“In the last quarter of the twentieth century,” writes Bonnie Morris in The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture, “the surest way to meet other lesbians — outside of bars and softball tournaments — was to attend a women’s music concert.” Music recorded by lesbians for lesbians was an integral force for lesbian community-building in the 1970s and ’80s as women’s record labels like Olivia as well as festivals and concerts became a way for women all over the country to find each other. The music was political, undeniably sapphic, and pro-female — the kind of stuff the male-dominated record industry wouldn’t touch. Morris writes:
“In the same way that rock and roll changed the American landscape forever and launched a youth revolution with a recognizable set of values, fashions and products, radical feminist culture created an art form— a central and commodified pro-lesbian experience that newly out women could plan, schedule, attend, purchase, savor, and bring home to replay over and over.”
Women’s music, Morris recalls, created a culture of “accessible celebrities at a time when almost no other performers or politicians were out” —women like Cris Williamson, Mary Watkins and Meg Christian. Although not central to the zeitgeist as they once were, women’s music festivals featuring artists from the movement’s heyday continue throughout the country, and many of Olivia’s former recording artists now perform on its vacations.
Over the past two decades, more and more lesbian musicians have managed to attract mainstream attention, too. Not very many! But some. It was musicians k.d Lang and Melissa Etheridge, after all, who became some of the first-ever well-known lesbian celebrities.
Indie acoustic and folk-rock has been a consistent source of lesbian voices since the Women’s Music Era, but out lesbian artists are thriving in other genres these days, too. For my generation, Tegan and Sara have long been a flashpoint of connection and their concerts a guaranteed way to run into at least one of your exes. Melissa Etheridge achieved mainstream success within rock music despite being an out lesbian, and Tegan & Sara eventually did the same with music now often described as “pop.” (And now they’re using their increased platform to advocate for LGBT Women and Girls.) Mary Lambert became a household name after she developed the hook for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love,” which went triple-platinum and earned two Grammy nominations. After her single “Secrets” debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Dance Charts, Lambert left Capitol Records and crowdfunded through kickstarter to release her latest EP.
Now, Hayley Kiyoko, a 27-year-old actress/musician, has been breaking records as the first-ever out lesbian pop star signed to a major record label who produces multiple music videos in which she herself appears in sexual or romantic situations with other women. Her 2015 video “Girls Like Girls” has nearly 90 million views on YouTube and her 2018 album ‘Expectations” debuted at #12 on the US Billboard 200. She’s changing the g-ddamn game. In hip-hop, Syd was “already an out lesbian when her career launched” (although she didn’t always like that word specifically) and her tracks often address relationships with women. Rapper Young MA officially came out as a lesbian to Fader in early 2017, talks about her sexuality in her music, and this year applied her talents to directing lesbian porn.
Anyhow, lesbians in music is obviously an expansive topic I could write five books on, so let’s get to the playlist! It’s primarily contemporary artists, along with some noted classics. It’s a real journey with no cohesion besides sexual orientation so you know, it’s kind of like going to a lesbian bar in that way.
I didn’t think anyone else knew about Erin McKeown! This makes me unbelievable happy and also wonder what she’s up to these days (I discovered her in my senior year of college, 2005, so it’s been a while).
Melissa Ferrick’s Drive and Jen Foster’s I Didn’t Just Kiss Her always go on my quintessential lesbian playlists. I may listen to those two songs on repeat for the rest of my work day.
Erin McKeown was coming up in my playlist and I was like… I can’t remember if she’s gay. So, I guess this confirms? Yay!
Lesbians in my ear, yeeeeeah!
This is so gooooooood!
I celebrated this fine day by listening to my own hand-crafted playlist of queer women musicians that is titled “Les Artistes”
Did Applebee’s really ruin the lesbian classic Come to My Window or is it too obvious to include in this list?
Only lesbian song I listened to was One More Hour, by Sleater-Kinney. I’ve mostly just watched vids online of lesbian/queer women doing mundane stuff like having lunch or talking about their day.
I hadn’t thought of how important music was/is to connecting to the community, but it really is (at least for me). When I first came out to myself, I felt the need to “feel gayer,” so I became a vegetarian and bought all of Tegan and Sara’s music. It made me feel like I was a part of the club, which I really needed.
So, yay! Yay for glady musicians!
In the 90’s Melissa Etheridge and Indigo Girls concerts were always a good time. I don’t really like the Indigo Girls, but I knew when they were in town Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was going to be full of girls loving girls. I guess that makes me sound a little creepy and voyeuristic but it was just to be with my people. Looking was a bonus. I love that I keep learning about these other cool musicians on this site.
i’ve been to like… ten indigo girls concerts maybe? i went to my first one when i was 8, and i think the most recent one i went to was in my early 20s. they’re still my favorite band to see live
examples on my playlist from across the pond: Shura (synthpop), Nimmo (dancey pop), Marika Hackman (chilled guitar pop), Fever Ray (Swedish.. unsure how to describe, kind of synthpop). to the best of my knowledge all are on record as gay/lesbian.
highly recommend watching the video for To the Moon and Back by Fever Ray for the full experience
I love this playlist, but… when it came to the old school folk artists I found myself constantly thinking “THAT’S not the song I’d choose from her…”
So I was inspired to make my own Lesbian Visibility playlist. It skews old school folks, because… I’m old. But it’s got some of the greatest, gayest songs from back in the day. (And one new one by Brandi because I love her.)
In case anyone else is interested, here’s the spotify link. https://open.spotify.com/user/1233549059/playlist/5Ej4hQ49RFrJ9BFTGHC0gP
Always listen to the music of Lesbian Jesus
Huh… I thought Hayley Kiyoko was bisexual? I can’t find any interview from her directly to address how she actually identifies; it seems like Lesbian Jesus has overshadowed her sexual orientation in Google.
Nope Hayley is a lesbian. She prefers the term “gay” but she’s not bisexual. I know this from multiple interviews from other outlets but also because Hayley has said specifically that she is gay and not bisexual directly to my actual face in 3-D real life so I’m quite certain
Thanks for clearing that up!
I’m a dinosaur in a young body so I don’t have soundcloud or what and instead googled every artist or band on that list I never heard of before and listened to what came up.
It was fun and Joan Armatrading is my favourite out of them.
I think I might of heard Toshi Reagon before in a blues mix on youtube of new or young artists or on a college radio station’s blue’s program just didn’t get her name down.
She’s magic like traveling back in time as a musician, but is as a person firmly in the present fighting for the now and the future.