Each month with In Our Headphones, members of KEXP's Digital Content team share the music that's resonating with them right now. In this month's installment, KEXP's Digital Content team celebrates Pride with picks from artists in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Growing up, I never really liked that the mystery of “gay rapper” was such a prevalent punchline. Of course, like one of my other great loves — pro wrestling — the kind of hip-hop music I liked best was mostly driven by massively talented alpha males. And with the prototypical alpha males comes the toxic masculinity which has choked out lives. Queer-identifying voices in hip-hop over the years have gone from being ridiculed (or worse) to the quiet tolerance of being ignored, much like queer-identifying voices in every other station of society. Even Tyler, the Creator — arguably rap’s most credible bisexual star — only came out a small handful of years ago, after presenting as straight and liberally using the f-word in his past life as a transgressive firebrand.
Though far from a pioneer in the LGBTQ rap community, Da Qween simply is what they are. A very good rapper, a queer-identifying person, too talented and too stubborn to allow straight people to view them as a gimmick, and as their the title of their 2019 album suggests, a renaissance bitch.
On their second full-length, the Seattle-based non-binary rapper kicks bars and croons over a stylistic plethora of beats; midnight bounce, summertime soul, throwback lovers’ rap, woozy snap-rap, club night bangers, what sounds like the sleepy start screen Super Mario World. Qween’s writing — sometimes delivered in a standard flow, other times the machine gun rattle of double-time — is clever, charismatic, boastful, self-assured, lovestruck, atomically passive-aggressive, playfully horny, confidently horny, desperately horny.
“Right Away,” through the palpable longing in its singing, bubbles over with desire. “On My Mind,” as my colleague and good buddy Eva Walker wrote in the liner notes for the album’s vinyl release, begs for an LL Cool J feature. “Reefer Madness'' is the type of smoker’s anthem perfect for turning your homie’s living room into a gas chamber, augmented by clever lines such as, “Dutch Treat in a Dutch, call it double dutching.” I’m a man of many principles, among them are: Never wear a suit without a pocket square, bikini baristas are basically sex workers and should always be tipped handsomely, and never trust a rapper who doesn’t know what kind of weed they’re smoking. Renaissance Bitch is a tour de force of one of Seattle rap’s brightest emerging minds, a full-length synthesis of an artist who knows exactly who they are and exactly how to present themselves. With so many rappers content to bite off of the next rapper’s shit, it’s a breath of fresh air. — Martin Douglas
Last month, Brisbane-based indie-pop trio The Goon Sax premiered the single “In The Stone,” the first track off their forthcoming album Mirror II, out July 9th via Matador Records. The news got me re-visiting their 2016 debut Up to Anything, released on Chapter Music in their home of Australia. (And I’d just like to note, this is the second time lately that Matador has signed a band I’ve fallen in love with, which just leads me to believe they’ve bugged my headphones. Anyway.)
The Goon Sax was formed in 2013 when its members were still in high school. With their sweet, melodic jangle-pop sound, it’ll come as no surprise that frontman Louis Forster is the son of Robert Forster, co-founder of indie-pop legends The Go-Betweens.
Where the younger Forster makes his mark is in his unabashedly vulnerable lyrics. The first song of theirs that I fell in love with was “Sweaty Hands,” a perfect capture of the nervous way a crush makes you feel. The song working the back button lately has been “Boyfriend,” a Beat-Happening-esque ode to having a guy to call your own with sweet backing vocals from drummer Riley Jones.
The band is growing up, as evidenced in the video for the new single which features the band members wearing business-friendly blazers. And the new album was produced by John Parish, a man a long-way from teenage feelings. I’m eager to see how the band has matured over the past few years, but until then, I’m happy to revisit their adolescent efforts. — Janice Headley
“I just want to chill out and then people can chill with me and then we can all be gay and happy,” Marie Ulven, aka Girl In Red, told me back in Iceland Airwaves 2019. Ulven is a master of taking a simple phrase with a casual tone and turning it into a rallying cry. Experiencing her ethos in person is remarkable – she’ll kick back and cooly explain to you her passion for Tech Decks, then get on stage and suddenly turns into Iggy Pop in a beanie and frayed jeans.
Ulven had a rapid ascent after releasing home-recorded songs like “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” and “We Fell In Love In October.” Her songs particularly resonated with young queer listeners, reveling and feeling seen by her candid and raw reflections on real-life relationship troubles. Though her songs are about as pitch-perfect, catchy anthems as you’d ever hope for, she was quickly labeled a “bedroom pop” artist. But Ulven’s music was never meant to be contained in such a narrow space, figuratively or literally.
With her first proper full-length LP, if i could make it go quiet, Ulven’s music is now able to flourish in the glossy bombast her songs always implied. The songs still pack the punch and tight-songwriting of her earlier work, but the aux cable has moved from the DIY basement show to Madison Square Garden. With titles like “You Stupid Bitch” and “hornylovesickmess,” it’s clear that Ulven isn’t relenting her snark and edge as she enters the pop star sphere.
And let’s not mince words here, Ulven is on the track to be a huge force in pop music. If your kids or young people in your life aren’t listening to Girl in Red yet, they soon will be. She even got the coveted Taylor Swift co-sign recently. Songs like the sunshine sizzle “Seratonin” and cheeky “Did You Come?” are earworms ready to plant themselves within your psyche and hummed throughout the rest of summer.
As pop music and mainstream culture finally embraces queer perspectives in its stars, Girl In Red feels divinely placed for this moment. I’m envious that younger generations of music fans are coming up with Girl In Red as an icon in the making. Ulven has expressed that she doesn’t make music with the thought of trying to represent anyone, she’s just writing from herself and her own lived experience. It’s a simple idea with radical implications. if i could make it go quiet is already one of the best pop records of 2021 and it’s amazing to consider where she can go from here. – Dusty Henry
I was ready to share my favorite songs from Brazilian drag queen and pop star, Pabllo Vitttar, but a news flash – which, I confess, had escaped my radar – shattered all my plans and drafts because YESTERDAY, Pabllo published Batidão Tropical, her fourth studio album and I'm screaming! Although most of my personal anthems are part of her third album, 111 (2020), I have already fallen into the enchantment and love drama of "Ama Sofre Chora," the single that anticipated this new LP. I haven’t gotten to absorb this album entirely yet, but she has trapped me from the first track.
Without a doubt, we must talk about Pabllo Vittar and the strength of her songs. In addition to her activism in the LGBTIQ+ community and her explicit intention to be an inspiration for her audience through music to find their own identity and freedom, Vittar is a fundamental artist of the new pop generation of South America. Listening to her discography, you will get to know many of Brazil's popular music genres such as carioca funk, axé, brega pop, and carimbó fused with electronics and techno music.
The ferocity of her songs and her spectacular video clips are constant elements in my mind that take me to a dreamy beach in Brazil where I dance to her songs furiously until dawn. Fundamentally this song, our favorite on El Sonido, “Rajadão”:
Pabllo is 27 years-old and jumped onto the international radar for her collaborations with several music stars such as Anitta, the Mexican Thalia, the pop singer Lali, Diplo, and many more. In Batidão Tropical, her new LP, the mega pop star focuses her energy on eight tracks that reveal her personal and intimate side, taking forró and tecnobrega as fundamental elements of this new era. A few hours ago, she released a video clip for the second track of her new album, "Triste com T," which continues the story of "Ama Sofre Chora," where Pabllo Vittar is left planted at the altar. In this new chapter, she explores a different kind of honeymoon, a little painful but ultimately liberating.
We will see what new mental getaway the latest music of our queen from Brazil has in store for me, meanwhile, we have homework to do and this fresh new album to enjoy. — Albina Cabrera
In this month's edition of In Our Headphones, KEXP's Digital Content team shares music by Asian and Pasifika artists that have been in their personal rotation lately.
Each month with In Our Headphones, members of KEXP's Digital Content team share the music that's resonating with them right now. For this installment, in conjunction with International Jazz Day, a few of the team members share their reflections on jazz music in their personal rotations.
In this month's edition of In Our Headphones, KEXP's Digital Content team shares music by women artists that have been in their personal rotation lately.