Important Voices

The word ‘important’ gets thrown around on music blogs and think pieces so often that I wonder if anyone truly believes it. This is an ‘important’ album; the music coming from city is of ‘vital importance’, this message is an ‘important’ one. You might think I’m about to go off on one about how ridiculous this idea is, but as someone who lives and breathes music I can 100% confirm that every bit of music will be important to someone.

The feeling of being ‘seen’ by a song, of that journey you are on being backed up by someone who has gone through the same things as you, who’s living a life you can understand, or showing you why it’s not all bad after all. That’s important. I think about listening to the radio when I was younger and one thing that stands out to me is how similar the experiences and voices I was hearing from these artists were. Not to me, just to each other. As a young person growing up being totally confused about who they were and who they wanted to be, I probably fell out with the lyrics and songwriting of even my favourite songs for not feeling that sense of connection. Long before I had come out to friends and family, I didn’t feel as ‘seen’ by the music I was listening to as some of my friends perhaps did.

But I’m not here to talk about anything back then, this is a celebratory article where I get to gush about the LGBT voices of right now that make the radio, live music scene and most importantly people’s experiences with their music so much better for all of us. These are stories and experiences that are often universal, but told from a different perspective that we had been missing for so long.

I’m talking about American Pop Group MUNA, whose second album sparked me to even think about writing this. It’s amazing to think that a group of three women who identify as Queer feel safe in the music space to write so honestly about their experiences. ‘It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby’ from this album is like a heartbreaking hug from an old friend, but is told so bluntly that it hits that bit harder. It’s important for a group of women like Katie, Naomi and Josette to have a place to share their life with the listener.

I’m talking about MNEK, Years & Years, Tegan and Sara, Shura, Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, Frank Ocean and Janelle Monae who refuse to ‘stick to generic pronouns so people don’t realise you aren’t straight’. It’s such a small thing that honestly can feel like everything to someone who is struggling with their own identity. The songs ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Girlfriend’ by Tegan and Sara and MNEK respectively give their own version of a similar scenario, that’s both totally specific to their respective sexualities, but also universally relatable. It’s important that a young LGBT person can see Janelle Monae headlining a stage at Glastonbury while spreading a message of acceptance in herself and others for being part of this community.

I’m talking about Anohni, who as a Mercury Prize winner sits in a very different place to the pop acts mentioned above. As a trans women her experiences and how she shares them with the listener are so important to hear, but that’s just one aspect of her as a person, which is a really important distinction to make. It’s the perspective and being able to feel like these voices are being heard that matters.

I’m talking about Brandi Carlile, who not only sits in the Country/Americana space as one of very few LGBT artists, but one of the true breakout stars of the genre in recent memory too. Hearing her perform a song like ‘If She Ever Leaves Me’ as part of The Highwomen on a major country album release is just incredible to see.

I’m talking about Christine and The Queens. If anyone has been a shining light for any LGBT person in music over the last few years it’s Chris. She was invited on Newsnight to talk about Gender and how her own identity and that of Transgender and Non-Binary Gendered people is 100% their own experience to explain. I could almost hear the ‘go back to singing’ moaners kicking off, but having an artist who is so open about their own experience and identity headlining festivals and being played on radio is extremely important.

Of course I’m also talking about the people who made the current state of music possible for these artists. George Michael, K.D Lang, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Pet Shop Boys and more recently acts like Beth Ditto, Will Young, Lady Gaga and The xx have have allowed the experiences of LGBT people to become integral to the music landscape. I’d say it’s important, but that’s pretty obvious.

Words by Sam Atkins

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