By: Danielle Catalano
As someone who is part of the queer community, I have dealt with the challenge of trying to find music that I could relate to, especially regarding relationships and coming out. I was constantly listening to music about a guy falling in love with a girl and vice versa, so the only time I found music I could relate to was when I went digging for it.
The LGBTQIA+ community is one that has been underrepresented for as long as it’s been around. Even with the community becoming much more accepted, many industries still refuse to take the chance of focusing on the community and offering content that is more specific to them. One of the biggest culprits is the music industry. Where is the music with queer storylines and themes?
Hayley Kiyoko is a musician who became popular with early appearances in Disney movies. She is now an openly gay musician, and her song “Girls Like Girls” has over 100 million views on YouTube and 126 million streams on Spotify. But getting it to the public was a challenge, she said.
In an interview with Evening Standard, Kiyoko said, “I always felt like it wasn’t anyone’s business who I loved. But as an artist you want to be as truthful and honest as possible.I felt like I wasn’t being truthful unless I sang about what has really shaped my life. I was tormented by my feelings about who I was. I have struggled throughout my life and that has been a huge part of who I am.”
She is not as popular as Taylor Swift or Harry Styles, and there remains a need to share the stories that don’t get told. Kiyoko’s audience and fan base is primarily members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and that’s what most of her songs are about, but it’s never been seen as “too niche.” Her music gives a voice to a community that has fought hard to have that voice, and even if it’s not number 1 on all the charts, her music is important to a large audience.
A lack of LGBTQIA+ representation is odd, given the size of the potential audience. According to University of the Pacific, more than 20% of 18 to 34-year-olds identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and of that group, more than 92% are self-proclaimed music lovers. Yet record companies act as if the audience is too small, and the music would not earn back the money spent making it.
That belief has been disproven multiple times, especially in the past 10 years. The song “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made it to No. 11 on Billboard Top 100, a list that many artists work for their entire careers. Lil Nas X, a proudly queer artist, had his song “That’s What I Want” on the Billboard Top 100 for 45 weeks, peaking at No. 8 in 2022. The song explicitly talks about the relationship Lil Nas X wants: “Need a boy who can cuddle with me all night.” Frank Ocean also made the charts with his song “Chanel,” which talked about his first real relationship with a man. This song topped at 72 in 2017.
Though none of these songs hit number 1, they were still noteworthy. These artists also have several other popular songs that made the charts, and each artist has a solid fan base that is supportive of most, if not all, of their songs. Why is there a concern there won’t be an audience?
Reneé Rapp, a star who has become popular from her time on Broadway, in TV shows and movies and from her album, is openly bisexual. While she only has 10 songs published, she writes them without overt reference to gender, and one of her songs is based on her falling in love with a female friend.
In an interview with NME, a music and entertainment news outlet, Rapp says she always knew she wanted to write songs with queer storylines, but says, “…they [gay-themed songs] are just harder to write for some reason.” She broke the stigma that queer music wasn’t wanted or needed and found that writing queer music and producing it as she did, changed the culture of the industry and audience. With the song having been out for only six months, it already has over 6 million streams and is one of Rapp’s top songs.
Music shouldn’t be something you have to dig for. There are so many challenges for members of the queer community. Finding art that you can connect with shouldn’t be on the list. I hope to someday see a change and find artists that relate to my journey without having to scour all corners of music platforms to find them. While we want to talk about how diverse and accepting the world and music industry is, the truth is there’s still a long way to go before the LGBTQIA+ community has a voice.