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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Turning the volume up on queer artists’ music

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Savanna Nichols
(Illustration)

With diversity month on the horizon, the spotlight turns to the voices that collectively shape our world and various communities. As we celebrate a kaleidoscope of identities, it is important to recognize the powerful influence of music and the positivity it has brought, specifically how music has positively influenced the queer community over the decades. 

Lil Nas X 

In his groundbreaking musical journey, Lil Nas X, a chart-topping artist, has left an incredible mark on the queer community with his iconic song, “Montero.” The lyrics of the track delve into the realms of love and lust with a partner in the world of Montero, which is also his legal name. Lil Nas X creates an evocative narrative that resonates with many members of the LGBTQ+. 

The music video is vibrant and visually stunning, set in a whimsical land where Lil Nas X embarks on an adventure that eventually leads him into the fiery pits of hell and taking over the throne. He has a few interactions with different beings (that are definitely not PG-13) but that give power in self-expression.

Inspiration for the track can be traced back to the 2017 film “Call Me by Your Name,” starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Lil Nas X revealed in a video on Genius’ YouTube series that the film left a profound impact on him. He liked the idea of calling someone by your own name as an act of romance and love, a sentiment that fueled the creative process behind “Montero.” 

The lyrics, “You live in the dark boy, I cannot pretend,” reference a man he fell in love with who was not yet out as gay. The lines were a “double entendre” because he felt that the man he loved was living in the dark and unhappy because he was living “in the closet.” 

Lil Nas X not only crafted a sensational music piece, but additionally sparked conversations within the queer community about love, identity and the courage to embrace one’s true self.  

Currently, the artist is known for constantly creating controversial content. Not only being sued by Nike, he was and continues to be labeled as a Satanist. The ending of the “Montero” music video is certainly fueling these comments. The singer is pole dancing down to hell where he gives Satan a lap dance. He ends the video after killing him and stealing his crown, crowning himself the ruler of the underworld. 

A viral comment on X (formerly known as Twitter) circulated that said, “Rosa Parks didn’t sit on the front of the bus so Lil Nas X could have sex with Satan in a music video.” 

To that, Lil Nas X had a short, lowercased response.

“i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay,” Lil Nas X said on X. “so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”

SOPHIE

SOPHIE, the death of the Scottish-born artist in 2021, will forever be remembered for her positive impact on the queer community. In a captivating blend of flashing lights and dynamic stage performances, SOPHIE reshaped the landscape of pop music. She utilized dazzling visuals and innovative electronic elements.

The artist’s impact was profound as she rescued the history of queer artists in electronic dance music. From deeply cathartic to celebratory expressions of queer identity, she broadened conversations within the LGBTQ+ community. 

She originally remained anonymous and voiceless with her music, but later came out to the world as a transgender woman. The release of “It’s Okay to Cry” in 2017 marked a significant point in her career as it featured her own vocals. The release of the track also led to her not only embarking on a new musical adventure, but additionally asserting her narrative. 

In 2019, SOPHIE said, “Initially, I was quite alright with letting the music speak for itself. But then the problem is, people start filling in the gaps for you.”

She opened the debut album, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” which explored a spectrum of lyrical themes such as identity and yearning. 

SOPHIE’s legacy is a testament to her groundbreaking contributions to music, the queer community and her embrace of her identity within that community. 

Hayley Kiyoko

Hayley Kiyoko has carved out a unique space to showcase her talent in the electropop and music world. She serves a resonating voice for the queer community. She stepped into the spotlight as a child actor and currently stands as a prominent creator in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Her musical odyssey took a turn with her breakout single, “Girls Like Girls.” It was released in 2015 as part of her EP “The Side of Paradise.” Her journey of self-discovery and identity intertwined with her music. Her sexuality became a driving force in her music.

Her catalog includes hits like “Cliff’s Edge,” “Sleepover,” “Curious” and “Feelings.” The LGTBQ+ community was taken by the musical storm as they listened to songs with themes of acceptance and equality. Her lyrics dive into the intricacies of lesbian love and experiences that give powerful inspiration to listeners. 

In her full-length album, “Expectations,” Kiyoko provides a narrative that documents her experiences as an openly queer individual. The track “What I Need,” featuring Kehlani, another staple artist in the community, offers a raw glimpse into the challenges queer individuals face. As they draw from personal experiences, listeners hear frustrations with a partner uncomfortable with their own sexuality.

The lyrics unfold a story where Kiyoko longs for her partner to unapologetically express their love openly while Kehlani blends her own struggles into the storyline. 

Fans of the artist tend to refer to the singer as “Lesbian Jesus” to symbolize her normalcy as an artist and for a community that often faces societal stigmas and reflections. Her lyrics and authenticity is a beacon to encourage others to live as their authentic selves.

Kiyoko’s influence extends beyond music in the queer community and reaches to cultural resonance. Through her melodies and lyrics, she captures a great jam session with relatable relationship issues. It sparks conversations about acceptance and self-expression. 

Clairo

In the constantly evolving landscape of music, Clairo has reemerged continuously. She has captured the hearts of the LGBTQ+ community with her genuine approach to lyrics and her commitment to breaking stereotypes within the community. 

She rose to stardom in 2017 with her viral self-produced music video, “Pretty Girl.” Her journey is characterized by authentic exploration of identity and refusal to be confined by societal expectations. 

At the heart of her influence is her connection to the queer community, specifically her devoted fanbase. Her songs “Sofia” and “Bags” delve into sapphic desire, as she pulled from personal desires and first crushes. She had celebrity crushes on Sofia Vergara and Sofia Coppola. These hits resonate deeply within the community. They provide a voice to the too often underrepresented experiences of queer individuals. 

Her home-grown roots and organic song production further endeared her to millions, offering a refreshing contrast to the polished mainstream music scene.

In May 2018, Clairo openly shared her bisexuality with her fans, a testament to her willingness to be transparent about her identity. Ahead of her debut album, “Immunity,” released in August 2019, she sat down with them to discuss her music, identity exploration and her platform’s potential for positive impact. 

“Immunity” proved to be a revelation, with Clairo addressing love, heartbreak, and personal health struggles. She transformed difficult topics into powerful songs, providing a platform for open conversations. The album resonated particularly in its depiction of love between women, challenging stereotypes and offering representation for a community often overlooked in mainstream media.

“I think a lot of LGBTQ+ musicians feel like once they come out, they get put into this box,” Claire said. “It shouldn’t define them.” 

Her words contribute to a larger discourse about the expectations placed on artists to publicly come out, especially as LGBTQ+ culture becomes more mainstream. Clairo’s refusal to conform to these expectations aligns with her commitment to authenticity.

While Claire no longer labels her sexuality, her clarity in not being straight has provided solace and comfort to many women and others navigating through a similar journey. In a cultural landscape where female queer representation is crucial, Clairo stands as another beacon while challenging stereotypes on identity and other queer themes. She fosters genuine connections through her music. 

Frank Ocean

In 2012, Frank Ocean embarked on a journey of self-discovery that would not only redefine his artistic path but also make an indelible mark on the music industry and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Through his Tumblr blog, Ocean courageously shared the story of his first true love, acknowledging the profound influence this man had on his life. The revelation garnered widespread support from fellow artists, including powerhouses like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who hailed Ocean’s transparency as a source of hope for LGBTQ+ youth.

Ocean’s decision to come out publicly was not without its challenges, particularly as one of the first Black men in the industry to express his sexuality during that time. 

Despite the support of some, Ocean faced criticism and chose to step away from the media’s relentless scrutiny. His experience highlighted the industry’s selective support for LGBTQ+ individuals, shedding light on the complexities of navigating identity in the public eye.

The pivotal moment arrived with the release of “Channel Orange.” The album’s lyrics deviated from heterosexual perspectives present in his earlier works, addressing a male object of love. Originally intended for the album’s liner notes, Ocean chose a more intimate path, sharing his thoughts through an open letter on Tumblr on July 4. 

The honesty and vulnerability in the album resonated deeply, earning Ocean critical acclaim and commercial success as “Channel Orange” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart.

“Channel Orange” transcended traditional musical boundaries, weaving a powerful and emotive narrative that delved into themes of everything from unrequited love and codependency to drug abuse and economic inequality. Ocean’s ability to seamlessly infuse these complex themes into his music demonstrated a profound understanding of the human experience.

The title of “Channel Orange” itself is a reference to Ocean’s synesthesia, encapsulating the vibrant hues that colored his experiences during the summer he fell in love. Tracks like “Sierra Leone” beautifully tell stories of new beginnings, mirroring the arrival of another crying babe into the world.

Songs like “Lost,” “Forrest Gump,” “Thinkin’ Bout You” and “Pyramids” from the album have ascended to the status of modern classics. Ocean’s compelling storytelling, set against a backdrop of rich textures and tight structures, culminates in a single word: masterpiece. 

Through his music, Ocean not only creates timeless art but also opens doors for others to explore the complexities of their own identities and emotions. He is the long-awaited change for the queer community, specifically in Black LGBTQ+ music. 

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About the Contributors
Piper Pinnetti
Piper Pinnetti, Reporter
Piper Pinnetti is a reporter for The Sunflower. Pinnetti previously designed content for The Sunflower's Instagram. Pinnetti is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism with the hopes of pursuing a career in writing. Pinnetti uses she/her pronouns.
Savanna Nichols, Illustrator/Designer
Savanna Nichols is a first-year illustrator for The Sunflower.

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