If you logged more than 100k minutes of music listening in 2021 according to your Spotify Wrapped, Congratulations, and Welcome. This one is for you. I myself am never without my headphones, streaming music into my ears for hours on end across Spotify, Soundcloud, Youtube, and Bandcamp. When I’m feeling a little nostalgic I’ll throw on a Marvin Gaye vinyl and lay in bed staring at the ceiling until I fall asleep. I think, as a poet, I have a deep appreciation for the poetics of music. Every aspect, from the lyrics to the melody to the random adlibs. I listened to a lot of music this year, and a lot of the artists I’ve listened to are also LGBTQ-identified people. I love that somehow I’m naturally drawn to other queer people’s music even if I at first don’t know how they identify. As a gay kid, I often spent time singing love songs written about men and women, and would long to hear a song where the kind of affection I felt was expressed. I didn’t get that until I was in college and exploring music outside of the influence of my parents and what was “cool” to listen to in high school. Before I discovered Tracy Chapman, the only “representation” I heard in music was tAtU’s “All the Things She Said.” I feel like there are more out musicians now than there have been in years past, making this a great year for LGBTQ music and my gay little heart. Here are the top queer songs of 2021 that I loved.
1. Concrete – Orion Sun
When I first heard Orion Sun, I felt an immediate kinship that I would letter recognize as the “oh, we’re gay” gene. The first song I ever heard by her was the Mango Freestyle, which, if you haven’t heard, go listen now. It’s saccharine and delicious. “Concrete” is a little more explicit. Featuring Orion Sun straddling the line between singing and rapping, with lyrics like “baby, go slow when you ridin’ me, take your time with me, makin’ honey drip down like a bumblebee, fuck me like she proud of me.” Like, damn. It’s such a sexy and simple song, with easy and scarce keys and feathered drums. There are of course a lot of gay women making music, but not all of them are this…bold. I love that, I don’t want nuance or hinting, I want dyke shit. This song delivers.
2. Must Come Spring – Mind Bath
This song features psychedelic synth sounds and vocals that are intoxicating. Mind Bath’s voice is gentle as the song begins but asserts itself later on in the song. Truly one of my favorite vocal performances on this list. There’s something so even and sultry about his voice that I’m drawn to. Mind Bath writes songs about gay love that examine the beauty and intricacy in those relationships. The EP that this song rests on is about creating the kind of love you want in your life. The lyric “suddenly everything is a song and it’s for you,” really encapsulates the experience of the EP for me, but “Must Come Spring” is definitely a stand-out.
3. Sexy Villain – Remi Wolf
One of the things that I’m in awe of about Remi Wolf is the sheer volume of music she has put out since starting on the scene a few years ago. In 2019 she released the EP, You’re a Dog, in 2020 she put out I’m Allergic to Dogs, and this year she released a full-length album, Juno, which “Sexy Villain” is on. Remi Wolf’s look is just as vibrant as her sound. She’s got an incredibly powerful and soulful voice that seems almost out of step with her often silly lyrics (high libido, cheat on Chester, fuck the Fritos in this song, for example.) Her wordplay is pretty masterful and makes listening to her music a wild ride. Vocally, she can really show off on other songs, but this song is so fun that I had to add it to this list.
4. If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight – Courtney Barnett
In the fall, I get super into listening to folky music, and I listened to a lot of sad white women this year. Australian crooner Courtney Barnett’s album was released a little later in the year, but this was one of the singles off the album, and it makes sense because it’s a beautiful song that’s dripping with gay yearning. It’s a song about waiting by the phone for a reply, which, who hasn’t been in that scenario? The repetitive, twangy guitar on this track and Barnett’s sort of muted single style only add to the desperation in the lyrics. It’s a truly gay song that I think really showcases what’s best about Barnett’s playing style and voice.
5. Faith Healer – Julien Baker
I couldn’t not add this song to the list considering how often I scream-sang it at the top of my lungs in my kitchen this year. This track is off Baker’s newest album, Little Oblivions, and this one and “Hardline” got played on repeat in my house for months. What made me pick this song though, is the climax of the song, the way Baker’s voice ascends and climbs, accompanied with the lyrics “faith healer, come put your hands all over me. A snake oil dealer, I’ll believe you if you make me feel something.” Damn, that pen! Julien Baker is an excellent songwriter and just an overall incredibly vulnerable and open artist. I appreciate that kind of rawness in music because it, well, makes me feel something, and boy do I love to feel!
6. In the Air – Destin Conrad
This is another song that is just pure, sexy, R&B and I’m a sucker for that kind of music. This song is also very relatable in that it’s about being fed up with fighting to be chosen by someone you’re interested in. Again, I gotta jump to the lyrics, but I sang “I’m not your option, I’m not your baby” with my whole fucking chest. The smoothness of this song, the classic stripped-down beat all had this one on heavy rotation in my household. I was raised on R&B, and while I’m still into the classics I love listening to the new stuff too. I think Conrad is definitely a powerful voice in the genre. If you haven’t listened to Colorway in full, let this be your warning to rush to wherever you get your music and put it on immediately.
7. Moments in Between – Mini Trees
I didn’t find Mini Trees until November. I was researching shows coming to my city for work, and I like to listen to the artists to get a feel for their work, and I instantly fell in love with the sound. Lexi Vega, the voice behind Mini Trees, describes her sound as “living room pop,” and I find that to be very fitting. With a sunny sound and sweet, emotional lyrics, “Moments in Between” is the perfect song to listen to when you’re crushing hard. This song comes off the full-length album, Always in Motion, which you should absolutely listen to (might I recommend “Otherwise” as well) but her earlier EPs are also golden, so give those a listen too. Vega’s voice on this track moves like a body of water, at once rushing toward you and retreating, holding on to clear high notes before settling into a middle register. She is currently on tour, so check her website for cities and dates.
8. Aubade – Hana Vu
Aubade sounds like it belongs in an 80s erotic thriller. It will make you dance, it will make you feel like you’re in a sports car rushing down a highway, on your way to do something a little ill-advised to win the affections of your married lover. Vu’s vocals are resonant and chimeric, they feel ever-shifting and shaping in this song. You won’t want to turn this song off, it makes you feel like slinking around in a sexy little dress, being the sexiest and most dangerous person in the room. With most of these songs, I will recommend listening to the full album as well just so you know what the musician wanted you to experience as a full project, not just one song. With “Aubade” and Public Storage, I definitely recommend listening.
9. Tender Organs – Amythyst Kiah
Amythyst Kiah is a powerful vocalist that is a master of the bluesy growl and the grit. “Tender Organs” feels like it rides that blues-folk line. She was a part of my Blues Autumn this year, and her voice really impressed me, as well as the rawness of her lyrics. I have found that when people think of blues or folk, they still think of primarily white vocalists, so you kind of have to search out Black and Brown artists in the genre. That’s how I came to find “Tender Organs,” the lyrics “notice here, notice here, the hands that healed me, now they’re rotten” are just pure poetry, and y’all know how much I appreciate that. Kiah’s full-throated vocals roar through this song and carry you through the experience of listening to it.
10. Jordan – Joy Oladokun
I love Oladokun’s voice in this song, the storytelling of this song is immaculate and gut-wrenching. I’m always alternating between listening to songs about deep heartbreak or soul-renewing love, and this song is about the latter. I can appreciate it for that, everyone loves a good love song and this one delivers. It sounds like a wedding, both wistful and magical, the guitar in the song is simple and really lets Oladokun’s voice shine and take center stage. Even the background vocals, reminiscent of a choir, take a step back and let her do her work. There’s just something so delicate about this song that will keep you coming back.
11. Heart Storm – serpentwithfeet
A collaboration with vocalist NAO, “Heart Storm” is a gorgeous song that shows serpentwithfeet using his high notes to deliver you to the ceiling. The full album, Deacon, is full of queer love songs, but “Heart Storm” struck me the most because it has an almost trance-like quality to it. It feels like a spell is washing over you as you listen to it. It is really a song about, as the title might suggest, an incredibly transcendent and powerful love that makes you feel like a storm is within you. You might be thinking “damn another love song?” and you are right to question me, I’m not in love but I love the sound of other people being in love. Give Deacon a listen while you’re chilling with your boo and see if it doesn’t put you in a mood too.
12. Intimidated – Kaytranada ft. H.E.R.
This one is short and sweet, but a definite bop. If you are familiar with Kaytranada’s work, you know he is the king of turning any song into a head-bobbing masterpiece. His production on songs is just…unmatched. I put off listening to the new EP because I knew I wasn’t ready to jam as hard as I would to this song especially. This song is just perfect for the party, whether you like to party alone or with a group of your closest friends, or surrounded by strangers, put “Intimidated” on and watch the crowd devolve into a mass of beating, sweating bodies.
13. New Shapes – Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX, and Caroline Polachek
My fascination with Christine and the Queens began with “Tilted,” but I’ll absolutely listen to any song they are on. When this song came out, I almost missed it, until I saw their name and was immediately sucked in. Their voice paired with my new pop queen Caroline Polachek is a recipe for a hit, and I know the gays love Charli XCX as well so I can’t forget to shout her out. The song itself is dance-pop and very, dare I say, a major groove? With powerful synth and catchy, easy-to-learn lyrics, it is also perfect for your dance party.
14. SIERRA NIGHTS – Kevin Abstract
When I was complying this list, I felt bad that hip hop was not very well represented. And, it just really isn’t. I guess this wasn’t a major year for it. But I’m a secret Brockhampton stan and I love Kevin Abstract’s style, so this song made it. The song features Ryan Beatty, whose vocals are quite pretty and sweet. This is a gay love song that is pretty bold about that fact, which, if you’re familiar with Abstract, isn’t a surprise.
15. Bluish – Arlo Parks
If I’m remembering correctly, my introduction to Arlo Parks was her song “George,” which is definitely worth the listen if you have the time. Collapsed in Sunbeams was surely one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and ‘Bluish” is a testament to Parks’ love of poetry and literature. It’s a song about setting boundaries with someone you care for, asking for space, and maintaining self in a relationship. The beat feels like something you’d hear in the back of a reggaeton song, it’s surely muted but still makes you want to dance, despite the lyrical content. The lyrics “heart in my mouth, please let me out of you” are gut-wrenching but speak to a familiar problem in a lot of queer relationships. Parks’ voice is like a roar contained in a whisper, it’s gentle yet confident. If you follow her online, especially Instagram, you’ll see her appreciation for her fans and commitment to her music, making it all the more easy to enjoy.
16. FYO – MICHELLE
MICHELLE is a collective of mostly queer people of color that make infectious pop together. I had some reservations about their music at first, but “FYO” hooked me instantly. What sounds like a maraca-style shaker carries the beat of the song and makes you want to move without reservation. The song itself is about being of mixed-race identity and leaving between two different worlds. MICHELLE will definitely be an act to watch in the coming year. Listen to their latest single “Syncopate” to get a little more of a taste of their range.
17. Perfect Wife – Tasha
I tweeted this originally but this song makes me want to be married so I can sing along to it while I make my wife a pie or something. The playful guitar and the trill of Tasha’s voice (and the flute!) carry this song. It’s exceptionally sweet and heartwarming. It’s a perfectly balanced single and a song that makes you want to twirl around in a white dress. It’s delightfully queer and reminds me of how queer women can often express our love for one another in such stunning ways. This idea of saying “pinch me” because you feel so lucky to have your partner, AH! it’s so cute. I love this song and can’t get enough of it.
18. Fire – Joesef
This was also a late-in-the-year release, but it’s sultry and sexy and sad, which I’m so desperately drawn toward. Joesef is a capital V Vocalist, his voice is so velvety and feels like vanilla tastes. This one is, surprise, about a relationship at its end, so it makes me very contemplative and emotional. As someone who burned the letters an ex gave me, the idea of an old love “slipping into the fire” is a feeling I know a little too well. This song was just a single released this September, so we might be getting a new album out of Joesef soon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
19. Altar – Kehlani
I gotta admit, I tried not to put obvious artists like Kehlani on this list, but this is probably my favorite song of hers, and I couldn’t resist adding it to the list. It’s just a gorgeous song, I wont’ go on too long about it, but it is really fucking good. Vocally she really pushed herself on this song and it shows. The vibe of the song matches the title, and matches the video that accompanies the song. Everything feels so curated and balanced about the performance, it’s a song about keeping the memory of a partner alive, and it’s just so beautiful I had to include it.
20. Tiptoeing – Hope Tala
I always love when a musician makes a song that sounds like the title, you know what I mean? The opening notes of this song indeed sound like “tiptoeing.” I just find that to be such a feat of creativity on the part of everyone involved. Hope Tala is sure to be a name you’ve seen before on a lists of queer artists to watch over the past couple of years. She really broke through in 2020 with “All My Girls Like To Fight,” a great song, and “Tiptoeing” follows as a charismatic and catchy tune.
21. Human – rum.gold
rum.gold is one of my favorite vocalists in the R&B genre coming up in the last couple of years. Anyone that can reach that height with their voice and MAINTAIN?! A standing ovation from me at the very least. “Human” comes off the album Thicker than Water, and again, I urge you to listen to the full project. The lyrics “I parted the ocean to find you, jumped from your Venus to your Moon” just scream of emotional astrology gay and that resonates with me. I can’t overstate how much I adore this song and this voice, like who gave you the right to sing with that throat? I am absolutely in awe of everything about this performance. We just got a full-length album this year, but what’s next? I can’t wait to find out.
22. Ben Franklin – Snail Mail
I didn’t know Snail Mail identified as gay until December 11, 2021, and so I rushed to add this song to the list. The delivery of “sucker for the pain, huh honey?” is just so tongue in cheek and brutal that this song jumps out as my favorite off of Valentine. It reminds me of the time I was flirting with a Taurus and sent them my birth chart and they said “lots of walls, huh?” Like way to crush me under your heel and make me like it! Also, I consider myself to be a reformed demon so the repetition of “I’ve got the devil in me” rings pretty sound and true. Snail Mail has a sort of gritty, edgy voice that really makes her stand out in the landscape of her particular genre. It’s pop with a little bit of smoke in it.
23. Dead Right Now – Lil Nas X
Without a doubt one of the best songs to come out this year. The vulnerability in the lyrics, the clear and precise vocals, the backing vocals, what a triumph! Me and Shelli already said we are Lil Nas X’s gay proud aunties and that still stands. Particularly, I was won over by the performance of the “hallelujah, how’d you do it, you been on my mind you’ve been running through it” line. Woo, it just gets to me. Remember when people were assuming “Old Town Road” was the end of this man’s career? He continues to shock and astound the culture and I am standing at a socially respectable distance clapping with all my force and might. “Dead Right Now” is about the glow-up, who you lose once you’ve won. It’s a little peek into the way life has been going for him and I appreciate the candor. It’s also just a certified banger.
What songs and singles made it to your end-of-year lists? Shout them out in the comments!
hooray for queer music content!! lots of artists here i’m unfamiliar with, looking forward to checking them out. thank you for putting this list together!
if you wanted another hip hop recommendation, Backxwash is a Canadian-Zambian rapper who put out an incredible album this year. her stuff is very very heavy, but i’d recommend at least checking out the track “TERROR PACKETS” for the year’s best opening line: “where was you at when i had to trap just to pay for my hormones?”
thanks again, love seeing music stuff back on autostraddle.
What a great list! So excited to see Tasha on here.
For those of you who are interested, I also released a new record this year, specifically about coming to identify as non-binary butch after 10 years of being a femme lesbian. It’s on Spotify or also bandcamp: https://antiquatedfuture.bandcamp.com/album/butch-spring
This is such a great list! Can’t wait to add some (all??) of these to my music rotation
And Sarah Proctor?
Thanks for the post.I really missed the music articles
@autostraddle,like queer your ears. Please post more music articles, both new artists and known queer artists
thank you soooo much for making me discover Hana Vu, Orion Sun and Remi Wolf <3 also, I have been a lover of Courtney Barnett's music for so long, I can't believe I never got how incredibly GAY the vibes are lol
I’m submitting Pom Pom Squad’s “Head Cheerleader” (their entire album is so good). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6clF3e1m80U
Echoing others – love to see music content on Autostraddle! And very excited to check out these artists as most are new to me. One of my favourites this year was Silk Chiffon by MUNA, feat. Phoebe Bridgers. The video for it is a homage to But I’m a Cheerleader and is just so so good!
Yeah I’m pretty surprised this one didn’t make the list tbh. Maybe, like Kehlani, it’s ‘too obvious’?
the lyric is “snake oil dealer” not snail oil dealer :)
also, yay Amythyst Kiah <3 I had no idea she had new music.
Favorite post of the year, hands down. This was a delight from beginning to end. Sexy Villain is easily my fav song from Remi Wolf’s new album, and I’ve been pestering everyone I know to listen to Arlo Parks so it gave me a huge hit of dopamine to see Bluish included. Eugene is another one of my favorites from AP, it’s so full of visceral queer longing. Thanks for this! I’m looking forward to both putting the Spotify playlist on repeat and deep diving into some of these other artists I hadn’t been familiar with.
Great line up. Am putting forward any and all songs released by Self Esteem.
If you haven’t, you should check our Allison Russell! Though she’s done amazing work with a few other bands/groups in the past, she released her own debut album this year and is incredible. Her focus is on overcoming childhood trauma that was unrelated to queerness, but she’s a badass bisexual woman.
Way, way late to this party but everything on this list was amazing. Dani, please be my personal life DJ.
Shout out to Hillsburn with lots of queer members whose 2021 album Slipping Away is just transcendent indie pop.