meta-scriptThe Incomparable Creative Vision Of Lil Nas X: 'Montero' Collaborators Detail How "We're All Just An Extension Of Him & His Ideas" | GRAMMY.com
The Incomparable Creative Vision Of Lil Nas X: 'Montero' Collaborators Detail How "We're All Just An Extension Of Him & His Ideas"
Lil Nas X performs onstage during iHeartRadio Z100 Jingle Ball 2021.

PHOTO: Mike Coppola / Staff

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The Incomparable Creative Vision Of Lil Nas X: 'Montero' Collaborators Detail How "We're All Just An Extension Of Him & His Ideas"

Lil Nas X stretches the bounds of his identity and artistry at every turn, expertly spinning his debut LP 'MONTERO' into a multi-layered promotional spectacle. GRAMMY.com spoke with Nas' visual collaborators about the star's unflinching genius.

GRAMMYs/Apr 1, 2022 - 10:31 pm

In the music video for "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)," Lil Nas X opens the gates of his visual empire. "In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see," he says in the introduction. "But here, we don’t. Welcome to Montero." What follows is a brazen voyage into the depths of hell.

Co-directed by Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino, the video is a theatrical extravaganza that stars the rapper in nearly every role: a devious snake, a banished Adam, a crowd of stone spectators. Lil Nas X pole dances his way to the throne and secures his spot, displacing the devil with a spicy lap dance and a swift decapitation.

It was unabashedly sexual and provocative, a pertinent introduction to MONTERO, his eponymous debut album (the musician was born Montero Lamar Hill). The video spectacle sparked conversation far beyond its comment section and was boosted, in part, by backlash from people weighing in on his queer identity. More importantly, MONTERO received an outpouring of encouragement from the communities who encounter the same adversity.

Lil Nas X stretched the bounds of both his identity and his artistry at every turn, expertly spinning the backlash to "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" into a multi-layered promotional spectacle. "MONTERO" has been nominated for both Record and Song of the Year, and the LP is up for Album of the Year.

That’s the thing about Lil Nas X: The over-the-top music videos and quick-witted Twitter clapbacks are all gasoline poured onto the already blazing fire of his mere existence. To have an artist not only exist, but excel, at the intersection of Blackness and queerness, as both a rapper and a pop star, is nothing short of revolutionary. When the CGI stripper pole burst through the clouds in "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)," it shattered the glass ceiling on its way down — and he was just getting started.

After unveiling an unauthorized limited edition pair of Nike Air Max 97s —  made with a drop of real human blood — he flipped the Nike lawsuit that followed into an elaborate courtroom skit announcing "Industry Baby," his collaboration with Jack Harlow that’s nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance.

More frenzy followed the "Industry Baby" music video, particularly in response to a scene where Lil Nas X dances naked in a bright pink prison shower with half a dozen male dancers. Recreating the scene on the MTV Video Music Awards stage, Nas reinforced his commitment to performance as an art and bold representation.

Speaking with GRAMMY.com, Lil Nas X’s visual collaborators — choreographer Sean Bankhead, "Industry Baby" music video director Christian Breslauer, Roc Nation Creative Director of Live Performances Jed Skrzypczak and skit director Adrian Per — about the visually distinct MONTERO, creating career-defining performances on stage and online, and celebrating Lil Nas X as an unflinching Black, gay pop-rap star.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Lil Nas X Writes His Own Music Video Treatments

Sean Bankhead (Choreographer): I am very inspired by how creative he is. Because I don't think people really understand that Nas writes his own treatments for every single music video. So these aren't directors coming to him with ideas. I've seen him sit in the corner of rehearsal. And I'm like, What are you doing? He's like, "I'm just getting ideas for a music video." And then it turns out to be "Industry Baby." And it's so refreshing to see an artist who actually has creative vision and actually cares about all those details — from the rollout to all the skits that he does, to now mix it with dance and choreography and a big stage performance.

Christian Breslauer ("Industry Baby" Director): Nas’ original idea was generally close to the music video you saw, except if you watch the whole music video as it exists now, where our video ends is where the middle of the section right before Jack Harlow's verse [would have been]. His verse was basically originally set up in Nas’ treatment as like: they burst out of jail and then they rob a bank. And then Nas is surfing on top of a bus. It was very grand. So [Lil Nas X’s video commissioner] asked me, "Do you have a way to take the general idea of what he's trying to do and make it doable?"

The Iconic "Industry Baby" Shower Scene Almost Didn’t Happen

Christian Breslauer: Nas originally had a lunch room performance scene, but I was like, I don't really feel it’s grand enough, like it sells enough. I pitched him the idea [of tackling] the prison shower scene.

He initially was like, "I don't know if I want to do it." And then after sitting with it, he all of a sudden switched up in the middle of our meeting, and he was just like, "You know, actually yeah, let's do it." He had already been practicing the choreo with Sean. And he had a whole thing for that moment.

Sean Bankhead: Me and [Breslauer], were like, it would be dope if they would be dancing in the shower. And they were like, "Well, if you're dancing in the shower, you got to be butt naked." But it’s those moments that Nas is like, "Yeah, f*** it, let's do it."

He’s The Mastermind Behind The Elaborate Rollout Skits, Including Giving Birth To Montero

Adrian Per (MONTERO Skit Director): Here’s the thing about Nas. Not to discredit myself or anybody else on the team, we all give our own flavor to things, but ultimately, almost 99 percent of everything was his inception. He is such a visionary, such a creative, that it almost feels like we're all just an extension of him and his ideas.

Christian Breslauer: He's a marketing genius when it comes to that. All that stuff is him, the whole shoe scandal and leading it into the court date into "Industry Baby," that's all his marketing. The kid gets it, he’s smart as s***. And that’s where I think for this generation, he's going to be a superstar because of that. He just gets it.

He was like a professional troll [on Twitter before "Old Town Road"], he knows how to stir the pot. I’m just a creative mind and can come up with ideas that give the moment. And then him just knowing how to take that little piece of content that I create, and blow it up and stretch it 8,000 ways…. I don't think there's anybody who does that.

Adrian Per: He basically came to me with this concept, [saying]: "I want to give birth to my album. We’ve got to make it funny. It's got to be in a hospital or something." We did that entire skit with no script. Everything was on the fly. But Nas is so good at what he does — acting, being a troll, all of that — it was easy. We did everything I believe in six hours when something like that would probably be a 12 hour day.

Everything has been done before to a certain capacity, but this idea of his producers [Take A Daytrip] rolling him into a delivery room, then we pull the vinyl record out and it’s shining rainbow colors to represent his sexuality [hadn’t been done before]. Having a good song is barely half the battle, getting people to listen to it, getting people’s attention, the life after the song drops — everything he comes up with supports all of those different facets.

Lil Nas X’s Cementing His Pop Star Status As An Explosive Performer

Sean Bankhead: Performance is a huge part of being a pop star: how you perform, your dancers, what your dancers look like, how your stage moves, how you walk, how you talk. You can have hit music, but we want the VMA performances. We want the BET-winning, the VMA-winning music video. We want the ones that are nominated for GRAMMYs. We want to keep being invited back to the GRAMMY stage because the last time we came…we shut it down.

Jed Skrzypczak (Roc Nation Creative Director): Now, a lot of people just scale down. They just do small performances versus [asking]: What would Britney do in the 2000s? Or all of those crazy Missy Elliott performances? That’s always the energy and craziness we try to bring on a stage. We always compare [Lil Nas X] to who the best live female performers are, because they [set] this standard of live performance. And that's what we try to achieve with that as well.

Sean Bankhead: There are no Black male rappers who are doing that at all. And so take the gay part out of it and he's still breaking another mold, where he has dope visuals, dope choreography, dope dancers, and really takes risks. He rehearses really hard and is learning how to be a better artist in that regard, with the rapping and dancing at the same time.

HisSNL” Debut Was A Bold Statement In More Ways Than One

Jed Skrzypczak: "Call Me By Your Name" was such a big song everywhere and there was already a visual aspect of it that people were already connected to from the music video. But ["Saturday Night Live"] was our moment to introduce him to a bigger audience.

Sean Bankhead: I think it was the first time that he really trusted a choreographer who was young, Black and gay as well – who understood the pop space and who also has pushed a lot of envelopes, if you will, when it comes to the risky stage performances or the provocative music videos.

I was like, "So do you really want to be that be that n****? Do you want to represent and be provocative? And do things that you haven’t done?" He was like, "Absolutely." I said, do you want to swing on a pole? He said, absolutely. I said, Do you want to kiss a boy? He's like, "Absolutely."

Jed Skrzypczak: We had a whole conversation about celebrating queerness, and giving a platform to and also celebrating people of color and Blackness. He just wants to give a platform to the dancers and performers, who usually are overlooked or not included and don't have as many opportunities.

Sean Bankhead: I feel very special, because I've been able to bring a lot of young, gay, cool, Black and people of color dancers around him so that he has some culture, he has a hand in the pot. This industry can be very whitewashed, and he's in the pop space; he's not really dealing with the ratchet stuff that a lot of the Black artists have to deal with. He has — excuse my French — a white following, a white team, he gets that treatment. So it's important that him being an openly gay Black male, he still has that surrounding him, which comes with his dancers.

The BET Awards Kiss Was A Close-Kept Secret

Jed Skrzypczak: With the BET Awards performance, we were like: we have to show people that Nas is becoming a king of pop music. That’s how we connected it to the "Remember The Time" Michael Jackson references. We wanted to pay homage to the music video and connect it to the already existing aesthetic that we’re tying into the performances of the song. 

The funny thing about the kiss is that almost nobody knew about it. There was only a really small group of people, even on Nas’ team — even BET didn't know about it. So that was even more pressure on everyone, because we really didn’t know how people were gonna react. And it turned out to be such an amazing and big and important moment. After that performance, so many people reached out to the whole team, to Nas, even to me, saying how important it was for them to see representation like this on TV because when they grew up, they never had a moment like this.

Sean Bankhead: I love to shake the table because that's what I grew up on in pop culture. I grew up watching Madonna and Britney doing their thing. And I’m so bored with performances and pop culture; with shock value for a cause and not just, let’s just do it just because. We knew people were going to talk about it as soon as they started humping and jiving on each other. But two performances prior to that, I believe, was Roddy Ricch — the girls were rubbing up and down each other and no one said anything about it.

Jed Skrzypczak: At the beginning, when Nas performs, you can see how he acts — he's slightly nervous about it, because it's so much pressure on him. He’s so young and already so experienced, but there's still so much pressure on this stage [in front of] all those people who sometimes have completely different views than him.

Sean Bankhead: We want to keep challenging those those norms and keep pushing the boundaries, but still making sure that it’s not stupid. It’s actually: If we're going to do this, let's make sure it's the best performance. Let's make sure that there are iconic dance moments and there are iconic sound bites or other things that can go with a Britney-esque, "I'm a Slave 4 U" type performance.

Lil Nas X Was Ready To Go Even Bigger For The 2021 MTV VMAs

Jed Skrzypczak: Until that moment, the BET Awards and the VMAs, I think he felt like he had to keep proving to people who he is. With this performance, we had this idea to recreate the iconic music video because it was already so big. 

Nas really wanted to have the marching band, you know, open big. It’s slightly a homage to Spongebob because he’s obsessed with SpongeBob. We managed to get the band. And then the whole thing goes: How we can translate to the music video and make it cool, from the video music aspect to aspects of the stage. 

Sean Bankhead: When we shot the music video, everyone was busting their ass. No matter what the floor, dancing barefoot with water [while] doing choreography is tricky. And Nas was so nervous. He was like, "I do not want to fall. I don't know if I'm gonna fall on a live VMA performance." We had to keep, throughout rehearsals, testing different floors, testing with water. 

There were a lot of limitations with the stage, the screen going up and revealing the stage behind — that was a special build that we had to get from MTV. Then, we found out that once we got in the wet shower, we couldn't come back to the mainstage. So we had to finish the performance in the shower. I got in trouble because we weren't supposed to have the orgy at the end. And it was a decision that I told the dancers to do 20 minutes before they went live.

The MONTERO Era Shows That Lil Nas X Is Just Getting Started

Christian Breslauer: If you look at the '80s, or even '90s or '70s, some of the most talented musicians were gay and they weren't able to be these icons until after the fact. All these guys who kind of stayed closeted, or they ended up coming out after the fact, but they were shunned for it to a degree. But Nas has kind of created this new narrative. I've seen him grow just as an artist and now he's moved and this last album was definitely his true coming out [saying]: "This is who I want to be as an artist."

Adrian Per: There isn't a single person for artists who's doing it at that level, with that many eyes looking at them. Whether it makes people hate him or disagree with him, or they like it, he knows how to create a tension around something that he's about to drop. It's so calculated in his brain so far ahead of time, before anything drops. I just don't know anybody else who's doing that to that level. 

Sean Bankhead: I'm gonna stay hard on him. I see the potential, I see the future, but I also see what he represents. And if I was growing up, and I had a representational figure like him on TV being great — and not just because he's gay, but actually puts in work and does phenomenal music videos, and makes incredible music. He's still young, and he still has a long way to go. So I want to make sure that I stay on him to keep growing and to stay focused, and to push harder, and keep being free. Because people are watching. People are rooting for him. No matter what the headlines may say. 

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New Music Friday: Listen To Songs From Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Jay-Z & More
Ariana Grande on 'The Voice' set in 2021.

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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New Music Friday: Listen To Songs From Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Jay-Z & More

The year is already off to a massive start, with Jan. 12 spawning new releases from 21 Savage, ITZY, Jennifer Lopez and many more. Check out some of the hotly anticipated tracks here.

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2024 - 04:50 pm

January always marks fresh starts and clean slates as the world collectively turns the page from one year to the next. The world of music is no exception: the second week of 2024 is filled with artists embarking on new eras and album cycles.

On the full-length front, 21 Savage unveiled his third solo LP, american dream, with guest assists from the likes of Summer Walker ("Prove It"), Doja Cat ("N.H.I.E."), Young Thug and Metro Boomin ("Pop Ur S–t") and more while Kali Uchis celebrates her just-announced first pregnancy with longtime boyfriend Don Toliver by delivering her second Spanish-language studio set Orchídeas.

Meanwhile, Reneé Rapp brings the new Mean Girls musical movie to life as Gen Z's Regina George, with a soundtrack that also features Megan Thee Stallion, Auli'i Cravalho, Angourie Rice and more, and K-pop act ITZY makes a statement on their sophomore Korean-language album, Born To Be, which gives all five members a chance to shine with individual solo tracks on top of swaggering bangers like "Untouchable" and the title track.  

In addition to star-studded album drops, Jan. 12 sees several big single releases too. Press play on hotly anticipated musical resets from Ariana Grande and Lil Nas X, lead singles from Jennifer Lopez and Sheryl Crow, and a monumental collaboration between D'Angelo and Jay-Z for the new movie The Book of Clarence below.

Ariana Grande — "yes, and?"

Ariana Grande is officially back and ready to own everything. For "yes, and?" — her first new musical offering since 2020's Positions — the superstar is doling out heavy-hitting words to live by, disguised as a glossy pop confection that takes an irresistible cue from Madonna's "Vogue."

Both an exercise in self-affirmation and a runway-ready Pride anthem, "yes, and?" finds Grande unapologetically sharing her truth in a way she hasn't since 2018's "thank u, next." Her voice dripping with honey, the soon-to-be Wicked star slyly addresses the recent tabloid fodder surrounding her personal life. 

"Now I'm so done with caring/ What you think, no, I won't hide/ Underneath your own projections/ Or change my most authentic life," she vows in between spine-tingling harmonies and plenty of vocal fireworks. Ari only gets more blunt from there, clapping back with her whole chest about the obsession with her body, relationship status, sex life and more. In her words, "Yes…and?" 

Jennifer Lopez — "Can't Get Enough"

Jennifer Lopez's ninth studio album, This Is Me… Now, has been a long time coming. But if lead single "Can't Get Enough" is any indication, the sequel to 2002's This Is Me… Then will be well worth the wait when it arrives Feb. 16. The track, which samples the late Alton Ellis' 1967 release "Still in Love," is a fizzy, funky delight that pops like a blast of champagne straight out the bottle.

On the song's chorus, the multi-hyphenate superstar giddily professes just how much she loves being in love (and back in love with now-husband Ben Affleck). And while the accompanying music video pokes fun at her trio of past marriages, fans can rest assured she's singing the lovestruck lyrics to the same Dunkin'-lovin' guy she was serenading 21 years ago on This Is Me… Then.

Jeymes Samuel x D'Angelo x Jay-Z — "I Want You Forever"

A new D'Angelo single would be a major event. So would a new Jay-Z single. After all, it's quickly coming up on 10 years since the neo-soul star released his last album, 2014's Black Messiah and the rap mogul's last solo single was the title track off 2017's 4:44.

However, director Jeymes Samuel managed to coax both men back into the studio to join forces for the soundtrack of his new biblical film The Book of Clarence starring Lakeith Stanfield. On "I Want You Forever," D'Angelo holds court with a hypnotic, repetitive hook before ceding the mic to Hov for the song's lone, pleading verse. 

Lil Nas X — "J CHRIST"

Nearly three years after giving the devil a lap dance in the hellish music video for his No. 1 hit "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," Lil Nas X is flipping the script and ascending to heaven on his new single "J CHRIST." Well, not for too long — turns out a giant stripper pole connects the celestial realm with the fires of purgatory, and Lil Nas X is equally at home in each.

The track's high-concept, cinematic music video has it all: angelic doppelgängers of everyone from Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey and Oprah to Michael Jackson and Barack Obama; Lil Nas cooking up a cauldron filled with human limbs; and yes, even the rapper pinned to a cross in a visual sure to enrage the critics who were already up in arms before the track was even released. But by song's end, as Lil Nas X takes on the role of Noah emerging from a worldwide flood, the GRAMMY winner makes clear the hip-hop banger isn't just religious cosplay — it's a new beginning.

Sheryl Crow — "Evolution"

Sheryl Crow is uncharacteristically on edge on "Evolution," the lead single and title track of her forthcoming 11th studio album. The queen of bright singer/songwriter jams like "All I Wanna Do" and "Soak Up the Sun" (and newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer) takes aim at the encroaching threat of artificial intelligence to the music industry and creativity at large on the spacey track. 

To top it all off, she even recruited Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to concoct a supercharged guitar solo that ratchets the uneasiness up to 11 as Crow warns, "Where are we headed in this paradise?/ We are passengers and there's no one at the wheel."

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond
Lil Nas X at the 2020 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond

In this episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, relive Lil Nas X's massive debut, "Old Town Road," and learn how he's since been an advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities through his music and his platform.

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Lil Nas X became a global sensation practically overnight, but it wasn't an accident.

The American singer and rapper — born Montero Lamar Hill — became fluent in music and pop culture at an early age, becoming a meme aficionado. His love for internet culture cultivated the perfect recipe for his debut single, "Old Town Road," to become one of the most viral hits in music history; the song also prompted a necessary conversation about the bounds of genre. 

"Old Town Road" rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and still holds the record for most time spent at No. 1 at 19 weeks. The single later helped Lil Nas X snag two GRAMMY Awards for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance and Best Music Video. (To date, he's won 2 GRAMMYs and has received 11 nominations overall.)

Aside from his immense musical talent, Lil Nas X — who came out as gay on social media during his Hot 100 reign — has been a fierce champion for LGBTQIA+ and Black communities.

"It's just acceptance of gay people. And they see that as a bad thing, like, They're trying to normalize it. You know what? Yeah. That's actually what I'm trying to do," he told GQ in 2021.

At just 24 years old, Lil Nas X has plenty more history-making and game-changing moves in store. As he revealed during his March 2023 campaign with Coach, "My next big chapter is coming."

Press play on the video above to learn more about Lil Nas X's industry-altering career, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Black Sounds Beautiful.

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Big Freedia attends iHeartRadio's Can't Cancel Pride in April 2023.

Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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9 Artists Who Advocate For The LGBTQIA+ Community: Troye Sivan, Taylor Swift, Madonna & More

From Big Freedia to Beyoncé, artists who identify as queer and allies alike celebrate love in all its forms.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2023 - 11:00 pm

"GAY RIGHTS!!!!!" Betty Who captioned a cheeky photo earlier this month. Yes, it was a well-known inside joke among the LGBTQIA+ community, but the all-caps message held some serious meaning. The queer pop star's photo was from the White House's 2023 Pride Celebration, where President Biden formally announced the New Actions to Protect the LGBTQIA+ Community plan — and Betty Who was the star performer.

Music has always been a safe haven for gay and trans people of all kinds — from the closeted kids in Middle America finding sanctuary in the songs of their favorite pop stars, to the out-and-proud artists forming the soundtrack for the next generation of LGBTQIA+ fans. And Pride has always been a special time of the year to celebrate visibility and inclusion in the music industry — a place where everyone deserves to show up and be seen (and heard!) as their authentic self, and where every proverbial note, melody and harmony make up a beautiful and unique soundtrack that can only be yours.

Recently, queer musicians and allies who use their platforms to stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community has felt more important than ever. A rash of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation has swept through state legislatures across the country, from so-called "Don't Say Gay" bills to blatant legal attacks on drag queens, trans kids and LGBTQIA+ history as a whole —  but those who stand for the community are fighting even harder.

As Pride month carries on, GRAMMY.com has rounded up a list of nine LGBTQIA+ artists, allies and bonafide gay icons who've made advocating for the community a central tenet of their music, their words and their actions. Of course, there are dozens to highlight, but take a look at how queer artists like Kim Petras and Troye Sivan and allies like Taylor Swift and Madonna have helped fans shine as their authentic selves.

ARTISTS

Kim Petras

Petras cemented her place as a rising star in the pop music echelon in February, when she became the first trans woman to win the GRAMMY for Best Pop Duo/Group collaboration with Sam Smith for their subversive collaboration "Unholy." (Smith, who identifies as non-binary, also made history with the win, though they graciously ceded the floor for Petras to give her awestruck acceptance speech on the GRAMMYs stage.)

As the cover star of Out's 2023 Pride issue, the German pop princess spoke out about the rash of anti-trans rhetoric taking root in legislatures across the country and harming vulnerable trans youth. "I literally was very suicidal as a kid, and I just wouldn't still be here had my parents not believed me," she told the magazine. "I hate that another generation is going through this, and I hate that young kids are going through the same s–t I was going through, and that apparently just isn't changing. I think it's sad. I just never understood why people were so obsessed with what people do to be happy. Just focus on what you can do to be happy."

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X has never been shy when it comes to sticking up for the queer community — and he usually does so with a healthy dose of snarky humor on social media. He's cheerfully clapped back about everything from the explicit queerness of his music videos to his place in the modern pantheon of hip-hop; mostly recently, he hopped on Twitter to hilariously take down conservative outrage over Pride-themed merchandise at Target.

"Can't believe target is supporting this nonsense, im never shopping there again, my son is not 'too cool for school' these shirts are ridiculous. He is going to school and he WILL learn," the GRAMMY winner wrote in a since-deleted tweet, mockingly referencing the anti-LGBTQIA+ crusaders upset with inclusive and trans-friendly apparel being sold at the popular retailer. 

In another instance from late April, Montero made his stance hysterically clear when he tweeted, "I want to clear all the straight rumors. i have many straight friends and i support their community, but that is NOT me!"

Troye Sivan

Years before releasing his debut album Blue Neighborhood in 2015, Troye Sivan came out publicly via YouTube. Since then, he's been consistently outspoken about his experiences as a gay artist in the music industry.

The Australia native, who announced his long-awaited follow-up to 2018's Bloom earlier this month, has made a consistent point in his career to turn his visuals into unapologetic examples of queer art — from the lusty defiance of 2018's "My My My!" to the "gushy juicy doting adoring power b^tt^m gay ballad" perfection that was 2021's "Angel Baby."

Perhaps most powerful of all, though, was his video for early single "Heaven" featuring Betty Who, which depicted historic moments in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement including some of the earliest Pride parades on record. "We have always been here. we will always be here. this video is dedicated to all those who've come before me and fought for our cause and those who now continue the fight," he wrote in the video's description. "in dark and light times, let's love forever. love, troye x."

Betty Who

Speaking of Betty Who, the indie pop star received an invitation directly from President Biden to perform at the White House's official 2023 Pride Celebration, where the commander in chief formally announced his administration's plan titled New Actions to Protect the LGBTQIA+ Community. The three-point roll-out promises to focus on "Strengthening Physical Safety," "Addressing Civil Rights Violations" and "Strengthening Mental Health and other Support Resources."

"Today was the biggest pride celebration ever held at the white house and i got to be a part of it!!!!!!!!" Betty, who identifies as both queer and bisexual, wrote afterwards on social media. "So many things i want to say! What an honour it is, how proud i am to be part of the lgbtqia+ [community], how special today's event was and how grateful i am to @potus, @drbiden and the amazing white house staff for hosting us. queer joy spouting everywhere!!! very grateful for this incredible experience."

Big Freedia

Earlier this year, Big Freedia was honored by PFLAG — the nation's longest-running LGBTQIA+ organization — with its first-ever National Breaking Barriers Award. The new honor, which she received at PGFLAG's 50th anniversary gala in March, is meant to shine the spotlight on "an individual who uses their platform to help remove obstacles to LGBTQIA+ and intersectional equality in pursuit of a more just, equitable and inclusive world."

Upon receiving the award, the bounce music trailblazer (and 2023 GRAMMY winner) took to Instagram with a determined message, writing, "There's still so much work to do to fight discrimination and I will continue to work on behalf of our whole community to spread love, acceptance, inclusion and everyone's right TO BE FREE."

ALLIES

Taylor Swift

While she'd slyly referenced her support for the LGBTQIA+ community in the past on songs like "Welcome to New York," Taylor Swift took a public stand in 2019 with her Lover era single "You Need to Calm Down." The gay anthem's celebratory music video issued a call to action for her fans to support the as-yet-unpassed Equality Act with her very own Change.org petition.

During her Eras Tour stop in Chicago earlier this month, the superstar spoke specifically to her LGBTQIA+ fans, promising them that her concerts would always be a "safe space" for them to celebrate who they are. 

"I wish that every place was safe and beautiful for people in the LGBTQ community, I really wish that. We can't talk about Pride Month without talking about pain," she told the sold-out crowd of Swifties at Soldier Field. "There have been so many harmful pieces of legislation that have put people in the LGBTQ and queer community at risk. It's painful for everyone — every ally, every loved one, every person in these communities. And that's why I'm always posting, 'This is when the midterms are. This is when these important, key primaries are.'

"'Cause we can support as much as we want during Pride Month," the 12-time GRAMMY winner continued. "But if we're not doing our research on these elected officials — Are they advocates? Are they allies? Are they protectors of equality? Do I want to vote for them? — I love you guys so much and happy Pride Month."

Madonna

What hasn't Madonna done in her iconic career to lift up the LGBTQIA+ community? In fact, there's an entire Wikipedia page dedicated solely to her status as a living gay icon.

Famously, Her Madgesty's love for the gay community started with her early mentor and dance teacher Christopher Flynn. Early in her career, she became one of the first artists to speak out about the HIV/AIDS crisis and decry the stigmatization of gay people at the time.

She's been recognized by the GLAAD Media Awards multiple times, including in 1991 with the Raising Gay Awareness award and in 2019 with the Advocate for Change award. (At the latter ceremony, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis stated, "Madonna always has and always will be the LGBTQ community's greatest ally.")

More recently, Madge added multiple dates to her upcoming Celebration Tour, including a special stop in Nashville to stand in solidarity with the state's queer, trans and drag communities as they've been bombarded by a string of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation from the state's Capitol.

"The oppression of the LGBTQIA+ is not only unacceptable and inhumane; it's creating an unsafe environment; making America a dangerous place for our most vulnerable citizens, especially trans women of color," she wrote on Instagram alongside the announcement. "Also, these so-called laws to protect our children are unfounded and pathetic. Anyone with half a brain knows not to f— with a drag queen. Bob and I will see you from the stage in Nashville where we will celebrate the beauty that is the queer community!"

Beyoncé

Long considered a gay icon in her own right, Beyoncé paid reverential honor to the LGBTQIA+ community and her late uncle Johnny with 2022's Renaissance, an undulating magnum opus inspired by the underground ballroom scene sparked by Black, trans and gay pioneers of the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and beyond.

Queen Bey also holds space for queer artists throughout Renaissance's sprawling, hour-long track list, collaborating with TS Madison and Big Freedia, sampling Kevin Aviance and late drag star Moi Renee, working with Honey Dijon behind the boards and more. "Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long," the living legend wrote in a note posted to her personal website upon the album's release. "This is a celebration for you."

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds has emerged as a powerful advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community through his nonprofit organization Loveloud and its popular Utah festival, which he launched in 2017 to support LGBTQIA+ teens in the state's overwhelmingly conservative (and outspokenly anti-LGBTQIA+) Mormon community. 

This year, though, Reynolds and the Loveloud board — which includes out and proud musicians like Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees, Vincint, Wrabel and Parson James — have expanded Loveloud's mission beyond the Mormonism of the Wasatch front. In early March, Loveloud announced it would be transforming into a traveling festival for its sixth year with stops in Austin, Texas, where dozens of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws have been pursued by the state legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott, and Washington D.C.

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