Representation in Music

by Minh Anh Nguyen

photography courtesy of Pexels

Music has a universal power of connecting people through emotions as artists open up through their songs; listeners take comfort in knowing they’re not alone and relate to similar experiences. Therefore, it’s important that everyone has this opportunity and that no group is underrepresented.

LGBTQ artists have the power to influence and create change within the industry by bringing the presence of queer people to light and by blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity, which is essential in order for society to evolve towards equality.

“It’s important to me to have gay music artists in the industry because it further normalizes gay relationships and gives young gays people to look up to, especially while they’re coming out,” said Danielle Tesler (CAS ’19).

In the past, mainstream love songs have generally been heteronormative. And while the feeling of love is universal, popular music did not always reflect that. It is important to have representation in pop culture, not only to hear the voices of queer people depict queer relationships, Tesler said.

“Gay relationships are different than straight relationships in tenderness and understanding, and straight artists just can’t grasp that feeling,” Tesler said. In addition, their presence alone brings comfort to many people in the LGBTQ community.

“Having LGBTQ artists to listen to gave me that representation I needed and made me feel normal, and oftentimes it’s easier to deal with other non-related issues when they’re being addressed by LGBTQ figures,” Jackson Brown (CAS ’22) said. “My personal example is Sia. Her first album [Healing is Difficult] is her way of dealing with personal trauma, and knowing that another LGBTQ person is going through that helps me feel so much better. It’s the sense of community it brings.”

In recent years, there has been a wave of LGBTQ artists taking over and asserting their influence in mainstream pop culture. People like Sam Smith, Sia, Kehlani and Demi Lovato have been some of today’s most popular, openly queer artists and have made large influences in the music industry.

Moreover, the popularity of queer musicians in the hip-hop, rap and R&B genre is especially momentous since they are primarily heteronormative genres often associated with misogyny and violence. Figures in these genres like Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, Kevin Abstract, Janelle Monae and so many more, seem to be challenging the conventions of the music industry.

These artists use their music platform to talk about their sexuality. Tyler, the Creator, for example, has never officially come out but constantly includes allusions to him not being straight in his songs. One line in particular in his recent album Flower Boy states, “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”

Kevin Abstract, founder of boyband Brockhampton, is also making a name for himself in both the music industry and LGBTQ community by rapping openly about being gay. While Brockhampton’s influence has been large, Kevin Abstract’s solo influence as a queer rapper makes him arguably one of music’s most important stars.

“The way I see it is I have to exist in a homophobic space in order to make change, and that homophobic space would be the hip hop community,” Kevin Abstract told Annie Mac during a BBC Radio 1 interview.

Although Frank Ocean had previously hinted at his bisexuality through subtle lyrics and even confessed his love for a person of the same gender in a Tumblr post in 2012, “Chanel” was a deliberate celebration of sexual fluidity, duality and non-heteronormative binaries. “Chanel” immediately became the bisexual anthem for the LGBTQ community following its release. The song had personal importance as it helped me come to accept and embrace my identity; seeing the way Frank Ocean submerges himself in ambiguity about his sexuality made me feel like it was okay that I didn’t understand my sexual preferences because, in a way, labels don’t matter. Ever since, Frank Ocean’s music has had a deep impact on my life and my relationships. Seeing a queer figure sing about the beauty and pain of feelings of love on such a deep level makes it easier to understand that love is truly universal.