As we enter Pride season, many artists such as Madonna, Cher and Gaga can look forward to a spike in streams as their music is played more at parties, in clubs and at pride parades.
There’s no exact formula as to what makes a gay anthem, as much of its weight comes from the reaction of the LGBTQ+ community to the song itself as well as the artist singing it. These particular songs have the ability to take a diverse group of long disenfranchised queer people and unite them into one strong familial community.
Hearing someone sing so freely about self-love and being yourself has the power to inspire the same feelings within the listener
Songs about empowerment, inner-strength and partying have long been a fixture of gay clubs due to how the messages, though indirect, can easily be applied to the queer experience. Hearing someone sing so freely about self-love and being yourself has the power to inspire the same feelings within the listener – these are messages which queer people have always gravitated towards and continue to need.
Although many anthems gain their reputation through their reception of the LGBTQ+ community, some queer anthems have queerness infused into their composition and creative DNA. Among the most famous anthems are ‘I’m Coming Out’ and ‘Born This Way’ which both have their roots in the gay community and its culture. Nile Rogers wrote ‘I’m Coming Out’ after seeing drag queens dressed as Diana Ross and was able to encapsulate 1980s gay liberation whilst ingraining the songs’ conception in gay nightlife.
instead of their [Born This Way’s] messages being interpreted to relate to the LGBTQ+ experience, they were written with queerness at their core
Similarly, the more modern queer anthem ‘Born This Way’ can be seen as an amalgamation of Gaga’s imagery, coming at one of her career’s peaks. At a time when such an intense spotlight was on her, by shining light on the LGBTQ+ community Gaga made her message and cultural purpose clear. Part of the reason these songs resonate so deeply with the queer community is that, instead of their messages being interpreted to relate to the LGBTQ+ experience, they were written with queerness at their core.
Back in February, controversy arose surrounding the announcement of reigning pop princess, Ariana Grande, headlining Manchester Pride. The outrage was due to a woman, who had previously not been regarded as queer, being the centre of a festival celebrating all the wonders of the LGBTQ+ community.
Watching a female artist comfortably flaunt their sexuality, self-empowerment and control can inspire confidence and hope within closeted and out queer people alike
This, however, neglects the historic tradition of cisgender, heterosexual women being elevated by queer people and heralded as gay icons. Grande is just the most recent in an ever-growing list including Kylie, Britney and Janet Jackson.
Where does this fascination come from and why does the subject seem to fit the same criteria? The main reason I can think of is that these women all act in a way which closeted queer people admire but also aspire to. Watching a female artist comfortably flaunt their sexuality, self-empowerment and control can inspire confidence and hope within closeted and out queer people alike. It’s as though we project our desires onto female artists and treat them as icons as a result.
Alternatively, queer anthems can gain their title due to their lyrics unintentionally speaking to the queer experience – most famously, ‘Dancing On My Own’. By combining dance-inducing synth-pop with deeply emotional lyrics, Robyn appeals to multiple aspects which the LGBTQ+ community gravitate towards. The message of unrequited love and subsequent loneliness is something which almost every queer people has experienced cementing the song’s presence on almost every Pride playlist.
Recent years have seen a rise in gay anthems being penned and performed by queer people. Last year saw SOPHIE’s ‘Immaterial’, and Hayley Kiyoko’s ‘What I Need’ at the forefront of Pride pop signalling a shift in what is now expected of a queer anthem. Rather than inferring a message in a song or admiring traditional gay icons, these songs are all unabashedly queer, inevitably giving them a heightened level of relatability.
the increase in unapologetically queer artists suggests that in years to come, we may be looking at very different playlists
Whilst none of these songs were smash-hits, the LGBTQ+ community grasped onto them because they tell stories and discuss themes that directly apply to LGBTQ+ people. It was not that long ago that Olly Alexander pointed out that few gay popstars were willing to use male pronouns and it goes without saying that more musicians have made an effort to change this; Sam Smith, who especially came under scrutiny for this, brought out the song ‘HIM’ in 2017 which used male pronouns to discuss his sexuality. Hayley Kiyoko, who is often referred to as ‘Lesbian Jesus’ by her fanbase, has tried to normalise lesbian relationships to combat a typically heteronormative society and music industry.
We’ll always have the queer anthems which raised us, but the increase in unapologetically queer artists suggests that in years to come, we may be looking at very different playlists to have us dancing through the night with our chosen family.