Needless to say, it’s been an exceedingly difficult year. With immeasurable attacks on LGBTQ+ health, safety, education, and civil liberties across the globe, it feels like a miracle that anyone could find the space and time to make art. And yet, thankfully, so many queer and trans artists did just that. In times like these, I’m reminded of the famous Toni Morrison quote, which she originally wrote in 2004 following the re-election of George Bush, but I feel is just as relevant now: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.” At a time when rights for marginalized people have never been more perilous, consuming art made by queer and trans people feels particularly necessary and sacred. Here, in no particular order, we have gathered the best songs by queer artists released in 2023.
“Float” by Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae’s latest album, Age of Pleasure, is her most confident and carefree collection yet — and that’s saying something for an artist whose music has constantly championed body positivity, self actualization, and queer love. On “Float”, the artist celebrates growing into a new version of herself that soars above past hurt and negativity. The swelling brass and danceable percussion under Monae’s triumphant lyrics add to the track’s euphoric energy.
“On My Mama” by Victoria Monet
In 2023 R&B songstress Victoria Monet followed up her beloved and critically acclaimed 2020 album Jaguar with its phenomenal sequel, Jaguar II. Though each song on the new record is stellar, lead single “On My Mama” stands out for its sultry instrumentals and effortlessly catchy beat. In her trademark mix of vocals and rap, Monet reminds listeners how hot and untouchable she is.
“Happy Ending” by Kelela
In perhaps the biggest win for the queer community in 2023, Kelela made her long awaited return with her latest album, Raven. The collection delivers all the intimate electronic R&B listeners had been craving while ramping up the tempo of many of her songs, delivering several effortlessly danceable bangers. On this track, the artist dares to dream that her wishy-washy lover will stick around long enough to see their happy ending.
“no fun / party” by Kara Jackson
In April, Chicago folk singer Kara Jackson dropped her astounding debut record, which was perhaps one of the most unique albums released this year. Jackson’s combination of intimate, acoustic guitar and wholly original songwriting were a perfect vehicle to explore themes of grief, love, and being a young person in a dying world. On no fun / party, the artist perfectly encapsulates the dissonance of being young: Though being in your twenties is supposed to be a time of fun and discovery, the realities of figuring out one’s career and relationships rarely feel like a party.
“Tiny Garden” by Jamila Woods
Jamila Woods’ first two records were outward looking: HEAVN was a love letter to her Chicago community, and LEGACY!LEGACY! stood as a thank you to the Black radical artists and thinkers who came before her. On her latest record, Water Made Us, the artist takes an inward look, writing songs about her mental health and past relationships. On “Tiny Garden”, Woods beautifully and poetically characterizes the slow, painful, and incredibly fulfilling process of growth by comparing it to a garden: “it’s not gonna be a big production, but I feed it every day.”
“Carpenter” by Vagabon
Vagabon’s music is chameleonic: though the artist started out in indie rock, her sophomore album showcased her pop repertoire, while her most recent album, Sorry I Haven’t Called, leans more into R&B and electronic sounds. Standout track “Carpenter” is an effervescent, upbeat track. Over rhythmic percussion and euphoric brass sounds, the artist opines about the process of gearing herself up for the life and relationship she wants: “I wasn’t ready for what you were saying,” she recalls, “but I’m more ready now.”
“Prescription” by Remi Wolf
Remi Wolf is perhaps best known for her sexy, upbeat, and larger than life R&B and alternative rock songs, as best showcased on her 2021 debut album, Juno. On her latest track, “Prescription,” the artist slows down, leaning into a more mellow and psychedelic groove. Over swelling piano and triumphant brass, Wolf uses her trademark harmonies to wax poetic about a love so healing it feels like “my own prescription.”
“Damn Gloves” by Serpentwithfeet
Serpentwithfeet’s latest single, “Damn Gloves”, feels like a complete 180 from the artist’s earliest earliest tracks, which leaned into an ethereal, otherworldly aesthetic. In contrast, “Damn Gloves” relies on quick electronic beats and staccato lyrics which emphasize the rough and fast-paced dance floor hook up the artist describes. The song is an exciting addition to the artist’s repertoire, and proof he can navigate not only R&B, but also rap and electronic sounds with ease.
“Ecolachia” by Yves Tumor
On “Ecolachia”, Yves Tumor returns with another effortlessly sexy rock anthem, this time with a bit of a cheeky twist. The song plays on the idea of “ecolachia,” itself, or the “meaningless repetition of words spoken by another person.” True to form, the song has few lyrics aside from many “ahs,” and the words Tumor does say — “you look so good,” “you look so magical,” — tend to repeat themself. But the repetition proves effective: the listener walks away knowing exactly how the artist feels.
“What It Is (Block Boy)” by Doechii
Doechii is no stranger to creating an effortlessly catchy pop-rap anthem, and this year she blessed us once more with “What It Is (Block Boy)”. The infectiously danceable trap behind Doechi’s lyrics bring life to the song’s message, and the accompanying music video showcase the artist’s incredible dance chops.
“Dibujos de mi Alma” by Y La Bamba
Lovely and ethereal as ever, the Mexican alternative folk band Y La Bamba returned this year with their seventh studio album, Lucha. On “Dibujos de mi Alma”, the vocalist reminisces about her past love over a stunning combination of playful brass, rhythmic percussion, and synthy guitar.
“Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” by Sufjan Stevens
This fall, Sufjan Stevens came out as queer with the release of his latest album, Javelin, which he dedicated to his partner who had passed away earlier this year. The record is devastating and gorgeous in equal measure, and on the standout track “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”, the artist delicately pontificates on the elusiveness of healthy love over wistful, folksy strings.
“Gimme A Chance” by Dreamer Isioma
R&B musician Dreamer Isioma’s latest album, Princess Forever, showed immense artistic growth for the artist, who used their latest record to experiment with a number of new genres and sounds. On standout track “Gimme A Chance”, Dreamer masterfully blends elements of disco, Afrobeats, and pop to create a song that feels groovy, optimistic, and sexy all at once.
“alone” by WILLOW
WILLOW is a pro at keeping listeners on their toes: With her past few records, the artist has shifted from acoustic pop to dream pop to alternative rock. On “alone”, WILLOW’s sound changes once more, moving away from the harder rock of her previous record into something softer and more mellow. Through lackadaisical acoustics and her trademark stellar harmonies, WILLOW makes being alone sound like the most peaceful thing in the world.
“Figure 8” by Paramore (Re: Bartees Strange)
Paramore’s latest album, Re: This Is Why, had a feature on every song; other queer artists featured include Remi Wolf and Julien Baker. “Figure 8”, featuring the wonderful Bartees Strange, is dark and mystical — electric guitar, harsh percussion, and ominous piano give the song a tough, rock and roll edge. Just as the listener has settled into the moody vibe Strange has created, he switches up, riffing melodically over a stripped down guitar: The song is a testament to his immense creative range.
“Famous Last Words” by Ethel Cain
Ethel Cain first released “Famous Last Words” on her Soundcloud alongside a note that read “can’t stop thinking about bones and all, this one’s for lee and maren.” She is referring to the 2022 horror film Bones And All, which follows two young cannibals on a roadtrip across the country. Over stripped down guitar, Cain sings of a love so visceral it feels like it’s eating her alive: “Eat of me baby skin to the bone, body on body until I’m all gone, but I’m with you inside.” Only Ethel Cain could make something as grotesque as cannibalism sound so lovely.
“thicc” by Shygirl
Nobody knows how to deliver a sexy dance anthem quite like Shygirl, as the artist proves yet again with her latest electronic pop track, thicc. Like most of Shygirl’s repertoire, the song is sensual and danceable in equal measure. It is also the first new music the artist has dropped since her 2022 debut album Nymph, and listeners can only hope the track is a hint at a larger project to come in the new year.
“sulky baby” by Yuele
Yuele dropped their stellar third album, softscars, this year. Though several tracks on the record are excellent, “sulky baby” stands out for how it effortlessly blends genres and moods: The combination of electronic and acoustic sounds behind the artist’s soft vocals somehow leave the listener feeling nostalgic and amped up all at once.
“Needs” by Tinashe
Tinashe continued her prolific music career this year with the release of her sixth studio album, BB/Angel. Standout track “Needs” coalesces elements of soft rap and an old school R&B groove, a new and effortlessly smooth addition to the artist’s ever-expanding repertoire.
“The King” by Anjimile
Anjimile’s sophomore album, The King, is aptly named; several of the tracks feel positively regal. The title song opens with mellifluous harmonies with an almost ancient feeling, but as the song progresses Anjimile moves the listener from a soothing opening to something more worrisome: Quicker paced vocals and sharp, metallic piano signal trouble is underway. “The King” masterfully showcases not only Anjimile’s creative talent, but his storytelling capabilities.
“Under The Sun” by SPELLLING
SPELLLING & The Mystery School, released earlier this year, contains re-recorded versions of several of the Oakland-based experimental pop artist’s biggest hits. On “Under The Sun”, the artist made several key changes from the original track: where the 2019 version had a strictly electronic, spooky feel, the instrumentation of the re-release utilizes piano and strings to create a theatric, disco-adjacent vibe. The track feels at once retro and intergalactic.
“What Should I Do?” by Kevin Abstract
Kevin Abstract’s heavily-acoustic fourth album, Blanket, showcases a new side for the artist. On “What Should I Do?” the artist smartly combines hearty strings with slightly autotuned vocals to give the song a surprisingly earnest feel.
“You Can Be Mean” by Indigo de Souza
Indigo de Souza is beloved by fans for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is her brutally honest and always relatable song writing. On “You Can Be Mean”, off her latest album All Of This Will End, the artist provides a juicily angsty bop that tries to provide empathy to a toxic ex. “I’d like to think you got a good heart and your dad was just an asshole growing up,” she muses over electric guitar and crashing percussion, “but I don’t see you trying that hard to be better than he is.”
“For Granted” by Yaeji
“For Granted”, the electronic pop track off Yaeji’s latest album, With A Hammer, is both effortlessly danceable and brilliantly written. Though the song starts off slow, the beat picks up speed and the vocals become higher with each verse: a manifestation of the artist’s panic that she’s taking her relationship for granted. As the track closes out, Yaeji sings a mantra to herself and her listeners: “let it flow and I’ll be, let it flow and I’ll see.”