Over the holiday break, instead of listening to nothing but Christmas music, I decided to mix in some showtunes to keep things fresh. I’ve been a musical theatre nerd my entire life; my Gram passed it down to my mom, who passed it down to me. I listen to everything from oldies like Cole Porter to newer shows like the Max Martin musical, & Juliet. And the thing that I noticed is how many songs just have this undercurrent of queerness running through them.
In the last 40 years, we’ve gotten musicals that are explicitly queer, like La Cage Aux Folles, Fun Home, and The Prom, musicals have always had queer people at the helm and behind the scenes. When I think about songs that are written for not queer characters but should be, here are a small sampling. Honestly, I could have added more Sondheim, but I had to stop myself.
I’m Still Here – Follies
There’s something about a song of survival that really screams “queer” to me. The character is a middle-aged actress who has held just about every entertainment job, as you hear in the song. The best version is sung by Elaine Stritch. Here’s a video of her singing it at Sondheim’s 80th birthday celebration.
The Rum Tum Tugger – Cats
The Rum Tum Tugger is a pansexual icon, I don’t make the rules. This song proves my point, but only if you forget the movie ever existed. “He will do as he do do, and there’s no doing anything about it.”
Don’t Rain on My Parade – Funny Girl
You can’t get much more queer than a song originally sung by Barbra Streisand. It’s loud, boisterous, and full of zeal. It screams drag brunch.
For Good – Wicked
I didn’t think of this one, but once my partner suggested it, I knew she was right. This song is about a relationship that had an impact on you and made you different in a good way. I can see it being sung on dyke night at the piano bar for sure.
Magic to Do – Pippin
This musical is weird af, but this song has just the right amount of musical theatre pizazz and a buzzy 1970s style. As soon as it starts, you instantly break out into jazz hands.
Ladies Who Lunch – Company
If you don’t think the lyric “Does anyone still wear a hat” is queer, I don’t know what to do with you. IT IS.
Nobody’s Side – Chess
Nothing says “queer but actually straight” more than something created by any member of Swedish pop group ABBA. Chess has music and lyrics by the two male members of the group. This song is all sorts of 80s queer, especially the music video featuring Elaine Paige.
Loving You – Passion
Yet another Sondheim ditty. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a queer woman who has the lyrics “Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am” written in a notebook or on an online dating profile.
Maybe This Time – Cabaret
I didn’t think of this song as queer until I saw Emily Hampshire sing it in the Cabaret episode of Schitt’s Creek. A woman on the precipice of something who believes that “maybe this time I’ll win”? Gay.
Waving Through a Window – Dear Evan Hansen
Being an outsider is a feeling queers know all too well. This is the ultimate contemporary musical theatre song about being an outsider.
The Phantom of the Opera – The Phantom of the Opera
An 80s synth and that epic opera high note? Say less. It’s just really fucking gay.
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables – Les Miserables
In the musical, Marius sings this song after all his friends are killed in battle. If you relate it to the time when the musical was released, AIDS was ravaging the LGBTQ community. I don’t think the parallels are intentional, but now I can’t unthink it.
Bosom Buddies – Mame
Queer women love Bea Arthur and Angela Lansbury. As the queer best friend who often tells the truth, this song hits home.
Monster – Frozen
A lot of people want Elsa to be queer, and I am convinced that she absolutely is based on this song from the stage musical (and the songs she sings in Frozen 2 but that’s a whole different story.)
Send in the Clowns – A Little Night Music
Longing for the person you once had? Pining for the love that used to be? Gay.
The Telephone Hour – Bye Bye Birdie
No one loves gossip more than the queers. A whole story gossiping about your straight bestie who is now dating some dude? We love to see it.
Take a listen to all of the songs on this list: