Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, and the New Age of Queer Pop


On Could 11, British singer/actress Rita Ora launched a track. “Girls,” because it was appropriately titled, featured Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX. Constructed round a sing-song refrain of “sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls/red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls,” it was supposed as a queer liberation anthem. However Hayley Kiyoko, the pop star identified to her followers as “Lesbian Jesus,” noticed in any other case. She posted a message on Instagram and Twitter, and with out naming the track instantly, stated there was a present pop tune making the rounds that was “tone-deaf” and “does more harm than good for the LGBTQ+ community.”

“A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women,” Kiyoko wrote. “I know this wasn’t the intention of the artists on the song, but it’s the lack of consideration behind these lyrics that really gets me. … We can and should do better.”

Lesbian Jesus had spoken.

Expressions of queer identities in widespread music have advanced dramatically in the previous couple of years. Hell, they’ve advanced in the previous couple of months. Within the decade since Katy Perry sang her equally male-gaze-fueling “I Kissed a Girl,” again when Kiyoko was all of 17 years outdated, songs exploring sexuality have come to be way more overt. Gone are the fixed cravings and father determine euphemisms; coyness is pointless. Now, pop albums like Kiyoko’s recently-released Expectations and Troye Sivan’s forthcoming Bloom converse frankly in regards to the objects of affection. Empowered to sing about their lived experiences, and to boost consciousness of the LGBTQ+ group’s struggles, these artists are defining the present pop music second. They usually’re in all places.

“There’s definitely been an increase in visibility of artists like Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani—they’re just kind of inescapable these days,” says Patrick Crowley, the pleasure editor of Billboard, which simply put Sivan on its cowl. “What’s even more incredible is that Halsey had a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 earlier this year with ‘Bad at Love,’ which is unquestionably bisexual. That’s crazy.”

How did queer pop develop into so ubiquitous? A few of it’s simply plain ol’ expertise—Kiyoko and Sivan each have an ear for ultra-catchy melodies—and the quantity queer individuals on the lookout for reflections of themselves in widespread music certainly bolster their fan bases. However the remaining? That’s all of the web at work. The fashionable, considerate, vigorous discourse about pop and its purveyors all occurs on-line now and if you’re producing songs individuals have been ready a very long time to listen to, phrase spreads quick. That is how issues are in #20GayTeen.

The Increase

It has been six years since R&B artist Frank Ocean pre-empted the rumors that had been certain to fly about his pronoun use within the album Channel Orange and took to Tumblr to share that—sure—his old flame had been a person. It might not have appeared prefer it on the time, nevertheless it was a bellwether second, signaling each a brand new degree of honesty and authenticity from queer artists and a brand new approach for them to have a discourse with their followers. The momentum by no means stopped. “I feel like I am getting the most exciting opportunities that I’ve ever gotten right now, and I can feel that happening for other LGBTQ artists as well,” says Sivan, a 23-year-old South African-born Australian former YouTube star who got here out in a 2013 video. “I think we still have a long way to go, but clearly the public is ready for it and excited by it.”

Emboldened by loyal and vocal on-line fanbases, queer musicians are reaching enormous audiences and elevating consciousness about LGBTQ+ identities within the course of. Not like in earlier a long time, when document firms managed what data had been launched and manufactured a lot of a pop artist’s look, queer performers now can launch music with the messages they need and construct fan communities themselves. And since their iTunes/Spotify streams and YouTube movies can now translate into chart success, their means to shake up the world of pop music has by no means been better.

“A lot of things are coming together to create a landscape that allows artists to be who they are, and to find a fandom that doesn’t depend on mainstream radio or the quote-unquote industry apparatus,” says Zeke Stokes, head of packages for GLAAD. “Great music and great artists get a chance to shine regardless of how they identify.”

Welcome to the Resistance

There have all the time been LGBTQ+ artists in widespread music, after all, however the newest crop is charging via the door opened by the ok.d. langs, George Michaels, Melissa Etheridges, Sam Smiths, Adam Lamberts, Tegans, and Saras and making their identities part of the dialog about their music. Kiyoko frequently struts the stage waving a pleasure flag; English singer/songwriter/producer MNEK made “Playlist for a Poppin’ Pride” for Apple Music. The singles from Sivan’s Bloom have, up to now, all seemed like homosexual anthems. Nobody hides or switches up the pronouns in love songs any extra. When Kiyoko and Kehlani launched the video for his or her duet “What I Need” they did so with a Kiyoko-directed video (she helms practically all of her movies) the place the 2 play pals who run away from a homophobic aunt.

“It felt really amazing working with another queer woman,” Kehlani stated to her collaborator in an interview in Fader. “People have this stigma about women in the industry really not fucking with each other. To some extent it’s true, but every single queer person in the industry has this natural pull to each other. It’s been a blessing to not only meet you but work with you and build with you and make something that really inspired a lot of people.” The video received greater than 6 million views in two weeks and its YouTube feedback part—normally the second-worst place on the web after, I do not know, a goatse—is a haven of rainbows and heart-eyes emoji.

These artists are only a small handful of the queer musicians on the market. There’s additionally Princess Nokia, Leo Kalyan, Syd of The Web, Fragrance Genius, Twinkids, Le1f, Towards Me! singer/guitarist Laura Jane Grace, Demi Lovato, and Brazilian artist Pabllo Vittar—the record is endless. And every of these artists has a fanbase, and a message.

“I feel like I am getting the most exciting opportunities that I’ve ever gotten right now, and I can feel that happening for other LGBTQ artists as well. I think we still have a long way to go, but clearly the public is ready for it and excited by it.”

Troye Sivan

This can be a little bit of what Crowley calls resistance music. People watching the ascent of queer pop word that it appears to be coinciding with the rise of President Trump and homophobic actions just like the so-called alt-right. The world, and audiences, are extra various than ever—a current GLAAD ballot discovered that 20 p.c of Millennials determine as LGBTQ+—and at the moment are searching for out artists that mirror them. These artists, as soon as children on the lookout for function fashions themselves (Kiyoko lately informed Paper “I Kissed a Girl” was an affect), reply by being much more out and proud. Sivan launched his video for “Heaven”—a black-and-white clip that includes archive footage of queer rights demonstrations spanning a long time—the day earlier than Trump was inaugurated. (“It was my way of sort of reminding everyone that the LGBTQ community has been through some really tough things in the past and always pulled through,” Sivan says.) Soiled Pc, the newest album by Janelle Monaé, who lately got here out as pansexual, is an ode to sexual freedom on which the singer declares she is “not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream.”

“With this dark political climate we’re in it makes sense that more queer artists are using their platforms to express themselves openly,” Crowley says. “On the flip side, consumers as they’ve seen the effects of this administration, they’re seeking out stories told by marginalized communities.”

Higher Dwelling By Authenticity

Earlier this yr, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander stunned lots of people when he revealed he’d been inspired by his handlers to cover his sexuality. “I understand why it’s a story,” he later informed BBC. “I think lots of people are shocked when they hear about homophobia, because they think, ‘Oh, it’s 2018, surely everything’s fine now?’ But queer people know that it’s not.”

And that consciousness is what followers come round for. Listening to artists like Kiyoko or Sivan or Kehlani, followers really feel seen. That interprets into Twitter followers, Tumblr followings, and different types of social engagement, making them part of the motion of each the fandom and, to various levels, the reason for LGBTQ+ rights.

A queer artist’s on-line presence and easy lyrics additionally present one thing else: authenticity. Locations like Tumblr have turned the web right into a media literacy seminar, making followers rather more conscious once they’re being queerbaited or given false idols, says Elena Maris, a PhD candidate at College of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg College of Communication who has studied queer fandoms on-line. The result’s a pop-consuming public that may inform when a performer really represents them and when somebody is simply, say, homosexual for pay.

“Right now, if you look at any pop content, like Beyoncé, you see this clear identification come between who she is, her persona, and what her fans identify with in her persona, which is her black womanhood, the politics of being black woman in America,” Maris says. “You can pick any type of artist and see that their fandom finds meaning in who they are authentically and how that resonates with the fan’s identity. I think that’s where these queer fans are finding themselves now.”

Which brings us again to Rita Ora. As Maris notes, “Girls” is not thematically that totally different from “I Kissed a Girl,” however now, a decade later, followers are extra excited by girls who love different girls, relatively than those that simply sing about it. Following the fan response to “Girls,” Ora discovered herself basically popping out (on Twitter, naturally) to guarantee listeners her intentions had been true. The message was acquired and when the mud settled queer pop had one more hit-maker in its secure.

“I think we’ll eventually get to a point where no one will write a story about queer artists in music because it won’t be new or different anymore,” says Stokes. “It’ll just be the way of the world and the way of the industry. That’s the day we’re looking forward to.”


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