In 2013, it was not uncommon for musicians to feel secure enough to articulate their same-sex desires out loud for all the media to hear and salaciously circulate. However, coming out is not always as simple as uttering “Yep, I’m gay” on the cover of TIME magazine. “Pansexual,” and “humasexual” are among the identifiers musicians used this year to rationalize their not-so-complicated desires to f*ck pretty much whomever catches their fancy.
This ever-blossoming landscape of queer lingo means there are songs of greater variety to choose from for this year’s Gayest Songs list, though not every artist is explicitly gay identified. But what else is new, really?
More excitingly, queerness seeped into music in interesting and nuanced ways in 2013, which is a good thing for everyone. While the pop queens continued angling for the next big gay anthem, other artists made gayness synonymous with experimentation, weirdness and otherness in ways that felt liberating, rather than limiting.
It’s in that spirit we devised this year’s list. But fear not, we also included a couple big-ass pop bangers because, you know, we’re gay. We like big asses and pop bangers.
View the full list after the jump.
10. Patrick Cowley, “Mockingbird Dream”
As singer Jorge Socarras writes in the liner notes for School Daze — a collection of previously unreleased psychedelic electronic music by the late disco producer Patrick Cowley — ‘queer music’ in the broader context of pop can refer to music “outside the conventional or available genre categories.” The album’s far-out sounds certainly fit that definition. Although this music would later soundtrack gay porn, Cowley produced much of it in the early ’70s when he was a regular on San Francisco’s gay bookstore and bathhouse scene. “Mockingbird Dream” (more of a “track” than a song) feels particularly evocative of that world.
9. Deerhunter, “Monomania”
Deerhunter sexed things up a bit on Monomania, an album of angst-y and scuzzy southern rock and punk. Through it all there’s a sense of yearning and searching — especially on the title track, which is apparently about an unrequited obsession with a straight guy. “I can’t compete with her/Let me be released from this,” Bradford Cox snarls. Given his past repping of homoerotic rock n’ roll and sodomizing mediocrity, as well as the monomaniacal focus on sex in gay art in general, we can’t resist buying into this interpretation. Plus Deerhunter’s performance on Fallon was bloody drag-tastic (watch it above).
8. Janelle Monae feat. Erykah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.”
Where are all the weird black chicks on the Top 40 charts? What’s going on America? Janelle Monae sought to remedy this situation by recruiting singular soul sensation Erykah Badu for a synth-y funk ode to the joys of freakiness, serving face and “undercover love.” Questions around Monae’s own sexuality persist but she insists who she is sleeping with is beside the point. She writes songs that relate to gay people, black people and women — or anyone who feels marginalized — by imparting such universal truths as, “The booty don’t lie.”
7. Goldfrapp, “Annabel”
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory ditched synth pop in favor of folkloric acoustic ballads on their sixth album, Tales of Us. Each song is about a specific character grappling with identity and one of the prettiest also happens to be one of the queerest. “Annabel” was inspired by author Kathleen Winter’s 2010 novel of the same name about an intersex child who is forced into taking on a male identity in 1960s Canada. The song could easily have felt oppressive and dark, but Goldfrapp delivers an affecting vocal performance that is warmly humanizing and suggestive of endless beauty and potential.
6. Blood Orange, “Uncle Ace”
The first time I listened to Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe, the deadpan vocal and jaunty guitar riff on “Uncle Ace” immediately jumped out. Several critics have since noted the song title is the nickname transient LGBT youth in New York have given the city’s A,C, E subway line. And so — as with our 2011 Blood Orange ‘gayest’ pick “Sutphin Boulevard” — Dev Hynes has crafted another imaginative and moving homage to the kids and queens of Queens that plays loose with pop structure yet grabs you instantly. I also like this idea of New York public transit’s secret queer history as songwriting inspiration. Concept album, anyone? (For a deeper dive into Blood Orange’s queer appeal, check out this review of Cupid Deluxe on Buzzfeed.)
5. Hunx and His Punx, “Don’t Call Me Fabulous”
West Coast punk pin-up Seth Bogart is no stranger to our gayest year-end list, but this song is actually fronted by his Hunx and His Punx bandmate Shannon Shaw. It’s off the group’s great Street Punk album and controversially tackles a certain sacred cow of gay adjectives.
“We were in Europe and this guy called Shannon Shaw ‘fabulous,'” Bogart explained to MTV. “We were really drunk and she was like ‘I hate it when people call me fabulous! It means that they are just calling me fat or gay!’ A lot of people say that word. It’s funny — it’s just a stupid word. Just stop calling people that!” Fabulous is neither fab, nor ulous. Discuss.
4. Jessie Ware, “Imagine It Was Us”
Each year, gays everywhere engage in friendship-ending arguments over which glamazonian pop diva is better than all the rest. We’d like to deepen those divisions by casting a vote for Jessie Ware. The British pop singer returned to the dance floor this year with “Imagine It Was Us,” a song recorded for the deluxe edition of her still-excellent 2012 album, Devotion. Produced by Julio Bashmore, it’s a refreshingly un-cynical summer jam that channels vintage Janet and Madonna with its crisp production, addictively deep disco beat and whisper-y vocals. Feels good every time.
3. Sharaya J, “Smash Up The Place/Snatch Yo Wigs”
Rapper Sharaya J’s debut single was the Jersey Club banger “Banji,” a song about owning your so-called bad taste inspired by the gay slang term. However, it was the more menacing follow-up single that really got us excited about the blue-haired Missy Elliott protégé. Released only as a music video, the two-part “Smash Up The Place/Snatch Yo Wigs” flips a very famous ’90s R&B song into a contemporary club jam that reminds us of a time when rap music was conceived with elaborate choreography in mind. Clearly that needs to happen again.
2. Pet Shop Boys, “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct”
“Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” is not only one of the year’s best pop songs, but one of the Pet Shop Boys’ best singles. The British duo’s Stuart Price-produced 12th album Electric is full of ’80s pop and classical music references and this song is pretty typical of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s sound of late. It includes an opening nod to Madonna’s “Hung Up” (also produced by Price), a “Go West”-esque choir, a Purcell-inspired arrangement and a lyrical interpretation of David Lodge’s novel Nice Work. Basically, it’s about that horrifying moment when you realize monogamy is a capitalist conspiracy designed to reinforce the class system. If I had a dollar for every guy that justified an open relationship by quoting Marxist theory…
1. The Knife, “Full of Fire”
Swedish brother-sister duo The Knife set a new standard for queering’ pop music with their feminist and gender-theory inspired album, Shaking The Habitual. Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer have tackled this subject matter in the past but this time they applied their ideas to not just the lyrics, but the song structures – a much trickier proposition. They re-imagined their synth-pop sound to reflect a level of anger rarely heard in pop and probably alienated some listeners in the process.
In a sense, a thrillingly unpredictable song like “Full of Fire” is not that far from the social satire of “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” but it exists outside the boundaries of commercial pop. If PSB are pop infiltrators, The Knife are now outsiders. That doesn’t mean the song is without humor or playfulness. Like many gay and queer voices, The Knife use humor as a weapon for political subversion both lyrically – quoting Salt N’ Pepa and including lyrics like, “Not a vagina, it’s an option/The cock, had it coming” – and sonically with all their bizarre, unidentifiable noises. A bona fide queer theory club jam.
BONUS: Listen to the 2013 Gayest Songs List on Spotify here.