The 10 Best Queer Songs of 2023: Staff Picks

By Editorial Staff

Running the gamut of genres, themes and release strategies, LGBTQ+ artists couldn’t be pinned down throughout this chaotic year.

Looking back, 2023 was nothing short of pure chaos. This year alone saw the election and ousting of the same person as speaker of the house, simultaneous labour strikes from writers and actors in the entertainment industry boycotts against the world’s top beer brand, criminal indictments against a former president, the disappearance of a submersible filled with millionaires and approximately one million other once-in-a-generation stories that dominated the news cycle.

It’s fitting, then, that the world of music seemed to embrace that feeling of mayhem. Years-old songs made their way into the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100, while hip-hop relinquished its hold over the charts to make room for a much broader spectrum of genres. That same energy suffused releases from LGBT+ artists throughout 2023 — queer and trans performers delivered in just about every genre, including pop, rock, country, folk, house, hip-hop, dance, Latin and everything in between. Topics ranged from fighting back against injustice to romantic trysts in the dark corners of nightclubs. Putting a label on music from LGBT+ artists in 2023 was, in a word, impossible, but a lot of the good music has come from queer artists.

070 Shake, “Black Dress”

Whether she’s crooning a bleeding-heart electro-R&B anthem like “Guilty Conscience” or providing an assist on a pop hit like Raye’s “Escapism,” 070 Shake oozes effortless cool — so when she decides to adopt a stadium rock posture on “Black Dress,” there’s never a doubt that she’ll be able to get the lighters up. “Black Dress” is massive but moves woozily, as if 070 Shake needs to get used to its size, but once that na-na-na hook hits and her charisma fully takes hold, “Black Dress” explodes, and lets its various fragments swirl in the sky above.

Kaytraminé, “Who He Iz”

The other supergroup this year is one that not nearly enough people are talking about, Kaytraminé. Consisting of Grammy-winning producer Kaytranada and rapper Aminé, their album is a perfect poolside listen. On “Who He Iz,” the duo doesn’t need a feature to show how great they are. It might not be the deepest album of the year, but it’s one of the most fun.

Yves Tumor, “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood”

Experimental music lovers have a new vanguard in Yves Tumor. Mixing rock, electronic, alternative, and R&B, Yves Tumor brings down the house with heavy synths, rocking guitars, and sky high vocals on this song. They’re our favourite arthouse musician today.

Sam Smith ft. RuPaul and Jessie Reyez, “I’m Not Here to Make Friends”

Sam Smith won a Grammy last year with their Kim Petras collab “Unholy” and this year, we’ve been dancing to the disco hit “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” featuring RuPaul and Jessie Reyez. In the song, Smith laments about being put in the friend zone for being too fat and too femme, but they remind us all that they’re badder than the boys you’re passing them up for.

100 gecs, “Hollywood Baby”

What if a Blink-182 song was made using only the biggest, most cartoonish sounds possible? Experimental duo 100 gecs answered that question with their bold single “Hollywood Baby,” an anthem off the album 10,000 gecs that captures the fear of never making it in show-biz. As vocalist Laura Les vents her anxieties over outsized pop-punk riffs and metallic drums, her hooks snowball into a swamp of manic yet extremely catchy distortion.

Arthur Russell, “The Boy With a Smile”

For fans of Arthur Russell, the 1986 album World of Echo is sacred music. Bathing his voice and cello in the titular electronic effect, this collection of songs is one of the avant-pop artist’s most personal statements, in a discography full of them. Since Russell’s death from AIDS in 1992, Steve Knutson of Audika Records has been tasked with unearthing a vast archive of unreleased music approved by Russell’s long-time partner Tom Lee. The new compilation Picture of Bunny Rabbit collects nine additional songs captured during the World of Echo sessions, and “The Boy With a Smile” (previously only heard in live recordings) is its glittering crown jewel. As always, Russell’s mumbling tenor makes the lyrics difficult to parse, but when he sings “you’ll find in me the boy with a smile on his face,” the feeling of pure joy is palpable.

Boyish feat. King Princess, “Kill Your Pain”

Dream-pop duo Boyish fittingly tapped indie-rock royalty in King Princess for this emotive collaboration. A classic rock riff serves as the backbone for much of the song, allowing lyrics like “I said it with my chest / My daddy’s wrong about you” and the demanding titular line, “Don’t be such a mess, just kill your pain,” to take centre stage. But it’s the song’s last 40 seconds that offer a different, less pragmatic take with a fuzzed-out, dizzying instrumental break that briefly allows a more chaotic emotional release for those in need.

Bronze Avery, “Scan and Copy”

Following last year’s debut album Softmetal, Bronze Avery simplified his formula on the single “Scan and Copy,” boiling down its appeal to a laser-synth hook and his rich, fluttering vocals. The result is Avery’s most compelling pop track yet: “Scan and Copy” gains steam thanks to the intricately produced harmonies (which also nicely showcase Avery’s falsetto), but this is no-frills rhythmic pop as its most enjoyable, and Avery sounds at home without anything obscuring his appeal.

Claud, “A Good Thing”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” indie singer-songwriter Claud poses to their maybe-significant other on “A Good Thing,” before counting to three for them both to answer simultaneously. Chances are the answer is “no,” since Claud’s thinking something few people (and fewer choruses) ever have the good sense to think: hey, maybe let’s just cool it and not think so damn much. “What if we just leave a good thing alone?/ Don’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke?”” they wonder — a truly inspired line of questioning whose good sense will undoubtedly just lead to both parties freaking out even more. But it never hurts to ask, especially over sweetly fuzzed-out ’90s guitar.

Demi Lovato, “Swine”

There is a moment on the bridge of “Swine” where you can hear the sound of Demi Lovato letting out all of her anger. Listing off how birthing people in America have been “undercompensated” and “over-regulated” since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the star’s voice bursts into a scream, declaring that “we’re infuriated, got us activated!” When you pair their unrelenting voice with the song’s thrashing drums and wildly distorted guitar licks, you’re left with a unique protest anthem against oppressive systems that we desperately need in 2023.

Jeffrey Eli, “Sleeping Beauty”

So much of the queer experience is rooted in the stories society tells us, and the stories we tell ourselves. For Jeffrey Eli’s breakthrough single, the up-and-coming singer decided to reinterpret a few of those stories for his own sake. “Sleeping Beauty” is a delicate little thing; a tender ode to self-discovery, joined at the hip with a full-throated rebuke to bigotry and intolerance. The bare-faced lyrics pair sublimely with Eli’s blissful falsetto voice, as he celebrates all the things about himself that he was shamed into pushing down. Thanks to this ecstatic single, “Sleeping Beauty” is wide awake and ready to live.

Omar Apollo, “Ice Slippin”

In 2023, no one can capture sorrow in their voice quite as well as Omar Apollo. “Ice Slippin” is filled with chilling imagery of a love that’s turned cold after harsh words, long distance and lots of regrets (Ice slippin’, swear to God, could’ve hit the brakes/Steering wheel locked, almost said, “Fuck it”). Using details from a terrifying drive in the snow, Apollo captures the darkness and anguish of a flailing relationship with his haunting vocals on this lonely pop gem.

Troye Sivan, “Rush”

“I feel the rush” is a compelling enough opening line, but to actually deliver on said rush is its own challenge – and one Troye Sivan annihilates on this hot and heavy standout from his third album Something To Give Each Other. The video sets the tone for this dance-pop banger (the visual opens with a bare booty showing off a fresh slap mark), for which Sivan’s angelic vocals weave in and out of the warbling, synth-based production that ensures anyone within earshot can feel the high, too. – L.H. — L.H.

VINCINT, “Romance”

After a few years of releasing existential bops you could dance and cry to, VINCINT came out the gate in 2023 ready for some unabashed fun. With “Romance,” the queer pop phenom bottled up the euphoric rush of confidence, flirtation and perspiration you’re bound to find any given night in a gay club near you, and transformed it into pop gold. From the vocals down to the four-on-the-floor production, “Romance” bounces with the bravado we all needed throughout this year.

Tyler, the Creator, “Sorry Not Sorry”

Tyler really is one of the truest geniuses in hip-hop and music overall, and in this song he addresses some of his former personas, even killing them off. Switching up his flow and the beat, Tyler shows off his versatility and remains a master of his craft.

Kylie Minogue, “Padam Padam”

It’s not 2023 in queer music without Kylie Minogue. The ageless Australian pop sensation has long been beloved by the gays, but hit a new stratosphere in 2023 with this inescapable hit that dropped just in time for Pride. Yes, it’s based off of a half-century-old Édith Piaf song. Yes, the lyrics are as simple as “Padam Padam, I hear it and I know.” The song itself inspired a wave of memes, but here’s the thing: it’s actually good. Minogue still has the uncanny pop music instincts that gave us hits like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “The Locomotion.” The slow build, the relentless chorus, the dance! It’s pure pop perfection, and I genuinely could listen to this song on repeat for four hours and probably not get tired of it.

At times, the number of editors and other staff involved in contributing to a story becomes a bit cumbersome to individually credit everyone. This is when we opt to use “Editorial Staff” instead of the usual contributor information.

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