Queer voices in music history 

From Nina Simone to Dev Hynes, five music writers celebrate their favourite queer artists for LGBTQIA+ History Month

February marked LGBTQIA+ history month, a time to reflect on the contributions the queer community have made to music, film, and the wider cultural zeitgeist. I remember when I first heard The Miracles’ ‘Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.’ – it was in an episode of Dear White People, where the series’ openly queer protagonist Lionel explores single life on campus. The character’s journey, paired with the forward-thinking lyrics of the 1975 deep-cut single made for a lightning in a bottle moment in pop culture history for me.  

Meaningful queer representation, especially for ethnic minorities, is often spoken of as a rarity, something that has only become more prevalent in recent years. But what The Miracles’ track conveys is that the presence, representation, and dialogue on the history of LGBTQIA+ people in music was right there in popular music as far back as the 70s. Hearing that song for the first time in a contemporary TV show was a reminder that queer history is vibrant, alive and present, and has always been. Smokey Robinson singing about “bisexuals on a loving spree” and commenting “freedom of expression is really the theory”, are lyrics that still sound radical.  

It’s songs like these, and artists such as Prince, Grace Jones, Nina Simone – even Project Pat, with the opening lyrics to ‘Take Da Charge’ – that have set the stage for current and future artists to be bolder in their approach to exploring their own queer experiences in their music, encouraging current and future generations of fans to be bolder in their “freedom of expression”.

To mark LGBTQIA+ history month, we caught up with music scholars and writers from the community to tell us about the queer artists and albums that have shaped them – helping us curate the first Ticketmaster LGBTQIA+ History Month playlist.

Dr Elizabeth Falade – Emmavie

Alfa Mist & Emmavie - No Need To Wait

One of the queer artists that I’m drawn towards is R&B singer, songwriter and producer Emmavie. I first discovered her music during my first stint as an undergrad just under 10 years ago. In those days, one of the main ways that I went about discovering new music and artists was through SoundCloud. At that point in time, I wanted to listen to more Black British made and performed neo-soul and R&B music, so I would often type “British Neo- Soul” and “British R&B” into the search bar on SoundCloud and listen to whatever came up. Emmavie had recently released her first EP, L+VEHATER, so it was one of the first things that popped up during my search.  

What I enjoyed (and still enjoy) about Emmavie’s music is its subtlety. To me, it is a perfect coalescence of neo-soul, jazz and alternative and contemporary R&B sounds, and the subtext that alluded to her queerness within her songs. When I found out that Emmavie produced and wrote all the songs on her debut, and wrote all the songs on her sophomore EP with critically acclaimed jazz musician Alfa Mist, I became more and more enamoured with her artistry.  

Song choices: ‘An Idea’ – IAMNOBODI ft. Emmavie, ‘No Need To Wait’ – Emmavie and Alfa Mist, ‘Oops’ – Emmavie

Naz Hamdi (AKA NazFromNewham) – Dev Hynes

Blood Orange - Champagne Coast (Official Video)

Devonté “Dev” Hynes’ music is a study of identity, sexuality, and religion, which has been transformed into dreamlike soundscapes that are simultaneously sorrowful and euphoric. This is demonstrated through choral hooks, 80s synths, jazz instruments, African-inspired funk, and hip hop rhyming schemes that define Hynes’ music. In addition to excelling in his own music, Hynes has written and produced for other incredible artists including Sky Ferreira, Solange, FKA Twigs, and more. 

I chose Dev Hynes because his progressive approach to music is a grand, cinematic weaving of his uniquely layered experiences as a queer black person residing in America. He is the enigmatic mastermind behind expressive and avant-garde projects such as Blood Orange and Lightspeed Champion, with the former being particularly well-known among music lovers. Through the moniker Blood Orange, Dev Hynes has produced highly praised albums including  Negro Swan, Coastal Grooves, and Freetown Sound (with distinguished photographer Deana Lawson shooting the latter’s artwork). 

Among all these wonderful achievements, it’s clear that Hynes is someone who truly speaks the language of music; creating worlds within it, acting as a conductor’s baton, and understanding the very essence of musicality – a truly phenomenal and boundless artist. 

Song choices: ‘Champagne Coast’ – Blood Orange, ‘Jesus Freak Lighter’ – Blood Orange, ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ – Blood Orange 

Kat Friar (AKA DJ KATALYSSST) – Kehlani

Kehlani - Nights Like This (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) [Official Music Video]

Kehlani was in my playlists long before they came out as a lesbian – I was always drawn to her sweet vocals and confident lyricism. I grew up listening to their SweetSexySavage and You Should Be Here projects as a bisexual teen, so when Kehlani announced they were queer back in 2018, it felt comforting to have that representation in the R&B space and music industry. Especially because I had always felt that her music resonated with my own personality: sweet, sexy and savage, just like the name of her debut album.  

We’d both later identify as lesbians, and having music that expresses love between two women coming from an artist I’d adored since my youth felt like the warmest embrace, allowing me to make that transition within my sexuality comfortably, without feeling like I had to compromise any part of my personality or change myself in any way. The stereotypes placed on sexual identities can sometimes urge you to distance yourself from being true to who you are, but Kehlani made me feel like I could be a lesbian without having to change anything about myself or my appearance. 

Songs choices: ‘Honey’ – Kehlani, ‘Nights Like This’ – Kehlani, ‘melt’ – Kehlani 

Nicolas-Tyrell Scott  – Victoria Monét

Victoria Monét - Party Girls (Official Video) ft. Buju Banton

Hearing Victoria Monét’s JAGUAR II immediately took me back to my childhood, where a Black canon of artists soundtracked my car rides to Brent Cross. Choice FM was a weekly staple at home, and my Discman never left my side. Amongst the Mary J Bliges and Movados and Lionel Richies that I’d listened to during my adolescence too, Victoria Monét made me feel, yearn and ultimately connect and aspire to want more for myself. She’s audacious, but also charming and endearing.  

Not only has JAGUAR II gone on to secure one a coveted GRAMMY win for Best Engineered Album; Non-Classical, it’s also received glowing reviews Janet Jackson when performed live in London last winter, and spawned the breakout hit ‘On My Mama’. JAGUAR II is a testament to chemistry – in its architect, D-Mile’s ever-growing relationship with Monét – but also to ownership of identity: in songs like ‘Smoke’ she re-affirms her bisexual status and finds comfort in it. This album is Victoria Monét’s coming out party.  

Song choices: ‘Party Girls’ – Victoria Monét, ‘Alright’ – Victoria Monét 

Habiba Katasha – Reneé Rapp

Reneé Rapp, Coco Jones - Tummy Hurts (Remix) [Official Music Video]

I first discovered Reneé Rapp when I started watching The Sex Lives Of College Girls. The show in itself is brilliant, but Reneé’s role as Leighton stood out to me as she was playing a closeted queer woman. It was through spending hours watching interviews with the cast that I found out that Reneé, herself, is queer also. I then happened to stumble on one of her songs, ‘Poison Poison’, and I was hooked. I spent days listening to it on repeat, and when I finally managed to play the whole album, I was in awe. Snow Angel is one of the best albums I’ve listened to in years. It’s a stunning body of work, especially for a debut. Reneé touches on a variety of themes such as heartbreak, grief, and betrayal.  

This album speaks to me because I’m able to relate to so many of the messages within her songs. In general, I think Reneé is a force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see her perform when she comes to London. 

Song choices: ‘Tummy Hurts (Featuring Coco Jones)’ – Reneé Rapp, ‘Mr Mysterious’ – Tiana Major 9 


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Photo credit: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage