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  1. Janis Ian Fourteen-year-old folk prodigy Janis Ian knew she’d send America into a tailspin when she wrote and recorded her first hit single, “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” in 1965. Written in the tradition of folk hero Joan Baez, Ian bravely addressed the complexity of interracial dating in a very divided country – and marked the beginning of her lifelong foray into matters of forbidden love. In 1967, the song peaked at Number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Ian began receiving death threats – in her autobiography, she writes that a radio station in Atlanta was set on fire after playing her song. Composer Leonard Bernstein took notice, hosting her performance on his show Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. The now-disgraced comedian Bill Cosby followed suit and chatted her up at a Smothers Brothers show – and tried to blacklist her on suspicions that she had a lesbian relationship with her older family friend. (Ian wrote that she had fallen asleep on her chaperone’s lap backstage after playing a set.) After Atlantic Records went cold on an offer to record and release her single, Ian turned to Verve Records to release a full-length debut. Then in 1975 she served her haters a royal comeuppance with a Number One hit, the anti-cool-kid ballad “At Seventeen” – and rocked daringly cropped curls to boot. At the 1976 Grammys she beat Linda Ronstadt, Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John for Best Pop Vocal Performance, and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1993 she came out as a lesbian with her album Breaking Silence, and married her longtime partner, Patricia Snyder, in 2003. (Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin was one of the best men at the wedding.) Ian is now a science-fiction writer and contributed articles to The Advocate magazine in the Nineties. S.E. Sophie For years, Scottish DJ Sophie was quite literally shrouded in shadows. The enigmatic producer behind songs by Charli XCX, Madonna and Vince Staples was once notorious for performing gigs via gorgeous lip-syncing stand-ins – while mashing on a laptop off to the side. It’s unclear why so many had assumed she was yet another exploitative cis male DJ for so long – perhaps because her music almost inexplicably attracted frat boys? Nevertheless, the discrepancy between Sophie’s presentation and her high-pitched, computerized vocals prompted unfounded accusations of “feminine appropriation,” launching bitter debates on whether her music was a celebration of girly millennial poptimism – or a satire. With an idiosyncratic sonic palette of twinkly synthesizer blips, balloon screeches, gasps, and belches, Sophie’s deeply heartfelt trap-influenced jams find their emotional power by subverting pop cliches. “I’d rather collaborate with my friends who are whatever gender they please, or have very fluid ideas about gender. I don’t think that falling into those pre-defined roles helps anything,” she told Rolling Stone in 2015. “What do people want exactly, making these accusations? What do they think is a constructive way to play this situation? I view the people that I work with, girls and boys and people who identify as whatever gender they please, as strong individuals.” Now with her solo debut, Sophie’s come out of the darkness and into the light as a woman. Her recent singles have toyed with the multitudes of her gender expression through song: The clashing factory sounds and BDSM-laden lyrics of “Pony Boy” are contrasted sharply with the lushly saccharine sentiments and sparkly synths of “It’s OK to Cry.” SOPHIE is a cyberpop icon all her own. E.S. rollingstone.com
  2. Limp Wrist The hardcore world has its own brand of fist-throwing ultra-machismo, the kind which only legendary aggro queers such as Limp Wrist have been able to transcend. Formed from the ashes of a handful of disparate bands in 1998, Limp Wrist’s name flaunts a cheeky retort to the hypermasculinity of the punk underground – a space that frontman Martin Sorrondeguy would claim for the queers while donning a leather cap and harness. Sonically, Limp Wrist is hard to distinguish from droves of so-called powerviolence bands – but fan-favorite songs like “I Love Hardcore Boys, I Love Hardcore Boys” invert the sub-genre’s preoccupation with by focusing instead on risqué desires. Swapping out punk moralist clichés for LGBT issues, the themes underlining the group’s music give voice to both fury and hope for gay punks. E.S. Wendy Carlos A classically-trained pianist, with degrees in physics and music from Brown University, Wendy Carlos pioneered digital music in the Sixties – first by writing commercial jingles, then by concocting Moog-assisted renditions of Bach songs, which comprised her 1968 debut, Switched-On Bach. The release of Bach brought Robert Moog’s controversial invention some much-needed critical acclaim; the record won three Grammys and sat at Number One on the Billboard Classical Albums chart from 1969 to 1972. Carlos, however, struggled to balance an increasingly public life and private truth; she began hormone replacement therapy and underwent gender-reassignment surgery in 1972, but performed in masculine appearance throughout the Seventies by wearing suits and glueing sideburns to her face. She changed her legal name on Valentine’s Day 1979, and that same year came out as a transgender woman in Playboy. “There had never been any need of this charade to have taken place,” she said of her years spent presenting as a man. “It had proven a monstrous waste of years of my life.” After Bach she scored two Stanley Kubrick films – 1971’s Clockwork Orange and 1980’s The Shining – plus the 1982 cuberpunk masterpiece, Tron. Following the release of her celebrated 1984 opus, the cosmic Digital Moonscapes, she found herself totally taken with the stars. Now 75, she enjoys a quiet life of photographing solar eclipses and hanging out with her cats. S.E. rollingstone.com
  3. Tom Robinson British punk rocker Tom Robinson achieved chart success with hit songs “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, “Up Against the Wall” and “Don’t Take No for an Answer,” but he’ll always be immortalized for his singalong protest anthem, “Glad to be Gay.” Originally written for a 1976 London gay pride march, the song was nearly banned by the BBC in 1978 – although DJ John Peel defied the stricture. After his band broke up, Robinson co-wrote several songs for Elton John, including the controversial “Elton’s Song,” about a young boy at a boarding school longing for on an older student. He eventually left music and embarked on a career in broadcasting in the 1980s, championing indie music with his own radio show, but in 2015 he released his first new album since 1996, Only the Now, a folk-pop album that included songs “The Mighty Sword of Justice” and “Holy Smoke,” which features the Bible-mocking voice of Sir Ian McKellen. “If your songs don’t reflect feelings you share with your audience then you’re not writing pop music, and I certainly share that widespread belief there’s a small, cynical elite who are taking the rest of us for a ride,” Robinson explained. “If only one potential leader of the Opposition is prepared to give voice to this perception, no wonder disillusioned people are rallying to his campaign.” J.P. Chavela Vargas Born Isabel Vargas Lizano, Chavela Vargas left her hometown in Costa Rica at 17 to become a cigar-smoking, gun-toting ranchera singer in 1930s Mexico City. She would remain there for the rest of her 93 years, pushing the bounds of Mexican social mores around music, gender and sexuality. Whereas ranchera music was typically the domain of heterosexual men and their drunken declarations of heartbreak, Vargas notoriously refused to swap pronouns in her songs, aiming her throaty bellows towards women who scorned her all the same. There continues to be speculation that she once had a dalliance with bisexual Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; an iconic photo, taken in the 1940s, captures the two mid-giggle as they snuggle in the grass. In the 2002 biopic Frida, Vargas plays a specter who serenades Kahlo – played by actress Salma Hayek – with her original song, “La Llorona” [“The Weeping Woman”]. Vargas would also appear in several of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, including La Flor de Mi Secreto; but she insisted that acting was never her focus. She did not come out as a lesbian until the age of 82, or when her autobiography, Y si Quieres Saber de Mi Pasado [And If You Want to Know About My Past], was published in 2002. In spite of her Costa Rican heritage, dozens of Mexican singers have since cited Vargas as an influence, from Lila Downs to Grammy winner Natalia Lafourcade. In 2007, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences granted her a Lifetime Achievement Award – which she accepted dressed in a man’s button-down shirt and straw hat. Chavela, a documentary chronicling her life, was released in the U.S. October 2017. Suzy Exposito Arthur Russell Few knew the wildly eclectic cellist-composer Arthur Russell’s music when he died from AIDS in 1992 – but in the 21st Century, he has experienced a renaissance that’s taken in his many sides. Born in Iowa in 1951, Russell moved to San Francisco after high school and began studying Indian classical music at the Ali Akbar College of Music. Later he would meet Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and then he began accompanying him on cello during Ginsberg’s readings. After moving to New York City, he attended the Manhattan School of Music but was discouraged so dropped out to play in rock bands, write folk songs, and compose downtown disco epics. He performed with members of the Talking Heads, Philip Glass Ensemble and, briefly was a drummer for Laurie Anderson. He only released one solo album in his lifetime — 1986’s cult classic World of Echo – but his records were later reissued in the 21st century. And on Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell, a two-disc compilation of covers released in 2014, had everyone from Robyn and Sufjan Stevens to Blood Orange and Devendra Banhart covering his songs. And if that weren’t enough, Kanye West sampled Russell’s song “Answers Me” on his 2016 album The Life of Pablo. rollingstone.com
  4. Mina Caputo Life of Agony vocalist Mina Caputo made history in 2011 when she came out as a transgender woman via Twitter, making her the heavy-music community’s first, and by far most famous, member of the heavy-music community to identify as such. Caputo channeled her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts into pugilistic hardcore throughout the alternative-metal band’s heyday in the Nineties and Aughts – most notably on 1993’s acclaimed debut, River Runs Red – which cracked the mainstream rock charts and prompted tours alongside Korn, Deftones and others) – before departing the band for a solo career in 1997, tired of living a double life. She finally rejoined Life of Agony in the early 2010s, motivated by a fearless desire to take on the status quo with kickass pit-starters. “The band makes more sense now than it did before,” she told Rolling Stone of the band’s rebirth last year. “It’s its own beautiful, perfect monster.” Z.C. Linda Perry In the Nineties, 4 Non Blondes broke out with their megahit “What’s Up?”– which would rock karaoke rooms for decades to come. She took some time to pursue a solo career after her band broke up, but it was the post-bubblegum pop of the early Aughts where she found her second act. Pink contacted Perry to write for her second, breakthrough album Missundaztood. “Neither one of us knew what was gonna happen,” Perry recalled years later in an interview with Huffington Post. At the time, Pink had made her name in the R&B world before Perry honed in on the pop star’s rock edge. “What happened was that we were able to open up to each other … she completely abandoned what she was told she was supposed to be, and just became Alecia Moore.” After their fruitful collaboration on the megahit “Get the Party Started,” Perry found a home extracting a similar vulnerability and honesty out of other major pop stars and has helped craft some of the 21st Century’s most memorable hits, including Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and “Candyman” and Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For?” Along the way, Perry has always been open and proud of who she is, famously playing a guitar with the word “dyke” written on it at the Billboard Music Awards in 1993. She’s been married to Roseanne star Sara Gilbert since 2011. B.S. Lesley Gore As a teen, Lesley Gore became the powerfully ubiquitous and feminist voice of Sixties pop. She spent the following decades outside of the teen idol spotlight, going to Sarah Lawrence for college and getting an Oscar nomination for the score to Fame, which she composed with her brother Michael. Forty years after launching empowering hits such as “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t Own Me,” she became a LGBT rights activist, serving as one of the many guest hosts for the PBS series In the Life. It wasn’t until after hosting various episodes of the show for a couple years – which all centered on LGBT issues – that she spoke openly about her partner of over two decades and the struggles of being gay in the music industry. “I think the record industry – by and large what’s left of it – is still totally homophobic,” she said, noting that she came out in her twenties and never went to “lengths” to conceal it. “I just kind of lived my life naturally and did what I wanted to do.” B.S. rollingstone.com
  5. Me’shell Ndegeocello Genius musician Me’shell Ndegeocello is a veteran at relaying dynamic stories through song. Her work spans classical to cosmic reggae with vocal deliveries ranging from fiery emcee to tender acoustic songstress. Ndegeocello’s lyrics easily fall into a lineage of black poetry: love, pleasure, commercialism, heartbreak, revolution, time travel, space, religion, politics, sorrow, and joy. “Leviticus: Faggot,” from her early album, Peace Beyond Passion. contextualizes the harsh realities queer youth [of color] experience daily predisposing them to health outcomes such as drug addiction, homelessness, or suicide. Similarly to Prince, her musical inspiration, Ndegeocello has struggled throughout her career honoring her authenticity in an industry confused how to neatly market beautiful gender binary blurring blackness. Honoring her authentic self – while escaping categories besides being Grammy-nominated – shows the resilience of black queer women carrying the blues tradition in the music industry. Me’shell offers days worth of listening with 12 albums under her belt, her most recent, Ventriloquism, just released spring 2018. M.B. Bayard Rustin A key organizer of that 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin’s legacy as an angelic troublemaker often shrinks into the shadows of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s stature as one of the key leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Rustin was introduced to King through Coretta Scott, who was a music education student at the time. While attending college, Bayard sung in the Wilberforce Quartet and was a staunch pacifist with Quaker roots. He taught himself to play the lute while incarcerated for conscientiously objecting to World War II’s enlistment draft. Rustin sung spirituals, a music style expressing the desire for an end to all oppressive systems, and he released Bayard Rustin Sings a Program of Spirituals and Elizabethan and Negro Spirituals with Fellowship Records in the early 1950s. Without Rustin helping organize over 200,000 people to the march, the stage would’ve never been set for King’s delivery of the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. President Barack Obama, the last U.S. leader to formally acknowledge the struggles, triumphs and contributions of the LGBTQIA community, posthumously honored Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. M.B. MikeQ Long before words like “shade” and “wig” entered the vernacular of the mainstream, the queens of the New York City ballroom scene were strutting their stuff and competing for glory to the tune of bumping, underground house music. But above all it’s MikeQ who has helped crystallize the sound of vogue music into a recognizable sub-genre, spreading the gospel of the legendary Masters at Work “Ha Dance” sample to the furthest corners of the globe. Fiercely protective of his culture’s authenticity (and why wouldn’t he be, considering mainstream culture’s proclivity for co-opting the scene, from Madonna to Surkin to Ryan Murphy), MikeQ is now both a figurehead and gatekeeper of vogue music – respected by elitist techno heads and drag queens alike. Now, at the helm of his own record label, Qween Beat, MikeQ is the brains behind some of the edgiest, precisely crafted contemporary music blasting in clubs. E.S. rollingstone.com
  6. Amanda Lepore The cover of I…Amanda Lepore has the titular heroine posing mostly naked in a hall of mirrors – her sleek gynoid body replicated infinitely into the future. The world wasn’t ready for Amanda when her transgressive, debut album dropped in 2011, but her status as an icon in the fashion and art world has since been firmly established. Although she served as a muse to David LaChapelle long before popping up in the form of loving homages on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lepore’s post-electroclash musical output still manages to shock more demure audiences. Bragging unapologetically about her impeccable genitalia and raucously celebrating superficiality, Amanda’s odes to glamour and opulence serve as empowering anthems for self-made club kids and other assorted nocturnal queer children pursuing fame in the neon lights of nightclubs. Eric Shorey Jackie Shane Born in 1940, Jackie Shane’s story mirrors Underground Railroad passengers escaping North to social freedom. Blessed with an affirming parent, Shane found escape from Jim Crow racism and gender restraints after traveling to Canada on a carnival gig. Her singing career would take off in Toronto, where she appeared on the local music TV show Night Train. Her debut album, Any Other Way, details heartbreak inflicted by various women, the poor conditions of tenement living, and her ever-growing need for money, as a transgender woman of color with few available career paths. The title track even includes the lyric: “Tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay.” A soul pioneer, Shane’s music elucidates the lived experiences of African Americans, especially gender non-conforming individuals, intersectionally located on the margins of social acceptance – and on her live albums, her brassy voice twangs similarly to her Tennessee soul sister, Tina Turner. A living ancestor, having recently turned 78, she now enjoys a glamorous life as a recluse back in Nashville, Tennessee. M.B. rollingstone.com
  7. Klaus Nomi Like a being from another planet flung tragically towards this Earth, this bizarre performance art and music legend still serves as a guardian angel to the true weirdos of the art world. Nomi’s legacy will always (for better or worse) be associated with that of David Bowie, who he sang backup for throughout the late 1970s and was featured on the infamous December 15th, 1979 Saturday Night Live performance. But Nomi’s contributions to the history of queer culture – both his strange, quivering takes on pop standards and his lavishly sung operatic overtures – are certainly indelible. Subverting the assumed heterosexuality of both highbrow and lowbrow music (Nomi refused to change the pronouns of the love objects of his songs so as to better reflect his desires), it was Klaus’s geometric sci-fi fashions and avant-garde aspirations that came to define the amorphous “no wave” movement. Nomi’s death from AIDS-related complications in 1983 prevented us from knowing what he could have accomplished with a longer life, but he’s on a different journey through the stars now. E.S. Lavender Country If Lavender Country‘s lone album were to come out tomorrow, it would still sound radical. The fact that it was originally released in 1972 with songs like “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” and “Back in the Closet Again” feels positively miraculous. Far away from the Music Row machinery in Seattle, singer-songwriter and Patrick Heggarty and his bandmates Michael Carr, Eve Morris and Robert Hammerstrom made what may well be the first ever queer country-folk album, recorded with the assistance of fellow activist Faygele Ben-Miriam. It’s shot through with queer loneliness and heartbreak, yes, but also a sense of humor – evidence that classic country song themes were never the exclusive domain of straight folks. The album’s influence is still echoing today in the work of out country and roots musicians like Little Bandit, Karen and the Sorrows and Sam Gleaves. J.F. rollingstone.com
  8. Big Freedia Hailing from New Orleans, Big Freedia is often credited with popularizing bounce music – the Mardi Gras-influenced energetic sound, where twerking also originated – alongside other LGBT hip-hop artists like Nicky da B. After releasing her debut album in 2003 – while not transgender, the rapper’s preferred pronoun is “she” – Freedia started building momentum and popularity outside of the Deep South, thanks to subsequent releases (Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 featuring the insanely addictive “Azz Everywhere”), tours with Matt & Kim and The Postal Service, musical collaborations with RuPaul – peanut butter, anyone? – and Diplo. In 2013, she starred in the Fuse docuseries, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (later renamed Big Freedia Bounces Back for its sixth season). Freedia’s most mainstream attention, however, came in 2016, when she was heard speaking on “Formation” by Beyoncé, who invited her and Messy Mya to perform ad-libs for the song. “I did not come to play with you hoes, ha-ha. I came to slay, bitch! I like cornbread and collard greens, bitch! Oh yas, you besta believe it,” she snarled in the music video. Freedia has since collaborated with Mannie Fresh and can be heard on Drake’s “Nice for What,” becoming one of the few openly queer rappers to reach her level of mainstream success. S.L. Sylvester While the “Queen of Disco” is a title most commonly bestowed upon Donna Summer, it also applies to Sylvester, who was a fixture of the disco scene and an icon of the gay liberation movement that spawned out of San Francisco. After brief stints with the Disquotays and the Cockettes, Sylvester first emerged as a solo artist after Jann Wenner offered the singer to record a demo album in the early-1970s. He later found commercial success – both in the States and abroad – with the release of his second solo album, 1978’s Step II, which features the now-iconic dance tracks, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – a song that is ubiquitous with pride and any film about the Seventies – and “Dance (Disco Heat).” The album proved his superior falsetto rivaled many of disco’s black divas and that he could do androgyny better than David Bowie. When his success waned a few years later, his backup singers left him to form the Weather Girls (yes, of “It’s Raining Men”). Ultimately, his career and life was short-lived – he died in 1988 of AIDS-related complications at 41 – but Sylvester’s sound can still be heard today, most recognizably in artists like Prince, RuPaul, New Order and Hercules & Love Affair. Yasssss, queen. S.L. rollingstone.com
  9. Jobriath While Britain had David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Bryan Ferry all performing glamorous, cosmic rock songs, the United States was searching for its own. Enter impresario Jerry Brandt (who founded New York’s Electric Circus nightclub and managed Carly Simon’s early career), who discovered an unknown named Jobriath Boone. Born in 1946 as Bruce Wayne Campbell, the self-made American sang “Sodomy” in the original late-Sixties L.A. production of Hair before reinventing himself. Jobriath was quickly signed to a record contract in 1972 with Elektra (rumored to be worth $500,000) and an ambitious advertising campaign began, with full-page ads in Vogue, Penthouse and Rolling Stone. “Jobriath is going to be the biggest artist in the world. He is a singer, dancer, woman, man. He has the glamour of Garbo. He is beautiful,” Brandt explained to Melody Maker, then telling Rolling Stone: “The kids will emulate Jobriath because he cares about his body, his mind, his responsibility to the public as a leader, as a force, as a manipulator of beauty and art.” The 11 songs on his debut album included his single “I’m a Man,” the S&M ballad “Take Me I’m Yours” and “Blow Away” – with Stephen Holden writing in his review for RS that Jobriath’s voice was “uncannily reminiscent of Mick Jagger’s.” The fact that he did it all while being completely open about his sexuality – calling himself “rock’s truest fairy” – is astounding and, for a brief, shining moment in 1974, Jobriath became the most visible gay man in popular music. Then, just as suddenly, he was rejected by media and audiences – a Nassau Coliseum concert had crowds throwing trash and reportedly yelling “faggot” – so after Elektra push out his second (and final) album, Creatures of the Street, he vanished and became a mostly forgotten footnote in music history, a cautionary tale of the evils of the music hype machine. But his legend was revived decades later, having influenced everyone from Morrissey and Jayne County to Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters to Will Sheff of Okkervil River. Jerry Portwood Anohni As the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons (the group’s name being a reference to transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson), Anohni created an enthralling and distinctive experimental pop sound that earned the group of Mercury Prize in 2005 for their second album, I Am a Bird Now, which included the single, “Hope There’s Someone,” which was later covered by Avicii. Outside of the group, Anhoni co-wrote and sang on Hercules & Love Affair’s biggest hit, “Blind,” while Antony and the Johnsons collaborated with everyone from Lou Reed to Bjork and became soundtrack fodder with songs heard in V for Vendetta, Sons of Anarchy and the Wachowski siblings’ Sense8 TV series. Since coming out publicly as transgender, Anohni released the critically acclaimed electropop protest album, Hopelessness, which features the haunting “Drone Bomb Me,” told through the perspective of a young Afghani girl, whose family has been killed by a drone. (The music video stars an emotional Naomi Campbell and is art-directed by Riccardo Tisci.) She also earned a 2016 Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song becoming the second only transgender person to be recognized by the Oscars and in 2017, released the EP Paradise. All of this to say, she’s easily one of the most successful and influential openly transgender artists working today. Stacy Lambe rollingstone.com
  10. Rob Halford Less a rock singer than a majestic, motorcycle-riding lord of the mosh pit, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford carried the British band to unprecedented levels of international superstardom from 1969 onward. His theatrical scream-singing, macho stage presence, and all-around badassery (best showcased on iconic records like 1980’s British Steel and 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance) prompted many fans to call him “Metal God:” a traditionally masculine trope Halford boldly upended in February 1998, when he came out as gay in an MTV News interview. As the earliest show of queer solidarity from a prominent metal musician, Halford’s admission proved vital in reshaping the public perception of heavy metal, reposting an earsplitting, heteronormative boys’ club as a safe space where headbangers of all types could be themselves, sheltered in the flailing arms of not just a benevolent (and openly gay) God, but the scene writ large. Zoe Camp Shane McAnally Country music may not be the first place one goes looking for LGBTQ representation, though there have been a handful of instances over the years. In the present moment, perhaps no single person has had a greater impact on the sound than songwriter-producer Shane McAnally, a native of tiny Mineral Wells, Texas. In the last decade, McAnally has penned hits such as Miranda Lambert’s deliciously campy drama-fest “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Brothers Osborne’s sensual “Stay a Little Longer” and Midland’s sly Urban Cowboy nod “Drinkin’ Problem.” He also helped define a new, multi-faceted idea of country masculinity as a producer on Sam Hunt’s blockbuster Montevallo, for which he co-wrote the hits “Take Your Time” and “Leave the Night On” (he also co-wrote Hunt’s record-breaking “Body Like a Back Road”). Notably, he injected a no-big-deal kind of queerness into the mainstream by co-writing and co-producing Kacey Musgraves’ CMA Award-winning “Follow Your Arrow” in 2013, with the casual suggestion to “kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into.” When superstar Luke Bryan reached Number One in 2018 by singing, “I believe you love who you love, ain’t nothin’ you should ever be ashamed of in “Most People Are Good,” the path had already been cleared for him. –Jon Freeman rollingstone.com
  11. Manuel Solano B. 1987, Mexico City, Mexico. Lives and works in Mexico City. Many of the narratives behind your work are very personal. Would you say that making work that is closely tied to your experiences is empowering? My interest in art has always been the exploration and expression of my own personal identity. I am only interested in art inasmuch as it puts me in the world or puts another person closer to me. Art that doesn’t contain an identity is worthless to me. I look back at my life and the expression of my self has been the only real endeavor for me and I haven’t really done anything else with my life. I guess it’s not a question of why it’s important. It’s the apprehension that I am the center of things, and so the expression of my identity becomes a natural function. Can you describe the process that goes into your paintings? I usually start with an idea that tickles me and start thinking about images we can translate onto the canvas. I describe the image and what I’m trying to get at with it to my assistant. Then, he starts sketching. Sometimes we look for references online, sometimes I have to pose myself to get a sketch just right. My assistant then lays out the key points of the sketch on canvas using pins and pipe cleaners, which I feel and adjust if necessary. Then, for the painting, it is a little like painting by numbers, only we follow the shapes and locations the pins mark on the canvas, rather than numbers. They look like relatively simple flat paintings, but the process makes them very complicated to make. Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings B. 1991, Newcastle, United Kingdom; B. 1991, London, United Kingdom. Both live and work in London. What drives you to document LGBTQ spaces, as you did in your project The UK Gay Bar Directory? We started filming gay bars with a GoPro camera in 2014, with no particular outcome in mind. Before we knew it Candy Bar, the George and Dragon, and Joiners Arms—all busy, successful, and culturally important gay bars in London—had shut their doors followed by a spate of other closures nationally. Between 2006 and 2017, 58 percent of LGBTQ venues closed down; it was an epidemic. In response to these closures and the heightened atmosphere of fear and mourning in the community, we dedicated nine months to traveling the U.K., forcing ourselves into male-dominant or male-only spaces, filming gay bars, and creating an archive that would function both as an art work, a public resource, and a call to arms. There was an urgency to the project that drove us to such a gargantuan undertaking. Often, we would arrive in a city and a much-loved gay bar had closed its doors only days before. The feeling of loss permeated the archive, which has a ghostly, elegiac quality. Do you believe your work responds to––or critiques––hierarchies at play in the LGBTQ community? We explore how the contemporary gay rights movement has aligned itself with the state, the police, the military, and with property developers at the expense of its own community. But, we are interested in the messy, gray areas, where these alignments blur with sexual fantasy, such as BDSM, or are complicated by personal narratives. Often, it feels that we are handling extremely sensitive rubrics of power. How do we work to historically contextualize a community ravaged by AIDS, neglected by the government, whilst acknowledging the underlying leverage of white supremacy in the distribution of resources allocated to this community? Drawing has been an important medium to explore how the dynamics of power play out in the social sphere, infusing each scene with social tension that vacillates between love and violence. It’s this point, between love and violence, or critique and celebration, that excites and intrigues us. artsy.net
  12. Wu Tsang B. 1982, Worcester, Massachusetts. Lives and works in New York City and Berlin. Can you tell us about your film One emerging from a point of view (2019)? One Emerging is a hybrid fictional documentary. It’s a collaborative portrait of two women whose paths crossed in Lesvos a couple years ago. One is a photojournalist who was documenting the refugee crisis on the island and the other is a young transgender refugee from Morocco who was in a camp there. Together we created parallel fantasy worlds that overlap through the narrative and projected image. You were previously involved in community organizing. How has that affected your artistic process? When I was young, artmaking totally revolved around my community. Particularly in a place like L.A.—where immigrant and trans communities are particularly affected by violence and policing—being involved with community also means organizing. I used to do a queer nightclub with friends called Wildness, and this inevitably got political. As I began having to travel for work, my politics have shifted into the work itself. In some ways, I miss living in a consistent place, but in other ways I feel excited by the opportunity to exchange with so many different people I come into contact with. Also, getting older means the world is more nuanced, so I am trying to find new languages for issues that remain important to me. Does your relationship with performance change when you know it is being filmed? I don’t think films could ever represent us or our experiences, nor would I want to even try. For me, filmmaking is more of a ritual or devotional practice of repeated attempts at capturing and escaping the frame. You received the MacArthur Fellowship in 2018. Has it affected your practice? I’m still trying to process what it means. But in the short term, I have noticed it makes me feel a bit bolder and uncompromising, like I can take bigger risks and invest more. It feels like a mandate to keep doing what I have been doing, but to trust more in the process. Nikita Gale B. 1983, Anchorage, Alaska. Lives and works in Los Angeles. Do you believe your work responds to, or critiques, ideas of vocalization? I think that speech can be objectified in the same way that artworks and images can be objectified. And once objectified, speech or political gesturing can be reproduced, commodified, and rendered politically ineffective—pure spectacle. I hesitate to say what my work does or doesn’t do, but the best I can do as an artist is offer up situations or considerations that can serve as objects for reflection and discussion. Currently, I’m thinking about silence and noise as political mechanisms, and the work I’m making is an invitation to think about these things. How have the sites of protests—or dissents—influenced the materials you work with? I believe in the power of materials. I rely on the materials of infrastructure like concrete, steel, wood, fibers like cotton and denim to support me and my activities without much consideration on a day to day basis. All of these materials are accompanied by strategies for how they are produced and implemented, and it is these strategies that I think about when using the materials in sculptural works. In thinking about the street and the music production studio as two sites in which more “popular” manifestations of dissent take place, objects and materials like concrete, music stands, and towels—a DIY, cheap way to create acoustic paneling in a music studio—have become important to my material vocabulary. artsy.net
  13. Louis Fratino B. 1993, Annapolis, Maryland. Lives and works in New York City. Can you tell us about your exhibition, “Come Softly to Me,” at Sikkema Jenkins in New York? “Come Softly to Me” is a narratively structured exhibition in which I tell myself my own story. I introduce myself through self portraiture and the setting of my story through paintings of New York. It is a series of works depicting the most recent year of my life, and the cast of characters and particular feelings I’ve encountered along the way. My next exhibition will be in Paris at Antoine Levi gallery and will not be paintings. It will be my first sculpture show. How does the history of modernism influence your paintings? I paint people I love, and I paint using the vocabulary of paintings I love. So the influence is very straightforward; if I see a painting that sets me on fire, I want to try and make something that feels like that. I make drawings in my sketchbooks, which I use like journals. I also reinterpret paintings directly with my own characters, or work from photographs I have found or taken. The most important and frequent source of inspiration is drawing from memory. How does memory impact your compositions? Memory is in a way the actual content of my work. It influences how I stylize the body to emphasize something I may have fixated on. If I fell in love with hair on the back of someone’s neck, or a mole, I will redistribute the shapes of the body to highlight this element, the way a memory does. I think memory is an excellent beautician. So this also plays a role in the way I make work that is both fantastic and autobiographical. Alex Baczynski-Jenkins B. 1987, London, United Kingdom. Lives and works in Warsaw and London. Can you tell us about the work you’re showing at the Venice Biennale, Untitled (Holding Horizon) (2018)? Has the performance changed since its first iteration at Frieze London? My works are always in process and the choreographies themselves include a level of indeterminacy. Each iteration is different and the works also change and adapt with time, often responding to the specific sites where they are being developed and performed. I approach queerness as a process, one through which the choreographic framework fluctuates between structure and contingency. In Untitled (Holding Horizon) the sound and lighting are mixed live, as well as the structures that the performers move through. In this process the performers have the agency to use the qualities that we work with to loosen, expand, and contract the structure. This means that both the choreographic vocabularies and the performers’ subjectivity are both very present in the work. This unpredictability allows for intimacy in the way that the work unfolds; their relations and affects leak out into the room and have the potential to become palpable by an audience. How has LGBTQ nightlife in Warsaw impacted your performances? I was developing Untitled (Holding Horizon) over the summer in 2018, in the same space that Kem—the queer and feminist collective that I am part of—was throwing a series of parties called “Dragana Bar.” These nights brought together distinct experimental sets of sounds by Warsaw-based DJs, such as Facheroia, Yana, and JŚA. This experience of running the night with the collective had a direct impact on making Untitled (Holding Horizon). At the time, I was reflecting on the act of moving together, and how sharing pleasure is a mode of queer resistance that can produce a safe space within a hostile environment. It is about queerness as collectivity, togetherness. The dance floor has the potential to be a space where you experience that entanglement of self and other through affect; it is a place where gestures can be charged with queer desire. artsy.net
  14. Sable Elyse Smith B. 1986, Los Angeles, California. Lives and works in New York City and Richmond, Virginia. Do you believe your work responds to, or critiques, ideas of desensitization to violence and trauma? No, I don’t think it’s about desensitization at all, or rather, that’s not the focus for me. Violence is sport for some people. Violence is built into the fabric of how certain structures that we are entrenched in operate. The violence that I focus on is also not the gratuitous images that flood the mind upon hearing that word. Yes, those are images that at times collectively we become desensitized to, but those are not the images I’m addressing. I’m addressing those images that are hard to see. Those words that actually bear daggers; a cement and grout work that is actually a “Black site.” When did you first incorporate pop culture references into your work? I would say probably from the beginning. It’s a rich material; a material that speaks to many audiences and one in which they are receiving information already. Some of those pop cultural references I use are music or music related and that’s always been an art/form/material that is incredibly important to me. I’m also interested in a type of index that explodes intellectual hierarchy. Rafa Esparza B. 1981, Los Angeles, California. Lives and works in Los Angeles. What drives you to create adobe architecture within white cube institutions and art spaces? Working with land and shaping it into building blocks has been a practice and process towards building a platform; a space and context for ideas, objects, and bodies that don’t necessarily subscribe to Eurocentric notions of artmaking. It’s a way of pushing away the architecture of white art spaces and looking inward instead towards a collective Brown collaborative experiment led by Brown artists in an earthen space that reflects us, our histories, and made literally out of land that has been the basis for colonization we’ve experienced. The works on adobe evolved quite slowly from color field studies based on the adobe vernacular of my parents’ hometown in Durango, Mexico, to something suggestive of portraiture, and finally, they’ve arrived at a place that feels very exciting to me. Can you tell us a bit about the work you created with Beatriz Cortez for Commonwealth & Council at Frieze Los Angeles? We were inspired by the history of Laika, the dog who was sent to space in the Sputnik 2 in 1957 by the Soviet Union, paving the way for human space travel. We considered the sacrifice of the dog and wanted to pay homage to it by projecting our own dog into space but instead made out of the fertile land—the very foundation for life itself here on Earth. The dog was molded after a Xoloitzcuintli, a Mexican hairless dog. In ancient thought, the dog was mythologized as Xolotl, the god of fire and lightning, the canine twin brother of the powerful plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl. But Xolotl was also the god of monsters, the protector of the sick, the deformed, a protector of those we understand today as outsiders, as undefined, as queer. artsy.net
  15. Martine Gutierrez B. 1989, Berkeley, California. Lives and works in New York City. Your work often references music videos, magazine spreads, and advertisements. When and why did you begin working this way? As early as middle school. My father got me a video camera and I started making videos with friends––with cameos from babysitters, teachers, pets. By the time I was in high school, I was editing commercially, running programming for a public television station. It was far from glamorous, but it was like reaching into the world. Do you believe your work responds to—or critiques—ideas of representation and legibility? Of course. I aim to raise questions about inclusivity, appropriation, and consumerism, but that’s not why I make work. I make for myself. What drives you to take on the roles of both director and model? Control. Acting as subject and muse, I work to convey my own fluid identity—an identity that bridges the binaries of gender and ethnicity. Can you tell us a bit about how your publication Indigenous Woman (2018) evolved? Indigenous Woman began as an imagining––a simple aspiration to be a cover girl. But not just any cover for any magazine, one where I have the autonomy to fulfill my own ideals and honor personal concerns. I wanted a magazine that didn’t exist yet––so I made one. artsy.net
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