LGBTQ+, Pride, Top 10, List

The 20 Greatest LGBTQ+ Artists in Music History

We hope you're having a great Pride Month! Last week, we introduced you to 10 rising LGBTQ+ artists we believe will take the world by storm. This week, we're reflecting upon LGBTQ+ artists already in the public eye. Legendary musicians who have inspired, advocated, and conquered.

Whether they've been open about their sexuality and gender expression for years or kept their label hidden throughout history, we believe the 20 artists below have created impenetrable sonic works while also changing the world's view of the LGBTQ+ community for the better.

We've had to limit this list to only 20 people (we know there are so many other great LGBTQ+ musicians out there!) but we have chosen the artists we've chosen because we believe their legacies have stood – or will stand – the test of time. We not only salute these musicians during Pride Month, but every day. Without further ado, here are our honorees.

1. Lady Gaga

Gaga came out publicly as bisexual back in 2010 after a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters. Even if she had decided to keep her sexuality a secret, we know she would still have the humongous LGBTQ+ following she has today. Taking inspiration from 80s pop icon Madonna (who is also a big advocate for the LGBTQ+ community), Lady Gaga's bops have appealed to a diverse audience of all different races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.

With her ambition, respect for those who came before her, and courage when it comes to putting on a good show, Gaga is more than just a role model for the LGBTQ+ community: she's one of the best role models in the music industry, period. Oh, and her 2011 song "Born This Way" is one of the greatest Pride anthems ever made.

2. Freddie Mercury

Perhaps the most powerful rock singer of the 20th century, Freddie Mercury's voice had the power to move mountains...and draw 72,000 people into Wembley Stadium in 1985 for Queen's Live Aid set. His performances were fun, charismatic, energetic, and nothing short of entertaining. Sadly, he passed away from AIDS complications in 1991, and is still sorely missed.

When it came to his sexuality, Freddie was both loud and quiet about it. Although Mercury and Queen actively denied labeling his sexuality (for the fear of it negatively impacting their careers), Mercury's attractions and behaviors were openly bisexual. He had long-term relationships with both Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. No one will ever forget his cross-dressing in the iconic music video for "I Want to Break Free," and while it's still unclear if his magnum opus "Bohemian Rhapsody" is really about his sexuality, it will forever stand as one of the greatest rock anthems ever made.

3. Troye Sivan

This Australian-South African singer-songwriter is nothing short of star material. Sivan is currently one of music's biggest pop acts, and he openly identifies as gay.

Sivan started off as a YouTube artist, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers with his songs. He also competed in several Australian talent competitions. It was only a matter of time before he landed a record deal with EMI Australia and started releasing hit songs and albums. From "Angel Baby" to "Strawberries & Cigarettes" and "YOUTH," Sivan's songs are sophisticated and timeless in feel.

4. Elton John

We feel lucky to know that Sir Elton John is still thriving, still making music, and still being the awesome LGBTQ+ icon he is. John came out as bisexual (and later gay) in the 70s, and has been an advocate for queer rights and queer youth ever since then.

We adore Elton John for his flamboyant style, heart-on-the-sleeve songs, and willingness to collaborate with many up-and-coming artists. We know John will go down in history as one of the greatest musicians of all time, and we're so grateful he's left us with tunes like "Rocket Man" and "Tiny Dancer" to sing along to.

5. Boy George

This English singer-songwriter is best known for the Culture Club hit "Karma Chameleon." But looking past his work in the 80s band, George is also known for his iconic androgynous appearance that helped pioneer the glam rock movement.

George officially came out as bisexual in 1983, when asked by Joan Rivers in an interview on her show, "Do you prefer men or women?" George replied, "Oh both." In his 1995 autobiography Take It Like a Man, George clarified that he was actually gay, not bisexual, and that he had secret relationships with punk rock singer Kirk Brandon and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss. Many of the songs he's written for Culture Club are about his relationship with Moss. We can't wait to see his upcoming biopic!

6. David Bowie

Although Boy George helped pioneer the glam rock movement, David Bowie will forever be the face of it. One of the most revered singers of the 70s and early 80s, Bowie created a dreamy, larger-than-life discography that has inspired countless rock musicians that have come after him. Following his death in 2016, Rolling Stone named him the "greatest rock star ever," and it's been discovered this year (2022) that Bowie is the best-selling vinyl artist of the 21st century.

Bowie first declared himself gay in an interview with Michael Watts for a 1972 issue of Melody Maker, coinciding with his campaign for stardom as the alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Later on, he clarified he was bisexual. Although he was open about his sexuality, perhaps Bowie's greatest contribution to the LGBTQ+ community was his androgynous stage presentation and epic makeup looks. At the end of the day, he was just being his authentic, artistic self, and we will always respect him for that.

7. Lil Nas X

Equal parts talented, humorous, and trailblazing, Lil Nas X went from a shy closeted kid running a Nicki Minaj fan account on Twitter to Gen Z's most influential gay icon. He's been unafraid to talk about his sexuality in his music. From the steamy confidence of "MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOU NAME)" to the vulnerability of "SUN GOES DOWN," Lil Nas X has done so much for LGBTQ+ representation, one song at a time.

The story of Lil Nas X's success is just as unique as he is. He had lightning in a bottle with his breakout hip-hop country song "Old Town Road," which eventually got a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus and won two Grammys. The young artist had the whole world's attention in his hands, and decided to go deeper into his craft with music that reflects his authentic identity and personality.

8. Prince

Prince has become a queer icon of music history – whether he wanted to be one or not. It's all thanks to his androgynous appearance, racy songs that appeal to misunderstood youth, and early persona of being an artist advocating for doing whatever the heck you want. While his final years caused a lot of controversy in the LGBTQ+ community, his genderfluid stage presence paved the way for current queer-presenting artists like Harry Styles and Bad Bunny.

Him and Madonna became poster children of sexual liberation in the 80s. It's Prince's edgy songs like "Purple Rain" and "When Doves Cry" – as well as his sonic experimentation with a female alter ego named Camille – that have left lasting legacies on both the music world and the history of queer pop culture.

9. Janis Joplin

A burning comet of the early rock 'n' roll industry that joined the 27 Club far too soon. Throughout her short-yet-exciting life, powerhouse vocalist Janis Joplin had various relationships with men and women: making her bisexual. Although Joplin never talked about her sexuality publicly, her charismatic-yet-authentic personality was an inspiration for hippies who related to her constraining conservative upbringing.

Joplin was charming both onstage and off. We'll never forget her dynamite live performances of "Ball and Chain" and "Piece of My Heart." Her voice crackles like electricity. Despite her troubled life, we're grateful for the peace and love she brought us during the topsy-turvy time that was the 1960s.

10. George Michael

Like Bowie and Prince, George Michael was another LGBTQ+ icon that left us in 2016. He was an English singer/songwriter best known for his hit songs "Faith" and "Careless Whisper." He also formed the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981, and is regarded as one of the biggest artists of the MTV generation.

Shortly after being arrested for public lewdness in 1998, Michael came out as gay to the world. In his later years, Michael became a staunch LGBTQ+ rights campaigner and HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser.

11. Ricky Martin

This Puerto Rican-born "Livin' La Vida Loca" star came out to the public as gay in 2011. But it wasn't easy: he had to take a break from touring in 1999 – at the height of his fame – in order to truly find himself and think about how he wanted to be viewed by the world. Since opening up about his sexuality in his memoir, he's "been super happy ever since," he told NBC in 2020.

Inspired by Elton John, Martin has been a tour de force in the Latin music world. His discography spans multiple genres, including Latin pop, pop, dance, reggaeton, and salsa. He's even been dubbed the "King of Latin Pop" and has a Grammy to prove it.

12. Miley Cyrus

Openly pansexual, Miley Cyrus has crashed into the music world like a wrecking ball. It's no surprise she's been so successful in her career, considering musical talent runs in her blood. Her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, charmed audiences with "Achy Breaky Heart" while her sister Noah Cyrus is up-and-coming.

While Cyrus hasn't gone in-depth with her sexuality when it comes to her music's lyrical content, it's brave, freedom-heavy songs like "Mother's Daughter," "Can't Be Tamed," and "We Can't Stop" that make Cyrus an icon in the queer community.

13. Barry Manilow

With a career spanning seven decades, soft rock singer Barry Manilow has one of the most distinguishable voices in the biz. He came out as gay in 2017 after several years of hiding his identity. He did so out of concern that it would disappoint his largely female fanbase. However, when his fans learned of his same-sex marriage to Garry Kief in 2014, they were supportive.

Manilow started his career in the 1960s and has been charming us with songs like "Copacabana (At the Copa)," "Could It Be Magic," "Mandy," "I Write the Songs," and "Can't Smile Without You." He's also released 13 platinum and six multi-platinum albums throughout his career. No wonder why Frank Sinatra praised him in the 70s, telling the press, "He's next."

14. RuPaul

You may know RuPaul from her beloved Drag Race show, but before RuPaul was a TV personality, she was a successful singer who made waves with her 1993 song "Supermodel (You Better Work)."

Considered the most commercially successful drag queen in the world, RuPaul Andre Charles settled in New York City in the early 90s, where she became a popular fixture in the LGBTQ+ nightclub scene. In terms of the music world – specifically when it comes to drag – RuPaul walked so other queens like Trixie Mattel and Gloria Groove could run.

15. Janelle Monáe

The multi-talented Janelle Monáe is a role model for pansexual and non-binary folk. Monáe's musical career began in 2003 upon releasing a demo album titled The Audition. In the following years, they became a Grammy nominee, MTV Video Music Award winner, and even a CoverGirl spokesperson. In the city of Boston, October 16 is "Janelle Monáe Day."

We love Monáe's bold mezzo-soprano voice, boundary-pushing R&B style, and eye-catching fashion choices whenever she is on the red carpet. We've loved her ever since her early days singing "Tightrope", and feel lucky to have watched her grow over the years.

16. Tyler, the Creator

Funny enough, Tyler, the Creator went from being part of the group Odd Future – known for their controversially violent, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic lyrics – to producing one of the greatest LGBTQ+ albums of all time in Igor (2019). He's not the only member of Odd Future to come out as bisexual (we'll get to that other artist later), but out of all the members of the collective, he's become the most commercially successful.

Known for his debonair, pastel aesthetic and gruff vocals, Tyler's loud persona has inspired countless artists – including Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Kevin Abstract. He's got a great blend of party bangers and emotional bops within his discography, and we're confident the legacy he'll leave on hip hop will be a big one.

17. Halsey

This New Jersey-born artist never fails to excite us with her bangers! Halsey is openly bisexual, and best known for Top 40 radio hits like "Without Me," "Him & I," "Bad at Love," and "Closer" with the Chainsmokers.

Halsey has cultivated a queer following due to her songs about liberation (like "New Americana") as well as her tunes that detail relationships with women. Halsey's most recent album is If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power, and we really think it's shown off their range as an artist. In the music world, Halsey is here to stay.

18. Kevin Abstract

Hailed as a modern renaissance man, Kevin Abstract may not have the mainstream success as most of the other LGBTQ+ artists on this list, but he is equally as deserving of a spot. He's left quite a mark on the indie music scene so far, and we're excited to see where he goes post-BROCKHAMPTON.

Despite a rough upbringing in Corpus Christi, Texas, Abstract managed to pull himself out of his challenging situation thanks to his unstoppable ambition and pure rap talent. While maintaining a solid solo career, he formed the hip hop collective BROCKHAMPTON in 2010 and the group made audiences go crazy throughout the decade. Both in BROCKHAMPTON and in his solo career, Kevin openly discusses his gay identity in music. His poignant lyrics in "Miserable America," "EMPTY," and "JUNKY" hit especially hard.

19. Leonard Bernstein

Did you know the famous composer of West Side Story, Peter Pan, and On the Waterfront was gay? After years of concealing his homosexuality by having relationships with women (including marrying actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre), Bernstein finally came out in 1976 and pursued relationships with men.

Bernstein is considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, and was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. He was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra, and became a music director of the New York Philharmonic. Throughout his lifetime, Bernstein received seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, sixteen Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement), and the Kennedy Center Honor.

20. Frank Ocean

The second member of Odd Future to come out as bisexual. Frank Ocean is the kind of artist whose avant-garde music resonates with intelligent types. Infamously private, he won't release any new music for several years. When he finally does, it never fails to cause an uproar in pop culture.

We remember when Ocean's coming out was a huge deal. It all happened when Ocean wrote an open letter, initially intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that preemptively addressed speculation about his attraction in the past to another man. Instead, on July 4, 2012, he published the open letter on his Tumblr blog. Fans were surprised, but ultimately supportive. Ever since then, Ocean's been open about his sexuality on songs like "Chanel," "Self Control," "Siegfried," and "Forrest Gump."

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Article Image: Freddie Mercury sings in a black and white checkered jumpsuit in 1977, Janelle Monáe gives a shocked expression while performing at Rock Werchter Festival in 2019, David Bowie plays guitar during a concert in 1990. (Carl Lender [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons, benhoudijk via DepositPhotos, Les Zg [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons )

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About Kathryn Milewski

  • New Jersey