Music makes moments. Or perhaps, more accurately, moments make music into anthems. The LGBTQ+ community has been impacted by musical anthems and the icons behind them.
The songs adopted by the LGBTQ+ community are upheld because they are intertwined with history and filled with lyrics of acceptance. A LGBTQ+ anthem is typically upbeat in tone, ambiguous in its use of gendered pronouns and captures a moment unique to the lived experience of the community.
The LGBTQ+ community hold up artists like Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston and RuPaul as iconic makers of anthems because their music checks the boxes of being upbeat and unique while leaving room to fit a variety of lived experiences.
Media moments and events that feature these artists and their songs also play a large role in making these artists the voice of a community.
The song “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga can be heard every year coming from the speakers of many a Pride parade float making their way down Church Street under the hot June sun.
It may be because the songs written by these artists are often upbeat and catchy with lyrics that speak to acceptance and the complexities of love. But there is something that needs to be said for the history that upholds the platform these artists stand on.
Carl Bean recorded the disco song “I Was Born This Way” in 1977. Bean passed away in September of this year and was a singer turned minister and AIDS activist. Not everybody enjoying Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” anthem in the crowd knows it samples an older song. Instead, they hold Gaga’s song up as a moment of LGBTQ+ culture.
Whether it is because she never shies away from a taboo topic in her lyrics, or because she has been known to push the boundaries of fashion, Lady Gaga’s music is a frequent backdrop in many LGBTQ+ settings.
Whitney Houston was also known within the LGBTQ+ community for her songs that became LGBTQ+ anthems. This could be the result of her impromptu, surprise performance at the New York Lesbian and Gay Pride Dance in 1999, or because the lyrics in “I Want to Dance with Somebody” use ambiguous pronouns.
However, it is impossible to talk about Whitney Houston’s impact as an LGBTQ+ icon in 2020 without looking at Sasha Velour’s performance in season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In 2017, Sasha Velour performed Houston’s “So Emotional” which led to the drag queen winning the season.
Complete with rose petals hidden in satin gloves and under wigs, Sasha Velour’s performance has ingrained itself in the LGBTQ+ zeitgeist.
Velour has taken the success she found with her performance of Whitney Houston and her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race and found her own fame. Velour joins contestants who have competed on the show over its 13 seasons dating back to 2009 and become iconic outside of their start on the reality show.
RuPaul is a rare LGBTQ+ icon who also crossed over into being a household name. This recognition is in part due to her break onto the drag scene in Atlanta in the early 1990s and her first studio album in 1993. But there is a history and legacy in RuPaul’s screen and music career that has led to the rise of other LGBTQ+ icons.
There is history in the music touted as LGBTQ+ anthems, whether those enjoying the tunes are aware of it or not.
The use of a song in pivotal LGBTQ+ moments is what moves a song from catchy tune across the boundary into an iconic anthem cherished by a community. These moments can be historical events or important movie scenes. However, they all speak to a lived experience understood in the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ icons and their anthems are strong anchors for a community looking for realistic representations of acceptance and love.