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20 LGBTQ+ music videos that broke boundaries

20 LGBTQ+ music videos that broke boundaries
Janelle Monae in the music video for "Make Me Feel" Photo: YouTube screenshot

While many see music videos as mere promotional tools to sell records—and, don’t get it wrong, they are that on a basic level—many bands use them as an excuse to make short films to express another facet of their art. Queer artists are no exception, and some of the best LGBTQ+ music videos fit into this mold.

There are so many great LGBTQ+ music videos out there, and we’ve picked 20 of our favorites: Ones that challenge social conventions, use vivid visual metaphors to convey the queer experience, and trash “respectability politics” to present unapologetic version of LGBTQ+ identity.

1. Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”

Lil Nas X has been out and proud since nearly the beginning of his career, but 2021’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” has all you could want in a music video: Biblical imagery, a satanic lap dance, murder, and a shoutout to one of the most popular queer films of the last 10 years — and it’s all set to a flamenco-inspired bop. The video inevitably caused controversy among uptight dorks who, let’s be honest, weren’t gonna listen to Lil Nas X in the first place.

2. Sam Smith – “I’m Not Here to Make Friends”

Sam Smith‘s recent work — like their Kim Petras collab — has really leaned into their queerness, and the Drag Race tribute “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” is incredibly gay. Who can say no to a video with an opulent mansion stuffed to the rafters with drag queens, oiled-up muscle men, and twinks galore?

3. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Relax”

This stone-cold classic from 1985 is like the seedy, earlier version of the Sam Smith video mentioned above. In it, Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s Holly Johnson explores a grimy sex club with all sorts of sweaty goings on as a driving bass beat pounds the word “sex” into listeners’ skulls with every thump.

4. Orville Peck – “Queen of the Rodeo”

Country star Orville Peck takes us to the world of gay rodeo with the epic “Queen of the Rodeo.” Peck’s music has always been both unapologetically gay and unapologetically country — and he’s got the bonafides to back it up, what with endorsements from Shania Twain and Willie Nelson.

5. Hayley Kiyoko feat. Kehlani – “What I Need”

Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani got together for a “radically queer” pop video telling the story of a lesbian who leaves her homophobic home for a life on the road with her “best friend” (wink-wink). The couple go to bars, hitchhike, and make out in the middle of nowhere — in other words, just gals bein’ pals!

6. Coil – “Tainted Love”

While Soft Cell had the hit with their cover of “Tainted Love” in 1985, the industrial band Coil had a much darker take on the song. Their version is clearly about the AIDS crisis and, in fact, this song was the very first AIDS charity single, raising money for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Soft Cell lead singer Marc Almond also makes a cameo as the angel of death.

7. Lady Gaga – “Born This Way”

Yes, it might be a little dated in 2024, and maybe a little cliche by this point, but Lady Gaga’s 2011 anthem still goes hard. And, honestly, sometimes when the wannabe fascists are bearing down on queers, the community needs an occasional reminder that we’re all superstars.

8. Rina Sawayama – “This Hell”

Rina Sawayama’s teaser single for her second album, Hold the Girl, “This Hell” is a country-fried pop banger parrying all the claims that being queer will send you to Hell with a “fine, sounds hot.” And besides, if God’s going to send Rina to Hell, who wants to go to Heaven?

9. Pete Shelley – “Homosapien”

Pete Shelley used his first solo single after leaving Buzzcocks to make his bisexuality crystal clear. Though the song doesn’t even use the word “gay,” the BBC banned the single for an “explicit reference to gay sex,” mainly the lyric “Homo superior / In my interior.” (Shelley denied that’s what the couplet meant.)

10. Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”

Janelle Monáe‘s most recent album, The Age of Pleasure, is all about celebrating the fun in life, and “Lipstick Lover” isn’t exactly subtle about Monáe’s love of women. But it’s this hit from 2018’s Dirty Computer that became a widespread favorite. Not only is it a celebration of bisexuality, it’s one of the last things that Prince worked on, with Monáe saying he helped them “come up with sounds.”

11. Jill Sobule – “I Kissed a Girl”

While Katy Perry‘s song of the same title was a bigger hit, it doesn’t boast the same queer bonafides as the original. Perry’s all about kissing girls to please boys — Jill Sobule’s kissing a girl because she wants to. (It’s also a way better song than Perry’s, both as a matter of personal preference and as a fact.)

12. Fever Ray – “To the Moon and Back”

Karin Dreijer (also known as Fever Ray and one-half of experimental dance pop band The Knife), came out as queer in 2017 following their divorce, and their album Plunge is a hypersexual coming out, exploring that aspect of their lives through their music. The music on Plunge is quite lyrically explicit, and “To the Moon and Back” is no exception.

13. Rainbow Kitten Surprise – “Hide”

Not just a music video but a mini-documentary about drag queens coming out to their parents, Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s “Hide” is a moving, yet surprisingly funny video — and the song’s pretty great too. The best part is at the end when a father gives a heartfelt speech about being his son’s biggest fan, only to hug him and react to his son’s surprisingly solid breast forms.

14. Bronski Beat – “Why?”

Bronski Beat may be most famous for “Smalltown Boy,” Jimmy Somerville‘s tale of leaving a small town to to live his real life out of the closet. But the band’s follow-up single, “Why?” is all about the absurdity of homophobia. All the members of Bronski Beat were gay and out since 1983, and they often tackled queer political themes in their music, and “Why?” is no exception. (It also has a driving dance beat that makes the politics go down nicely.)

15. Placebo – “Nancy Boy”

Brian Molko of Placebo is an androgynous rock icon of the early 2000s, and “Nancy Boy,” from the self-titled album, embraces the ambiguity of Molko’s gender presentation with hard-edged imagery of androgynous body parts in tubs, on slabs, and in wheelbarrows. Not just that, but the fuzzed-out driving guitars just plain rock.

16. Tyler, the Creator – “A Boy Is a Gun*”

Though Tyler, the Creator courted controversy early in his career with allegations of homophobia, once he came out, his music started embracing the gay side of himself. “A Boy is a Gun*” from Igor is a great song about the ups and downs of relationships. It’s also loaded with great turns of phrase, like “This parka is Comme, you’re my favorite garçon.”

17. Dead or Alive – “That’s The Way (I Like It)”

Dead or Alive may be considered a one-hit-wonder for “You Spin Me Round,” but we like this one. The video for their cover of “That’s The Way (I Like It)” takes place in a steamroom—and despite the fact that Pete Burns dances with women bodybuilders, the clip is still incredibly gay.

18. Dorian Electra – “Sodom & Gomorrah”

Dorian Electra has played with gender throughout their career, and while they’re femme-presenting in this clip, it does feature the singer in “I [Heart] Sodomy” merchandise. Electra, who is queer and genderfluid, has said that femininity feels like a costume that never completely comes off — they also occasionally perform as a drag king.

19. Pet Shop Boys – “Being Boring”

“Being Boring,” one of the singles from the Pet Shop Boys’ 1990 Behaviour album, brings along a gorgeously shot video by fashion photographer Bruce Weber. In 1993, singer Neil Tennant told the BBC the song was about a friend who died of AIDS, “and so it’s about our lives when we were teenagers and how we moved to London, and I suppose me becoming successful and him becoming ill.”

20. WELI – “Kangaroo Time”

All right, this one might not exactly be a hit — some people might not even know who WELI is, but that’s okay. He’s a biologist who made a club banger out of his Ph.D thesis about kangaroos — using drag queens as metaphors for the marsupials. Not only is it a legit bop, but it’s actually very educational.

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