Music is truly the universal language of humanity – at least according to one study led by Harvard. As cliché as it may be, many of us have felt the power of music and its ability to help us connect with each other, whether in feelings of love, loss, joy or despair. Music can capture unique human experiences and wrap them beautifully in the beauty of song.
Thus, there is a strong need for queer representation in the music industry. Beyond simply ticking a diversity box, these artists are able to create art that will speak to those who hold marginalized identities on a deeper level. Being able to identify with the artists we listen to fosters a more authentic and sincere connection with them and their art.
Of course, no group of artists can fully capture the queer experience. Nevertheless, I believe it is extremely important to ensure that we honor artists who enrich our lives with music we can relate to. With that, I’d like to reflect on five queer artists who have enriched my life, and my favorite love song they’ve ever written.
For starters, we have Car Seat Headrest, a queer artist who unabashedly explores themes of discovering one’s sexuality and engaging in new romantic and sexual experiences. The group’s founder and main songwriter, Will Toledo, is openly gay, often interacts with fans in unconventional formats, such as Tumblr, and describes the real-life experiences behind his Words with the aim of fostering even more connectivity.
In the heady, meandering, and exciting thirteen-minute track “Beach Life-in-Death,” Toledo explores themes ranging from fear of going out to love so intense it can’t be buried, even if the feelings aren’t there. not reciprocal. Beyond the pure joy induced by going through this song as a listener, the vulnerability expressed by Toledo is truly heartwarming, especially for those of us who have experienced many of these feelings ourselves.
Staying in the alternative genre, one that has always been friendly to queer artists, Angel Olsen is a singer and songwriter who has become known for walking the line between stripped-down soundscapes and seriously grand orchestral arrangements. Angel’s style draws a slight contrast with that of Toledo; his experiences are obscured in complex lyricism and beautiful melodies.
On “Lark”, Angel Olsen uses “different angles [to view] the same kind of love” in a cinematic and cathartic way, reflecting on her differences with the person she loves and, ultimately, her inability. Sonically, the track consumes listeners, which makes it all the more satisfying when you also notice the lyrics, which paint an immersive and captivating story.
Arlo Parks is an essential artist of the alternative scene, nominations for “Best New Artist” and “Best Alternative Music Album” from the Recording Academy and supporting another of my favorite queer artists, Clairo, throughout her “Sling” tour. Pitchfork characterizes his art as constantly inducing feelings of comfortdelivering rich stories and fostering true immersion through elements such as mentioning people by name.
Arlo Parks describes her relationship with a close friend on “Eugene,” a track that drips with love and jealousy as she reckon with romantic feelings for a woman with another partner named Eugene. As dark as it may be, Parks paints such a magnificent picture of her relationship with this individual that listeners can’t help but be loved.
Looking at Orville Peck, we find a queer artist in a space historically hostile to those who hold marginalized identities. Country music is often associated with conservative values and therefore queer representation in this genre is abysmal.. Yet Orville Peck has burst into this space, openly singing about his gay relationships, and doing so through songs that go back to the roots of the genre, with rich country accents and restrained production.
“Nothing Fades Like The Light,” a gorgeous slow-burn outro from his debut album, reveals the feeling of finding solace in his partner, especially at night, when he no longer has to fear the reactions of those who harass him. surround. In an ideal world, such feelings wouldn’t be necessary, but that doesn’t stop Peck from capturing his genuine anxieties and desires in this track.
Finally, we have the artist who is perhaps one of the most influential queer artists of our time, and one of my favorites: Frank Ocean. Beyond simply exploring the typical themes of love and loss in his songs, Frank Ocean often taps into feelings of unrequited love, a feeling particularly common throughout the queer experience, and a major theme from his highly acclaimed debut album, “Channel Orange”.
On nostalgic and endearing tracks like “Forrest Gump”, he explores the first man he fell in love with. The song includes obvious references to the 1994 film “Forrest Gump,” a film that both documents the bittersweet moments between Forrest and his lover. This dynamic parallels Ocean’s confused feelings towards this individual, though ultimately it can only be read as a proclamation of love.
These artists have helped me consider my own love and sexual experiences, as I am able to relate to others in times of happiness, love, grief and healing in a medium that can be as fulfilling and beautiful as music. I hope others can gain new artists that really speak to them through these artist profiles, because I know how grateful I am to have discovered them.
Nicholas Black PO ’24 is from Rochester, New York. Follow him on Spotify @nickb1ack, where he posted a playlist of 25 queer love songs, including those mentioned in the play.