7 Influential LGBTQ Music Artists
By nature, music is inclusive. It’s a way to build a community and connect others, whether through powerful lyrics, moving instrumentation, or both. LGBTQ music artists share their platform to inspire others and create an inviting space for everyone to enjoy their music.
There have been numerous prolific musicians over the years who have strongly supported the LGBTQ community. Before you go to the record store, it’s only fitting to recognize a few of our favorites.
#1) Lady Gaga
When Lady Gaga entered the music scene, it was clear she was an artist, musician, and songwriter focused on doing things her own way. Her debut studio album, Fame, was an instant success when released in 2008. It set the tone for her electronic-pop sound and eclectic music performance with singles, including “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.”
From her fashion sense to her lyrics to how she performs on stage, her persona is bigger than life. This was captured vividly on her sophomore album, Born This Way. Its title track quickly became the unofficial gay anthem of the year and continues to be one of this pop star’s most popular and enjoyed records of all time. Her dance-pop music style and techno undertones set the mood for a fun and wild party-type environment. Other hits off the album include “Marry the Night,” “The Edge of Glory,” and the slowed-down, yet still dramatic, “You and I.”
#2) Elton John
It’s LGBT artists like Elton John who walked so artists like Lady Gaga can run. Known for his exuberant costumes and on-stage performances, Elton John is one of the quintessential LGBTQ music artists of our time. With decades of hit records under his belt, his One Night Only - Greatest Hits album should be on everyone’s record shelves.
It features all of his best sing-along tracks, as well as the ballads that always bring down the house. When pared down from the theatrics of his touring persona, the music is simply a man and his talent playing the piano. His greatest hits album is a live recording from Madison Square Garden and was certified gold in July 2001. It leads off with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and quickly goes into a trio of his biggest songs, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Rocket Man,” and “Crocodile Rock.”
The final tracks, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” round out the album. The entire listening experiences allow you to imagine attending or reliving the live performance right in the comfort of your own home.
#3) Sam Smith
In more recent years, Sam Smith came out as genderqueer, and eventually, non-binary, changing their gender pronouns to they/them. The pure sound of Sam Smith’s voice made them an instant commercial success. They had already sought fame a few years prior by singing vocals on Disclosure’s club anthem, “Latch.” Their debut album, In the Lonely Hour, was released in 2014 and was followed by an ultra-successful tour. Singles from the album include “Stay with Me,” “I’m Not the Only One,” and “Like I Can.”
In the same year of Sam Smith’s album release, they came out as a gay person to the public. And, it’s been noted “Stay with Me” was written for an old boyfriend who ultimately broke their heart.
They continue to be a force in the music world, with their artistry constantly emerging. However, it’s the introduction to such a powerful voice that still remains with fans even several years later.
#4) Freddie Mercury
Best-known for being the lead vocalist of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury is known for his flamboyant onstage persona. His charisma and interaction with the crowd have made him a beloved icon in the music world. In addition to his work with Queen, he also embarked on a solo career, putting out two solo albums.
Never Boring is the 2019 collection of his greatest solo songs taken from original source multi-track tapes and built into a new mix that aligns with Freddie Mercury’s original versions. It features twelve tracks, including “I Was Born to Love You,” “Love Kills,” and “The Golden Boy.” While his solo work never reached the level of his time with Queen, fans will delight in this vinyl experience.
Mercury was never known for openly coming out as gay, though many surmised his sexual orientation through his campy stage performances and demeanor. Though he’s not historically been known as a gay music artist, he is a genre-bending performer who’s remembered for being fearless on stage. As a result, he’s considered a legend of his own right, and his openness on stage has allowed him to be named one of the most influential LGBTQ music artists recognized today.
#4) Tegan and Sara
Indie pop gay music artists Tegan and Sara have been a mainstay on the music scene over the span of nine albums. They reached mainstream success in 2007 with their album, The Con, and have held steady to their musical style since then. The identical twin sisters are both openly gay artists and were awarded Outstanding Music Artist at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2017.
In 2019, they released their album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, based on the first songs they ever wrote together. It’s a familiar mix of their punk-rock and pop sounds fans have come to know and love. The songs’ lyrics capture the sisters’ first loves and subsequent heartbreaks. In addition to the album’s title track, other songs include “I’ll Be Back Someday,” “Please Help Me,” and “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore.”
#5) Melissa Ethridge
The gritty vocals of Melissa Etheridge were part of the soundtrack of the early ‘90s when she released her album, Yes I Am. This was the album that had her go mainstream, although she had released other albums prior. It spent 138 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts and delivered two hits, “Come to My Window,” and “I’m the Only One,” which went to number one on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Since then, Etheridge has been quieter on the country music scene, although she did release her album, Memphis Rock and Soul, in 2016, which explored her early musical influences as she recorded the album at the historic Royal Studios in Memphis TN. As one of the biggest gay music artists, she has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for as long as she’s been a household name in the music industry. With multiple Grammys and an Academy Award under her belt, she stakes her claim as one of the greatest.
#6) Brandi Carlile
Perhaps best known for her single, “The Story,” in 2007, Brandi Carlile has built a loyal listening audience attuned to her folk rock sound. She has released seven albums, including The Firewatcher’s Daughter and By The Way, I Forgive You, which went on to become the highest-charting album of her career, reaching number five on the Billboard 200.
The first single off the album, “The Joke,” received critical acclaim, and won her three Grammys in 2019, including Best American Roots Song, Best Americana Album, and Best American Roots Performance. From there, she has continued to grow her fanbase as a regular on the festival circuit, in addition to touring on her own.
Brandi Carlile has been a long-time activist supporting various organizations and established the Looking Out Foundation with Tim and Phil Hanseroth in 2008. The non-profit provides financial support and raises awareness for various causes, including Doctors without Borders, Black Visions Collective, and the Women’s Funding Alliance. Through her country music and philanthropy, she continues to grow her musical community and share her story wherever she goes.
Celebrating LGBTQ Music Artists
These are but a few of the stars that have paved the way for LGBTQ artists today. Their authenticity and devotion to music and inclusivity have helped fellow LGBTQ musicians and fans over the decades through music. There is a story behind every lyric and performance that deserves to be told and heard, with all genres represented.
Music brings people together to enjoy performances and listening experiences no matter the label or community. Whether it’s attending a live show or listening to newly bought records from Victrola with friends at home, hearing the music of these artists always feels like something to celebrate.