The 10 Greatest Queer Anthems Of The 21st Century

The 10 Greatest Queer Anthems Of The 21st Century

What makes a queer anthem?

That’s the question MTV News recently posed to four musicians: rapper and activist Mykki Blanco; Mxmtoon, the ukulele-playing bedroom-pop artist; Southern-born singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt; and gospel-influenced pop star Vincint. The quartet met on a recent Zoom call to talk about what they believed to be the 10 greatest LGBTQ+ anthems of the 21st century for now, and prior to the conversation, the artists were asked to make their picks for what they considered the most club-immaculate or culturally impactful songs of the last two decades. These tracks would be by any artist and only needed to be released immediately following the year 2000 with the intention of using them to craft a comprehensive playlist showcasing the music that defines the community and soundtracks its spaces today.

Inevitably, the prompt’s open-endedness gave way to more questions: What exactly is a “queer anthem”? Should the track be made by a person who identifies as such to qualify, and why has that definition changed as more people openly make music about their own experiences and identities?

The ensuing conversation lasted nearly two hours. It was extensive although, like the catalog it yielded, by no means comprehensive. Any try to compile an exhaustive list of this kind is fraught, subject to personalized advice and unique experiences — and thus, rather than a ranked arrangement, we categorized it according to the organic course of discussion. Because the musicians candidly shared their own associations with each song, often a track’s significance was inextricably entangled with the dialogue of its release, like because the shockwave sent any time Frank Ocean came out in 2012, or the rabidly homophobic controversy that emerged in response to Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” And other times, rather than identifying a song’s particular meaning through its lyrics or visuals, it was selected firstly for its sound, how it had the singular ability to momentarily suspend time and reality, to guide companions and chosen family member to each other in the seething darkness of a club.

Kicking off MTV News’s Queer Music Week, a Pride celebration of the LGBTQ+ artists and allies making the music that matters, the list below demonstrates how elusive and broad the concept of a queer anthem is, in part as the community itself is so colorful and diverse. No, this list isn't definitive, however it is a gesture towards definition, by and for ourselves. In that sense, certain themes did emerge in the course of our conversation: an aspire to make sounds that liberate and connect, a need to tell one’s own story through art, and possibly most of all, a straightforward appreciation for the power of a good bop. This music has transformed and evolved even inside of the relatively small scope of the last two decades, just like queerness itself.

Frank Ocean: “Chanel”

Any time Frank Ocean dropped “Chanel” in early 2017, fans immediately hailed it as a bisexual anthem. The song arrived shortly immediately after Blonde, the R&B futurist’s most outwardly queer project nevertheless, and five years right after he first came out by way of the a Tumblr note. Although “Chanel”’s starting felt especially bold. “My guy pretty like a girl,” Ocean sings over a muddy piano sample, “and he got fight stories to tell.” He describes a romantic partner who exists in both feminine and masculine realms along with his attraction to both, a duality he epitomizes on the song’s repeated hook: “I visualize both sides like Chanel.” As he recounts his own cash-filled pockets and thousands in Delta credit, Ocean toasts to having it all — a banner moment for bisexual visibility wrapped in a massive flex.

Mxmtoon: “I grew up with plenty of toxic representations of bisexuality in media plus a lot of fetishization around what I eventually identified to be my sexual orientation. … For him and his expression of his identity to be accepted by the people around me made me feel far less weird and far less peculiar in my skin as I was attempting to navigate what I wanted to figure out as. That’s also segment of queer anthems: helping people understand the queer experience and bringing that to the forefront of what people pay attention to.”

Mykki Blanco: “To have lived via the full world just wrapping their arms around him and coming with each other to mention, ‘You’re one of the baddest bitches out; we got you no matter what,’ and then to be able to see that flowering of him publicly expressing queer love, it was an awesome moment.”

Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”

Stan Twitter gave Lil Nas X a platform. “Old Town Road” made him a star. Nevertheless only “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” let him give Satan a lap dance. The pop provocateur’s fiery vision of queer desire rapidly became the most talked-about music video of 2021, amplified by a hot, heavy, crotch-grabby performance on Saturday Night Live. At one point, a backup dancer licks his neck before he admits, “I wanna fuck the ones I envy.” Spectacle is the point — gay sexuality is rarely centered this prominently on network television — and the artist’s lyrics offer the structure. On the song he named right after himself, Montero pines for someone with masculine pronouns. He admitted that he would not have been brave enough to do that as a teenager. Although right now? “This will open doors for other queer people to simply exist,” he tweeted.

Vincint: “Never before have you saw a Black gay man as celebrated as Lil Nas X has been just for being so openly gay. What a cute story. The gay storyline routinely ends with one us dying or one of us getting sick or one of us going off to war. It’s like, no, bitch. We’re happy! And we have really good lives.”

Troye Sivan: “Bloom”

Before Troye Sivan became a stadium-filling international pop star, his candid vlogs about life as a teen gained him a fan base. As well as that community, Sivan symbolizes a new generation of LGBTQ+ youth whose experiences and understanding are being shaped in part by its representation online: He came out publicly in a video posted to YouTube in 2013 (though he had told his family member in private three years back, an act that has inspired several young fans to do the same. The music and acting careers he’s developed since have openly championed queer identity. His music videos often depict gay relationships while his lyrics routinely employ masculine pronouns and bravely speak to same-gender love, nevertheless perhaps none more explicitly or to as much fanfare than those in the flowery track “Bloom.” The song was praised as a “bottoming anthem” for its lyrics that alluded to a fantasy played out between two males (“Put gas into the motor / And, boy, I'll meet you right there / We'll ride the rollercoaster”). The song’s subject matter was seemingly confirmed by Sivan himself with a since-deleted tweet that read #BopsAboutBottoming, which is a big deal, given that the sex act is still stigmatized even inside the gay community.

Mxmtoon: “I watched his coming-out video. That was one of the opening experiences that I vividly remember seeing somebody talking about coming out. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this person that I really look up to is also gay. Maybe I’m gay?’”

Vincint: “I didn’t know what ‘blooming’ meant at the time, and then someone notified me, and it also all came full circle. I loved the music video because it was just a bunch of plants starting up, which was very, very pretty and it also made sense as a metaphor.”

Lady Gaga: “Born This Way”

“My momma notified me any time Whenever I was young, we are all place on Earth superstars.” So starts the title track of Lady Gaga’s 2011 album Born This Way, her dance-pop devotional to the LGBTQ+ community. Riding the high of her newfound stardom right after two hit pop records, Mother Monster channeled the handle bestowed upon her by fans and crafted a dance album that would comfort marginalized Little Monsters around the world. Today, it’s easy to scoff at the track’s direct call-outs to its target audience (“No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgender life / I’m on the correct track, baby, I was place on Earth to survive”). Although in 2011, the song was a resonant rally cry — and the exact categorize kind of soundtrack LGBTQ+ Residents of the United States needed on the precipice of the repeal of the homophobic law Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the legalization of marriage equality nationwide. It also proved that pop music can sound good and inspire social good. Gaga herself took her activism to the next level by establishing the Born This Way Foundation, which helps mental health of young people around the world. The ways in which we talk about queer identities have evolved since “Born This Way,” however no matter what, Gaga reassures us we’re “on the correct track.”

Mykki Blanco: “It just feels so good. It’s so inclusive, it’s so warm, it’s so fuzzy. You hear that track, also it doesn’t matter where you’re at. The parade is going, the flags are flying, and you’re just like, ‘Yes, I’m on the correct track! Yes, Gaga!’

Katie Pruitt: “Any big mainstream song about sexual identity moves the needle. This song did that in a big way, because people would argue the fact that sexual identity is a choice — it’s not a choice. I was place on Earth this way.”

Mxmtoon: “The speaking up is certainly something that as a young queer person I appreciated from the people I looked up to because I didn’t grow up around a lot of people in my immediate community that were talking about their sexual identity or their gender identity.”

Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, P!Nk: “Lady Marmalade”

All-star diva team-ups don’t habitually become queer anthems, yet the 2001 “Lady Marmalade” update seemed preordained for success. It was anchored to the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack; it featured four divas performing at the best of their respective games; and crucially, its video noticed them glammed up in their burlesque best and chewing scenery. The past 20 years have made the tune, originally made famed by Labelle in 1974, a karaoke important, a drag-show staple, and also a career highlight for Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and P!Nk (as well as co-producer Missy Elliott). The combined vocal electricity could light a cabaret, and the song’s playful approach to sexuality remains its second-best hook — only topped by that iconic, immortal French refrain. (It means, obviously, “Do you aspire to sleep with me?”)

Katie Pruitt: “I recently seen a drag show where this drag queen performed ‘Lady Marmalade,’ plus it was the most joyous experience. You visualize these drag queens fully embracing femininity, and it’s so pretty to watch.”

Vincint: “If anyone is with their companions and hears this song, my preferred part about that is each person picks a person. Either you’re P!Nk, or you’re Christina, so you all find your spots and also you get in your places, and you also go for it.”

Mykki Blanco: “I think to be a true diva, you also have to have transformed the culture a little bit in your time.”

Big Freedia: “Y’all Get Back Now”

The queen diva, you best-uh believe-uh — Big Freedia is inarguably a legend in the New Orleans bounce scene. Bounce is quintessentially NOLA, in part for its call-and-response vocals influenced by Mardi Gras chants although also for its welcoming attitude towards visibly queer performers in its culture, of which the Louisiana city has a wealthy history. Freedia started performing in the ’90s, and in the decades since, she has helped bring the genre from the club underground into the mainstream. She came to slay any time as soon as she lent her spoken-word stylings to Beyoncé’s song “Formation” and has also contributed vocals to tracks by Drake, Kesha, and even Rebecca Black. However this transition from marginal art form to music’s everyday largely started with the release of “Y’all Get Back Now,” the slamming breakout single off her 2010 debut album Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1. The lead track encapsulated her musicality with its repetitive shout-sung vocals and music video that featured Godzilla-sized dancers dominating a cityscape with their wiggly, gyrating butts. The word “twerk” itself was popularized thanks to Freedia’s ambassadorship, and she holds the Guinness World Record for the most people twerking simultaneously — 406 in total.

Vincint: “If we’re talking about icons, Big Freedia should be at the best of the list.”

Mykki Blanco: “Freedia’s star has really been on the rise the last few years, and she certainly paved the way for a lot of us. She’s habitually really inspirational.”

Katie Pruitt: “I’m not a very feminine-presenting lesbian, although if anybody should make me twerk, it’d be Big Freedia.”

King Princess: “1950”

“Anthemic” probably isn’t the opening descriptor that comes to mind as soon as you think of King Princess’s “1950,” although it is apt. Backed by swaying instrumentals and lilting layered vocals, the singer-songwriter’s debut single reported her as an indie-pop artist to watch immediately after it scored Harry Styles’s coveted seal of approval. King Princess, née Mikaela Straus, was 19 years old any time “1950” dropped, nevertheless the song artfully alludes to a time as soon as being queer meant covert affairs and coded language (“I like it as soon as we play 1950 / So bold, make ‘em know that you're with me”). It also laid a solid foundation for more overtly sexually empowered tracks to come, often incorporating feminine pronouns. Whether she’s worshipping at the altar of pussy or making grown males cry while fucking with gender, King Princess typifies the unapologetically unsubtle references to queer sex and culture we’ve come to expect from younger LGBTQ+ artists like Clairo, Girl in Red, and Troye Sivan. What sets her apart is how refined her entire discography sounds, from her kinkiest cuts to the lush lesbian psalm that put her on the map.

Mxmtoom: “I would play her songs in the vehicle with my companions who are completely straight, and we’d listen to it and be like, ‘This is really gay, and that’s really awesome.’ King Princess has really brought women-loving-women relationships to this whole other sense of people realizing, ‘This is something that’s gonna happen, and I’m not gonna hide that anymore.’

Katie Pruitt: “We’re seeing this new, future generation of Gen Zers come up and just change shit. I love this song so much because to me, it feels like a gay girl guiding another girl, possibly in the closet, into acceptance. That’s something that all of us queer people can indicate with.”

Muna: “I Know a Place”

Electronic pop musical group Muna wrote the resilient, relentlessly positive “I Know a Place” specifically to be a queer anthem — and it also actually became one. The Los Angeles trio started work on the vaporous tune, built around the power of gay clubs as sanctums, in celebration right following the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015. Although the following year, the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre, at the time the deadliest mass shooting in American history, turned the song’s symbolic pleas to “lay down your weapon” into frightening realities. Reeling LGBTQ+ listeners sought shelter in its vivid and welcoming embrace. “Don't you be afraid of love and affection,” vocalist Katie Gavin sings; she sounds like she’s floating just under the disco ball, above a patchwork of outstretched arms.

Vincint: “I noticed that song at a time in my life where I really needed to hear, ‘This isn’t it. This isn’t where it all ends. This isn’t life, and this isn't how it has to be.’ These songs find the people they require to, and I was that person at the time.”

Myyki Blanco: “Protest music really starts to help people start to break down through song the different intersections of our society. A song is simple; a song can be elaborate. Yet it’s that transgressive nature of what’s being mentioned or communicated that can really help us in an eas way understand intricate ideas.”

Kacey Musgraves: “Follow Your Arrow”

What makes “Follow Your Arrow” so monumental is how casually it treats queerness. “Kiss some boys,” country-pop troubadour Kacey Musgraves instructs, “or kiss more than a few ladies, if that's something you're into.” Then she simply moves on to the next line, ultimately arriving at the title message of self-acceptance. They were reassuring words to hear from a nation star in 2013, well before the yeehaw agenda recontextualized what the genre would be, and for whom. They also cost her some country-radio airplay, detraction Musgraves shrugged off. “It's gonna have its own life without consideration, so I don't really hope to ask their permission,” she said then. She was right. Musgraves has since become a gay icon, leaning into disco and full-on perseverance anthems. It all began with “Follow Your Arrow,” her evergreen invitation to live how you live and love who you love.

Katie Pruitt: “It’s broad enough that anyone can understand it: ‘Follow your arrow wherever it points.’ However there’s one moment in the song — that was the opening moment in a mainstream nation song that I had heard that topic being addressed at all. I was struggling to come out to my parents at the time. Hearing a song be such a big nation hit say that you have got to celebrate who you love — it was just a nod from a straight ally that I really appreciated.”

Mxmtoon: “I actually didn’t like nation music for a really long time, honestly, because it didn’t feel like a space where a woman of color who identified as queer could genuinely fit in. As soon as I heard that line, I was caught off guard. It was the opening time that I heard some order kind of queer allyship indoors of a song that was in the nation genre. That changed my perspective on what it means to be a songwriter.”

Robyn: “Dancing On My Own”

Robyn is a dance-floor phoenix. The Swedish singer started her career in the ‘90s, releasing her debut album Robyn Is Here in 1995 at the age of 16. Immediately after dropping her Grammy-nominated fourth LP, the eponymous Robyn, she left the scene for five years, only to shake the world of pop to its core if she returned. Body Talk, a trilogy of mini-albums out in 2010, featured what would become some of Robyn’s most iconic stateside singles: “Hang With Me,” “Indestructible,” and certainly, her lonesome opus “Dancing On My Own.” The space between the song’s trembling bassline and sparse melody echoes its lyrics about utter isolation. Loneliness is a universal experience, although for several queer people, trauma is collective: Some are shunned by companions and family member simply for being who they are and forced to seek connection elsewhere. Nightlife has historically been a gathering place for LGBTQ+ people — before we might would be open in our day-to-day lives, we noticed each other in the musty, anonymous haze of the bar. “Dancing On My Own” captures this flawlessly, albeit perhaps unintentionally — that experience of being alone, yet with each other — and has since been ingrained in the memories of a generation of LGBTQ+ people. It even inspired a popular club night at a London gay bar.

Vincint: “Robyn is everything. She’s the starting and the end. She’s the middle. She’s everything. ‘Dancing On My Own’ will wreck you, pull you back with each other. It will get you through a heartbreak. It will get you through your taxes, bitch. It will get you via moment. Robyn is everything.”

Mykki Blanco: “How several of us have just been walking down the street and someone gawks at us for what we have on

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