Queer Independent Artists Share The Albums That Helped Them Feel Seen

Navigating life’s challenging moments, it’s common to seek solace in the power of music. The perfect combination of lyrics can make one feel understood, offering a comforting sense of validation. This holds particularly true for members of the LGBTQ community, whose initial encounters with queer representation often occur within the realms of entertainment, whether on-screen or through song.

“The baby lezzie in me was screaming to have a cultural icon to look up to,” dance artist Kaleena Zanders recalls seeing Queen Latifah’s music video for “U.N.I.T.Y.” for the first time. “I even wrote a letter to her using the address in the booklet of her CD, telling her how much she meant to me.”

We reached out to ten emerging LGBTQ artists to share the albums that helped them feel seen. Their responses spanned the spectrum of canonically queer classics from Frank Ocean and Lady Gaga to the unconventional allure of icons like Lil’ Kim: “Her bold style and sex-positive lyrics not only captivated me, but also inspired me to pursue my own passion for guy rapping,” hip-hop artist Hearthrob Robb shared of his hero.

Mercy Collazo

For fans of: Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu

After listening to Mercy Collazo’s catalog, it’s easy to hear why the Latina singer-songwriter describes her sound as something you’d hear in a Quentin Tarantino film. Her moody track “Flip It” could easily play over an especially brutal fight sequence, while her latest release, “Who’s Winning,” sounds like a hero emerging from the bloody aftermath while the credits roll.

Check out: “Who’s Winning,” “Flip It”

The album that made her feel seen:

There’s so many albums that made me feel some type of way, but it started with Mazzy Star’s Tonight That I Might See album. I was signed to a label at sixteen and I remember being in my manager’s SUV when “Fade Into You” came on the radio. I screamed when he tried to change it and fell into a trance listening to this ethereal, folky sound. When he dropped me off, he asked if I was ok because he could clearly see how moved I was.

That led me to discover the band’s vocalist, Hope Sandoval, and her other band, Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions. Their song “Suzanne” always made me smirk. There’s a line, “And she looks just like my sister / But she feels just like my man.” To be clear, I wasn’t down for any incestuous vibes! But I got what she was saying; almost like a hidden crush, hinting that there were some queer things going on. I loved it.

Shea Diamond

For fans of: Tina Turner, Lizzo

Fans of HBO’s drag makeover series We’re Here will recognize Shea Diamond’s booming voice from the show’s anthemic theme song “I Am America.” The transgender singer is a bit of a genre chameleon; not only did she hold her own alongside rock superstars Tom Morello and Dan Reynolds on the high-octane collab “Stand Up,” but she explored jazz, disco, and rockabilly on this year’s covers EP, Memory Lane.

Check out: “I Am Her,” “Summertime”

The album that made her feel seen:

I would say that Aretha Franklin’s album Pride: A Deeper Love had a profound impact on awakening my queerness. The powerful lyrics and soulful melodies spoke to my own journey of self-discovery and embracing my authentic identity. Aretha’s message of love, pride, and acceptance resonated deeply within me, providing a soundtrack to empower me to embrace my true self.

Heartthrob Robb

For fans of: Tyler, the Creator, Megan Thee Stallion

A trailblazer in the queer hip-hop scene, Heartthrob Robb (formally known as ROB.B) took some time off before returning with this year’s dual releases “Manifesto” and “Make It Hot.” The latter track is inspired by the resilient spirit of the ballroom community and has vocal samples from the iconic documentary Paris Is Burning.

Check out: “Make It Hot,” “Manifesto”

The album that made him feel seen:

The album that had a profound impact on my journey of self-discovery is Hardcore by Lil Kim. I can vividly recall taking the eye-catching, bright pink CD from my sister’s collection, locking myself in my room, and playing it on repeat. From the very first lyrics, “I used to be scared of the dick / Now I throw lips to the shit,” I felt an immediate connection. As a young closeted gay man, it resonated deeply with my own experiences of embracing and understanding my sexuality. Her influence continues to shape my music to this day.

Glass Battles

For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Muse

After wrapping last year’s stint as opener for Garbage’s tour, the industrial-pop artist has been plugging away at his sophomore album. If the record’s Wizard of Oz-inspired lead single “Emerald” is any indication, Glass Battles is headed for a darker, more cinematic sound.

Check out: “Emerald,” “Pfeiffer”

The album that made him feel seen:

For anyone that knows me this might be redundant, but the album that has had the most impact on me and my queerness is Version 2.0 by Garbage. It is a perfect album. I had already been a fan of their debut album, but I remember having MTV on in the summer when the video for “Push It” premiered. They’ve informed my creativity, my queerness, and definitive parts of my personality since I was introduced. To say it’s informed my work is also an understatement; they continue to inspire me.


For fans of: Boygenius, Ethel Cain

Formed in 2016, alt-pop duo Boyish’s India Shore and Claire Altendahl met while attending Berklee College of Music. The pair’s latest EP, the airy, lo-fi Little Demon Boy, features a team-up with indie darling King Princess on the bittersweet “Kill Your Pain.”

Check out: “Split Up,” “Kill Your Pain”

The albums that made them feel seen:

India: Channel Orange was really the first thing I listened to where I was aware of the fact that it was a piece of queer art. It completely blew my mind, and paired with his letter on Tumblr, it really got the gay ball rolling for me.

A friend of mine introduced me to “Pink Matter” while we were in school. She was doodling the lyrics in her notebook and asked me if I knew where they were from. Looking back on it, I definitely had a crush on her, so it really comes full circle!

Claire: One of my favorite albums that awoke my queerness is By The Way, I Forgive You by Brandi Carlile. Brandi was one of the first artists I really loved. They played “The Story” constantly on one of my hometown radio stations in Minnesota and I used to sing it with my mom and sister growing up. She was one of the first queer people I was aware of, and seeing how much my mom loved her gave me so much confidence that it would be okay when I came out

I’ve now seen Brandi perform twice and she is one of my all-time favorite performers. I even got to take my mom to see her at the Minnesota State Fair this past summer which was a full-circle moment for us.


For fans of: Tove Lo, Troye Sivan

Los Angeles-based pop artist SNG has embraced his inner ho with his latest track, “Suddenly,” taking listeners along for a Grindr rendezvous: “Body to body in the dark / We can just meet up in your car / Breathe heavy.” Not only is the Laotian-American artist a singer-songwriter, but creates his own left-of-center visuals as well.

Check out: “Suddenly,” “maybeidontthinksobutithinksobutidoubtit”

The album that made him feel seen:

Spice by The Spice Girls – the holy grail of albums that turned my life into a glittery, high-kicking, platform shoe-wearing musical. It’s like each song was a sparkly, wake-up call to my inner diva. My cousins and I performed the entire album for our parents and naturally, choosing Ginger Spice was like claiming my rightful throne in the Queendom of Spice: the trendsetter, the sass-master, the fashion icon. It’s not just an album; it was my passport to world domination!


For fans of: Taylor Swift, Chappell Roan

Florida-raised, LA-based singer-songwriter Gatlin’s latest EP I Sleep Fine Now is an emotional exploration of the stages of grief. “You’re laughing in the face of someone who tried / That was my crime / Trying to love someone who’s dead inside,” she snarls on the gut-punching project highlight “How Do You Sleep At Night?”

Check out: “Really Funny,” “How Do You Sleep At Night?”

The album that made her feel seen:

This is basic as f*ck, but Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was just it for me. I was in middle school, still in my conservative, religious bubble where Lady Gaga was considered taboo. But I just gravitated to it and desired to be that free. Then as I started releasing music in college — as well as really stepping into my queerness — that was an album that allowed me to embrace all of my extra-ness.
Obviously “Born This Way” is such a gay anthem that makes me feel like I can conquer the whole ass world while crying and wearing my tallest pair of platform boots, but I also saw myself in “You and I” because of its hint of country twang.

Alto Moon

For fans of: Usher, Pharrell Williams

Inspired by the Afrofuturism aesthetic of artists like Janet Jackson and Janelle Monae, Atlanta-based Alto Moon’s Supernova is a forward-thinking pop album. Rather than catering to the drowsy, lackadaisical sound running rampant on editorial playlists, the singer-songwriter opted for a high-energy, electronic sound.

Check out: “Slide,” “Move”

The album that made him feel seen:

In the summer before my junior year of high school, I listened to the early leak of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. I vividly remember laying down and pretending to understand the metaphors in his lyrics, but I sat up when I heard the lyrics, “Forrest Gump, you run my mind boy.” It was the first time I heard a direct proclamation of admiration for a man, from the voice of another man — especially a black man — in an R&B song. From then on, I realized queer music wasn’t exclusively fast BPMs and club 808s. It could be soft, honest, look like me and sound like me.

Zee Machine

For fans of: MUNA, Adam Lambert

While many up-and-coming artists are finding their audiences through TikTok, it takes a special kind of talent to convert casual viewers into ticket-buying fans. Such is not the case with pop maestro Zee Machine; thanks to their undeniable vocal chops and charismatic stage presence, their latest Los Angeles set sold out.

Check out: “Thunder,” “The Radio”

The album that made him feel seen:

I truly believe that Life In Cartoon Motion saved my love of pop music. Having emerged from a period of time where my iPod rotation was dominated by classic rock guitars and dense prog rock, Mika tore through that the moment he climbed his stratospheric falsetto in the verse of “Love Today.” There was a part of me that was almost afraid to give into the technicolor bombast that he brought to every song. Giving us more of a modern-day Freddie Mercury than we had ever seen, looking back this was the first time I opened myself up to unpretentious queer joy in music.

Kaleena Zanders

For fans of: CeCe Peniston, Calvin Harris

Singer-turned-DJ Kaleena Zanders’ catalog is a love letter to the ’90s house movement of her youth. Her soaring vocals have been featured on collaborations with dance heavyweights like Shift K3Y, Chris Lake, and Matroda, among others.

Check out: “Vibration,” “Me Without U”

The album that made her feel seen:

One album that woke me up to my queerness was Queen Latifah’s 1993 Black Reign. I had first seen her music video for “U.N.I.T.Y” on MTV and I was hooked. I was drawn to her confidence and butch-like presence. She reeked of girl power and a celebration of queerness in the best way, and for that I thank Queen Latifah for helping me understand myself at an early age.