Back in June, Taylor Swift released her single, “You Need to Calm Down,” which served as her take on making an LGBTQ anthem for 2019. While some have looked on it with a critical eye, we’ve decided to celebrate it, along with all the gay anthems that came before it. Many are by LGBTQ artists; others have been adopted by the LGBTQ community from straight, cisgender artists whose song was either inspired by our community or spoke to us at a time when we really needed it. We’ve broken it down into three lists: pre-1980, the ’80s and ’90s, and the 2000s. In honor of the end of this decade, below we have our top 12 list of LGBTQ anthems from the 2000s and 2010s:
12. Against Me!, “True Trans Soul Rebel” (2013)
I wish that more songs on our list were about the T in LGBTQ, but unfortunately the most marginalized group in our community doesn’t have enough representation in popular music. One glaring exception is “True Trans Soul Rebel” by punk rock band Against Me! from the True Trans EP. OK maybe not glaring, the EP didn’t exactly crack any of the Billboard charts, but a recognizable exception for our community nonetheless. Against Me! lead singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman in 2012, just before she released True Trans. The song was also the lead single from Against Me!’s 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which did actually make it to number 23 on the Billboard 200 chart. The EP cover for “True Trans” featured “Buffalo Bill” from Silence of the Lambs, a serial killer character who many wrongly describe as transgender. Here’s hoping that in our list of next decade’s LGBTQ anthems that there are more songs representing the trans community!
11. Britney Spears, “Stronger” (2000)
There are quite a few Britney songs to choose from that can be considered LGBTQ anthems but “Stronger” is, well, the strongest. A self-empowering post-breakup anthem sung by a fresh faced pop diva? Sign me up! Whether we were getting over a bad breakup ourselves or looking for inspiration to stand up to the bigots and homophobes, the lyrics of “Stronger” and Spears’ conviction delivering them really hit home. Max Martin and Rami were both the writers and producers, giving us lines like, “You might think that I won’t make it on my own/But now I’m stronger than yesterday” that really empowered the LGBTQ community to face our own hardships as well. And of course the Joseph Kahn-directed video featuring Spears’ ‘chair-ography,’ a concept she decided on herself, just made the song even more iconic.
10. Robyn, “Dancing On My Own” (2010)
Who would have thought that Swedish pop star Robyn, whose 1997 hit “Show Me Love” came out when she was just 18, would become a gay icon a little more than a decade later. Her artistic journey in itself is inspirational for any underdog. She founded her own record label, Konichiwa Records, in 2004, and after that she totally reinvented her image and sound. “Dancing On My Own” was the lead single from her celebrated Body Talk series of albums. Whether you’ve been the person in the club watching the person you love dance with someone else or the LGBTQ person with feelings for your straight friend, many in our community have been in the very relatable situation that Robyn sings about. “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her” (or him, or they or whomever). If you’ve ever seen Robyn live and have heard the entire theater or arena singing the chorus of the song to her, it gives you goosebumps and really gives you comfort in knowing that we’re never truly dancing on our own. Robyn gave us a chance to channel our pain and heartbreak on the dance floor in one of the catchiest pop songs of recent memory and for that we’ll always make sure that she’ll never have to dance on her own either.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Cut to the Feeling” (2017)
One of the most underrated pop stars around, Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen may be known to most for her 2011 smash “Call Me Maybe,” but for the LGBTQ community, who idolizes Jepsen, it’s all about “Cut to the Feeling.” Released as the first single from her EP Emotion: Side B, a companion album to 2015’s Emotion, “Cut to the Feeling” is pure pop perfection. Everything about it — the lyrics, the hook, the melody, Jepsen’s vocals — is simply infectious. The song sounds both modern and like it comes straight out of the ’80s at the same time, a feat Jepsen is skilled at pulling off. At its core, “Cut to the Feeling” is a feel-good song that first became an LGBTQ anthem because its celebratory nature led to it becoming a staple on the Pride circuit. However, its status as an LGBTQ anthem was solidified by out gay dancer Mark Kanemura, who you may recognize from his time on So You Think You Can Dance or as a backup dancer for Lady Gaga. His Pride-inspired viral videos to the song featuring rainbow flags, balloons and lots and lots of wig reveals, cemented the song as a true, joyous LGBTQ anthem. And Jepsen was in on it too, bringing Kanemura up on stage with her at numerous concerts when she performed “Cut to the Feeling” so he could bring his Gay Pride to life in front of live audiences. Surely Jepsen and her LGBTQ fans will be cutting through the clouds, breaking the ceiling and dancing on the roof for generations to come.
8. Beyoncé, “Run the World (Girls)” (2011)
“Run the World (Girls),” which samples Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor,” was the first single off Beyoncé’s album 4. While this song is more of a female empowerment anthem than an LGBTQ anthem, it was still worthy enough to include on the list for many reasons. First, Beyoncé is a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. She and her husband Jay-Z were honored by GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) earlier this year with the Vanguard Award for being LGBTQ allies. “LGBTQIA rights are human rights. To choose who you love is your human right. How you identify and see yourself is your human right. Who you make love to and take that ass to Red Lobster is your human right,” Beyoncé said in her speech. So whether Beyoncé is singing about women in this song or about the LGBTQ community, at its core the song is about equality. Second, a person’s gender identity is something very personal and important to them, so for all the lesbians and trans women who identify as female, this anthem is obviously still applicable to them regardless if it’s specifically about LGBTQ issues. And finally, whether you’re marginalized in our culture for being gay, for being trans or for being female, the message of the song is universal: “Boy you know you love it/How we’re smart enough/To make these millions/Strong enough to bare the children/Then get back to business.” And Beyoncé is the perfect living, breathing example of these inspirational lyrics. If only girls did run the world, perhaps we’d be a little better off than we are today.
7. Sara Bareilles, “Brave” (2013)
The lead single from Bareilles’ album The Blessed Unrest, “Brave” was written by Bareilles and fun.’s Jack Antonoff, a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community who described the song as “a real civil rights anthem.” Bareilles has discussed in numerous interviews that she was inspired to write the song after witnessing her close friend’s struggles with coming out. Lyrics like, “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live/Maybe one of these days you can let the light in…Say what you wanna say/And let the words fall out/Honestly I wanna see you be brave” makes this song a true LGBTQ anthem for anyone coming out of the closet. Coming out is not something our heteronormative or cisgender friends have to do and it can be scary, so to have an inspiring anthem like “Brave” is definitely important to the our community and it’s comforting to know that allies like Bareilles understand that.
6. TIE: P!nk, “Raise Your Glass” (2010)/ Kesha, “We R Who We R” (2010)/ Katy Perry, “Firework” (2010)
2010 was a flagship year for songs about accepting yourself for who you are and embracing your inner freak. These three Billboard number one hits were leading that charge when they were all coincidentally first released in October of that year. As a historically marginalized group, the LGBTQ community can definitely relate to feeling like outsiders. First up at the beginning of the month was P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass,” the first single from her Greatest Hits… So Far!!! P!nk said she wanted to write a song about underdogs, and said it’s a “celebration for people who feel left out from the popular crowd.” You may hear gay guys jokingly reciting lines from Mean Girls like “you can’t sit with us,” but really we were the ones typically being told that in the lunch cafeteria, so we can definitely relate to P!nk’s message. And when the Dave Meyers-directed music video celebrating gay marriage came out, the song’s status is an LGBTQ anthem was even more solidified.
Less than three weeks later, Kesha released “We R Who We R,” the first single from her EP Cannibal. Kesha was inspired to co-write the song after a surge in suicide rates among gay teens in the U.S. earlier in the year. Gay bullying led at least six teenagers to take their own lives, so Kesha wrote the song out of concern for people who have to pretend to be someone other than who they are. She labeled herself as a misfit and said everyone doesn’t understand what she stands for. She told Rolling Stone at the time, “I was really affected by the suicides that have been happening…Just know things do get better and you need to celebrate who you are. Every weird thing about you is beautiful and makes life interesting. Hopefully the song really captures that emotion of celebrating who you are.” From one misfit to another, the LGBTQ community is thankful for advocates like Kesha helping us fight the good fight.
Finally, less than a week after “We R Who We R” was released came Katy Perry’s second single from her Teenage Dream album, “Firework.” Before the song came out, Perry dedicated it to the “It Gets Better” video campaign. “Everyone has the spark to be a firework,” she wrote on Twitter at the time. With lyrics like, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/You’re original, cannot be replaced/If you only knew what the future holds/After a hurricane comes a rainbow,” Perry really hit close to home and showed she was ready to be a true LGBTQ advocate. The music video further cemented the song’s meaning to the LGBTQ community when it featured two boys passionately kissing as pyrotechnics burst from the Perry’s bust. Sex columnist Dan Savage, who started the “It Gets Better” campaign, told the New York Times in 2010, “These songs are countering a hateful message that a peer, family member, politician or a bully might be saying. I get frustrated with gay politicos who discount or undermine the importance of pop stars. They’re a huge part of this fight.” Indeed, female pop stars have always held a special place in the hearts of minds of the LGBTQ community and this burst of self-empowering gay anthems no doubt had some impact on the more widespread acceptance of us in the coming decade, including the passing of gay marriage in 2015.
5. Brandi Carlile, “The Joke” (2017)
The first single from Carlile’s sixth album By The Way, I Forgive You, “The Joke” may not be the biggest hit on our list but that doesn’t make it any less important. Carlile came out as a lesbian in 2002, 15 years before the release of “The Joke.” She told NPR about the song, “There are so many people feeling misrepresented…So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in…so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.” The structure of the song perfectly reflects this, with the first verse being sung to a boy with a “quiet voice and impeccable style” and the second verse directed at a girl who has to live in her “brother’s world for a while longer.” And of course, the powerful chorus ends with, “I have been to the movies/I’ve seen how it ends/And the joke’s on them,” a compelling and defiant message to all the haters and homophobes out there. As if the song needed anymore than that to be an LGBTQ anthem, its significance was immortalized by Carlile’s beautiful and haunting performance of it at the 61st Grammy Awards earlier this year. Following the performance, “The Joke” debuted at number 1 on the February 23rd dated Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart and also re-entered the Hot Rock Songs chart at number 4, making it Carlile’s first song ever to reach that high.
4. Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful” (2002)
Released as the second single from Aguilera’s mega-successful second album Stripped, the song made it all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. The song was written by songwriter (and former frontlady of 4 Non Blondes) Linda Perry, who has been out as a lesbian since the ’90s. The LGBTQ community could definitely feel the pain and beauty in Perry’s lyrics and Aguilera’s vocals, and the song really resonated with those who felt like outcasts or felt unloved. Pretty much everyone now knows the famous lyrics “You are beautiful/No matter what they say/Words can’t bring you down,” something important to hear for the LGBTQ community, especially in 2002 when being out was much harder than it is now (and it’s still not a bouquet of roses for many today).
The Jonas Åkerlund directed music video solidified the song as an LGBTQ anthem when it prominently featured two men kissing on a bench as people stare, as well as a male presenting person putting on makeup, a wig and women’s clothing. The video received a Special Recognition Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) at their 14th Media Awards. In her acceptance speech, Aguilera said, “this song is definitely a universal message that everybody can relate to, anyone that’s been discriminated against or unaccepted, unappreciated or disrespected just because of who you are.” The video debuted at number 2 on MTV’s Total Request Live and spent 50 days on the chart. For a song and video with such strong LGBTQ advocacy to have so much success in 2002 was truly groundbreaking and no doubt helped shape the wider acceptance for the LGBTQ community in the decade to come.
3. The Scissor Sisters, “Let’s Have a Kiki” (2012)
Released as the final single from the Scissor Sisters’ fourth studio album Magic Hour, “Let’s Have a Kiki” is one of the most blantantly queer songs from one of the most blatantly queer bands. Created from the “gay nightlife scene of New York,” the Scissor Sisters, which consists of three LGBTQ members including founders Jake Shears and Babydaddy (aka Scott Hoffman), “Let’s Have a Kiki” isn’t their only song that tackles LGBTQ themes…but it may be their most fabulous one. In case you’re unfamiliar, a kiki is a term in gay culture for a gathering of friends, usually involving some tea, shade and gossip. The song begins with a monologue over a pulsating beat by band member Ana Matronic. She’s leaving a message for her friend that the NYPD shut down the party she was at, so she and a bunch of friends are coming over for a kiki. Ana says, “No cabs, nowhere/So I had to put on the wigs and the heels/And the lashes and the eairh/And take the train to the club/And you know the MTA/Should stand for Motherfuckers Touching my Ass.” Is there anything more queer, gay and fabulous?
After her voicemail, the song really picks up and the chorus kicks in, followed by a quick lesson: “A kiki is a party/For calming all your nerves/We’re spilling tea and dishing just desserts one may deserve/And though the sun is rising/Few may choose to leave/So shade that lid/And we’ll all bid/Adieu to your ennui.” Sounds like many kikis I’ve been to before and also like one I want to be at. And speaking of quick lessons, the music video for the song fittingly plays like an instructional video. The song became even more gay when it was covered by Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michele and Chris Colfer on Glee when they did a Thanksgiving mash-up of “Let’s Have a Kiki” and “Turkey Lurkey Time.” Only Ryan Murphy would combine such an overtly LGBTQ song with an all-American Thanksgiving celebration. The song has also been parodied by numerous drag queens including Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio and Willam Belli. “Let’s Have a Kiki” may not be the most famous LGBTQ anthem, but its explicit LGBTQ references, catchy melody and all-around fun-lovingness truly makes the song timeless. Whether you grew up gay in the ’80s, ’90s, 2000s or 2010s, this song is relatable and applicable, so it’s great to have a song that celebrates the community coming together in a safe space…at a kiki.
2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Same Love” (2012)
The third single from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ debut album The Heist, “Same Love” was a big deal for the time it came out. Three years after its release, the Supreme Court would make same-sex marriage legal nation-wide. But 2012 was perhaps one of the most significant years in turning the tide, and “Same Love” no doubt played a part in that. In May, two months before the song came out, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to publicly declare his support for legalizing same-sex marriage. At the beginning of that year, gay marriage was only legal in 6 states (New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont) and the District of Columbia. However, that year, there were measures on the ballots in 3 additional states to legalize it: Maine, Maryland and the homestate of Macklemore and Lewis, Washington. They released the song in July 2012 during the campaign leading up to the vote on the law, called Washington Referendum 74, which would take place in November. Same-sex marriage ended up passing in all three states, including Washington.
Macklemore and Lewis are both straight men, but the lyrics to “Same Love” are some of the most heartfelt, honest and explicitly pro-LGBTQ lyrics to ever be played on the radio. Throughout the song, Macklemore raps about how his uncle is gay, how he thought he may have been gay as a kid and how he’d fear being hated by others in the hip-hop community if he were gay. “Misogyny and homophobia are the two acceptable means of oppression in hip-hop culture. It’s 2012. There needs to be some accountability. I think that as a society we’re evolving and I think that hip hop has always been a representation of what’s going on in the world right now,” Macklemore said at the time. And of course, there’s the powerful chorus, sung by out lesbian Mary Lambert, another Washington State native. “And I can’t change/Even if I tried/Even if I wanted to,” she sings (Lambert released a solo version of the song featuring the chorus from “Same Love” called “She Keeps Me Warm”). The song was immortalized by a memorable performance the following February at the 56th Grammy Awards. Macklemore and Lewis were joined by Madonna and Queen Latifah as they officiated the weddings of 33 same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The song peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, an amazing feat considering its subject matter. Indeed, the tide may have already been turning in terms of support for same-sex marriage but “Same Love” may have very well been a contributing factor. Very few LGBTQ anthems are as explicitly LGBTQ as “Same Love,” which is something that should be celebrated, especially for a hip-hop song.
1. Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” (2011)
Say what you want about “Born This Way,” the song made a bigger cultural impact than any other LGBTQ anthem from the last two decades, which is why it nabs the number one spot on our list. Lady Gaga set out to make a “freedom song” inspired by 90s empowerment anthems. Sure, it sounds like Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself,” but that’s a female empowerment anthem. Whether or not Gaga consciously thought about “Express Yourself” when writing “Born This Way” doesn’t really matter, and here’s why. In 2011 when the song came out, Lady Gaga was the biggest pop star in the world. Everyone was eagerly anticipated her follow up to The Fame and The Fame Monster and Gaga sure as hell hyped the crap out of “Born This Way” — I believe she once said it was the “anthem of this generation.” She had been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community in her performances, videos and interviews, but it was all implicit in the music itself. “Born This Way” changed that. And it was all purposeful.
Gaga told Billboard at the time, “I want to write my this-is-who-the-fuck-I-am anthem, but I don’t want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today’s music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play. Harkening back to the early ’90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, ‘That’s the kind of record I need to make’.” Sure it had the same “love yourself” mantra as the pop songs that came out the year before it (see number 6 on this list), but Gaga took things a step further. Not only does she declare that LGBTQ people were in fact born that way, something that had not always been as widely accepted as it is today, but she explictly sings, “No matter gay, straight, or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life/I’m on the right track baby/I was born to survive.”
“Born This Way” debuted at number on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart (it was actually the 1,000th song in the chart’s history to reach number one). It also reached number one in 25 other countries. “Born This Way” became the first number one song in history to include the word ‘transgender.’ If you think about some of the most famous LGBTQ anthems throughout history, from “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men” to “Believe” and “Vogue,” none of them directly reference the LGBTQ community. Our connection to those songs is all implicit, based on innuendo and making the songs our own. Not “Born This Way” though. LGBTQ little kids or teens in 2011 got to directly hear from one of the biggest pop icons at the time that she supported them, that they didn’t have a choice to be LGBTQ and that they should embrace who they are. The radio played this message repeatedly, and cisgender and straight people were singing along with these lyrics too. This is why the song deserves to be the number one LGBTQ anthem of the 2000s. And if that all wasn’t enough, six years later when Lady Gaga performed the song at the Super Bowl LI halftime show and sang those lyrics, she made history again as the first artist in Super Bowl history to reference LGBTQ people. 100 million people were watching that performance, including known homophobes like Vice President Mike Pence. It can’t be emphasized enough how groundbreaking this was. “Born This Way” isn’t even Lady Gaga’s best song, but it absolutely succeeds as a gay anthem in the most wonderful way possible. I can only hope that the LGBTQ community gets even more explicit anthems like this in the future because “whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied, or teased, rejoice and love yourself today ’cause baby you were born this way.”