PHOTO: Mitch Fong-Cool Kids Club/WireImage
The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s
The 2010s were a transitional and formative period for queer pop artists. From "Born This Way" to "I Kissed A Girl" and Ariana Grande's "Monopoly," LGBTQ+ artists and allies have grappled with identity — and a fair share of haters — on a world stage.
"Girls like girls like boys do/nothing new," Hayley Kiyoko, affectionately known as "Lesbian Jesus" by her fans, sings on her second EP, This Side of Paradise.
The accompanying music video for "Girls Like Girls," released in June 2015, features two gal pals falling in love while a violent boyfriend looms in the background. The reception was so encouraging that Kiyoko herself came out as bisexual. Two days later, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.
While the timing of the Supreme Court announcement was apt for Lesbian Jesus, Kiyoko is one of many queer pop artists to receive mainstream shine in recent years. The 2010s in particular were a liminal era where pop dipped its toes into queerness, testing the waters when artists and society at large weren’t entirely sure if it felt "wrong or right."
The second decade of the new millennium saw a shift away from the tepid engagement with queer identity in pop. Lyrics became less thematically subtle, instead favoring direct and prideful exclamations, as well as nuanced songs of heartbreak. The rise of self-publishing platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and TikTok further enabled artists to better control their narratives around sexuality, such as Troye Sivan coming out in a viral video in 2013, a year before his debut EP.
Although queer imagery and lyrical leanings aren't new, displays of queer sentiment in pop culture have historically been viewed as provocational, rather than a necessary means of engaging with queer identity. Yet as queerness has become more "acceptable" in mainstream entertainment and American politics, it’s not surprising that pop stars may refocus on their identity as a means of negotiating the constant demand for reinvention inherent to pop music.
Born That Way: Queer Pop's Early Aughts Origins
When Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in early 2008, the media zeroed in on her eccentric costumes and zany ear-worms. Yet her bisexuality and support for the LGBTQ+ community through song — most notably, 2011's "Born This Way" — was often criticized and allyship largely considered an eccentricity. Even still, her fame skyrocketed in an incredible show of progress. Gaga became a global sensation at a time where any political sentiment was rarely rewarded.
In a 2018 video interview with Vogue, Gaga commented that these formative pop songs were a career defining moment. "I want to be remembered for the message behind 'Born This Way.' I would like to be remembered for believing that people are equal," Gaga said. "I would like to be remembered for being courageous and different."
As Brian O’Flynn wrote in the Guardian: "Gaga did for my generation what Bowie did 20 years earlier. She re-queered a mainstream that had fallen back into heteronormative mundanity."
Did It Feel Wrong Or Right?
Gaga's queer-friendly pop would be emulated and iterated on for years to come. But the dawn of the 2010s brought with it a new age of queer pop, one where authenticity seemed to reign supreme and identity was placed under a microscope.
Released in 2008, Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl'' saw phenomenal success but was deliberately marketed as a cheeky, bi-curious "phase." Perry, who is bisexual, admitted that the marketing was problematic, later saying she would have rewritten the song to confront this stereotype.
Queerness as a so-called marketing plot is commonplace, though it can also result in an artist's sexual orientation being dismissed or diminished. Halsey, Kiyoko and Miley Cyrus have all had to defend their status as LGBTQ+, reflecting the ways bisexuality is often criticized in queer circles. When Billie Eilish posted a behind the scenes picture from her of a music video featuring all girls, with the caption "I love girls," she was bombarded with invasive questions about her sexuality. The constant demand for reinvention demanded by pop music, as well as the increase in fandom throughout the 2010s, means that a pop star’s real life and marketing often exist in tandem.
This often leads to accusations of queerbaiting (where a creator hints at LGBTQ representation, but doesn’t confirm openly), which became a more common occurrence in the 2010s. Rita Ora’s "Girls" featuring Cardi B and Charli XCX attracted criticism in 2018 after its lyrics "Red wine/ I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls" implied that Ora only wanted to kiss girls when intoxicated. This forced Ora to come out via Twitter.
The following year, Ariana Grande's "Monopoly" featured lyrics about liking "women and men" and resulted in a flurry of accusations of queerbaiting, as well as speculation that Grande might be bisexual. The song claimed the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart 24 hours after release and has over 52 million views on YouTube, hinting that the appetite for queer representation in pop music is not dying down.
While some artists are accused of queerbaiting, others must deal with intersectional issues of identity. After coming out in 2019, Lil Nas X has become one of the best-known Black queer male artists — an especially significant fact as his has experienced success in both country and hip-hop — and boldy embraces his sexuality across platforms. The rapper has reveled in turning homophobic rhetoric on its head with outspoken lyrics, and explicitly devilish videos and performances.
Yet Black queer pop stars such as Lil Nas X face an extreme level of backlash around sexual performances that their straight, white counterparts often don’t get. When he openly kissed a dancer at the BET Awards — an unexpected, but authentic act of self-expression as a gay man — Nas X was demonized (so much that he commented that, next time, he would have sex onstage). None of the vitriol stopped Nas from achieving his second No. 1 of the year or winning Best Music Video at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards.
It appears that artists such as Lil Nas X are starting the 2020s off with pride — and more unabashed, explicitly queer music.
Shade Never Made Anyone Less Gay
This emphasis on authenticity that grew from the 2010s is, perhaps, both to the detriment and aid of LGBTQ+ pop and identity.
Emboldened by vocal online fans, queer musicians are able to reach huge audiences and raise awareness around LGBTQ+ identities. Yet criticism and backlash can still derail careers. Hayley Kiyoko was the only openly queer artist to break the top 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2018; meanwhile, Sam Smith’s album sales fell when they publicly came out as non-binary in 2019.
However, successes are still common: Demi Lovato came out as non-binary in 2021and Miley Cyrus openly declared her pansexuality to mostly praise; Ben Platt came out in the emotive music video for "Ease My Mind" in 2019. In 2021, listening to Norwegian singer/songwriter Girl in Red, is almost synonymous with identifying with queer labels. As Spotify streams and YouTube videos can now translate into the charts, homegrown LGBTQ+ stars have even more ability to change pop music into a more inclusive space.
LGBTQ + allies have also emerged left, right and center. Taylor Swift used her 2019 single "You Need To Calm Down" to campaign for the Equality Act, breaking her long held silence on political issues, and even namechecking GLAAD in one of her lyrics. Beyoncé was honored by GLAAD in the same year for her allyship.
It is a sign of progress that we are beginning to dissect and examine these issues of queerness rather than ignore them. Yet the obsession with "true" identity and "correct" ways of expression can hamper queer creativity, especially for those with other intersecting identities. As LGBTQ+ stories are embraced in the 2020s, acceptance of queer pop artists can't be contingent upon the public's comfort with specific presentations of queerness.
We shouldn’t have to force pop stars to come out, or publicly present their sexuality, for us to appreciate their queer work — but if they choose to do so, we shouldn’t be trying to shove them back into that respectable, comfortable queer box. Long live the queer pop star, in any way they wish to exist.
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Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Met Gala 2023: All The Artists & Celebrities Who Served Fierce Looks & Hot Fashion On The Red Carpet, From Rihanna To Dua Lipa To Billie Eilish To Bad Bunny To Cardi B To Doja Cat & More
Fashion and music have always been inextricably linked, and the strong longs were on fully on display at the 2023 Met Gala — one of the most anticipated style events of the year. See the red carpet outfits from Rihanna, Lil Nas X, Anitta & more.
It's that time again! The 2023 Met Gala — one of the fashion bonanzas of the year — is in full force. And given that fashion has always been the yin to music's yang, GRAMMY winners and nominees were among the stars studding this glamorous, fashion-forward event.
Presented by gala co-chair Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and global editorial director of Condé Nast, the Met Gala this year is co-chaired by Penélope Cruz, Michaela Coel, Roger Federer and three-time GRAMMY winner Dua Lipa.
GRAMMY winners and nominees as well as today’s leading artists in music are already setting the Met Gala red carpet on fire, with everyone from Dua Lipa, Phoebe Bridgers, Rita Ora, David Byrne, rising rap sensation Ice Spice, and more showing off their fierce fashion looks. Plus, Rihanna and her partner ASAP Rocky made a last-minute surprise arrival on the 2023 Met Gala red carpet, setting the fashion and music worlds ablaze.
This year's Met Gala celebrates the indelible legacy of the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld; the dress code is "In honor of Karl…")
Below, check out some of the most eye-catching red carpet fashion looks from music’s biggest stars at the 2023 Met Gala.
Rihanna attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Dua Lipa arrives for the 2023 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2023, in New York | Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP
(L-R) Finneas O'Connell and Billie Eilish attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Bad Bunny attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Jennifer Lopez attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Cardi B attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Doja Cat attends the 2023 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Lil Nas X attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Usher attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Sean "Diddy" Combs attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Phoebe Bridgers attends the 2023 Met Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Anitta attends the 2023 Met Gala the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Halle Bailey attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Janelle Monáe attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Photos (L-R): Dasom Han, Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images, Gabriel Chiu, Rick Kern/Getty Images, Ethan Miller/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Han Myung-Gu/WireImage
Celebrate AAPI Month 2023 With A Genre-Spanning Playlist Featuring BLACKPINK, Yaeji, Olivia Rodrigo & More
Spotlighting artists of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, GRAMMY.com honors AAPI Heritage Month this May with 44 songs by Japanese Breakfast, NewJeans, Keshi and many more.
As spring blossoms and May rolls around, AAPI Heritage Month reminds us to recognize and reflect on the talents of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists — across the music industry and beyond.
It's vital to celebrate diversity year-round, and May sparks additional dialogue about reshaping spaces to be more inclusive, especially within industries that are traditionally difficult to break into. Today, the music community views difference not as an obstacle, but an opportunity to celebrate individual and collective identity.
While 2023 marks 60 years since the first Asian American GRAMMY winner, AAPI creatives have been making waves in the music community for centuries. Whether you're raging to Rina Sawayama's enterprising electropop or vibing out with NIKI's soulful indie musings, AAPI artists are continuing to shape contemporary genres like never before.
In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, GRAMMY.com compiled an original playlist to honor AAPI musicians' creativity and novelty. Take a listen to the playlist featuring more than 40 trailblazing creatives on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
9 Essential Jack Harlow Collaborations: Drake, Lil Wayne, Saweetie, Lil Nas X & More
As Jack Harlow releases his third album, 'Jackman,' revisit some of the most epic — and star-studded — collabs he's delivered in the past several years, from Eminem to Justin Timberlake.
Long before Jack Harlow was one of rap's buzziest stars, he was making music for his middle-school classmates. Even at just age 12, he knew the art of collaboration, teaming up with a friend to create his first album, and later creating a rap collective with other pals. Fast forward 13 years later, and he's teaming up with some of the biggest stars in the industry.
Harlow has counted several superstars as collaborators since signing with Atlantic Records in 2018; just the track list of his second album, 2022's Come Home the Kids Miss You, featured the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams. So when Harlow surprised fans with the announcement of his third studio album, Jackman, just days before its April 28 release, it was easy to assume he'd deliver more star-studded tracks.
But upon the album's arrival, there was not a collaboration to be found. Based on Harlow opting to use his birth name as the title of his latest release, it's not all that surprising that he opted to take the no-features route this time around — and even without collaborators, he sounds more confident than ever.
Although Jackman didn't add to Harlow's reputable lineup of guest stars, he has quite the roster already, whether from his own projects or featuring on another artist's track. To celebrate Harlow's new music, GRAMMY.com revisits some of his most memorable collaborations so far.
DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne — "Whats Poppin" (Remix)
Harlow released six mixtapes and two EPs in the many years leading up to his breakthrough hit "Whats Poppin," the lead single off his debut studio album, 2020's Thats What They All Say. Though "Whats Poppin" certainly isn't the only of Harlow's raps to reflect on the joys of being rich and famous, his hard-hitting delivery on the new remix verse is a standout among the rest.
And with the help of DaBaby and Tory Lanez on the remix as well, the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 — an impressive feat for his first-ever entry on the chart. Not only did the song's commercial success put him on the map, but it nabbed Harlow his first GRAMMY nomination in 2021, for Best Rap Performance.
Drake — "Churchill Downs"
Named after Louisville's iconic racetrack, "Churchill Downs" is a heartfelt ode to Harlow's hometown; the music video was even filmed at the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Backed by a flute-driven beat, the standout track off Harlow's sophomore album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, is a perfect embodiment of his humble beginnings: "All that time in the kitchen finally panned out/ I put some flavor in a pot and took the bland out/ I know my grandpa would have a heart attack if I pulled a hunnid grand out," he raps.
Meanwhile, Drake's guest verse — which calls out the pitfalls of fame — is considered one of his best in recent years, likely due to the level of vulnerability the Canadian rapper is showing nearly two decades into his career.
The rags-to-riches tale resonated with fans and critics alike: "Churchill Downs" cracked the top 10 of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and earned the pair a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Song in 2022.
Lil Nas X — "Industry Baby"
Lil Nas X recruited Harlow for his multi-platinum single "Industry Baby," a pulsing track laden with triumphant horns and braggadocious lyrics. Accompanied by a provocative music video where both rappers break out of prison while donning bright pink jumpsuits, the song strategically followed Lil Nas X's legal battle with Nike. But the Kentucky rapper's verse arguably steals the show with brow-raising bars, including "I sent her back to her boyfriend with my handprint on her a— cheek."
The boisterous tune helped Harlow earn his first of two No. 1s on the Hot 100; his second came in 2022 with his solo track "First Class."
Saweetie — "Tap In" (Remix)
Harlow was one of three rap stars Saweetie recruited for the remix of her Too Short-sampling single "Tap In," which also featured Post Malone and DaBaby.
While the SoCal rapper isn't shy about flaunting her physical attributes ("Lil' waist, fat a—") and being able to "bag a eight-figure n—," Harlow just seems happy to be there. "I just crossed over to Top 40/ I can't even say 'Whats poppin?' now 'cause it got corny," he spits before telling listeners that his verse for Saweetie got him "horny."
Big Sean — "Way Out"
A solid single choice following "Whats Poppin" and "Tyler Herro," Harlow and Big Sean's "Way Out" is as straightforward and braggadocious as it is club-ready. Just under three minutes in length, Sean's guest verse does not disappoint — it's packed with punchlines, such as "I'm anointed, I'm the boss/ I done came out of pocket so much/ You thought that I was disjointed."
Lil Wayne — "Poison"
Lil Wayne was no stranger to AutoTune before teaming up with Harlow, but some critics disapproved of his use of it on "Poison," a track from Come Home the Kids Miss You. Even so, his rhyme about stealing someone's girl is pretty iconic: "I might have to jack your b— 'cause I be on my Harlow sh—."
Despite what critics have to say, clearly Wayne enjoys working with Harlow — "Poison" marked their third collab, following the "Whats Poppin" remix and 2020 single "P— Talk" alongside City Girls and Quavo.
Pharrell Williams — "Movie Star"
On "Movie Star," Harlow ditches his humble persona to rap about enjoying the perks of his then-newfound superstardom: money, women, and designer clothes. "Can't imagine being you, ooh, I'd hate to be it / I'm done fakin' humble, actin' like I ain't conceited / 'Cause, b—, I am conceited," he declares on the track produced by the legendary Pharrell Williams, a true indicator that an artist has made it in the music industry.
After Williams adds some of his flair to the chorus, both stars trade off rhymes in the song's final verse. "But do it jiggle though?" Williams asks. Harlow's response? "I feel like the whole damn city know."
Justin Timberlake — "Parent Trap"
The dark side of fame theme resurfaces in "Parent Trap," a collaboration with Justin Timberlake, who lends his signature southern drawl to the chorus. "Every sky can't be blue/ It's hard to see when you're walkin' in the grey/ So many flights, look at how the time flew," he sings.
Though it may not quite measure up to Harlow's top-tier duet with Drake on "Churchill Downs," which tackles similar subject matter, the collab is a fitting one — Harlow referenced NSYNC in "Tyler Herro" just two years prior.
Eminem and Cordae — "Killer" (Remix)
In late 2020, Harlow told GQ that he "grew up listening to Eminem" and idolized him, so it must have been surreal and full-circle when he got to join forces with the 15-time GRAMMY-winning rapper a mere six months later.
Rising to the challenge, Harlow holds his own alongside Em and then-fellow newcomer Cordae, demonstrating strong lyrical wordplay — particularly with lines like "I'm eatin' pizza in Little Italy, damn, I used to hit Caesars."
Even alongside his biggest heroes, Harlow has proven his natural ability to command attention — and though it's just him on the mic on Jackman, he seems poised and ready to see who's next.
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Photo: Michael Caulfield
GRAMMY Rewind: Lady Gaga Praises Whitney Houston's Influence After 'The Fame Monster' Wins In 2011
When Lady Gaga's 'The Fame Monster' won a GRAMMY for Pop Vocal Album, the singer hinted that her newly minted superstar status wouldn't have been possible without Whitney Houston's influence.
From the very start of her career, Lady Gaga taught society that it's okay to be different. While that may be most encapsulated in her 2011 smash "Born This Way," Gaga's 2010 album The Fame Monster — a reissue of her blockbuster 2008 debut, The Fame — solidified Gaga's place as a confidence-boosting superstar.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, we turn back the clock to 2011, when Lady Gaga won Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster. Her third win of the night (hit single "Bad Romance" won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video), Gaga couldn't help but let out an "Oh sh—!" when she began her acceptance speech.
After thanking her Little Monsters, family, team, and label, Gaga hinted that the moment was a childhood dream come true. And before leaving the stage, Lady Gaga acknowledged that she was particularly inspired by Whitney Houston's impact.
"I wanted to thank Whitney because, when I wrote 'Born This Way,' I imagined she was singing it because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar."
Press play on the video above to watch Lady Gaga's candid acceptance speech for Pop Vocal Album at the 2011 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
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