For Corook, a 26-year-old readying her first-ever releases, being a queer female songwriter means writing songs that are specific to her experience — and refusing to change those stories for anyone. “There’s always the ‘who produces your music question,” she said in a recent email interview. “And the inevitable shock that comes with the answer, “me.” We all know that’s because I’m a girl. When it comes to my queerness, I’ve gotten the note from some industry people that certain songs are too specific about my own story — they can’t hear themselves in them. And to that I say….duh? It’s my story. I don’t want to tell a story broad enough to include everyone. I want my music to create a community of my people the queers, the weirdos, the chubbys, the activists, the Rubix cubers, the ones that don’t f*ck with snakes.”
As a kid, Corook, born Corinne Savage, remembers using humor to navigate difficult moments in her family life, and she’s continued to flex that muscle in her songwriting: “Making dark things light is kind of my specialty!” Following up her first two singles, “Sims” and “Bad Friend,” Corook recently shared her third-ever song, “Degree,” and is readying her first EP, achoo, for release on March 4. She’s just one of the many queer young women of a new generation who are determined to change the long-held stereotypes of this industry.
In 2022, there’s more support, awareness, and championing of queer voices than ever before. The love and acceptance that the LGBTQ community has garnered in recent years is heartening, but the fact remains that queer artists still face stigma, and have a harder time making their way in the music industry than other artists. For women and femme or female-identifying musicians, getting noticed can be an even steeper climb. With that in mind, here’s ten queer female songwriters making waves in the pop world, and in the process, reshaping the genre in their own image.
One of the most influential songwriters, producers, and performers of our era, Janelle Monáe changed the game when it came to mainstream acceptance of Black, femme queerness when she came out as pansexual in a Rolling Stone interview in 2018. “I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too,’” Monáe told the publication. “I’m open to learning more about who I am.” Janelle’s shapeshifting, sleek and funky, vulnerable and psychedelic compositions catapulted her to fame — most notably, The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018’s Dirty Computer, but also on her hit single “We Are Young” with fun. But it’s impossible to deny that since Monáe’s emergence, the ledgers of pop have shifted, and today’s playlists are filled with a lot more funky, soulful young black stars who are unapologetic about their identities and who they love.
Aside from the world-stopping brilliance of “Silk Chiffon,” their first Phoebe Bridgers collaboration and my personal pick for best song of 2021, Muna have been quietly carving out their own place in the pop world for a while now. Starting off with their debut album, About U in 2017, the trio was then tapped to open for Harry Styles during his first solo tour, an opportunity that expanded their audience exponentially for their 2019 follow-up album, Saves The World. Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson were initially wary of being labeled as a “queer band,” but have seen the importance of talking openly about their own identities to support and uplift their fans. Muna’s sound is a perfect marriage of dark synth-pop and lyrics focused on emotional excavation, bringing a deeper, more grounded sound to the queer pop world.
“I am literally the founding father of America’s worst nightmare — A gay, Black, powerful woman,” Siena Liggins joked in an interview last year. Even so, this Atlanta artist represents a huge part of American culture, with bangers that approach hookup culture from a lesbian perspective like the flirty “Girlfriend” or the highly explicit “Dirty Girl,” which features another Uproxx favorite, Baby Tate. These emerging hits anchor her debut album, Ms. Out Tonight, which combines the sparkle of ‘00s bubblegum pop with the trap sensibilities that have long been exported from Liggins’ Georgia to bolster the sound of other stars. While plenty of gay artists cloak their desires in euphemism or coded language, Liggins’ blunt expression of her queer desires is something mainstream pop still needs more of. With Siena leading the way, more explicit, female-gaze-driven pop will definitely be coming soon.
Speaking of pop that centers the female gaze, no one does it better than Fletcher. Closing out 2021 with a bang, the rising pop songwriter teamed up with Hayley Kiyoko, aka “Lesbian Jesus” herself, to deliver the blissed-out sapphic anthem that is “Cherry.” Since she’s been in the spotlight since 2015, Fletcher has repeatedly resisted a specific label, and even recently spoke out about how she doesn’t want to be put in a box when it comes to her sexuality. “In regards to how I identify, I just am,” she told Out magazine. “In a constant state of evolution. Of in between. Of letting go. It’s about energy. But I am attracted to strong feminine energy which just so happens to more likely than not be women.” With a sparkling pop sound and flirtatious, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Fletcher’s new single brings a breeziness that the top chart hits are sorely lacking of late. (Adele, I’m looking at you.)
Raveena Aurora is a bisexual, Indian-American singer/songwriter who loves to use queer women of color to populate her colorful and sensual music videos. As a first-generation immigrant, Raveena’s sound is a mix of pop, R&B, and the classically romantic Indian music that has made Bollywood films one of the biggest genres in the world. Following up her first album, 2019’s Lucide, which she released completely independently, Raveena signed with Warner Records and is releasing her follow-up album, Asha’s Awakening. Even in a world that is striving to offer better representation and center women of color, it’s still rare to see an Indian woman in the pop mainstream, so Raveena’s proud centering of her intersectional identity is part of what makes her music so special and important.
Aside from her riveting tweets, where Cain doles out acerbic cultural commentary and personal anecdotes in short spurts, Ethel’s music is just as essential. Her 2021 Inbred EP was a distillation of her lo-fi, layered folk-pop sound, a gritty template that she splays her sometimes macabre, sometimes tender imagery out on. Somewhere between Perfume Genius and Pavement, fans of ’90s grunge and layered ballads will find something to love here. A self-proclaimed former “backwoods churchgoer in the deep south,” Cain is a transgender woman who has shed some of that past, but prods at the line between sacred and profane, delighted to shorten the distance between the two. Dubbing her loyal listeners as “daughters,” Cain recently collaborated with Lil Aaron, and is clearly headed toward big things in 2022.
Though Corook literally only has three singles out, this quirky young songwriter has already made quite an impression. “I tried to live there / I f*cking hate Brooklyn,” she proclaims on her second-ever track, “Bad Friend,” immediately separating herself from a whole slew of songwriters fully intent on gaslighting us into thinking New York is the only place an artist can possibly be happy. Taking full responsibility for her own attachment issues on the song, Corook’s self-deprecation definitely resonates with plenty of other “chubby” girls skirting avoidance issues. “My best friend left when I told her I’m gay,” goes another particularly poignant line, revealing an all-too-common ignorant stigma that still somehow exists – even into 2022. On her debut single “Sims,=\” Corook gets into the virtual worlds that we build, that are sometimes easier to face than reality. This pair of songs clearly illustrate that this Gen-Z artist is well on her way to internet fame, putting her finger on the issues that plague the very-online of every generation.
Since the internet went crazy for this rising pop star, dubbing her “Lesbian Jesus” and worshipping at the altar of her decidedly female gaze-y bangers, Hayley Kiyoko has embraced her role as one of the standard bearers for queer women in music. As a half-Japanese woman who was certain of her queer identity from a young age, Kiyoko has shared a lot about her childhood experience of not fitting in with her peers, which led to a sense of isolation. Now, her entire ethos is centered around helping young people who feel lonely in their queerness to find a sense of community and belonging. Stepping into the spotlight at an impossibly young age, now that she’s almost 30, Kiyoko is growing into her role as one of the most visible lesbian figures in mainstream pop. Following up her 2018 breakout Expectations, her second album is slated for release later this year, which will no doubt catapult her to even more success.
While the hip-hop side of pop still tends to be dominated by men, PineappleCITI is shifting that stereotype one glitchy ballad at a time. Born Brittany Dickinson, the Red Bull Records-signee grew up in Newark, New Jersey, her humble upbringings contrasted with the billboard in Times Square she was thrilled to show off back in 2019. Since then, the singer, rapper and songwriter has released a series of one-off singles like “Lift Me Up,” Balance,” and “Dance” that showcase her versatility. Assuming a trap-pop sound that blends rap and R&B with effortless hooks, Dickinson laughed off the stereotype that she’s simply a hip-hop artist just because she raps. “Originally, people assumed I was just a rapper,” she told DJBooth. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s so much to my musicality. I love making R&B songs. I’ve written pop ballads for Kelly Rowland.” Open about both her queerness and her struggles with ADD and debilitating injuries from a bad car accident, PineappleCITI has been putting on for rappers who don’t think they fit in hip-hop, and artists who want to dabble in pop, rap, and everything in between.
Whatever the “it” that talent scouts talk about really is, Rina Sawayama has it. Born in Japan and raised in London, this international star broke out with her 2017 EP Rina that mixed ‘90s R&B nostalgia with the bubblegum craze that defined ‘00s pop. That EP and a string of one-off singles, including the girl gaze hit “Cherry,” catapulted Rina to international fame, and led her to come out as pansexual. “Definitely this song, ‘Cherry,’ is my most personal but political,” she told Vice at the time. Off the strength of that initial EP she signed with Dirty Hit, the UK indie better known as The 1975’s label, and began prepping her full-length debut. Sawayama was slated for release in April 2020, when the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, and it was sorely underrated due to that timing. But a new collaboration with Charli XCX, “Beg For You,” and with plans for a second album already underway, Rina’s nostalgic pop girl gaze is poised for a major breakthrough in America.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.