken Waterman fan. They ruled the charts around the world from ’84 until ‘89 — somewhere in there. It was the hit factory and this is one of their best. I’ve always loved the concept of not really caring what status quo thought about what I was doing and this song resonated so well with me. Everybody was in the disco when we heard it. The truth is you don’t have to answer to anybody except your own heart.
11. Sylvester – “Stars”
If you want to talk about gospel in this song you hear Martha Wash and Izora Armstead — you hear their gospel roots and it’s transformative. There’s very few lyrics and because there are very few lyrics — the lyrics take on more meaning as they keep repeating them: “Everybody’s a star / everybody is one.” It’s like a gospel song and I think it times out at maybe ten minutes — it transforms. Again, the same thing here, it’s transformative, it’s spirit, it’s gospel, it’s disco and those things evoke the spirit.
12. Queen – “We Are the Champions”
I remember at a pride event, I think it was probably in New York City in ’88 — I remember on the float they played “We Are the Champions” and I burst into tears. I burst into tears thinking about all these beautiful people and where we all came from and the fact that we’re here doing this. I was so moved by it. The reason they use it in sport stadiums still to this day is because of the tempo of it, how it is like a chant and how it casts a spell over a crowd — that it catches you off guard. It’s almost like a mantra and the more you chant this, the more it changes the molecular structure of the room, of the stadium, of wherever it’s being heard. There’s something about the cadence of this thing that is like witchcraft.
13. RuPaul – “LGBT” (feat. Chi Chi Larue & Markaholic)
Well, I have known Miss Chi Chi LaRue for almost 30 years. Next year will be 30 years. She and I have fought the long fight for many years for LGBT rights, and when I came up with the concept of the song I thought, “You know what? I want to do this with my old buddy,” and talk about freedom. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about being free to be who the f— you want to be. I absolutely love Chi Chi LaRue.
14. Kim English – “Unspeakable Joy” (Razor & Guido)
Oh my god, you want to talk about getting emotional, it’s another gospel song. This is a gospel song. I DJ’ed at this benefit for the ACLU the weekend before last, and I played that and still the emotions come because this song, baby, it means beyond. Again, I’ve been on the treadmill or the elliptical machine listening to this and I’ve broken down into tears because I felt so good about being alive and so blessed to live to tell my story.
15. Diana Ross – “I Ain’t Been Licked”
This is a song of triumph. This is a song of someone who overcame adversity and has lived to tell about it. There’s a live recording of this on YouTube and footage of her in Las Vegas and I post it at least three times a year on my Twitter account. I cry every time I hear it because anyone who’s ever been through the wringer in life and if you live long enough you will be — you know what these lyrics mean. You know what it means to be knocked down and to get back up and say, “You know what? I’m still in the game. I ain’t been licked yet.” Again this is Ashford and Simpson, they do that so well. And Valerie Simpson’s piano was just gospel-based. It’s just born to move, born to move you.
15. RuPaul – “Let’s Turn the Night”
The song is really about the freedom and the spirit that we all feel, that we all come together in dancing and in our love of music and freedom and beauty — turning that into our strength during the day when we have to fight real enemies in legislature or in our everyday daytime lives. I’ve said this many times, especially in this past year that our strength is something that the other side doesn’t have, which is love, beauty, music, dancing, love of color, love of freedom — that’s our secret weapon. This song, from the Essential Vol. 2 collection is all about that. It ultimately says, “We are all one.” That is where we all merge into one thing as humans on this planet. It’s really in that beautiful glow of the dance floor we’re we are grooving to one beat.