The past year has seen an impressive uprising from queer artists, who’ve all proudly asserted their visions in a competitive, male-dominated industry that remains largely heteronormative today. We’ve always been confident that pop culture trickles up from the Underground, slowly infiltrating the mainstream with tomorrow’s points-of-view. 2015 validated our beliefs, introducing an array of newcomers who’re bound to be the future of lyricism, performance and radio.
We’re not singling out these artists as being different than their musical contemporaries (re: 2013’s gay hip-hop sensationalizing), but rather recognizing and celebrating a selection of rising queer talent for their impressive cultural contributions. Here are 12 of our favorite tracks from 2015 because a slim 10 was too difficult to decide on. From Chemise Cagoule’s Chicago graveyard pop to Neocamp’s “Celtic Club Cunt” sound, this is what topped our playlists.
1. “Violet Pt. II” by Chemise Cagoule
Chicago-based solo act Chemise Cagoule is one we’ve always had a personal fascination with. Singer Jack Collier’s acute awareness of pop aesthetics is met with an eerie underground edge to create a surreal post-breakup persona glittered with the inevitable grit of DIY bedroom production. “Violet Pt. II” shatters the standards for traditional song structure by piecing together climaxes and lulls at unexpected intervals. Collier nails lyrical pop superficiality when he asserts the dramatic line, “And then we crashed and burned; at least we rode in style.”
2. “Lazy Girl” by Macy Rodman
Delivering an anthem for transgender Millennials, Brooklyn performer Macy Rodman’s “Lazy Girl” lyrically centers on the lethargic depression that sets in when you begin taking hormones. “Stressin’ out when I start the day / gotta pop a fuckin xani just to make some eggs,” she raps with her signature nasally undertone. The music video adds another layer to the JX Cannon-produced track, starring a number of NYC transwomen from rising designer Gogo Graham to photographer Serena Jara.
3. “Paradise” by ROMANCE
Avan Lava frontman TC Milan teamed up with Brooklyn-based producer Yung Diamond this year, debuting their new collaborative project ROMANCE with the lead single, “Paradise.” Packed with bouncy pop production, the track’s instrumental echoes something that could soundtrack a ’90s video game, while Milan’s falsetto vocals add an optimistic narrative. “This ain’t no typical life / we’re livin’ in a paradise,” he sings, topping off a track that sounds nothing like music made today.
4. “Toyota (Feat. Imp Queen)” by Witch Hazel
When Chicago-based nightlife performer Imp Queen performs “Toyota” live, she opens by asking her audience this highly relevant, relatable question: “Has anybody seen my Uber daddy?” With a not-so-subtle blink of her larger-than-life lashes, she begins diligently listing off a number of cars—”Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Ford Fiesta”—over producer Unicorn Florida’s stylized instrumental. Lyrically and sonically, the track makes little-to-no sense, which is why we’re so fucking obsessed.
5. “Coke White, Starlight” by Mykki Blanco
Lifted off Mykki Blanco’s collaborative Dogwood Music Group LP C-ORE, “Coke White, Starlight,” sees Chicago producer Jeremiah Meece’s otherworldly production shine through. “They don’t wanna see a man in a dress succeed,” Blanco begins before unraveling his untouchable lyricism atop a throbbing, industrial instrumental. The final minute is where Meece’s electronic fortitude becomes explosive, pounding like the soundtrack to a fictional, murderous mission set forth by the devil himself.
6. “Vocalex” by Luke Neocamp
A purveyor of the previously unearthed genre, “Celtic Club Cunt,” Irish performer Neocamp delivered a wild, wonky soundscape on his 2015 single, “Vocalex.” If losing your mind came equipped with a musical component, this would easily be the accompanying jingle, polished with a stylish “post-global” finish. He’s introduced a complex array of ideas, here, and somehow packaged them into three-and-a-half minutes of neon-lit, Willy Wonka-style pop.
7. “You Make Me Cray” by Quay Dash
There’s an effortlessness to Cunt Mafia member Quay Dash’s ’90s-inspired track, “You Make Me Cray,” which sees the Brooklyn-based emcee singing in a fuzzy, lo-fi whisper. “Be the boogie to my beat, be the boogie to my heart / show me how to love,” she slyly coos, before unleashing her hard-hitting lyrical beast from the cage with aggressive lines like, “Niggas got dick, but they can’t even fuck.”
8. “It Ain’t About You (Feat. Rahel)” by Jay Boogie
Rapper Jay Boogie is New York’s best kept secret, releasing smash after smash without the level of acclaim he rightfully deserves. His sophomore full-length album My H.O.E. (Health Over everything) is chock-full of standout tracks, though Boogie’s Rahel collaboration, “It Ain’t About You” is hands down the strongest. Billy Scher’s soaring production offers a wonderfully optimistic treatment, wrapping Boogie’s hooks into an undeniable radio contender.
9. “Uncle Freestyle” by Uncle Meg
“Uncle—let me niece and nephew your children,” asserts pint-sized rapper Uncle Meg on her Dangerfield EP opener, “Uncle Freestyle.” Having broken off from her viral rap collective Hand Job Academy, 2015 saw the solo emcee carving out her own musical lane—one that easily rivals the fiery touch of 2006’s Lady Sovereign.
10. “My Cup” by Thirsty
For Thirsty’s “My Cup” premiere, we labeled the Chicago-based producer “Sophie’s evil step-sister,” and the comparison hasn’t yet lost its luster. “I’ve got several different liquors in my cup,” Chaz Allen says, his vocals hyper-pitched to sound like some sort of robotic demon from the depths of hell. We recall Twitter becoming ablaze with furious naysayers once we unveiled his single last April, and any music that can spark that much hate is worth applauding.
11. “Loudspeaker” by MUNA
LA-based girl group MUNA is doing something right, having released three stellar tracks in a row this past year off a forthcoming debut full-length album. While “So Special” and “Promise” were strong introductions to the outfit’s ’80s-infused, dark-pop sound, “Loudspeaker” is the single that has our vote for “Best Of” 2015. Lyrically, MUNA’s lead singer Katie Gavin has a way with story-telling that few contemporary vocalists do, crafting honest lines that make us shamelessly ugly cry in public places.
12. “Whoremoan” by Mister Wallace
2016 will the year of Mister Wallace. Case. Closed.