At the MTV Music Video Awards last month, pop newcomer Hayley Kiyoko tearfully accepted the Push Artist of the Year award, which is chosen from MTV’s monthly featured “push artists,” and dedicated the honor to her fellow queer women of color and revived the hashtag she coined to label this year: #20GayTeen.
In January, bisexual singer Halsey scored a top-5 hit with “Bad at Love,” which refers to male and female lovers.
Now, Troye Sivan is climbing the charts with “Bloom,” which is less than subtle in its allusions to gay sex.
And with other queer up-and-comers including Kehlani, King Princess and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander cultivating huge fan bases on social media, there’s never been a better time to be out and proud in music.
“There’s always been LGBTQ people making music, but they just have not been able to be out,” says Jeffrey Masters, host of the “LGBTQ&A” podcast. “This is the first crop of musicians who are openly queer and paving the way for younger kids to come up because people like Hayley Kiyoko are leading the charge.”
Kiyoko, 27, broke out in 2015 with viral hit “Girls Like Girls,” whose video depicts a girl stealing a guy’s girlfriend. In March, she released her debut album, “Expectations,” which explores LGBTQ themes on songs such as “Curious” — a deceptively bouncy anthem about gay individuals who stay in straight relationships to mask their true feelings — and “Wanna Be Missed,” in which she questions a female lover’s devotion and uses same-sex pronouns throughout.
Having grown up with few queer role models, save for sister duo Tegan and Sara, Kiyoko says she feels a responsibility to show her largely young fanbase someone who is comfortable in her own skin, earning her the nickname “Lesbian Jesus.”
Starting out, “I went through a lot of experiences of performing in front of straight male executives and them needing to be attracted to me, or this and that, to be interested in my art,” Kiyoko says.
Even now, “Media outlets are like, ‘Oh, you’re going to do a video about a girl again?’ And it’s, like, ‘Yeah, that’s my story, and that’s never going to change.’ So that’s always been a fight for me, to normalize these feelings and let people know that it’s not a concept, it’s my life.”
Sivan, 23, similarly strives for authenticity on his critically acclaimed second album “Bloom,” released Friday and largely inspired by his relationship with model boyfriend Jacob Bixenman. Pairing diary-like lyrics with dreamy electro-pop hooks, standouts “My My My!” and “Lucky Strike” are unabashedly gay love songs. (“My boy like a queen … he knows how to love me better,” he sings on the latter.)
Album opener “Seventeen” finds Sivan reflecting on his teenage years, when he was struggling with his identity and meeting older men via the dating app Grindr.
“My whole goal for this album was to be honest and write songs that are accurately depicting experiences of mine, no matter how specific or queer they are,” Sivan says. “With my first album [‘Blue Neighbourhood’], I was really conscious of the fact that I was putting out this album to so many people who maybe wouldn’t understand. I wanted to hold people’s hand a little bit. And this time around, I wasn’t as concerned with that.”
Sivan also embraces femininity in his gender-bending “Bloom” video, in which he writhes and struts in a two-piece floral gown and full makeup. The experience felt radical, he says, “just letting myself be.”
While he has dismissed the notion of being a so-called “gay icon” (“I’m one voice of so many that are missing,” he told Another Man magazine in May), he understands the power of his platform as one of the most prominent openly gay male singers in music and speaks out about LGBTQ issues and representation.
“My approach has always been: If people are asking me about it, that means people are still curious about those conversations, and they’re really important ones to have,” Sivan says. “It’ll be nice in five years when everyone’s kind of bored of it and just listens to the music or whatever. But, until then, I’m more than happy to help facilitate some of those conversations.”