Stella Maxwell
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8 Emerging Queer Artists Who Are Giving Us Life

queer_artists

CHAZ CARDIGAN

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An alt-rocker for a new, angsty generation, Chaz Cardigan is making space for himself in a genre in which LGBTQ musicians aren’t often seen. Cardigan recently released the video for “Not OK!” — a brash anthem for people struggling to get their shit together:

“How many times can I fake it / Before it breaks me / I’m not OK,” the chorus builds over an electric guitar while he flips off a giant gummy bear. With all of his quirks and color, Cardigan recognizes the privilege he has to make music without his sexuality being the focus.

“I’m allowed to say that I’m queer, and no one really bats an eyelash,” he says. “I’m allowed, actually, to just exist as a person and not even have to make my sexuality a focus in my art. I can just make art.”

LGBTQ artists have come far in recent years, and audiences recognize that who you love is only a part of our stories, of who we are as humans. For Cardigan, it’s humbling: “Sometimes I actually forget that that single adjective [queer] would have destroyed any chance of someone’s career, like, 15 years ago. My friends and the people I work with are all sort of immune to it, and it’s really liberating.” — Taylor Henderson

WAFIA

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Now and then, a song comes on that feels like a gentle breeze on a sunny day and you can’t help but smile and drink it in. Luckily for Wafia, you get that feeling listening to every track in her discography. Whether she’s warning herself not to self-sabotage a romance over the Caribbean-infused EDM track “Better Not” or getting high on edibles in “Flowers and Superpowers,” there’s something easy and infectious about Wafia’s synth-pop. 

In just a few years, she’s racked up hundreds of millions of streams with her syrupy songs steeped in honesty. With her popularity and profile climbing, she’s proud to be an openly queer Muslim woman in the pop music sphere. Her debut album is expected later this year. “It’s definitely a privilege to be able to represent in my small way in this space that I don’t take lightly,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of people I could look up to that I felt I could identify with. Visibility is important and I’m so glad that times are changing.” — TH

JAKK FYNN

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Jakk Fynn is ready to “Heal,” and hopes his music can do the same for you. Following a break up, the Latinx pop-punk artist had to reassess who he was alone as well as come to terms with his transmasculine identity. His journey inspired his art and mission to empower LGBTQ+ people with music.

“Throughout my musical journey I’ve met a lot of obstacles: opposition from my family, pressures from labels, the idea that I had to present myself in any way other than who I actually am,” he told The Advocate in March.

“These things never stopped me though; they just pushed me harder to find new ways to fight for my vision 100% on my terms. Actively moving in opposition to what the world wants from you is a difficult path, so I think it’s important to celebrate those that do.” Maybe those are the steps to heal not only yourself, but the world. — TH

AMYTHYST KIAH

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Amythyst Kiah has a voice that stops you in your tracks and commands you to really listen. The hypnotizing blues and roots singer recently snagged a Grammy nomination for her defiant self-love anthem “Black Myself” with Our Native Daughters, which won Song of the Year at the International Folk Music Awards. Kiah has also been named “one of roots music’s most exciting emerging talents” by Rolling Stone.

While American folk music originated with Black people, it isn’t an easy genre for any Black woman to be successful in — let alone a queer one. But Kiah is unapologetic about who she is. “It took me years before I felt comfortable living my truth,” she says, thanking her parents who loved and supported her.

“I think of every piece of queer art I got my hands on when I was younger just to see my truth reflected back at me, and I only hope I can be that for someone else,” Kiah says. “We should always remember the ones who are still in the closet, for they are still finding their truth the safest way possible. Here’s to hoping with all of our perseverance that more and more people will be able to feel safe enough to live their truth without fear.” — TH

TOM GOSS

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Music can be intimately personal. There are few who know that better than Tom Goss. On “Quebec,” a single off his latest album, Territories, Goss reveals to his husband that he’s fallen in love with another man. This is only after his husband revealed his own infidelity, which led to the pair opening their marriage. The album explores this experience, with Goss’s heartfelt voice as the narrator, in a way that is uniquely queer.

“As queer people, we are used to having a perspective that the rest of the world has a hard time understanding,” Goss says when asked why his work is so personal. “It’s not always easy, but I consider my queerness a gift. If I were straight, I would have assimilated decades ago. My ideas would have been washed into the ideas of society. My queerness and my differentness in society has helped me be resilient in my authenticity, openness, and personal truth.”

This year, the artist hopes to put visuals to the Territories stories — and multiple visuals at that, including a documentary. “I’m very excited about how much visual content we’ve produced for this record,” he says. “For me, Territories was visual from the start, I wanted to paint an audible picture, so seeing that realized has been really rewarding.” — Mikelle Street

QUENTIN ARISPE

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Quentin Arispe has been singing all their life. As they put it, “I can’t remember a time in my life that singing wasn’t a part of. The funny thing is that both of my parents aren’t vocalists or artists. I’m super grateful, though, that they were so supportive of my musical endeavors, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have gotten this far.” And Arispe is truly an artist worth listening to.

With inspirations that include Alabama Shakes, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, and the one and only Beyoncé (they also share a hometown with the diva), Arispe has the skill to create tracks that turn into earworms like “No You Hang Up” as well as the more chest-baring fare, “I’m That Bitch,” both off of their latest EP, Fruit. The project is about “knowing that you can be absolutely anything,” Arispe says. “That constructs are social and nothing can truly limit the human experience. That it’s OK to be mad and it’s OK to be loud and a bitch. That polarity and duality is godly.” — MK

TERAJ

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Teraj’s voice was a secret well into his teens. Hailing from Miami, the artist was surrounded by the sounds of Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Michael Jackson in his childhood home, but he would never let anyone hear his own abilities — until he did. Now he’s embraced singing as a full-time career and is releasing a four-pack of music videos alongside his album Defy, that he wrote and produced this year.

“The overall message behind the album Defy is to inspire and encourage others to overcome the odds, courageously chase one’s dreams, and live boldly in one’s truth,” Teraj says. “I wanted to craft songs that share my personal stories of growing up in an underprivileged community with countless adverse circumstances and that with drive, hard work, and perseverance, I overcame that.”

Though he is based in New York City now, the former member of the collegiate a capella group The Class Notes was scheduled to kick off his Pride tour with a March performance at Miami Beach Pride (now postponed). Up next: “It’d be dope to go on tour as the opening act for a major artist,” Teraj says. “So that’s definitely on the list of goals for this year.” — MK

BANOFFEE

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Fans may have first come in touch with Banoffee through her work with Charli XCX while touring with Taylor Swift — and it was largely through that tour that the singer raked enough cash to finance her own debut, Look at Us Now Dad.

The impressive album talks about everything from breakups to (car) breakdowns, contains a feature from CupkKaKe, and a track done in collaboration with Sophie. But Banoffee is certainly not done touring: “I want to tour as much as I can and release more music,” she says about the upcoming year. “I’ve finally found a spot for myself in this industry. I feel appreciated and I want to give back to the people who are supporting me.”

The music she creates — which establishes her as a part of a new generation of musicians who are bringing “a sense of fun and sass that is unrestricted by gender and traditional values” to the pop genre — is certainly a central part of who she is. As is speaking out about inequality and oppression and how those forces affect more than the people who sit at her intersections as a queer woman of color.

“The support of the LGBTQIA+ community has been beyond crucial in my career,” says Banoffee. “Finally, I feel seen. I feel welcomed without judgment and I feel like I’m a part of a movement that is progressing through kindness, not abrasion. I am honored to be a part of this community.” — MK

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