In 2011, we compiled a list of the top 50 gay male musicians. Big names like Elton John, RuPaul, The Village People, and Michael Stipe rounded out that collection of well-known gay music artists in various genres. While our original gay music artist list was extensive, limited it to 50 meant it was obviously incomplete. Many brilliant but lesser known talents were left out.
Now, we're updating that original effort with a new list, this one covering contemporary gay artists—underground gems, newer superstars on the scene and some older gay musicians finally getting the recognition they deserve. More of a tasting menu than a complete archive, this gallery of gay music artists is still by no means comprehensive, but it certainly represents a group of talented men to celebrate.
High camp and indie rock combine with Jake Shears and Ana Matronic's band of largely queer musicians. The gang might be best known for their sillier songs (“Let's Have a Kiki” and “Filthy / Gorgeous” come to mind) but their more contemplative songs are just as amazing.
Before Pitchfork “discovered” the gay rappers Le1f, Mykki Blanco, and Zebra Katz in 2012, Cazwell had released a handful of half-serious hip-hop jams focusing on topics ranging from gay sex to his love of ice cream. With an interminable list of production credits and guest verses, Cazwell has become the de facto club kid rap star, working with nightlife legends Amanda Lepore and Peaches, among many others.
This breakthrough gay rapper took the Internet by storm with his ultra slick speed-rapping verse on “Wut”, accompanied by a campy video of the rapper voguing down with a muscle-man in a Pikachu mask. Since then, he's released three mixtapes, an EP with Terrible records, and is currently working on a full-length album as one of the only gay rappers signed to a mainstream label. Arty, provocative, and politically aware, Le1f's debut album will be sure to shatter expectations and (hopefully) the sales charts.
Widely hailed as the first openly gay country singer (sorry Ty Herndon, you just missed it), Steve Grand is as much of a YouTube sensation as he is a singer. Not that that's a bad thing, but with only a few singles out, it's hard to tell if this internet celebrity will be able to keep up with all the speculation. With a supposed full album release coming this year, we're as compelled as Out magazine, who named the artist one of their Out100 of 2014.
At the halfway point between indie rock and ballroom house, Double Duchess are new to the scene. Accidental Bear debuted their first video in the beginning of 2015—now the band is looking for some crowdfunding to finish off their first album. Just as good as helping these new promising artists: 10% of the album's pledges will go to LYRIC – Queer Youth center.
This neo-classical artist uses gothic operatic drama to explore race and sexuality in American culture. With his strong counter-tenor vocals, M Lamar continues in the queer tradition of Klaus Nomi. Lamar clearly has the brains to back up his talent and was engaged in extended conversation with feminist cultural scholar bell hooks. Fun fact: He's also Laverne Cox's twin brother!
Named after the evil goo in Barbarella, this duo (who also happen to be a couple outside of their musical work) have been frequent collaborators with Bjork from the beginning of her solo career, alongside their own prolific seven-album discography. Electronic artists willing to get weird, Matmos famously made beats out of the noises created from rubbing each other's clothing during a live performance on the "Vespertine" world tour.
Martin Sorrondeguy (Limp Wrist, Los Crudos)
An important figurehead in the Queercore punk movement, Martin Sorrondeguy can and will kick your ass. Despite the effeminate name of his most popular Straight Edge band, Sorrondeguy's brand of hardcore is intimidating, loud, and angry as hell.
Although better known as a choreographer for Beyoncé, Jonté has released his fair share of mixtapes and pop songs. With a seemingly-endless parade of high-energy international shows, Jonté's endeavors in hip-hop and pop are pure fun. Never attempt his high kicks in the safety of your own home.
Daniel Noriega (Adore Delano)
RuPaul's Drag Racefan favorite Adore Delano's debut album, Til Death Do Us Party, is probably the one of the first albums produced by a contemporary queen with real radio potential. Songs like "DTF" play off trap music tropes while the more intimate tracks like "I Adore You" are shockingly poignant. This chola queen is serving more than just mermaid realness.
Despite starting off a career as a child actor and YouTuber, Troye Sivan is now starting to be taken seriously as a musician, and rightfully so. With a single from his first EP, TRXYE, appearing on the soundtrack for The Fault In Our Stars, Sivan's music is best compared to fellow Oceanian Lorde. In "Happy Little Pill," for example, alluring vocals paired perfectly with subdued hip-hop beats and ambient electronic instrumentation.
The original art-stars of the Electroclash scene, Fischerspooner's musical endeavors started more as ambient music intended for experimental fashion shows but later evolved into fully realized hypnotic Kraftwerk-inspired psychedelic synth-pop. Three albums later, the duo (made up of Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer) are now working on releasing look books of some of their more outrageous visual stylings which were created concurrently with their music.
On the even artier end of the rap spectrum is Mykki Blanco, a punk prince(ss) that serves dope lyrics with fervent intensity. Her live shows resemble watching a demon being exorcised in perfect rhyming couplets, styled by Courtney Love or Kathleen Hannah. With three mixtapes, a handful of EPs, and an album in the works, Mykki had toured the globe independently until a few weeks ago, when she was signed to K7 Records.
Andy Butler (Hercules and Love Affair)
The figurehead of the ever-changing performance troupe known as Hercules and Love Affair, Andy Butler isn't shy about sharing his own personal experiences in his music. Creating some of the most poetic dance music in EDM history, Butler's house music sensibilities have garnered him critical acclaim in a handful of genres and sub-genres. Butler has started off 2015 by releasing his first solo EP.
It takes a lot of guts for a cisgender male to appear in all of his media with a full face of New Wave make-up, and Perfume Genius' albums (which explore gender and sexuality with nuance and sensitivity) match his fashion statements with bravado. Equal parts'70s rock and '80s pop, Mike Hadreas' work is both inspiring and catchy.
Big Dipper is thick, hairy, and completely unashamed of his body. And why shouldn't he be? With underground rap songs about the joys of sexual promiscuity, Big Dipper is the poster child for Baltimore Bear culture. Veering towards the silly instead of the expressive, Dipper's ass-shaking production has made him a contemporary club kid icon.
If you've heard a vogue track in the past few years, chances are MikeQ had something to do with it. MikeQ is an incredibly prolific producer and DJ spreading the sound of the ballroom around the world and working with heavy hitters of EDM like DJ Sliink. He is also the founder of Qween Beat, the world's premiere source of ballroom music. Drawing inspiration from Paris is Burning and a rich history of house music, MikeQ is the absolute authority on underground dance music.
Viral video star JB Dubs rose to fame when his jokey video for the song “I Hate My Job” became an Internet sensation. The classically trained ballet dancer looks pretty great in a pair of heels, and his sometimes-serious sometimes-jokey dance music matches his sartorial sensibilities. His boyfriend also happens to be Milk of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6.
The founder of the Electroclash movement will forever be remembered for kicking off one of the biggest trends in electronic music at the beginning of the new millennium. An incredibly talented producer in his own right, Larry Tee is still dedicated to making music inspired by sleazy sci-fi and '80s synthpop.
Although Big Freedia caught the eyes of Pitchfork and Fuse, Sissy Nobby is one of the originators of New Orleans Bounce music in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Ever-releasing tail shaking songs with hyper-aggressive beats, Nobby's contributions to the hip-hop sub-genre were and are truly groundbreaking.
Cakes Da Killa
The King of Carry, Cakes Da Killa's confectionary nickname belies real rap hardness that spans three mixtapes and a remix album. One of the only gay artists to stand up to Hot97's Ebro, Cakes' songs range from pure sex to dance floor rhapsody. Refusing to shy away from topics like Grindr hook-ups and boys on the DL, Cakes is serving a new kind of realness.
The ubiquitous soulful crooner Sam Smith is presently dominating radio-waves across the world. After winning armfuls of Grammys for his emotional album In The Lonely Hour, Smith has become the de facto mainstream voice of millennial gays, despite or perhaps because of his sexual naïveté and romantic inexperience.
One of the few surviving members of the late '80s and early '90s generation of club kids to continue producing music, Keoki may have started out as a trend-stealing Michael Alig publicity project, but since has become a full-fledged and widely-followed international DJ. His unique brand of house music is now considered a classic of the genre.
Kevin JZ Prodigy
Ballroom personality Kevin JZ Prodigy is only now beginning to be recognized by music journalists for his long list of contributions to the scene. His energetic brand of vocal stylings is never without growls, screams, rolled r's, obscure movie quotes, and devastating commentary in the form of catchy rhyme schemes. We wouldn't be surprised to see Prodigy featured on more mainstream EDM in the future.
Gary Floyd (The Dicks)
Gary Floyd was one of the first musicians in the underground punk world to openly discuss his sexuality. The Dicks have been inactive for a while now, but rumors of (another) reunion tour are always circulating. Openly singing about leftist politics including radical queer acceptance, anti-sexual violence, and socialist economics, The Dicks pioneered the way for contemporary political punks.
Okay, we're cheating on this one a bit. Frank Ocean is bi, not gay, but his presence as an LGBTQ artist is too important to ignore. As a member of Odd Future, Ocean's coming out was seen as a groundbreaking triumph for a mainstream artist. His stylish and honest solo music compliments his trailblazing persona. And yes, we were definitely rooting for him in his feud against Chris Brown.
The former King of the Club Kids, Michael Alig's release from jail after over a decade has heralded in the party personality's new era of music making. Already signed to Austsound Music, Alig's delightfully retro brand of house will certainly help him cash in on his rabid fanbase, which has only grown since his confinement. Word of an album dropping in 2015 has lead to widespread speculation from international magazines.
When mainstream EDM producer Diplo dropped "Ima Read" in 2012, he probably didn't expect such a break out hit. Almost unavoidable in every gay and straight dance club around the world, the song ended up being featured in a Rick Owens fashion show and continues to be the most addictive minimalist rap song ever created. Eternally fashionable, Zebra Katz continues to release haunting electronic music with equally as intriguing fashion videos to match.
Joel Gibb (The Hidden Cameras)
Continuing in the tradition of queer new wave artists like Pete Burns or Morrissey, The Hidden Cameras (led by Joel Gibb) make an interesting blend of moody synth-pop and anti-folk. Jokingly calling their songs “gay church folk music,” their live shows are of particular note for including gogo dancers in balaclavas directly adjacent to full choirs and string sections.
Like a post-Y2K Leigh Bowery, Hard Ton's frontman Max has some insane club kid looks to match the duo's hypnotic synthpop and endearing disco-falsetto vocals. Despite their psychedelic DIY aesthetic, Hard Ton's music is incredibly crisply produced. The acid-infused bassline on "Earthquake" still gets stuck in my head, five years after its release.
Rod Thomas (Bright Light Bright Light)
Rod Thomas' accessible combination of disco, house, and heartfelt pop has impressed the legendary Elton John, with whom he sang a catchy single. Emotional, earnest, and perhaps a little bit corny, Bright Light Bright Light (the singer's repetitive stage name) has been steadily releasing albums since 2009, with bigger success in the U.K. than over on this side of the pond.
Tyler Glenn (Neon Trees)
People on the side-lines of alt-rock culture had been snarking about Tyler Glenn (of the band Neon Trees) and his eccentric sense of fashion long before he had decided to come out just last year. With his band gaining fame after opening for The Killers, the group had plenty of commercial and critical success as a straight up neo-new-wave outfit, only to find a different set of devotees after their lead singer opened up about his personal life as a gay Mormon.
Chad Vaccarino (A Great Big World)
Melodic and relaxing, Chad Vaccarino's romantic coffee-shop music has attracted tons of fans. Paired with piano player partner Ian Axel, Vaccarino's smooth vocals charmed over Glee and One Tree Hill audiences in 2012. The band has since moved on to bigger things, including the debut of their critically well-received first album, Is There Anybody Out There?
Member of the legendary House of Aviance, Kevin has provided the voice of vogue classics like “Cunty” and “Din Da Da” which ballroom divas still perform to today. Many of his songs have reached No. 1 on the Billboard Dance charts. As much of a nightlife fixture as a musician, Kevin's severe and striking looks are as recognizable as his clubland classic singles.
Ivri Lider (The Young Professionals)
Despite or because of Israel’s complicated relationship with the global LGBTQ community, Ivri Lider stands out as an important pop singer. A member of the synthpop band The Young Professionals (alongside mustachioed drag queen Uriel Yekutiel), Lider currently resides as a judge on the Middle Eastern iteration of X Factor.
Aaron Coady (Sharon Needles)
Everyday is Halloween for this scream queen. While most of the RuPaul's Drag Race alumni put out a single or two, Sharon stepped her game up with the release of her full length album PG-13. Surprisingly pop-y for the punk princess, the album's combination of emotional depth in songs like "I Wish I Were Amanda Lepore" paired nicely with jokier horror-themed songs like "Call Me On The Ouiji Board." Her next album, Taxidermy, is set to drop sometime this year.
Seth Bogart (Hunx and His Punx)
Originally a vocalist in the electroclash band Gravy Train!!!!, Seth Bogart's unapologetically nasal voice would theoretically not make him the ideal lead singer of a post-modern punk band. That being said, Hunx and His Punx has produced some of the catchiest rock music this side of the 21st century. Focusing on nostalgia and heartbreak more than anger and violence, Hunx's songs range from schticky and angry to lovelorn and whimsical.
Before Le1f and Mykki Blanco became fascinations of the art world, rapper Will Sheridan had been releasing hard hitting tracks after retiring from college basketball. Combining house, hip-hop, and African rhythms, Sheridan is still a staple of New York's underground nightlife and fashion scenes.
Newer to the public eye, Big Momma shared his opinions on the gay rap scene with us last year: “Hip hop is changing, yes, will there finally be acceptance of an openly gay male rapper? Who knows? But I’m gonna get my piece of the pie regardless.” Inspired by goth culture, pro-wrestling, and Lil' Kim, Big Momma's as much of a rapper as he is a true transgressive artist, with easily the raunchiest lyrics around. Keep an eye out as this rising star drops hit after hit.
With military precision, Kazaky executes complicated dance numbers in the highest of high heels, all the while showing off their impeccable washboard abs. Their music is an idiosyncratic kind of Eastern European dance-pop with half-ironic sci-fi shades of the early 2000s electroclash scene; all their lyrics delivered in an almost eerie deadpan whisper.
Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu)
Favorably compared to Robert Smith, Jamie Stewart's lyrics have been praised for their combination of poeticism and violence. An extrapolation of the (post-) punk legacy of artists like Annie Lennox, Devo, and Bauhaus, Stewart's work within the electro-punk genre are met with almost universal critical approval.
Bradford Cox (Deerhunter, Atlas Sound)
Deerhunter describes their music as “ambient punk”, which doesn't exactly make sense as a genre. Nonetheless, their reputation as the savants of the indie rock world speaks for itself. Cox's own solo work, under the name Atlas Sound, veers even more towards arty electronica, which uses Ableton Live in a sort of extended stream-of-consciousness experiment.
Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy)
Video game enthusiast Owen Pallett dropped his JRPG inspired moniker a few years ago but has stuck with his bizarre take on experimental orchestral music inspired by the intersection of technology and art. Most recently, Pallett was nominated alongside William Butler for his work on the score of Her, although his early music (which sometimes directly riffed on video game themes) remains some of my personal favorites from the artist (see: “An Arrow In The Side Of Final Fantasy” playing with the Super Mario World over-world theme).
The current reigning champion of family friendly glam-rock, Adam Lambert is, apparently, our generation's Freddie Mercury. No, really, he's currently touring with the original members of Queen, picking up where the classic rock legends left off. In fact, some of the band are even saying their substitute has better pipes than the original gay superman, but that's a debate for another time.
Another staple band of the Queercore genre of punk rock, Pansy Division has been making angry rock music since the early 90's. Although their last full-length album, That's So Gay, was released way back in 2009, the band continues to defy stereotypes about effete gay men and their worship of pop divas. More melodic than cacophonous, Pansy Division occupies a unique place in punk culture.
Combining rock and rap in a way that somehow avoids comparison to late '90s schlock groups like Linkin Park, Stose's social justice-minded music discusses post-Occupy politics with both anger and passion. Crust punk aesthetics meet real spitting skills in this upcoming hip-hop personality.
Big Freedia's ultra-realness caught the eyes of Pitchfork, making her already huge personality even bigger. Her genre-defining music has her touring the globe, getting bootys to move around the world. The Queen Diva debuted her first full-length, sample-free album last year to favorable reviews across the board. Her reality television series broke Fuse's ratings records and has already been renewed for two more seasons.
Recently profiled by VICE, Bottoms are on the verge of their first album debut. Despite the jokey claims that they only formed a band to get more dick, their lyrics about HIV and body dysmorphia show that they're clearly more thoughtful than they pretend to be. They might describe their music as "shitty shit house music, basically, for faggots" but their blend of indie-disco and punk keeps them far away from traditional EDM.
At the forefront of contemporary classical music, Nico Muhly is the widely acclaimed Phillip Glass collaborator with his own impressive discography of choral arrangements, operas, movie scores (including The Reader and Kill Your Darlings), and ensembles. Muhly's best known opera, Two Boys, tells the controversial true tale of a homoerotic online friendship which eventually resulted in murder.
Chapman's "Gay Rap Song" may have gone viral for dealing frankly with the struggle of coming out, but his party tracks are just as strong. Working with EDM mega-talent Saint, Chapman's songs bounce between being confessional and club banging with ease. Don't let the comparisons to Macklemore or Eminem fool you, Chapman comes correct.