June marks the start of Pride Month, and at the forefront of Pride 2023 is the fight against more than 450 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills that have been introduced in the United States legislature. It’s also important to celebrate, support, and rally to music created by LGBTQIA+ artists, which is why we’ve updated our playlist of music that you should be spinning all month long, and all year round.
corook and Olivia Barton
In April 2023, Berklee graduates Corinne Savage, whose artist name is corook, and partner Olivia Barton, uploaded their song “if i were a fish” to TikTok. It was such an enormous viral success—with more than 17 million views—that they wrote more verses and released a full version on Spotify. Barton encouraged Savage to write the irresistibly happy song after dealing with hurtful comments online, and it’s quickly become an anthem of self-acceptance.
In an interview for Boston.com Savage says, “You can see in the video how happy I am. It was really healing to be seen and heard by another human that I love so much, and this song just made me feel so happy to be who I was—who I am.”
Scarlet Keys, who is a songwriting course author and instructor at Berklee Online, taught Corinne when they were at Berklee’s Boston campus. In the same interview, Keys says:
“Corinne is one of my unforgettable students over my 20 years of teaching. I knew from that very first assignment in my Advanced Songwriting class that Corinne presented that there was something special in the room …I knew that was a voice and a spirit destined for the whole world to hear.”
Last year Brittany Davis released their EP I Choose to Live on Loosegroove Records, a label co-founded by Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. Davis is a member of Gossard’s band Painted Shield. With a sound that encapsulates R&B, soul, jazz, and rock, Davis has always been inspired by the music of their surroundings, as well as musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, The Clark Sisters, John Legend, and H.E.R.
In 2022, Davis performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, with Berklee Online alum Divinity Roxx on bass, opening with the title track of their album. The performance is nothing short of electrifying.
Davis’ latest single is titled “So Fly,” and they are expected to release a full-length album at the end of the year. In an interview with SPIN, they said:
“When it comes to sitting in front of a keyboard, I will always come through expressively. If I’m in a rock band, I’ll rock just as hard as any other rocker. If I’m rapping, I’ll rap just as well. I always acknowledge the language being spoken sonically, and that’s one of the gifts I have.”
Following a huge year with the film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story as well releasing a book of short fiction, Janelle Monáe will be releasing her long-awaited album The Age of Pleasure. After the dropping the first single off the album “Float,” featuring Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, and a sensual music video for the track “Lipstick Lover,” Monáe’s first album since 2018’s twice Grammy-nominated Dirty Computer, is already shaping up to be the sound of summer.
In an interview on the Zane Lowe Show, Monáe shares how The Age of Pleasure was written “with friends, and for friends.” She describes how the tracks of the album were “road tested” by dropping them into the set lists at her own parties, letting her friends’ reactions dictate the direction of the album.
“What I’d do is if I knew we were having a party on a Friday or Saturday, on a Monday or Tuesday, I’d be like ‘alright, we’re going to write three songs.’ If the songs can’t work at the party, they’re not going on the album.”
The full album Age of Pleasure is out June 9.
Alea and Renee Goust
Berklee alum, Alea, is a Colombian born/Bronx-based singer/songwriter who had a breakout year in 2021 after releasing her debut album Alborotá, earning spots on Rolling Stone’s “Best Albums in Spanish” and NPR Alt.Latino’s “Best Albums of 2021.” In 2022, Aleia collaborated with Renee Goust, a Mexican-American neo-folklore artist who writes bilingual songs about gender equality, the LGBTQIA+ experience, immigration, and other social justice issues. Together they created a stunning music video for their duet, “Arrullo,” a song inspired by ranchera and ballad genres.
“I’ve been wanting to write a song with Renee for some time now,” says Alea. “She has been a great inspiration to me as a writer and as an artist, because of her bravery as an LGTBQ+ activist and her feminist message.”
This year, Goust released her EP LA NETA, YA FUE, which includes the song “ME CANSÉ.”
After competing in two seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, winning the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Trixie Mattel has made a huge name for herself and her brand. In 2022, Mattel released The Blonde & Pink Albums, two disks of upbeat, California, surf-pop—pretty much the encapsulation of what her entire character is about: being a real-life Barbie doll.
In an interview with Out, she says, “Way before I wanted to do drag, I spent my whole life wanting to be a songwriter. I thought that songwriting had so much dignity and so much mastery to it. I always found compelling lyrics and storytelling to be the ultimate magic trick … and I still think it’s magic.”
Before going pop/rock, Mattel released country albums also worth checking out!
You might not need a reminder of the significance (and current ubiquity) of boygenius, but this list would simply be lacking without them. The supergroup, comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, released their first full-length album the record in late March, five years after their beloved self-titled EP. Shortly after releasing the record, they also released the film, directed by Kristen Stewart, and of course the name of their summer tour—one of the hottest tickets of the season—is called the tour. Each with momentous solo careers, the three are not just partners in music but also friends—a big theme that the album focuses on. In an interview with NPR, Dacus says:
“Friendship is something that I think about a lot. My life is defined by my friends. I feel like there’s maybe some good media about friendships, but not a ton. Romance also has typical touchstones, whereas every friendship is so unique. I kind of feel like there’s even more there to play with. So why aren’t people doing it? It doesn’t feel like a hack subject.”
In 2015, Hayley Kiyoko released the song “Girls Like Girls” from her EP This Side of Paradise, which has become synonymous with Pride Month, winning a Spotify award for “Most-Added to LGBTQ+ Playlists.” Kiyoko went on to release more successful music with her 2018 album Expectations. Rolling Stone placed her at “the forefront of an unapologetically queer pop movement” and NPR included her in a list of “The 21st Century’s Most Influential Women Musicians.”
Kiyoko’s 2022 album PANORAMA made a huge splash with the release of her music video for the single “for the girls,” which announced her relationship with former Bachelor contestant, Becca Tilley, while simultaneously poking fun at the franchise.
Recently Kiyoko was in the news for inviting drag queens onstage with her at a show in Nashville, after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that criminalizes some drag performances. In an Instagram post Kiyoko wrote:
“How do we navigate these absurd threats and laws against our community? I find pride in making sure my concerts are safe places for all. How can I do that if we aren’t allowed to be ourselves, especially at a predominantly queer concert? We deserve to have a safe space to be ourselves while we navigate the evil that is threatening our own existence.”
Kiyoko’s latest project is a collaboration with Steve Aoki and Galantis in a song titled “Hungry Heart.”
Josiah Wise, known professionally as serpentwithfeet, was raised in Baltimore, Maryland with gospel and classical music. As a teenager, he started taking classical voice lessons with the intention of becoming a professional opera singer. Instead, he explored the neo-soul music scenes of Philly, Paris, and eventually New York, where he was signed and released his first EP in 2016. Even though he left gospel and classical music behind, it is still very much the musical foundation of his work. Wise’s seminal 2021 studio album is DEACON, “… exploring a world wherein Black love is paramount.”
In the past year, serpentwithfeet has collaborated with always centered at night and Moby, and contributed a song to the soundtrack for the A24 film The Inspection. Though we don’t know whether a new album is on the horizon, serpentwithfeet recently released a brand new track and music video for “Gonna Go.”
A Sydney-based singer/songwriter, Hollie Col’s music is influenced by artists such as HAIM, Maggie Rogers, and Taylor Swift. Her first full-length album Julia Stevens, beautifully captures the ups and downs of young love. In her songwriting, she draws upon her lived experience to share same-sex storylines, which also appear in her self-directed music videos.
“When I was growing up I don’t think there was anyone that was in a same-sex relationship that made same-sex art or music that I could resonate with at all,” said Col in an interview with The Au Review. “I know that if I had that when I was growing up, how different an experience it would have been.”
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Deb Never combines R&B and grunge to create an ethereal, guitar-laden sound with a heavy synth-pad beat. After being pressured by her friends to post her songs to SoundCloud, she quickly picked up steam and those songs turned into her 2019 EP House on Wheels. Never’s latest EP is Thank You For Attending, a collection of six songs that are a departure from her usual sound, leaning more into organic sounds, as she explains in an interview with Dork. In the same interview she says:
“Growing up, I never saw musicians that look like me make music like me – whether that’s because of my race or because of my sexual orientation. There’s a lot of factors that worked against me, and I never realized how that affected me until recently. Now, though, I’m seeing so many other artists, so many women, and so many of my peers who are just killing it. It makes me emotional, but it also makes me feel powerful.”
Last year, MUNA released their highly-anticipated self-titled debut, following the monster success of their hit “Silk Chiffon.” In 2021, they signed with Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory label. Members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson, met at the University of Southern California, forming the electro-pop trio that went from cult-favorite to mainstream success in a matter of years.
MUNA’s latest single is “The One That Got Away,” which they debuted at Coachella 2023. Pitchfork quoted Gavin’s remark in a press release saying:
“It’s a bit vengeful and mean, but also fun. Fuck it. Once I sent Naomi and Jo the demo they really took the cockiness in the lyric and vocal performance and carried it to the extreme with the production of the track. It became this super bombastic, Janet Jackson–era track.”
Shea Diamond is a soul and R&B artist and trans activist. You may know her song, “I Am America” as the theme song for the HBO series We’re Here, which was also included on Billboard’s 2020 list of the best LGBTQ songs. To this day, the song remains a Pride Month staple. The music video was produced in the midst of the pandemic and features activists and artists such as Alok Vaid-Menon, Jacob Tobia, and Justin Tranter. Tranter, who is a Berklee alum, signed Diamond to a record deal after hearing her acapella performance of “I Am Her” at a Trans Lives Matter rally. Diamond’s story involves the foster care system and a decade of incarceration, which informs the depth of her art.
A 2013 graduate of Berklee, VINCINT’s music career has taken off in the decade since. He grew up in Philadelphia surrounded by gospel music, his father a member of the Christ United Gospel Singers choir. As a former contestant on the FOX music competition The Four, VINCINT felt strongly that his place was in pop music. His 2021 album There Will Be Tears was nominated for the GLAAD Media Awards, and last year he collaborated with Hayley Kiyoko, MNEK and Kesha on the single “Taste So Good (The Cann Song).”
VINCINT’s latest single and music video is “Romance,” which he says is a newer and bolder direction now that his voice is being heard by the masses.
“I wanted to create the world I see in my head when I go out: A club filed with beautiful men of color freely expressing themselves and not feeling excluded from the narrative,” VINCINT says in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Mixing that with my love for a good telenovela drama and a happy ending this video is the perfect beginning to this new era for me, and where I’m at in my life right now.”
Peck’s identity is a mystery: he’s known for wearing a fringed mask to cover his face. However, his music is no longer mysterious, as he’s made a name for himself in country music, with a voice reminiscent of crooners like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Elvis. Peck’s most recent album is the 2022’s Bronco, but his latest project is judging the new Apple TV+ singing competition My Kind of Country, alongside Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton.
In an Instagram post, Peck says: “I had such an inspiring time working with these incredible artists. Please do yourself a favor and watch them grow on their incredible journeys. Inclusion, diversity and representation is so important in our genre and these artists represent everything beautiful about country music.”
Cat Burns from South London is a part of a growing list of musicians who took off on TikTok. Her song “go” went viral on the app in late 2021, and went on to become a platinum-selling success. In 2022, Burns released her EP emotionally unavailable and joined Ed Sheeran on tour. This summer she will join Sam Smith on tour (the two collaborated on a duet version of Burns’ song).
Burns’ latest single is “live more & love more,” which she says is “. . . a very positive song about starting whatever it is you want to start and doing whatever it is you want to do in life because we only have one life, and we deserve to live it to the fullest!”
Special thanks to Berklee Online staff members Fred Saberi and Freesia Towle for their recommendations.