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"Press Play" Series To Celebrate Pride Month With Special Edition Episodes

Every Wednesday in June, the Recording Academy will feature a new LGBTQ+ artist in our exclusive original performance series in celebration of Pride Month.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2019 - 10:42 am

Pride Month is here! And the Recording Academy is celebrating with four new episodes of our exclusive performance series Press Play. Each Wednesday this month at 10 a.m. PDT / 1 p.m. EDT starting June 5, a new installment of Press Play will premiere right here on GRAMMY.com.. 

This special edition will feature up-and-coming musicians that represent the LGBTQ+ community including three-time GRAMMY nominated singer/songwriter Asiahn, country singer/songwriter Brandon Stansell, pop singer VINCINT, and soul singer Shea Diamond.

"Having my single where I'm singing about loving another woman on the radio is a big deal," said Asiahn when asked how music can help make progress toward equality, adding, "I feel like we still need some more representation out there, there's still people who aren't represented."

As we celebrate Pride all month long, get to know these four artists through their "Press Play" episodes each week.

Celebrate LA Pride With The Recording Academy & Special Guests

 

 

 

Sabrina Carpenter performing at Governors Ball 2024
Sabrina Carpenter performs at Governors Ball 2024.

Photo: Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

list

9 New Pride Anthems For 2024: Sabrina Carpenter's "Espresso," Chappell Roan's "Casual" & More

Throughout the past year, a slew of music's brightest stars have blessed us with a batch of fresh songs that have quickly been embraced by the LGBTQIA+ community as classics, from Dua Lipa's "Houdini" to Troye Sivan's "One Of Your Girls."

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:27 pm

Every June, Pride Month offers a time for the LGBTQIA+ community to reflect and raise awareness — but also, to party it up. While there were plenty of Pride anthems to pack playlists prior to this year, the past 12 months have seen some flawless new additions from a mix of fresh talent and long-standing stalwart artists that the queer community happily embraces.

While there's no set template on how to create an undeniable Pride anthem, there are major hallmarks: high-energy tempo, candid lyrics, delicious camp, and an undeniable groove. Between pop bops and dance floor jams, no Pride party is complete without at least a couple of the songs listed below. Cheers to the cathartic power of music to usher in another season of acceptance and equality. 

Sabrina Carpenter — "Espresso"

You play it when you wake up. It's on the radio on the way to the club. It's playing at the club. Heck, it's even blasting at the gym the next day. 2024's newly crowned pop princess, Sabrina Carpenter, released an instant classic when she unfurled "Espresso" in April — more than enough time to learn the lyrics by Pride Month.

With an infectious melody targeting your ears like a jolt of morning caffeine, its steaming dose of memorable lines ("I'm working late/ 'cause I'm a singer") are the handiwork of Carpenter along with three veteran lyricists, including close collaborator Steph Jones, Amy Allen (Harry Styles, Selena Gomez) and Julian Bunetta, who is perhaps best known for his plethora of work with One Direction. "Espresso" marks further proof that if there's one thing Carpenter knows it's how to command an audience, whether through her captivating stage shows or viral, story-telling music videos that link together (including for recent single "Please, Please, Please").

Read More: Sabrina Carpenter Releases New Single "Please Please Please": Everything We Know About Her New Album 'Short N' Sweet'

Charli XCX — "360"

It's safe to say that Charli XCX is experiencing a new phase of her decade-long career as a critically acclaimed starlet. Her sixth studio album, BRAT, marks an evolution of her sound into a batch of adult tracks tailor-made for the club. As a result, it's spawned a number of viral memes among her legions of LGBTQIA+ fans, who have also boasted lime green avatars on social media in honor of what's being dubbed "brat summer."

It's no coincidence then that she'd release the project in the midst of Pride Month, led by the relentlessly pulsating single "360." With lyrics that have quickly already found itselves queer canon — "Drop down, yeah, Put the camera flash on" — the album boasts a hyperpoop energy and unapologetic individuality, making her recent spate of shows some of the hottest tickets in town.

Read More: Charli XCX's Road To 'Brat': How Her New Album Celebrates Unabashed Confidence & Eccentricity

Orville Peck, Diplo & Kylie Minogue — "Midnight Ride"

Giddy up! One of the brightest out stars in the LGBTQIA+ musical universe, the ever-masked Orville Peck has made a name for himself as a queer outlier in the country music scene. So it stands to reason that he'd partner up with none other than Kylie Minogue — who had the defining song of Pride '23 in the form of "Padam Padam" — for their own anthem for 2024. The result is "Midnight Ride," a whistle-powered, Diplo-produced earworm that's perfect for a rainbow-tinted hoedown.

The team-up is part of Peck's forthcoming duets project, for which he recruited a cavalcade of singing partners for queer-themed country-tinged tracks in a unique two-volume album dubbed Stampede (which drops in full Aug. 2). The collaborators include Willie Nelson, who croons with Peck on the eye-raising ditty "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other."

Dua Lipa — "Houdini"

When Dua Lipa released Future Nostalgia in 2020, it became an instant classic in the pop world and LGBTQIA+ lexicon alike, cementing Lipa (and songs like "Don't Start Now" and "Physical") into the grand pantheon of queer playlist magic. The pressure was on, then, for her follow-up to live up to its commercial success and fandom.

Cue "Houdini," from this year's Radical Optimism, a cathartic dance floor anthem by one of the gay community's newer idols. Aside from setting the perfect tone for Pride Month with its delicious hook and refreshing confident lyrics "(Prove you got the right to please me"), in an interview with  SiriusXM Hits 1, Lipa said the production of the track set the tone for the new project: "I was like, "Okay, I feel like now I know exactly what this album's gonna be and what it's gonna sound like."

Read More: Dua Lipa's Road To 'Radical Optimism': How Finding The Joy In Every Moment Helped Her Become Pop's Dance Floor Queen

The Challengers soundtrack

Who knew that a soundtrack to a tense and sultry tennis drama would yield an album fit for the dance floor? The thumping array of tunes that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross churned out for Luca Guadagnino's Challengers has proved to be a hit beyond the film, with its synth-propelled soundtrack proving to be a unique and wild tracks, including the driving "I Know." 

Its embrace in the LGBTQIA+ community should come as no surprise considering the single note the director gave Ross before he started work. "The way he described 'Challengers' was in a one-sentence email," Ross told Variety earlier this year. "Do you want to be on my next film? It's going to be super sexxy.' Two x's."

Ariana Grande — "yes, and"

Ariana Grande is no stranger to gay-friendly anthems; in fact, she delivered one of 2020's most iconic Pride moments with her Lady Gaga duet, "Rain On Me." When her album eternal sunshine dropped earlier this year, it was no surprise that she'd offer a few more bops for a Pride playlist.

Among them is "yes, and," a Max Martin-produced hit that can get even your stiffest friend moving on the dance floor. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the creative team took the sonic elements of ballroom culture — a uniquely queer LGBTQIA+ experience — and fused them with lyrics perfect for a personal Pride anthem. "Say that s— with your chest," she croons. We will, Ari!

Read More: Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists

Peggy Gou — "(It Goes Like) Nanana"

If you've been on a dance floor in the recent past, odds are you've grooved to nostalgic beats courtesy the South Korean producer Peggy Gou. The breakout star is known for her unique brand of throwback dance jams, which carry a distinct '90s-era flavor that has led her to be embraced in queer spaces from Fire Island to West Hollywood. The most infectious, "(It Goes Like) Nanana").... samples the German artist ATB's 1998 track "9 PM (Till I Come)," no doubt a reaction to the recent revitalization of 90s-era culture popular in the LGBTQIA+ community, which provides a thumping link to queer culture past.

"For me,  the DJ is someone who teaches people the value of music and educates them," Gou told L'Official of her musical mission. "It is someone who transmits a beautiful memory and is somehow responsible for it."

Chappell Roan — "Casual"

While Roan has been a bubbling-under singer/songwriter for a handful of years, 2024 has proved to be decidedly her time to shine. Ever since the release of her debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, her back catalog has logged impressive streaming numbers, and she's commanded massive crowds at the likes of Governor's Ball and Bonnaroo.

Part of her appeal comes from her unabashed candidness about her sexuality (Roan identifies as a lesbian) and resilience. Both are exemplified by her single "Casual," which is about a relationship that doesn't seem to get all that serious, for better or worse.

However, Roan told the Associated Press last year that normally she isn't so sexually candid.  "The songs kind of give me the opportunity to act like that, and say that, and dress like that," she explained. "It's mainly to piss off — it's all a rebellion. That's what it is. It is very empowering, I think, for a lot of people. ... It's just not as empowering to me as it is living out a fantasy."

Read More: Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon"

Troye Sivan — "One Of Your Girls"

By now, we've all heard Troye Sivan's infectious hit "Rush" or seen its viral music video — both of which earned the singer his first GRAMMY nominations this year. In the interim, his 2023 album, Something to Give Each Other, is filled with plenty of other tracks that speak intimately and eloquently about the queer experience.

Take, for example, the luscious "One Of Your Girls," a meditation on when a gay man has a transactional fling with an otherwise straight person. It subsequently has turned into yet another queer definitive anthem for the Australian star.

As a result, Sivan has turned into one of the musical heroes of the community: not only unabashedly talented, but an eloquent chronicler of the gay experience. Even better, as he told  NPR last year, his queer-focused projects are as cathartic for him as they may be for listeners. "There's a big element of pride in the fact that I am now so comfortably, openly gay."

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Tove Lo (L) and SG Lewis (R) pose in front of a set of red doors
Tove Lo (L) and SG Lewis (R)

Photo: Nikola Lamburov

interview

Tove Lo & SG Lewis Crafted Sweaty New EP 'HEAT' In Celebration Of Their Queer Fans

"Every time I make anything that I'm excited about, I know that when I pass that to Tove, she's going to deliver something incredible back that I haven't even been able to imagine yet," SG Lewis says.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:05 pm

HEAT, the new collaborative EP from GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Tove Lo and dance pop producer SG Lewis is 15-and-a-half minutes of pure dance floor ecstasy. 

Across the EP's four tracks, which dropped June 14 on Tove Lo’s Pretty Swede Records, Lewis brings in classic, euphoric '90s rave sounds and infectious rhythms. Tove Lo adds her signature sexy lyrics and vocals, with an extra dose of confidence and sass.

"We both really wanted this EP to be a thank you to the queer fans that we share and for the videos and the creative to be an opportunity to amplify those queer voices and to celebrate that community," Lewis says. "I feel very lucky to get to soundtrack moments in these spaces and to also get to learn so much from this community."

The duo gave their fans a first taste of their collaborative magic in 2022 with "Call On Me," a pulsing, urgent hook up tune so good they both included it on their last albums, Tove Lo's Dirt Femme and Lewis' AudioLust & HigherLove. They also teamed up on "Pineapple Slice," a sweet and naughty cut from Tove Lo's Dirt Femme.

Since then, their fans — particularly their loyal queer fans have been begging for more bops from the pair. Tove Lo, who is bisexual and often brings queer themes into her lyrics and music videos, has been crowned a gay pop icon, and Lewis' joyful, upbeat dance tunes have brought him many fans from the LGBTQIA+ community. They made the HEAT especially for their supportive queer fans, dropping it during Pride month with steamy gay clubs in mind.

Amid teasing their fans with snippets of "HEAT" and memes on social media, Nelly Furtado also dropped a sultry new single in May, "Love Bites," featuring none other than Lewis and Lo.

The fun and ease Tove Lo and Lewis feel working together oozes from each of their collaborations. Since they first got together in the studio, the "Busy Girl" artists have become fast friends. Their love for sweaty dance floors, '90s electronic music, and danceable pop bops creates a rich, shimmery sonic landscape for their music.

GRAMMY.com caught up with the two artists on Zoom from their Los Angeles' homes, for a lively, laughter-filled chat about crafting gay club friendly dance pop bangers, their magic in the studio together, and what having the support of the queer community means to them.

What do you hope fans get when they finally hear Heat and where are you imagining it being played?

Tove Lo: I hope that all our fans get completely floored and that they play it at the pre-party, in the club, and at the after-party — in all the spaces where they want to be free and sweaty and have fun.

SG Lewis: From what I've heard so far from people who've listened to it, people can feel the fun that me and Tove were having in the studio making it. I hope that it serves as a soundtrack for hedonism, celebration, freedom, and some really sweaty moments.

I was wondering about the specific sonic references and inspirations that you brought to the EP. I definitely heard some squelchy acid house on "Heat" and on "Desire" I got some Cascada and early trance, '90s Ibiza vibes.

SG Lewis: I have been reading this book by Sheryl Garratt called "Adventures in Wonderland," which tells the story of the birth of acid house and how it was brought back to the U.K. from Ibiza and exploded into this huge moment in the '90s and grows into trance.  As a result, I was just digging through a lot of the records from then.

Also, Tove and I were DJing a lot at parties and with our friends and stuff. A lot of those records that I was playing, Tove was as well; we were arriving at the same point through different avenues. There was a shared interest in those sounds and that nostalgia, so we really wanted to channel a lot of those two genres in this project. It happened very naturally through the music that we were playing and DJing together. We hardly even ever had a conscious conversation about how it would sound.

Tove Lo: When it comes to writing the melody and lyrics, from my end, there's never a conscious, "Oh, I want to make a vocal like this." I just kind of [go with] what is speaking to me in this track and whatever comes up. I don't know where it's coming from, but it's probably coming from us DJing at 4 a.m. and it reminds me of that moment, it's unlocking this thing. [Chuckles.]

Lyrically, I wanted it to feel confident and sexy. I step over the line a few times in certain songs, which is the way I love to write. You really encourage that free space. I don't think you've ever said, "Ah, it's too far. You even said [imitates British accent], "Can it be hornier?" [Everyone laughs.]

I feel like we are very aligned with what we wanted it to be. I don't want to say there's not a deeper message, it's more just us loving music, loving to make music together, and our joint fans kind of telling us that we need to make more music together. So, we are responding to this request. [Both giggle.]

How would you describe the magic of when you two get in the studio together? Because obviously, there's something there that's special.

Tove Lo: It's weird, but it's kind of like when you meet someone that you just really click with. As people, we get along really well and like to hang out, and we have a similar sense of humor, so it is a fun time. But just because you're good friends, you don't necessarily make good stuff together. It's hard to explain it, but it's a feeling of being totally at ease with someone, but still wanting to do your absolute best. That's how I feel when I work with Sam. I want to really impress him, but I feel very comfortable doing the journey together.

SG Lewis: It's a really rare sensation in the studio. This is a terrible analogy, but it's like playing a game of tennis with someone and every time they return the ball, they send it dead down the center in the right position. Every time I make anything that I'm excited about, whether it's a chord sequence or a drum pattern or something, I know that when I pass that to Tove, she's going to deliver something incredible back that I haven't even been able to imagine yet. That's where the energy comes from for me, it's this kind of back-and-forth of excitement in the process. And it's just honestly so much fun making music together. I can't say that I've had such a natural studio chemistry with many people before.

What do you admire most about the other's artistry, music and approach to music-making?

Tove Lo: With Sam, I'm always very impressed with how — I think I've said this to you probably 100 times — you can make it feel like there's the energy of something new, but it still has nostalgia in it. I don't know if it's the samples you're using or you're just inspired by certain tracks, but it gives me a feeling of, "Oh, I remember this, but I haven't heard it before," which is what everyone is trying to do, but it's really hard to. And you just live and breathe music. It goes into performing and DJing too, where you'll DJ for seven hours. You just love music and you know the history. It really gives me a lot of inspiration.

SG Lewis: I'm very flattered. Tove is an expert song crafter and creator of pop music, but to me, she has something that no other writer of pop music has. She is able to speak about things with a freedom of expression in her songs. She'll say things that other artists wouldn't dare to say, out of the rules of society. I think it's why she is such a queer icon and her music is so embraced in the queer community, because she harnesses this freedom of expression in her writing that is so raw. It gives her pop music an edge that no other artist on the planet has for me.

Tove Lo: Sam, that's so nice. Can I get this recording [to listen to] when I'm having a bad day?

Can you speak to your love of crafting gay club friendly dance pop bangers, and how you harnessed that specific energy — like you said, the sweaty, free, hedonistic club space — on HEAT?

Tove Lo: Sam and I share a lot of fans in the queer community, and they basically demanded that we make more music together. So we're like, "Well, this is going to be for you then." So this is a celebration of our queer fans, and also a thank you for the support that we've both had from the community. And I'm obviously part of the community myself, being a queer woman, but Sam, you're like a guest in the community. 

Also, you have to remember, the queer community will choose you. It's not something you can barge your way into. If your music resonates, you're in and the support is always there. My most loyal fans are part of that community. And there's a similar love for that kind of music that you can let go and be yourself; it's a safe space to just really live out your true self in whatever way that may be.

SG Lewis: As Tove mentioned, I've been so fortunate to be a guest in these spaces and to receive so much love from the queer community. I'm a nerd about music, and I study the history and who's making what, and I love that about the queer fans that I have; they're reading the notes on who produced what records and who wrote this and the collaborations. There's a level of obsession with pop music that we both share.

What does having the support of the queer community mean to you as artists?

Tove Lo: For me, it feels like there's a mutual love and respect. When I do my own tours, a huge part of my crowd is queer and I feel like I can fully be myself and really feel free and comfortable in my own skin and body and to express myself the way I want. I feel like they always have my back and I always have their backs. Also, all the cool s*** starts in the queer community. They're paving the way for a lot of artists and creators. They're the ones discovering everything first.

SG Lewis: Speaking to queer friends of mine and artists that I work with, anyone in that space has had to fight to express who they are, and there's an element of bravery in even being who they are and the expression of themselves. As a result, the thing that I feel so lucky to get to witness is that freedom of expression in the queer community that is so, so powerful. That's why these spaces and these parties have such an incredible, amazing energy; everyone in that space has acquired this ability to express themselves in a way that you don't see elsewhere. To have the support of that community on a musical level is a massive privilege — to have music that is celebrated in those spaces where that extreme expression and joy and euphoria is happening is really a dream.

I want to know the story of how you two met, because in one of the press releases, I think it said it was on the dance floor.

Tove Lo: Yeah, it was, but Sam was at my house before we met. I think I was out of town, but my boyfriend and my roommates had a party or something. And Sam's like, "Where am I? Why is there a bunch of Tove Lo art on the walls?"

SG Lewis: I was at a Phoebe Bridgers concert and I was standing next to this tall, lovely Kiwi man named Charlie. We were just shooting the s*** and I was like, "This guy's the best dude ever." I ended up at their place for an after-party. I was like, "Why is there so much Tove Lo memorabilia on the wall?" He was like, "I think you're working with my wife next week."

Tove Lo: That says a lot about me, having a bunch of my own sh-t on the walls. [Laughs.]

During the pandemic, I put up every concert photo I have of all the crowds, because I didn't think anything was going to come back. So, my walls are full of shots of me from behind me with a huge crowd. Maybe this is a little narcissistic. I might need to take it down.

SG Lewis: But it's also lots of photos of your friends. It's a celebration of your life, not a shrine to yourself.

Tove Lo: I can't remember the full order, if we then just met in the studio, but we have spent a lot of time on the dance floor together.

SG Lewis: We've had some crazy times, and I have a feeling this EP is going to lead to plenty more.

Talk to me about your CLUB HEAT [parties], because I know you've had one or two and there's more coming.

Tove Lo: We did one in London when we also did the video shoot, which was a crazy day, so much fun.

SG Lewis: Our second one is on Thursday night in L.A.

Tove Lo: The first one was so fun. It was just exactly what I hoped for: completely packed, sweaty, us [DJing] back-to-back, and me not being able to help myself and getting on the mic and singing way too often, because I love the stage. It feels exactly how the EP feels — sweaty, fun, club. I'm trying to think of the perfect word, but it's just all those words. 

SG Lewis: The format of the CLUB HEAT parties is a back-to-back DJ set with a performance element from Tove. I think it gives this really amazing, unique, chaotic party energy. Those moments where she performs really elevates the energy in the room. It's honestly utter chaos in the best way possible. There was literally sweat coming off the ceiling in the London one.

Are you planning on doing more?

Tove Lo: They're gonna be [announced] last minute. There's not going to be planning far out, but we're going to be doing more. 

SG Lewis: I think there's a kind of pop-up element to them. As the nature of the party being chaotic, I think the planning of them is also quite chaotic. I think that it'd be criminal not to do this in New York, which feels like the epicenter of chaotic, sweaty parties.

What was it like working with [producer and DJ] Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs [TEED] on the EP, who did some of the co-production? How did he help bring it all together or bring out different things in the music?

SG Lewis: Orlando [Higginbottom, aka TEED] is not only one of my closest friends, he's very much a mentor of mine. He's taught me so much about production. He is one of my favorite artists and producers, and as much as he gets very sheepish when I tell him that, we're constantly playing each other's music.

While the EP came together from Tove and I in the room together, he was the outside voice who was able to take those songs from 90 to 100 percent, whether it's a synth line on "Heat" or "Busy Girl" was both of us producing together. That was a beat that we started outside of the room that I then played to Tove, and she absolutely killed it on.

I have to ask about the new song with Nelly Furtado, "Love Bites." How did that come together? What was it like working with her and having the three of you in the studio together?

SG Lewis: I was put in contact with Nelly because there was word that she was working on new music. Before I know it, I'm texting with Nelly Furtado, and I was like, "What's going on? This is insane." It was immediately apparent that she was extremely friendly and cool.

Tove Lo: She's way too chill. I'm like, you can be so much more of a diva.

SG Lewis: She was like, "Oh, send me some beats." As a producer, you hear this all the time. You send 10 beats and you never hear anything ever again. I sent this pack of beats. I go to bed and I wake up the next day, and she's written a full song on one of the beats and sends me the vocals.

Fast-forward six months, we'd worked on a couple of things, but none of them had really hit the bullseye yet. I reworked one of the things we were working on, reproduced the beat, and ended up with this idea I was really excited about, but it didn't have a chorus. I was going to ask Nelly if I could send it to Tove. Before I had the opportunity to discuss this with Nelly, I sent the idea without the chorus. And Nelly was like, oh, "Could you send this to Tove Lo to potentially write a chorus on it?"

Tove Lo: I dropped my phone, it's still cracked from it. I was like, "Are you kidding?" And [I thought the] beat was so sick. And her voice and the "ey ey," it's just like Nelly! Sam and I went in the studio and wrote the chorus together and sent it to her. And she's like, "I love this. Can we please get in the studio and finish it together?" We had a late session at 7 p.m. I think she's a night owl. I [was excited to] find someone who wants to work night hours with me. The three of us worked all night; recorded it, tweaked it, finished stuff. She's so lovely. She's got such a distinct voice. I was a little bit star-struck when she got on the mic.

SG Lewis: Her voice is so distinctive and iconic. She has the superstar tone where you know it's her immediately. It's really surreal as a producer to get to work with vocals like that from two iconic pop stars on one song.

How long was the period of time from when she asked you to send beats to y'all getting in the studio together?

SG Lewis: It was about six to nine months total. Everyone's sort of all over the world, so it was really cool for it to all come together in this moment, in the studio, in-person, together.

I love that Nelly's embracing a different sound and really daring to try different stuff, because it'd be so easy for her to try and replicate her past successes. But she's just too badass for that.

How Rising Dance Star Dom Dolla Remixed The Gorillaz & Brought Nelly Furtado Back To The Dance Floor

Queer country feature hero
(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

feature

How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

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"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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Sam Smith performing in 2014
Sam Smith performs at Q102's Jingle Ball in Philadelphia in 2014.

Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

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How Sam Smith's 'In The Lonely Hour' Became An LGBTQIA+ Trailblazer

As Sam Smith’s massive debut album turns 10, revisit some of the ways it broke ground for the LGBTQIA+ community — from supporting same-sex marriage to making GRAMMY history.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 04:11 pm

Before launching their own solo career, Sam Smith had already teased their pop prowess by guesting on two bonafide dance classics, Disclosure's deep house anthem "Latch" in 2012 and Naughty Boy's two-step garage throwback "La La La" in 2013. And upon debuting their own work in 2014 with In The Lonely Hour, Smith instantly cemented themselves as the master of the heartbreak ballad — and one of pop's new pioneers.

Self-described as the "diary from a lonely 21-year-old," the record was inspired by the love Smith felt toward an unnamed man which, it seems fair to say, wasn't exactly reciprocated. "I don't have that many sad things going on in my life and it was the only thing that was really affecting me last year," they explained to Digital Spy ahead of In The Lonely Hour's release. "So, it's my way of defining what is love, and how unrequited love is just as painful, just as powerful, as what we call 'normal' love." And audiences both in their homeland and across the pond immediately latched on to its overarching theme.

Largely produced by hitmaking extraordinaire Jimmy Napes (Clean Bandit, Mary J. Blige), In The Lonely Hour reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, spawned five hit singles, and, in an era when the album format was commercially struggling, sold a remarkable 8.5 million copies across the globe. And alongside the chart success, the sold-out tours, and the four GRAMMY wins on the same night, the blockbuster LP also became a force for good, and a force for change, within the LGBTQIA+ community.

A decade on from its stateside release (June 17), we take a look at why In The Lonely Hour was such a landmark album for the music industry as a whole, but especially for a new queer generation.

It Made GRAMMY History

Smith famously put their foot in their mouth while picking up Best Original Song at the 2016 Academy Awards for Bond theme "Writing's On the Wall," wrongly declaring — much to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's disdain — that they were the first ever openly gay Oscar winner. However, the Brit can lay claim to being an LGBTQIA+ trailblazer at the GRAMMYs.

The year before his acceptance speech faux pas, Smith became the first member of the LGBTQIA+ community to win Best New Artist. The singer also won Best Pop Vocal Album for In the Lonely Hour, while "Stay With Me" was crowned both Record and Song Of The Year. (Eight years later, Smith then made history again as the first ever non-binary GRAMMY winner when their Kim Petras collaboration "Unholy" scooped Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2023.)

It Used Gender Neutral Pronouns

The use of pronouns has played a big part in Smith's career. And though they officially announced their they/them change in 2019, the singer refused to commit to a particular gender on their debut album. While In The Lonely Hour was based on their infatuation with an uninterested man, the Brit purposely left things ambiguous, as they explained to Fader at the time of its release.

"[It's] important to me that my music reaches everybody. I've made [it] so that it could be about anything and everybody — whether it's a guy, a female or a goat — and everybody can relate to that." This inclusive approach has also been adapted by several other artists, including singer/songwriter Bruno Major, whonoted how Smith's material "can be listened to by anybody of any sexuality and gender and still apply."

It Advocated For Same-Sex Marriage

While Smith kept all pronouns neutral on record, they were far more specific when it came to In The Lonely Hour's visuals. In the tearjerking video for "Lay Me Down," a flashback shows the Brit getting hitched to their boyfriend in the same church where the latter is later laid to rest. Although gay marriage had been made legal in the UK a year prior to the video's 2015 release, it was still illegal for same-sex couples to wed within the Church of England.

In a Facebook message posted to coincide with its premiere, Smith said, "This video shows my dreams that one day gay men and women and transgendered men and women all over the world, like all our straight families and friends, will be able to get married under any roof, in any city, in any town, in any village, in any country." Smith later performed the album's biggest hit, "Stay With Me," in front of President Joe Biden at the 2022 signing of the Respect for Marriage Act.

It Ventured Into Cishet Territory

Before Smith came along, the modern heartbreak ballad — the kind of emotionally devastating anthem that can reduce an entire stadium crowd to a blubbering wreck — had typically been the domain of heterosexual/cis-identifying artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.

However, thanks to radio-friendly chart hits such as "Lay Me Down," "Stay With Me," and "I'm Not The Only One," In The Lonely Hour proved mainstream audiences, no matter their sexual orientation or gender, could be equally moved by candid tales of queer love. Smith's lyrical themes may have been specific to their own situation, but they could just as easily be interpreted on a universal level. Soon after, LGBTQIA+ singers such as "Britain's Got Talent" graduate Calum Scott and Eurovision Song Contest winner Duncan Laurence were mining a similar tragi-romantic path to hugely commercial effect.

It Channeled A Feminine Energy

The tactile way Smith addressed their unrequited love — not to mention, how much it was embraced by the mainstream — meant that In The Lonely Hour wasn't considered an explicitly LGBTQIA+ album at the time. Yet, the singer insists they were deliberately trying to challenge notions of gender, sexuality and masculinity.

Speaking to Out five years after the album's release, Smith revealed it was, in fact, partly influenced by one of the all-time gay icons. "I'm in a suit and in that suit, I was channeling Judy Garland. I look back on those videos of me when I was 20, and I see a feminine energy." They further explained they were surprised when the record wasn't initially interpreted as intended. But thanks to Smith's non-binary journey, the album's inherent queerness has unarguably now become more apparent.

It Opened The Door For Several LGBTQIA+ Artists

Smith confirmed they were gay in the same week In The Lonely Hour hit the shelves, acknowledging the record was "about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn't love me back." And the matter-of-fact way they spoke about their sexuality inspired several other artists to follow suit.

In 2017, Troye Sivan cited Smith as a role model for coming out without making any grand gestures. Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander has also applauded his fellow Brit for refusing to hide their true identity. Even some of Smith's collaborators, including Petras and Cat Burns, have touted the singer's self-assurance.

Indeed, while artists in less enlightened times often felt compelled to keep their sexuality under wraps, Smith has been able to express their true self from the outset. As a result, a generation of artists have seen that queerness needn't be a barrier to commercial success — and that celebrating it can change culture in a powerful way.

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