With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping fans stuck in their homes for the last five months, music has been more important than ever. That’s especially true for the LGBTQ community, who had to watch Pride Month pass by from our couches. So how did we celebrate Pride this year? With protests, with livestreams, and yes, with new music.
Despite the pandemic putting a lot of new music releases on hold, many queer artists still went out of their way to make sure their fans were staying entertained while in self-isolation. Some songs were meant to make people think, others were intended for a quarantine dance party, but all of them were released so that music lovers would be able to stay sane while stuck inside.
Here are Billboard Pride’s 25 favorite songs by LGBTQ artists released in 2020 (so far).
Arca ft. SOPHIE, “La Chiqui”
It was high time Arca and SOPHIE – two song deconstructionalists with one foot in the pop world and the other in another plane of being – teamed up for a track, and “La Chiqui” from Arca’s KiCk i doesn’t disappoint: A skittering assortment of robotic chirps, chants and coos pave a path into the producers’ overlapping idiosyncratic vision of the future. – JOE LYNCH
Chaz Cardigan, “S.O.S”
In a pandemic, everyone can relate to being stuck in your own head, a feeling alt-pop star Chaz Cardigan is able to bottle in his single “S.O.S.” Throughout the song’s throbbing pop-punk melody, Cardigan sprinkles in small messages of encouragement for himself and his listeners, while also making certain that we all understand “we can’t just keep on pretending that everything’s alright.” – STEPHEN DAW
Chika, “Industry Games”
The title track to Chika’s 2020 EP is a motor-mouthed takedown of rappers in the game for the bucks and not the love of the art. The Alabama MC is on the offense here, but with a restrained confidence – she never breaks a sweat even as she heats up the booth with lines like, “Adamant the vision, had to start with the supporters / Had a premonition, had to get the sh-t in order / And I’m finna take it all, f-ck a wall, what’s a border?” – J.L.
Donna Missal, “Let You Let Me Down”
Indie rock darling Donna Missal delivered the goods with her sophomore album Lighter, giving fans a brand-new look at her songwriting skills, while largely maintaining the soulful sound they’d fallen in love with. The album’s most shining example of this comes with “Let You Let Me Down,” a classic heartbreak anthem full of big beats and fat guitar riffs where Missal angrily battles with the fact that by letting her guard down, she allowed someone to hurt her. If you can manage to listen to this song without getting its resentful hook stuck in your head, then you’re a stronger person than I am. – S.D.
Ellen Krauss, “Bali”
It didn’t take long for Ellen Krauss’s steamy single “Bali” to graduate from one of our pop songs playlists to this midyear best list, and it’s easy to hear why. The 20-year-old Swede’s vocals are crystalline as she sings about wanting to take a hot girl (“If looks could kill then I’ve died a couple times”) on a hot vacation. In these pandemic times, the idea of taking a trip to any faraway locale is a fantasy for most, so this hits on multiple levels. – GAB GINSBERG
Gia Woods, “EGO”
Normally when pop stars sing about the idea of ego, it’s about another’s person’s inflated sense of self. But Gia Woods knows better than to look past her own faults, as she brilliantly shows on “EGO” (all-caps necessary). Throughout the pulsing pop single, Woods conjures up a toxic relationship, where she and her lover just can’t help but wound each other’s sense of pride. In the end, Woods is able to sum it all up in a simple message: “You want love and control, but you can’t have both.” – S.D.
Hayley Kiyoko, “L.O.V.E. Me”
While Hayley Kiyoko spends much of stellar EP I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit exploring her insecurities, there is nothing self-conscious about this sugar-sweet love song. “L.O.V.E. Me” shows Kiyoko allowing herself to express (maybe more clearly than on any of her previous tracks) what she loves about the girl she’s singing to. With its groovy bass line and unshakeable melody, “L.O.V.E. Me” will make you a believer in Lesbian Jesus … that is, if you somehow weren’t one already. – S.D.
Isaac Dunbar, “Makeup Drawer”
Cape Cod’s Isaac Dunbar says he wrote the poignant opening track of his stunning major label debut EP, Isaac’s Insects, when he was fourteen. Now the ripe old age of seventeen, Dunbar makes music with wisdom beyond his years. On “Makeup Drawer,” he uses makeup as an analogy while opening up about his lifelong struggle with internalized homophobia, all while embracing his femme side. It’s about self love and acceptance — a good reminder that it’s important to be kind to one’s self, always. – G.G.
“We f–k and make up like it’s Maybelline” is one of the greatest lyrics of 2020. It perfectly encapsulates Kehlani’s message on “F&MU,” the standout single from her phenomenal album It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. The singer’s absolutely stellar vocals are on full display as she explains the process of getting into petty fights with her lover, before making it all better with a lovemaking session. It’s an excellent addition to any break-up (or for that matter, make-up) playlist. – S.D.
Kim Petras, “Malibu”
Everybody handles a year without much in the way of vacation possibilities differently; if you’re Kim Petras, you might load up on glamorous Zoom backgrounds and sing an escapist dance-pop fantasy about love, liquor and seaside lounging. If it ain’t the real thing, it’ll do till the real thing gets here. – ANDREW UNTERBERGER
L Devine, “Boring People”
Remember January? (Us neither.) It was the start of a new year, a new decade — and just before it all went to sh-t, English singer-songwriter L Devine (born Olivia Rebecca Devine) gave us a perfect dark-pop-grunge single that also served as an ode to the monotony of everyday life. If only we knew just how sick of the routine we’d be mere months later. – G.G.
Lauren Jauregui, “50ft.”
Not the only sage-referencing dose of chill vibes on this list (see: Mykki Blanco’s “You Will Find It”), Jauregui gifted 2020 with “50ft.,” an atmospheric, Channel Orange-esque jam about maintaining mental health and positive energy — obviously, that’s a message we could all use these days. – J.L.
Mykki Blanco ft. FaltyDL, Devendra Banhart, “You Will Find It”
Over some echo-laden acoustic guitar that drifts through the air as lazily as the burning sage Mykki Blanco shouts out at the top of this song, “You Will Find It” peppers refreshing, laid-back vibes with some smirk-worthy wordplay, such as off-rhyming “thesis” with “suspicious” and talking about the prophecy/profits coming out of his mouth. – J.L.
Orville Peck, “Summertime”
If you’re gonna mimic the “Be My Baby” drum intro and croon in the style of Roy Orbison — with a title of the most emotionally loaded of seasons, no less — your pop song damn well better have the classic gravitas to back it up. Luckily Orville Peck’s lovelorn cowboy ballad has the windswept majesty necessary to carry its allusions, tied together by a massive chorus of ambiguous meaning but universal resonance: “You and I/ Why, oh why?/ And I… miss summertime.” – A.U.
Rina Sawayama, “XS”
The genre-churning Japanese-British singer-songwriter is in full command on “XS,” a strutting empowerment anthem that recalls TLC and Britney Spears circa turn of the millennium with a razor-sharp rock riff cutting through the hearty genre stew occasionally for good measure. We’re not sure if “I want it all, don’t have to choose / And when the heart wants what it wants, what can I do?” refers to her proud pansexuality, her industry ambitions or both, but we’re certainly here for it. – J.L.
Sam Smith, “To Die For”
“Pink lemonade sippin’ on a sad day” is solid advice for the tough slog that is summer 2020, and Sam Smith’s lovely, lilting ode to the frustrating search for true love – something Smith kinda-sorta specializes in – is a return to their soulful sweet spot after some dancefloor detours. – J.L.
Shamir, “On My Own”
Shamir has returned to be the queer Black change he wants to see in the still stubbornly straight white top 40 world, a claim he began in 2015 with his star-making Ratchet album, before opting to spend the next half-decade instead as one of indie’s most captivating singer-songwriters. “On My Own” hardly sacrifices the hard-fought sonic independence he found in the meantime, simply blowing out his pinpoint songwriting, guitar hooks and knack for melodies to arena-pop proportions. – A.U.
Shea Diamond, “I Am America”
A triumphant, thumping ode to claiming the space in America that rightly belongs to the LGBTQ community — the Black trans community in particular – but is often denied to us, Diamond’s rousing anthem is a demand, a celebration and a mission statement all wrapped into one. – J.L.
Siena Liggins “Wait On Me”
Pop singer Siena Liggins is exhausted from waiting for you to notice her — and no, she’s not just talking about the girl she’s crushing on. The star gives everyone a reason to pay attention with “Wait On Me.” Throughout the pitch-perfect pop single, Liggins flexes her bubblegum vocals, while also showing a keen ability to change up her sound when she feels like, giving this single a distinct R&B feel that makes the experience that much better for listeners. – S.D.
Tituss Burgess ft. Imami Coppola, “Dance M.F.”
With a rich vocal control far surpassing most song parodists, Tituss Burgess demonstrated that satire can actually slap with his musical moments on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And with his tongue firmly in cheek on the laid-back house workout that is “Dance M.F.”, Burgess reminds us of the liberating power of letting loose and getting silly on the dancefloor. – J.L.
Trixie Mattel, “Malibu”
Fans of All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel got a welcome surprise in early 2020 when the singer-songwriter plugged in her guitar and changed up her sound. On “Malibu,” the drag superstar traded in her Loretta Lynn for Fountains of Wayne, with a guitar-heavy, beach-rock sound, singing about wanting to get away to the beach for once. – S.D.
Troye Sivan, “Easy”
Pop radio seems to have largely given up on Troye Sivan — draw your own conclusions there — but he may be better off without it anyway, since he’s able to push out the edges of his alt-pop sound (with the help of underrated collaborator Oscar Gorres) to include new modes. Like, say, the left-field ’80s synth-pop influences of “Easy,” a panoramic single of gratifying throwback drama, with a ghostly chorus that still makes you wanna floor it down the highway. Wait a minute — that also perfectly describes “Blinding Lights.” C’mon already, top 40. – A.U.
Victoria Monét, “Moment”
If you’ve been looking for a song to add to your bedroom playlists, look no further. Victoria Monét’s “Moment” embraces pure, raw sex appeal, as the rising R&B star takes control of her lover’s fantasy, ready to bring it to life. Monét’s vocals come through like a hot knife in butter, squeezing every ounce of sexuality out of each note. There’s nothing unreal, though, about the singer’s performance — as she says it best, “f–k a fantasy, this your motherf–kin’ moment.” – S.D.
Wafia, “Pick Me”
Refusing to accept society’s idea of a breakup as a failure, Wafia’s bright, reassuring “Pick Me” focuses on the empowering aspect of ending a relationship: Focusing on doing right for yourself and your needs. Over a playful staccato piano riff and chirpy synths, Wafia’s voice is full of bright hope for the future; it’s hard not to feel that sense of a new morning full of possibilities after listening to this euphoric ode to self-love. – J.L.
Zebra Katz, “IN IN IN”
The titular direction, caps and all, is indeed where Zebra Katz goes on “IN IN IN,” the Florida-via-NY rapper’s pulse-racing floor-slayer from his long-overdue 2020 debut LP Less Is Moor. Over dramatically pounding drums, Katz spits in commanding monotone, “Black Wiccan on the flow, oh so original/ And if you didn’t know, now you know” — then gives you a fake-ending pause to catch your breath, before coming back even harder. – A.U.