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Kehlani, Janelle Monae, and MUNA: All hail the queer queens of alt-pop

July 18, 2018

As a queer woman who writes, performs, produces and engineers music, I'm constantly looking to entertainment, media, and especially modern music to find inspiration to keep pushing forward. When I was younger, it was almost impossible to find queer women in indie, alternative, or pop genres who had access to large media platforms. While I looked up to prominent queer artists like Lady Gaga, there weren’t many others like her at the time. I found myself struggling to become that which I longed to see more of on my television, computer screen, and in my iTunes library: Not just a role-model performer, but a queer activist who incited change through art.

Today, the music industry is experiencing a shift towards better LGBTQ+ visibility, with so many non-male, queer-identifying musicians changing the game. They're using their platforms to educate the public, promote visibility for their queer-identifying peers, and pave the way for the next generation of LGBTQ+ artists.

These three queer artists are committed to inspiring work on behalf of LGBTQ+ musicians and for queer people in media at large.

Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe dubbed her new album and third studio release, Dirty Computer, a “love letter” to the LGBTQ+ community. The music, as well as the visual album, boast carefully curated, futuristically funky, ‘80s aesthetics. The songs themselves heavily address important themes of queerness, the power of femininity, and being a black woman in today’s America.

Her eye-catching visual album also clearly shows both a man and a woman as Janelle’s character’s love interests. Janelle recently came out publicly as bi+, leaning towards pansexuality, in an interview with Rolling Stone. Within 24 hours of the interview going live, “pansexual” was the top-searched word on Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s website. This all exemplifies the impact that one individual in the public spotlight can have when using their platform to educate the public on issues they may have been unaware of.

Janelle has also stated in a recent interview with People, “I don’t believe that all women need to possess a vagina to be a woman.”  This statement was a response to people questioning dancers wearing pants that heavily resembled labia in the video for her single, “PYNK.” Janelle explained that it was a conscious decision to have not every dancer wear those pants as genitalia does not equal gender. This is an extremely important statement to be made by a cisgender celebrity of her status, because she’s educating her fanbase about femme diversity, recognition and validation of all trans bodies, and the importance of being inclusive when discussing gender.

Janelle is using her platform to educate the public about the issues that queer, black, female-identifying people face in America, and is normalizing queer bodies and queer relationships at all intersections of identity.

MUNA

 

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MUNA is a group of three queer musicians: Two members of the group, Katie and Josette, identify as queer women, and the third member, Naomi, recently came out as non-binary, in addition to being queer. Together, they’re paving the way for other queer folk to find their place in all areas of music-making.

They never shy away from taking strong, visible political stances at protests, on social media, and in their music. The group has attended protests like the Women’s March, and often takes strong political stances on Twitter about current events in LGBTQ+ rights, and intersectional social justice. 

Their anthemic synth-pop jam, “I Know A Place”, describes a utopia in which everyone can be themselves regardless of identity, without fear of judgement or violence. The song has resonated deeply with the queer community, especially after the Pulse tragedy in Orlando. Since Trump’s election, MUNA sometimes changes the lyrics to this song when they perform it live. Once on Jimmy Kimmel, they added an excerpt from the poem “The New Colossus”—which adorns the statue of liberty—and projected it behind them. The lyrics in the bridge stated: “Even if our skin or our gods look different/ I believe all human life is significant/ I throw my arms open wide in resistance/ He’s not my leader even if he’s my president.”

Kehlani

 

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Kehlani has been open about her sexuality, identifying loudly and proudly as queer, since she first gained public attention through her art. She speaks often of her sexual fluidity, gender fluidity, and her attraction to all genders. In an interview with The Fader in 2015, she discussed coming to terms with her sexuality: “I was always just, like, you have to be gay or you have to be straight—that those were conflicting. I learned that there’s really no wrong or right, that it was cool to like everything.”

In an Instagram post in February 2018, she expanded further on her thoughts on her gender fluidity, stating, “Growing up queer there was always a struggle with the energies I possessed... There’s such a divine feminine but such a divine masculine.” She ended the post with heartfelt words to her followers, stating, “Two spirit, one spirit, fluid, whatever your world is, be. #YouSafeHere.”

Kehlani’s single, “Honey,” particularly resonates with me. The sweet and simple acoustic track is about her loving a woman. There’s no mention of a storyline akin to a queer person suffering because of their identity before being able to find love. While coming to terms with one’s sexuality is still a prevalent issue, Kehlani wrote about a personal relationship to which a large number of her queer fanbase could relate. Songs like this‚ that normalize the idea of happy, queer love‚ are so important.

Kehlani’s also using her art to advance her activism. She recently partnered with the clothing brand Fashion Nova to donate $50,000 to LGBTQ+ centers across the country. This donation will help provide young queer or trans-identifying folks with mental health care and housing. We need more people like Kehlani in pop and R&B who use their platform to unapologetically spread love and acceptance, while also taking action to create positive change through philanthropy.

By being role models to young, LGBTQ+, non-male identifying folks who want careers in music or the arts, these artists are telling the next generation that it’s okay—amazing, even—to be exactly who you are. The slow, steady shift in thought and action brought about by these artists will certainly increase visibility and acceptance of queer people within media and entertainment, but also of those on the outside looking in.

#WeStan is an amp original series honoring LGBTQ legends in media because we know that representation matters. Follow along on GLAAD social mediaFacebook, Instagram, Twitterto see who our fans stan!

Nicole Gemmiti is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and rising senior at Berklee College of Music studying music production and engineering and contemporary writing and production. She is the co-leader of Berklee’s gay-straight alliance, LGBT+ United.

the voice and vision of a new generation