The first verse of Lorde’s “Liability” hit me like a speeding train. I scrambled into a sitting position on my bed and picked up my phone, unsure if I’d heard the lyrics correctly. My thumb twitched as it slid the playhead back on my music app, restarting the song from just a few seconds in. I listened intently, not wanting to miss a single word.
Sure enough, Lorde sang: “So I guess I’ll go home into the arms of the girl that I love / The only love I haven’t screwed up…” “The girl that I love.” The girl. I couldn’t believe it.
I’d always felt a connection to Lorde because she’s such an amazing lyricist, but what I felt at that moment was 10 times more powerful. Here was something I could relate to word for word, down to the gender of Lorde’s partner, and that changed my entire listening experience. As a bisexual woman, I don’t get to have that feeling too often when I listen to pop music, and I know many other LGBTQ+ people feel the same way. When young LGBTQ+ people want to listen to music that isn’t about straight people, we are often sent scrambling to dusty corners of SoundCloud. To unexpectedly hear a female pop artist singing about women was so strange and refreshing. I hadn’t realized that such an experience was missing from my life up until that moment.
The fact that it was Lorde who was singing added another dimension to my shock. It wasn’t that I thought she was straight or anything like that—it was just that her music is so well known. It had been clear since the first single that “Melodrama” was going to shake the foundation of the Earth, so deciding to make such a clear statement about sexuality on the album was a brave move, even justified in a single line. Lorde is purposefully normalizing love between women by slipping it quietly into mainstream music, without any fuss.
Frank Ocean has been singing about his romantic feelings for other men since his debut album “Channel Orange” in 2012, but his 2016 release “blond” shook the world of music the second it came out. The album contains an explicit reference to a gay bar, and its comparable visual work, “Endless,” released the day before, samples the speech of drag queen Crystal LaBeija. Ocean’s music provides a voice for many LGBTQ+ people of color, especially Black people like himself. His presence is all too necessary in a world where the most visible aspects of LGBTQ+ culture center on whiteness, and he deserves every ounce of the praise that he gets for being such a bold and creative artist. His reviews and chart numbers definitely reflect his brilliance.
But the charts aren’t the only place where LGBTQ+ artists have been making an impact. Though Hayley Kiyoko’s songs aren’t the subject of articles in The New York Times like Lorde’s or Ocean’s, her music has an important place in the changing tide of queer pop. The videos for Kiyo- ko’s songs “Sleepover” and “Girls Like Girls” both went viral because of their queer themes. Kiyoko focuses on the unique problems of not being heterosexual: dealing with sexual frustration during a sleepover with your crush, your love for your partner not being taken seriously by those around you and the like. She found a new LGBTQ+ audience through these hits.
But the number of artists who have found new audiences online for their queer pop music goes well beyond Kiyoko: Halsey, Troye Sivan, PVRIS, PWR BTTM and many others have had the same experience. Their follower numbers skyrocket and their view counts shatter ceilings because the LGBTQ+ community relates to their music so powerfully. In cases like Sivan and Halsey, their ca- reers have even taken off because of their contribu- tions to queer pop.
This goes to show that there is a demand for such music, and it’s only growing as music moves from the radio to online platforms such as YouTube and Spotify. Spaces like these allow listeners to customize their music experience, so LGBTQ+ listeners can choose music which aligns with their experiences, bringing more attention to LGBTQ+ artists. Gay pop is not only accessible, it’s wanted. Finally, LGBTQ+ listeners will no longer feel disconnected and frustrated with the heteronormativity that permeates every part of the music scene.
However, this new shift towards gay artists will influence more than their surrounding community. Because these musicians are becoming so mainstream, their songs will inevitably reach the ears of straight listeners. As with every other form of media, we internalize the things that we hear in music and use them as a baseline for what is normal and right. This applies to gay pop, too: this new influx of gay artists will normalize LGBTQ+ culture in a quiet and subtle way.
Kids who grow up now, listening to artists like Frank Ocean discussing gay bars and Lorde singing about the woman she loves, will know that gay love is just as valid as any other kind of love. Thus, gay pop is helping the next generation to embrace different modes of sexuality. Working in conjunction with ever-increasing media representation in television and movies, this could have incredibly positive effects on the way that people view the LGBTQ+ community. We, as listeners, are lucky to bear witness to something like that.