Sometime in between potty training and the prom, I learned I was unworthy of the love that brought roses, candy grams, and absurdly large bears on Valentine’s Day. I haven’t liked roses since middle school, I learned to buy my own candy, and I have come to terms with the idea that I was born an absurdly large bear – brown, cuddly, and thick in all the best ways. I’m not a Valentine’s Day hipster. I won’t harangue about how roses and overpriced chocolates fuel capitalism. Love is love is love and Valentine’s Day is a day that many in this world shower their chosen ones with the love they deserve. Buy that boi his roses. Buy your girl her chocolates. Buy yourself that new vibrator, baby. You deserve it. I believe in love the way that queer folks believe in astrology – without reservation and probably more than I should.
In our house, music was how we said “I love you” in the deepest way possible. My parents swung us around in our family room dancing to their favorite songs. Years later, I would visit their graves playing those same songs while tears streamed down my face.
I was a fat nerd in high school (we are the best type). While the cool kids spent lunch eating pizza and playing hacky sack on the lawn, I spent mine taking extra band classes. After school, I sat in front of my computer surrounded by cassettes, blank CDs and sharpies, illegally downloading songs and making mixtapes for my crushes. I hid behind instruments, computers, Whitney’s voice, Prince’s guitar and awkwardly whispered “I love you more than I know how to explain and I’m scared so here’s a tape I made you.”
Fifteen years later, I no longer whisper; I shout it. Life is too damn short not to tell your people you love all pieces of them: I LOVE YOU and I MADE YOU THIS PLAYLIST.
This playlist honors the messiness of our journeys. It welcomes you with Syd’s “Drown In It” and ends with Corinne Bailey Rae’s “High,” a tribute to love that makes you want to keep it all to yourself (and also to my beautiful partner, Jane). Between the start and finish, you’ll find songs about family, new crushes, old lovers, heartbreak, and the most radical self-love we can muster. Some songs have words, others just provide a backing track for your own thoughts.
Like the best sex, I’ve decided to give it to you slow and deep in some parts and fast and rough in others. This playlist is verse and in it for the long haul. Play it top to bottom, bottom to top, on shuffle, repeat, softly while you soak in the tub, loudly when you first wake up on Sunday morning. It is ours.
I believe in making playlists like I love — with fierceness, exuberance, and intentionality. There are more than two hours of love songs for your ears and soul. In lieu of roses, candy, and a large bear, I offer you 40 tracks and an “I love you” that stretches into eternity.
On some of my favorites…
For Our Family (Chosen, Blood, and Imagined) — Mereba’s “Kinfolk”
It’s been almost a year now without family holidays, birthday parties, visiting grandparents, and reunions. Much of the world has mourned these as they come, trying to replicate the moments virtually — zoom meetings, packages, letters, and drive-by celebrations. Nothing feels the same and you find yourself missing your most-loathed relative, longing to have your cheeks squeezed by aunts, feigning a smile when you’re asked about potential kids, spouses, and career shifts again. There is no doubt that the isolative rotation around the sun has left many of us wishing for connection with those we hold closest. For some of us, this is a familiar feeling. We have been mourning the loss of those connections, events, hugs, obligatory intrusive questions for longer than we would like to admit. Maybe it happened when we came out, when we began to perform our queerness just a little too loudly when we brought our “friend” home for the last time. We queers know something about losing, about mourning, about searching to fill what once was. We also know a lot about finding our people and creating kinship. We know about loving deeply and staying.
I am learning to master grief and loss in ways that so many are around the world. In practical terms, I’m an orphan. My mama died six years ago this month, my dad just only last month. These days, family is a patchwork quilt of blood relatives, longtime friends, and people I have never met in real life. A haunting ballad and love song to the ones who matter, Mereba’s “Kinfolk” is a tribute to us. In her chorus, she reminds us that “we got what no money could measure” and while we could all use some more money right now, her voice brings a warm, loving serenade.
For more family love, facetime your family and dance to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston or “Before I Let Go” by Maze and Frankie Beverly.
Tell That Crush You Love Them Today – Brittany Howard’s “Georgia”
If you close your eyes real tight, perhaps you might imagine yourself like me in high school: an apprehensive teenager walking home from the bus stop, jean jacket, shabby converse, walkman on your ears, and listening to “Georgia” on repeat while you think about the day you’ll muster up the courage to tell your crush how you really feel: “Is it cool? I wanna tell ya that I love you.” This track is for the cute queers who need some courage to jump into the unknown. Just do it already. Love is waiting.
Further listening: “U Should” by CHIKA and King Princess’ “1950,” and “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae for more courage.
In Honor of Loving Ourselves Enough to Reckon with Our Shit — “By You” by Oompa (Featuring Anjimile)
Oompa’s Cleo was one of my favorite albums to drop in 2019. Her lyrics are raw and honest in ways that make you reckon with yourself, too. On “By You,” Oompa pairs brilliant lines like “I’m just here because my girl said I can’t blow up / And therapy is how I tell her that I am grown up” with the gorgeous vocals of Anjimile and gives us a heart-wrenching ballad about facing your demons and unpacking your shit in order to love and be loved.
We ain’t always ready to be in relationships. This is a song for us working on us. Those who love/hate our therapist. And those of us who are learning to love our truth (no matter how ugly it looks). After a year in isolation, I think all of us just “wanna be loved” right now.
Take care of yourself some more while listening to Jamila Woods’ “Holy.“
For Those of Us Who Chose Ourselves — Wafia’s “Pick Me”
For a long time, I was a hardcore giver. I gave up my dreams and ideas to make those around me feel comfortable. As a fat, Black, queer person, I learned to shrink, to be quiet, to take up as little space as possible. For some of us, giving to others (and up on ourselves) is easier than picking ourselves.
Wafia’s “Pick Me” is a battle cry of self-love, confidence, and preservation. Over an acoustic guitar, she is fierce in her proclamation, she picks herself, “every day, every night, every single week.” No matter where you are in your journey of self-love, you deserve to dream, exist, and be affirmed in all your ways. You deserve to be prioritized, held tightly, and picked first. It’s okay to pick yourself. Ain’t nobody gon’ love you like you love you.
Need more encouragement: Play Lizzo’s “Scuse Me” on repeat and belt it out.
Because They Never Deserved You No Way — “Tights on My Boat” by the Chicks
The guitar that backs Natalie Maines’ voice on this spellbound “fuck you” track sounds like a hard slap on the cheek of the ex who left your heart in pieces. . The Chicks’ music has always given us permission to stay mad, wish our haters the worst, and sit in our emotions; this track is no different. Each second of “Tights on My Boat” is soaked in controlled rage and disdain From the first line until the last, Maines sings a drag for the ages: “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep (just kidding), I hope it hurts like you hurt me; I hope when you think of me, you can’t breathe.” At the 22nd second of the track, Maines lets out an exhale that tells us we’re gonna be alright despite the heartbreak. At its core, Tights on My Boat is an anthem for those who’ve loved hard and gotten our hearts broken, burned, and tossed to the wind. Listen to this song on repeat and drink your favorite drink. Toast to your freedom. They didn’t deserve you, boo. Keep your head up and keep loving, baby.
See Also: “the 1” by Taylor Swift and “GodSpeed” by Frank Ocean
You May Not Have a Date, but Do You Have Cleaning Supplies? — “W.A.P.” by Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion
Meg spits “if he fuck me and ask, ‘Whose is it?’ / When I ride the dick, I’ma spell my name.” Let’s be honest. Some of us have been spelling our own names for eleven months (or longer). COVID-19 has made in-person dating, hookups, and relationships difficult for a lot of us. Eating your crush out is virtually impossible through an N-95 mask and many aren’t willing to risk our lives for it – no matter how good it is. When this anthem dropped in the summer, it set off the conservatives and male hip hop heads alike – how dare these hot women talk about their pussy and its power? It’s 2021 fam. How dare they not? Although the song has twinges of cishet normativity, Cardi and Meg never gender WAP. They open the box and the drip is real.
A solo Valentine’s Day prescription: Grab a bucket, mop, your favorite toy and play this on repeat at least 9 times before bed. With partner(s)? Also see: “Lavish” by TT the Artist and “Naked” by Siena Liggins
For the Socially Distanced New Lovers in 2021 — “A Long Walk” by Jill Scott
I’ve had a crush on Jill Scott since this song came out in 2000. I didn’t know what it meant to be queer yet, but I knew I loved Jill Scott and I would walk with her wherever she wanted to go. Her voice is one in a million, wrapping us with all of the warmth we’re missing in isolation this winter. Last year, Jill gave us one of the greatest displays of love. Her Verzuz battle with the incomparable goddess Erykah Badu was a breath of fresh air; hours of affirmation, joy, and music that tasted like your mama’s cooking and sounded like your most sensual lover. Dating is hard in a pandemic so I’m dedicating Ms. Scott’s 2001 classic, “A Long Walk” to the new socially-distanced lovers who are masking up, going for walks in the winter, and getting COVID-19 tests to get laid or find love. May your walk bring your soul the elevation you seek.
For Post-Walk Activities, see: “Cyber Sex” by Doja Cat and “Lying Together” by FKJ
For the Lovers of Justice — Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”
Donald Trump’s presidency exposed a long-standing undercurrent of disgusting racism and white supremacy in our country. It also brought Tracy Chapman back to late-night television to perform her evergreen classic anthem, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.” Last summer, Pride was canceled and despite a raging pandemic, we flooded the streets to protest police brutality. We screamed names of folks we didn’t know but loved enough in memoriam to risk our lives in the name of justice. In All About Love, bell hooks writes, “the moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” We’ve been choosing love. We’ve been moving toward freedom. Despite the obstacles in their way, organizers, educators, and leaders haven’t given up on revolution – on the possibility of a liberated world. Last month’s inauguration brought a glimmer of hope. It feels like “finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Also see: “Rise Up” (Andra Day)
To Our Pasts (Who Deserve Love Too) — Joy Oladokun’s “Younger Days”
Isolation brings introspection, introspection brings growth. We’ve all done a lot of growing up since our last Valentine’s Day. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my past as a younger queerdo – late nights at my favorite bar in DC, bad hookups, broken promises, and lost connections. “I wish I was at the club tonight,” I said back in August. I haven’t been to a club in three years. Just the idea of being up until last call makes me sleepy. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves when we reflect on what should have, could have, and would have been. In “Younger Days,” Joy Oladokun tells us to cut our past selves some slack. Send the past you a love note this Valentine’s Day.
An Ode to the Ultimate Love — Prince’s “Call My Name”
Whether you’ve been with your partner(s) for two weeks or twenty years, Prince’s “Call My Name” is the soundtrack for the “can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of” love (shout out to the Olsen twins circa 1995).
The world hasn’t been the same without the presence of Prince Rogers Nelson. Listening to his music still takes me to a higher plane where love is always queer, Blackness is always abundant, and being our truest selves is the holiest prayer we can offer the universe. In “Call My Name,” Prince belts his heart out for a real love that changes his world. All-consuming, Prince “just can’t stop writing songs” about his love.
This ballad is made for a good two-step with your favorite dance partner. Like the truest love, Prince’s voice lifts you off your feet. Don’t be scared though. The drums and bass cradle you for three minutes. This is that good shit – That Prince Rogers Nelson kind of art. We might not have Prince’s songwriting talent, but we still have the ability to show the people dearest to us that they are seen, affirmed, and loved. When’s the last time you called your lover by their name? When’s the last time you held their name on your tongue and offered it to them as a gift of admiration? Speak your love into existence. Name it and tell them how you feel.
The entire playlist is on Spotify and on Apple music.
Follow Prince’s example and take your time – with this playlist, love, and your growth.
I love you in all your forms.
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What a beautiful tribute to queer love in all its forms! Thank you for this gift of sound and words. <3
Kids who took extra band classes unite!!!
shea this is just epically gorgeous.
Too many quotable sentences to quote here. This is so great.
“I believe in love the way that queer folks believe in astrology – without reservation and probably more than I should.” A perfect sentence – thank you!
This is so, so good — listening to the playlist now🥰 thank you!
Gorgeous writing, beautiful playlist. Thank you!!
Great playlist, better writing…
Thanks so much for sharing this with us.