Main image: rapper and linguist Linqa Franqa.
If the Grammy Awards decides to add a “Best Nonbinary Artist” category, there’s a growing number of worthy contenders for the title.
Besides well-known A-listers who openly identify as nonbinary - Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, Halsey, Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, JD Samson, and K-pop superstar Jo Kwon of recent comeback band 2AM, to start - there’s a growing assortment of fresh, still under-the-radar musicians and bands representing a diverse assortment of genres. Artists like Australia’s G Flip, Canadian and Mexican-American rappers DijahSB and Chris Conde, contemporary R&B star-in-the-making Marzz, Mercury Prize and Brit Award nominee Kae Tempest, and bedroom pop artists Khai Dreams, Kali, Addison Grace, and Cavetown (the latter two are currently on tour together) are producing world-class bops, bangers, and jams.
To help fill out your playlists, here are 10 recommended albums and EPs by artists you should follow ASAP, available now through early spring.
England-born musician Jam Rahuoja Rostron, who goes by the stage name Planningtorock (and they do!) and has remixed the likes of Lady Gaga, Robyn, and frequent collaborators The Knife, developed their talent and identity (as nonbinary and genderqueer) while living in Berlin for about 20 years. Now based in Tallinn, Estonia, Planningtorock follows up their fourth studio album, 2018’s Powerhouse, with Gay Dreams Do Come True, a joyful EP inspired by their 2020 wedding to Dr. Riinu Rahuoja, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Retro electro-disco sleaze informs “Girl You Got My Heart,” while “Her Heart Is My Home Now” entails a smooth, lockdown-era ballad. Bonus: artist Joyce Lee’s illustrations for Gay Dreams and its remixes, which includes a portrait of Jam about to plant one on Riinu’s rainbow wedding ring-bearing nipple.
Gay Dreams Do Come True EP (Available now)
Comfortable with the pronouns she/it, Grammy nominee Arca (a.k.a. Alejandra Ghersi Rodríguez) represents a sort of category-busting, Venezuela-born Bjork, NIN, Matthew Barney, and Sigur Ros smoothie without a single fuck to give and a contacts list we’d love to import to our phones (collaborators include The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, FKA twigs, the pre-batshit Kanye West, and, of course, Bjork). 2021 represented a particularly prolific year for creative output with four volumes of Arca’s ambitious kick album cycle, each spelled with a unique uppercase-lowercase title, commencing with 2020’s KiCk i. Delving into genres as eclectic as reggaeton, synth pop, and trance, with an impressive line-up of guests - Bjork sang in Spanish on i’s soaring ditty, “Afterwards” - the latest and final (we think?) entry is perhaps the most chill, with otherworldly soundscapes and an appearance by electropop trailblazer and Oscar-winning movie composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
kick iiiii (Available now)
The Singapore-born, London-based Yeule - a nod to the Final Fantasy XIII & XIII-2 character Yeul - takes nonbinary beyond just gender by identifying as a “cyborg entity.” Afflicted by the psychological condition known as hikikomori since adolescence, during which time they connected almost exclusively with others via the dark web and MMORPG gaming, the former art student - a.k.a. Nat Ćmiel, which they admit is also a pseudonym - released an electronica-soaked debut LP, Serotonin II, in 2019. This avant-garde 2022 follow-up, inspired by author Anne Balsamo’s essay collection Technologies of the Gendered Body, explores post-human sexuality on songs like “My Name Is Nat Cmiel,” which introduces us to Yeule’s alter-ego/avatar; lush “Too Dead Inside”; surprisingly guitar-driven, melodic “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself”; and 4-hour 44-minute art gallery installation-ready closing soundscape, “The Things They Did For Me Out Of Love.” Domo arigato, yeule!
Glitch Princess (Available now)
No, the Philly-based Black indie rocker isn’t announcing an unexpected new sexual identity with their eighth album’s title. In fact, Shamir is doing the exact opposite on tracks like “Cisgender,” which features the lyrics, “I’m not cisgender, I’m not binary, trans / I don’t wanna be a girl, I don’t wanna be a man / I’m just existing on this godforsaken land…” while gorgeous melodies, immersive instrumentation, and Shamir’s unmistakeable countertenor vocals in particular shine - and even get pushed in new directions - on “Cold Brew,” “Nuclear,” and album opener “Gay Agenda.” Rougher around the edges in several respects than their previous full-length release, 2020’s superb self-titled dream-pop album, but not as much as 2018’s low-fi, intense Resolution, this is an excellent and super0-queer entry to the world of Shamir. We stan!
Heterosexuality (Available now)
House mother of Atlanta, Georgia's fierce House of Alxndr drag family, co-founder of Black and QTPOC arts and community organization Southern Fried Queer Pride, and going by they/she, Taylor Alxndr debuted as a recording artist with a 2017 single, “Nightwork,” and EP, Noise. Fiercely DIY in ethos, they directed the music video for February 2022 single “Big City” - serving you swooping drone shots, henny - and infused this month’s seven-track debut album 1993 with 1980s New Wave/synth-pop influence and, lyrically, pandemic-era mental health, romantic ups and downs, and losing friends in a rapidly gentrifying city. “I wanted to juxtapose somewhat heavy subject matter with music that makes people want to move and dance,” Alxndr says. And you will, bitches!
1993 (Available now)
We stanned hard for Miles Francis’ otherworldly cover of *NSYNC’s “I Want You Back”, featuring a multi-clone backup band in the accompanying video, back in December. It was clearly a tease of what’s to come, since the Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist’s first full-length album, the 12-track Good Man, takes musical cues from 1990s boy bands, Prince, and Bowie. Reportedly, working on Good Man also led to Francis - who was born into a musical family with a trumpet-playing jazz band father - coming out as nonbinary (he/they), while tracks like the sophisticated earworm and video, “Rainjacket,” directly address breaking out of gender norms. "In the process, there is doubt, fragility, and fear, but there is also hope, beauty, and excitement for life,” they note.
Good Man (Available now)
If the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, Organisation-era OMD, Austrian avant-pop icon Klaus Nomi, Jake Shears, and Scotland’s beloved 1980s post-punk bands Orange Juice and The Associates had a raucous house party, this debut album by Glasgow’s six-piece, entirely queer-identified Walt Disco would probably be the result. Nonbinary frontperson James Potter, who goes by they/them and was enlisted for recent fashion campaigns by France’s Céline and fellow Galswegian’s edgy and clubby Charles Jeffrey, brings ferocious, theatrical glam-goth vocal stylings - they were trained by an opera singer coach who idolized Bowie and Freddie Mercury, and also profoundly inspired by Tim Curry’s Rocky Horror performance — to Unlearning’s mix of accessible electro-pop (“Timeline”), industrial/goth dance (“Weightless”), and piano-pounding Scissor Sisters-esque stompers (“How Cool Are You?”).
Unlearning (Out April 1)
Co-founder of Providence, Rhode Island’s progressive punk band Downtown Boys (with Latinx vocalist Victoria Ruiz), nonbinary guitarist Joey "La Neve" DeFrancesco struck out as a solo artist in 2017 with what they’ve described as a “queer dance thing,” accompanied by sassy drag lewks and “she/her” pronouns. Stereogum described La Neve’s first full-length album, 2019’s The Vital Cord, which featured an incredible synth-pop cover of The Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored,” as “hybridized dance music, drawing on the history of disco, house, techno, industrial, and New Order-ish new wave.” This new five-track EP is far removed from that LP’s danceable Hercules & Love Affair/Jessica 6 vibe, addressing the pandemic and other catastrophes over industrial, feedback-heavy, beats-driven compositions with new member, drummer Karna Ray of Pakistani-American punk band The Kominas. Putting their politics where their mouth is, DeFrancesco is also co-founder of the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW), which pursues fairer deals with streaming services and other initiatives that empower artists and music workers.
History Solved EP (Out April 15)
This nonbinary (they/them) Georgia-based rapper and linguist, known offstage as Mariah Parker, has also served as an Athens-Clarke County commissioner since 2018 (and went viral for being sworn in with a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X). Politics, social justice, racial inequality, and other raw, headline-filling topics inform the powerful lyrics of their sophomore album’s hip-hop and neo-soul-tinged tracks. Debut single “Wurk” entails a modern-day labor anthem, and Bellringer’s righteous rage-fueled title song/video addresses the all-too-common racial profiling of Black people and other POC that leads to deaths by trigger-happy police (“If I die, don’t pray, you better riot”), while an eclectic line-up of guests includes Jeff Rosenstock, fellow Georgians Of Montreal, Kishi Bashi, Pip The Pansy, and Dope KNife (with whom Linqua co-hosts iHeartRadio podcast Waiting On Reparations), and renowned activist-author-scholar Angela Davis.
Bellringer (Out April 22)
Having first come to our attention as a member of teen pop band Poplyfe in 2011 via America’s Got Talent, the Oakland-raised Kehlani went solo with a couple of mixtapes and debut album SweetSexySavage in 2017, racking up Grammy, BET, and AMA nominations, as well as opening slots for Demi Lovato’s and Halsey’s tours in 2018 (that same year, they came out as queer). In 2020, Kehlani officially updated their pronouns via Twitter to she/they, and released a second studio effort, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. According to a Rolling Stone interview from last month, Blue Water Road was conceived during additional recording sessions for It Was Good’s deluxe version last fall. Although this third album’s release date hasn’t been officially announced yet (a rep for Atlantic Records confirmed it’s spring TBA), a video for the second single “little story” premiered on February 24. Judging from Kehlani’s soaring, sultry vocals and sophisticated musical arrangements, we’re in for a serious repeat listening experience… and maybe a Grammy or two!
Blue Water Road (Spring TBA)