Music at Home: Songs of Pride
Music has long been intertwined with the spirit of Pride and pro-LGBTQ+ movements, from obvious selections like Diana Ross’ disco banger “I’m Coming Out” to the confrontational queercore of groups like Pansy Division. During Pride month, the music is usually a mix of party and protest, combining the sensual pleasures of classic disco and dance music with potent messages of individuality, resilience, and hope. Even though Pride festivals aren’t happening as planned this year, there’s nothing to stop us from connecting ourselves to that history. In this latest installment of Rolling Stone‘s weekly “Music at Home” series, we’ve assembled a playlist for a Pride dance party that you can enjoy right in your living room.
(Find this playlist on Spotify here.)
George Michael, “Freedom ’90”
In 1990, George Michael made a bid for himself as a serious singer-songwriter, shaking off the sex symbol status that followed him after “Faith.” “Freedom ’90,” from Michael’s album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, was ostensibly written about the desire to make a huge artistic change in spite of the risks, but it could have just as easily been written about the struggle to come out and live authentically — something Michael did publicly in 1998. Built around a sample of Clyde Stubblefield’s famous break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and a cycling piano riff that hints at house music, it’s luxuriously soulful, and it really soars when Michael sings the line, “All we have to do now/Is take these lies and make them true somehow.”
Kaytranada ft. Kali Uchis, “10%”
Queer Toronto-based DJ and producer Kaytranada recruited bisexual singer Kali Uchis for the paced-down and spaced-out disco number “10%,” one of the singles from his 2020 album Bubba. Set to a funky backbeat and colorful droplets of synth noise, it’s a tune about owning up to who you are. “Why you tryna lie for them?/Pretending who you are,” sings Uchis, supremely confident in in her own swagger.
Perfume Genius, “Queen”
“No family is safe/When I sashay,” sings Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas in this 2014 single, dropping a glitter bomb directly on top of anyone who’s ever shouted about “family values” as a smoke screen for their homophobia. It’s one of pop music’s all-time great statements about the power of effeminacy, wrapped in a hard-candy glam rock coating.
Against Me, “True Trans Soul Rebel”
After coming out as a transgender woman in 2012, Against Me founder Laura Jane Grace fearlessly chronicled her transition on the punk group’s 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. “True Trans Soul Rebel,” a rousing, fist-in-the-air rock anthem, zooms in on those early moments of the transition when a person who’s learning how to present themselves might feel uncertain about how to handle themselves in public.
Gossip, “Standing in the Way of Control”
Dance-punk band the Gossip responded to the second Bush administration’s retrograde stance on same-sex marriage with this pulverizing number, the title track from their 2006 album. Amid distorted disco bass, serrated edge guitar, and sizzling hi-hats, queer frontwoman Beth Ditto howls her way through an urgent message to stay hopeful and resist by surviving “the only way that you know.”
Grace Jones, “Pull Up to the Bumper”
The stylish and provocative singer-model Grace Jones was already a beloved figure in the queer discos of New York (and beyond) by the time she updated her sound for 1980’s Warm Leatherette, thanks to her playful subversion of gender norms and a performance style that brimmed with masculine energy. Embracing a rhythm-heavy mix of reggae, disco, and New Wave with collaborators Sly & Robbie, Jones released “Pull Up to the Bumper,” a delightful slice of sleazy funk from 1981’s Nightclubbing. The whole thing rests on a very un-subtle parking-as-sex metaphor that’s filthy enough to make your parents blush (“Back it/Up twice/Now that/Fits nice”) and all the more fun for it.
You could probably do an entire Pride list of just Madonna songs, if we’re being honest. But early in her career the iconic performer and her producers made killer singles that combined bubblegum pop with the edge of New Wave and the disco sounds still throbbing in gay clubs. Her third single, “Holiday,” is a perky bit of escapism featuring cowbell, synth strings, and scratchy guitar that sounds like the vacation we all deserve after this year.
Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”
English singer-songwriter-model Dua Lipa came out swinging in late 2019 with “Don’t Start Now,” evoking a whole bygone era of gay disco anthems about resilience that goes back to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and beyond. “Though it took some time to survive you, I’m better on the other side,” she declares, with the most buoyant bass line this side of Chic whisking her away to the dancefloor.
Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”
Possibly the greatest gay anthem of the last decade, Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” is, on its face, a song about heartbreak and resilience. A sleek electro number with an insistent, 16th-note bassline, “Dancing on My Own” carries the Swedish pop star right to the club, watching her lover kiss someone else amidst all the “stilettos and broken bottles.” In spite of her sadness, she finds the resolve to hit the floor and keep dancing, even if it means she’s alone again. It’s a message that goes straight to the heart of every lonely queer kid who’s ever felt lost or helpless, encouraging them to get up and keep moving.
Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
Whip-smart country queen Kacey Musgraves aimed for the dancefloor with this track from her all-killer 2018 album Golden Hour and didn’t miss. A tart dressing down of that one acquaintance — you know the one — who acts too good to be any-damn-where and generally ruins the fun for everyone else, “High Horse” makes out like a silky disco number, but adds a dose of banjo and Telecaster twang for a little extra yee-haw.
Janet Jackson, “Together Again”
On 1997’s The Velvet Rope, Janet Jackson wrote about her own depression as well as often taboo subjects like domestic violence, BDSM, and same-sex love. The uplifting house number “Together Again” was penned with frequent collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as a tribute to a friend who died of AIDS, and by extension it became a loving tribute to the thousands of others who were grappling with the disease. Despite the sadness from which the song emerged, it radiates a kind of pure joy in the faith that we’ll someday be reunited with everyone we’ve ever loved and lost. Now, in the midst of another terrible virus, this one hits harder than ever.
Kylie Minogue, “Love at First Sight”
When Australian pop diva Kylie Minogue released “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” in 2001, she hadn’t had a hit in the U.S. since the late Eighties — though not because her work took a dip in quality, let’s be clear. From the same album, titled Fever, was the equally great single “Love at First Sight.” With production that references the French house of Daft Punk and Cassius, it perfectly evokes that magical feeling of all the stars aligning and all the best songs playing as someone new drifts into your orbit.
Pet Shop Boys, “It’s a Sin”
Around the world, various religious faiths have used their considerable social and political clout to dehumanize and vilify queer folks for years. Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant wasn’t yet publicly out of the closet when the duo released the album Actually in 1987, but he made his feelings about the Catholic church very clear on the U.K. hit “It’s a Sin.” Built around bright blasts of synth and a percolating bassline, it’s a vicious indictment of the church’s strictures (“When I look back upon my life/It’s always with a sense of shame”) that doubles as a dance-pop classic.
Sylvester, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”
Out since he was a teen in the Sixties, the flamboyant performer Sylvester enjoyed a series of hit dance recordings in his short lifetime, eventually dying from complications of AIDS in 1988. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” with mixing by Patrick Cowley and some early use of electronic instruments, is one of those ecstatic disco tunes guaranteed to liven up any party.
Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart”
Fronted by the divinely colorful Lady Miss Kier, the oddball trio Deee-Lite added some day-glow Club Kid energy to the charts in the early Nineties with “Groove Is in the Heart.” This one has everything: Bootsy Collins, slide whistles, horns from Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, and even a rap from Q-Tip. As a call to let your freaky side show, it sounded positively crazy on the radio in 1990 — 30 years later, it’s still every bit as irresistible.
Kesha & Big Freedia, “Raising Hell”
Much like Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” before it, Kesha and Big Freedia’s 2019 single “Raising Hell” is a rallying cry for all the “misfits of creation” to enjoy themselves without fear or shame. Incorporating some gospel-style piano and melody into its stomping, bass-heavy rhythm, it’s a spirit-lifting jam that’ll make you eager to obey queer bounce star Freedia’s commands to “Drop it down low.”
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax”
A little controversy didn’t hurt the performance of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s debut single “Relax,” which featured cheekily explicit lyrics about delaying orgasm and two openly gay lead singers in Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford. It was famously banned by the BBC, but with Trevor Horn’s sleek New Wave production of programmed drums and bleating synth noises, interest around “Relax” helped it sell millions and become one of the Eighties’ biggest singles. Not bad for a song that openly praised the joys of gay sex.
Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
R&B futurist Janelle Monae went deeper into Prince’s freaky, sexed-up funk on “Make Me Feel,” a standout from 2018’s Dirty Computer. “Baby, don’t make me spell it out for you,” she coos, hinting at her own pansexual identity that she’d later confirm, set to a hydraulic kick drum and trebly guitar licks. It’s the sound of an artist opening herself up, ready to celebrate an “emotional, sexual bender” and encouraging others to do the same.
Tegan and Sara, “Closer”
Queer twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin brought considerable songwriting acumen to their ambitious pop album Heartthrob in 2012, and the results paid off. Working with Greg Kurstin, they concocted “Closer,” a masterpiece of erotic tension and their biggest single. Opening with lush synths and soft vocals, it quickly turns into a head-rush dancefloor-filler as drums and bass ramp up the BPMs, while the duo plead their case to embrace that tingling feeling: “It’s not just all physical/I’m the type that won’t get oh so critical/So let’s make things physical/I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.”
Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me”
Two of this generation’s greatest pop divas (and avowed allies) got together on Gaga’s Chromatica album for a soaring house anthem about pressing on through one’s toughest struggles. Sports people would call this one a slam-dunk.
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