Sapphic Yearning, Explained by a Playlist

It recently came to my attention that the true meaning of sapphic yearning is an oft-sought query. But how does one describe a vibe as specific, nuanced, and occasionally contradictory like sapphic yearning? Is it a good feeling or a bad feeling? Both and also neither. Perhaps a poet would liken it to looking at the moon, but I think it might have something to do with the ocean. Maybe Autostraddle should make a queer pocket dictionary one of these days with urgent entries like this one. To me, sapphic yearning is an intense feeling of desire tinged with obstacle, often directed at an ex, a crush, a friend, or a fickle or chaotic lover. But don’t take my word for it. I thought perhaps we could work toward a more complete understanding of sapphic yearning’s meaning by studying the words and offerings of a specific subgenre of artists: sad gay musicians. Enjoy this sapphic yearning playlist and selected lyrics from its songs that collectively come together to define something as wispy and, admittedly, cringey as sapphic yearning, a sensation that can apply to an ex, a lover, a friend, a stranger, or even a slightly delulu projection of a persona you have placed onto another person.

lips kissing in watercolor against a colorful background, depicting the concept of sapphic yearning
feature image watercolor illustration by El_Suhova via Getty Images

“Night Shift” by Lucy Dacus

The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit
I mistakenly called them by your name
I was let down, it wasn’t the same

“Touch Me” by Victoria Monét

I’m in love with your fingertips
I reminisce places you kiss
Girl, it’s been too long

“i wanna be your girlfriend” by girl in red

The look in your eyes
My hand between your thighs
Oh, this can’t be real
It’s all just a dream

“Strangers” by Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui

We’re not lovers, we’re just strangers
With the same damn hunger
To be touched, to be loved, to feel anything at all

“Explosion” by Zolita

Explosion (love you but I’m not in love
You’re all I’ve been dreaming of)

“Moon” by Renée Rapp

Wonder if you miss me too when we’re lookin’ at the same moon

“Cherry” by Rina Sawayama

Down the subway, you looked my way
With your girl gaze, with your girl gaze
That was the day everything changed
Couldn’t stay the same

“I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” by Ezra Furman

I want to be your girlfriend
I want to walk down the street hanging from your arm
That’s right, little old me, I want to be your girlfriend
And leave behind this loveless world I know

“altar” by Kehlani

So I put you on the altar, stay just a little bit longer

“Sensory Memory” by Jen Cloher

I start missing you
Days before you leave

“Lipstick Lover” by Janelle Monáe

‘Cause for your love, I’ll take my time
Just wanna feel your hips on mine

“Tiny Garden” by Jamila Woods

I put my hand by yours, so you know I wanna hold it
I say my prayers at night, but I know who controls it
I’m falling hard for you, but I know I don’t show it
I’ll take your love for me, but I know I don’t own it

“Sleepover” by Hayley Kiyoko

Always there to brush your hair, help you pick out what to wear
I just feel alone, feel alone
You will never understand even when you hold my hand
I just feel alone, feel alone

“Butterflies” by Wafia

I’m chasing after butterflies inside my mind
But I wish they weren’t so damn hard to find
What happened to the days I used to fly with you?

“Hold U” by Indigo De Souza

You are a good thing I’ve noticed, I’ve noticed
And I want a good thing with you

“Blood and Fire” by Indigo Girls

But blood and fire are too much for these restless arms to hold
And my nights of desire, they’re calling me back to your fold
And I’m calling you, calling you, from ten thousand miles away
Won’t you wet my fire with your love, babe?

“F.U.C.K.” by Victoria Monét

Is your favorite color blue? ‘Cause you’re somethin’ like my kyrptonite
I think I want you to maybe meet me at my crib tonight

“Suburbia” by Devon Again

No, you taste like suburbia
Two cars and custom furniture
Your walk-in closet rendezvous
I wish that I was home to you

“Red Wine Supernova” by Chappell Roan

You just told me
Want me to fuck you
Baby, I will ’cause I really want to

“Emily” by Rett Madison

Emily, I miss our late-night walks
Did his kiss replace our heart-to-hearts?
Come on, we both know he ain’t that smart

“Pride” by Joy Oladokun

A heart can break
A thousand times
No hands can take
What’s ours

“This Is Everything” by Tegan and Sara

I saved up all my sunshine
Just to see you more clear

“U Should” by CHIKA

I’m always in the position
Of sipping my drink, tryna make a decision
Of how I can shoot my damn shot with precision
I swear that it’s harder than what I envisioned

“dirty dancer” by Orion Sun

You got me waiting at the corner
Waiting at the red light
Waiting at the crosswalk thinking of you
Waiting in line at the grocery store
Waiting for an Uber thinking of you

“Fool of Me” by Meshell Ndegéocello

I want to kiss you
Does she want you with the pain that I do

“The Rush” by Janelle Monáe

I look into your eyes and I get that rush
Maybe ’cause tonight you gonna be my crush

“Say Yes” by Floetry

Loving you has taken time, taken time
But I always knew you could be mine

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 868 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. Love this. But not sure I agree anything from the Age of Pleasure belongs on a list of “sad gay musicians”. Feels like they’re yearning but with the full confidence that they will get what they want. Maybe something from Dirty Computer instead, like Don’t Judge Me?
    “Come, let me kiss you right there
    What if I kissed you right there?
    Would you tremble inside or just call it a night?
    What if I gave you a show?
    You could touch if you like
    Right there
    If I kissed you, would you think I was lonely?”

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