For all its inherent dorkiness and schtick, the love song is an art form more ancient than recorded music itself. The oldest ones (that we know of) date all the way back to the 19th century – but even as pop music as we know it today gained steam over the last 50 or so years, the utmost common of themes has been heartrending odes to the subject of a songwriter’s infatuation.
Overtly queer music, on the other hand, had been relatively rare until the last few decades – that which permeated the mainstream, at least. But as more cultures come around to accepting and embracing those of us who fit under the LGBTQ+ umbrella – as it becomes less and less taboo for us to loudly and proudly express our identities – pop music’s queer sector is growing stronger by the day. And so too is that clear in the rainbow rock world: you could listen to a new album of shred and scream every single day for the rest of the year, and not once bare your ears to a cis-het voice. And for a queer kid who grew up thinking alternative music was solely a straight man’s game, that is so fucking awesome.
So, as we kick off our Pride Month celebrations for 2021, let’s take a look at ten queer love songs you should have on high rotation whenever those cutesy feelings pop up. We’ve swung for mostly current-gen cuts (sans the prerequisite Sleater-Kinney track, of course), and a good mix of pop, rock and punk. This is in no way a conclusive list of all the best queer love songs out there – not even a small chunk of them – but we hope you’ll find it a solid starting point to go forth and curate your own adorable gay playlists (or ‘gaylists’, if you will).
1. Against Me! – ‘333’
Though its harrowing film clip would imply anything but, ‘333’ is quite possibly the most upbeat song in the Against Me! catalogue. It’s a standout cut on a record all about love, 2016’s Shape Shift With Me, as frontwoman Laura Jane Grace takes listeners with her on the emotional rollercoaster of a new crush. She relates her love interest to artworks in a museum – the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, to be exact – with a chorus italicising Grace’s enthusiasm to make the romance work, no matter what pitfalls may lie ahead.
2. Alex Lahey – ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’
Hell hath no fury like the undying butterflies in your stomach during the first months of a new relationship. Every moment apart from your partner feels like pure agony, and whenever you’re with them – no matter when or where it is – the bliss is simply incalculable. On this rollicking power-pop scorcher, Alex Lahey concentrates the honeymoon phase into three sharp minutes of bright and lively guitars, jaunty percussion, and a chorus you’d be mad not to chant along to. It’s also a stellar intro to the Melbourne pop-rocker’s 2017 debut LP, I Love You Like A Brother – which, of course, is otherwise pillared on breakup songs. You win some, you lose some?
3. Bloc Party – ‘Sunday’
A slow-burning ballad by Bloc Party’s standards, ‘Sunday’ is an airy indie-pop reverie about the moment you realise that you’re truly in love with someone: when you’re hungover on a muggy Sunday morning, head full of bees and bad gin, desperate for a sip of Gatorade, and you shimmy over to see your beau in a similar state of dishevelment – messy hair, drool stains on their cheek, eyes bloodshot and weighed down with grey – but all you can think to yourself is, “Damn, this motherfucker right here is beautiful.”
4. chloe moriondo – ‘I Want To Be With You’
With punchy, jutting guitars and a soundscape that simmers and swells with Moriondo’s battered affection, ‘I Want To Be With You’ is an anthem for those doomed to sit back and admire their crush from a distance. If you’ve ever made the gaffe of falling for someone you don’t have an Oreo’s chance in a glass of milk with, you’ll understand the pain every chorus in this cut is lacquered with. But there’s a glimmer of hope in Moriondo’s intonation – she’s not giving up on wresting her to-be lover’s heart, and neither should you.
5. Courtney Barnett – ‘Aqua Profunda!’
There are two kinds of people out there: those who have made a total idiot of themselves in front of a potential paramour, and those who are goddamn liars. Courtney Barnett will happily admit to being the former, as the slacker-rock stalwart expounds in this short ’n’ summery jam about being so enthralled by a punter at her local pool that, in her conquests to impress her, she overestimated her swimming skills and wound up drowning. It’s a breezy blast of playful self-deprecation we can all relate to – much like the rest of Barnett’s 2015 LP, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.
6. Cry Club – ‘Two Hearts’
Cry Club singer Heather Riley describes this dreamy pop bop as “a mess of strong emotions for another person”. It’s about wanting to be with someone, trying so hard to make it work and coming so close to making that connection click, then tripping and stumbling right back to square one. But love is one hell of a drug, and when Cupid’s arrow strikes, you’ll go through hell and high water to be with the person you’re destined to – even if it seems a little reckless from an outsider’s perspective, which Riley concedes on their bridge: “All my friends think I’m crazy / But I’m just crazy about you”.
7. Doll Skin – ‘Sweet Pea’
Doll Skin cut their teeth on belting punk ragers steeped in angst and ferocity – so when they dip into their melodic side for a cruisy and emotive pseudo-ballad about wishing they could spend more time with their soulmates, you know they mean business. Underpinned with soaring guitars and radiant, folk-channelling harmonies that bend and billow into an emphatic, roaring climax, ‘Sweet Pea’ stands out on the Phoenix foursome’s otherwise vicious and visceral Manic Pixie Dream Girl like a sore thumb – but one that’s pain you’d never want to go away.
8. girl in red – ‘You Stupid Bitch’
Okay, so this track being called ‘You Stupid Bitch’ probably gives away that it’s not exactly a love song – but it is about wanting to be with someone, and by all accounts per the Norwegian trailblazer, someone that belongs with her. In a lot of circles where viable queer partners are hard to come by, we do sometimes tend to wind up with lovers we probably should’ve steered clear of. And it can be insanely frustrating when you’re on the outside looking in on that plight, knowing that someone is miserable in their bond but too stubborn to realise it.
9. Moaning Lisa – ‘Carrie (I Want A Girl)’
If any band was going to write the lesbian anthem of the 2010s’ grunge-rock resurgence, it was going to be Moaning Lisa. Name-dropping a litany of sapphic icons and highlighting (just some of) the women whose impact on rock and pop is still felt today, ‘Carrie’ – named, of course, for Sleater-Kinney’s inimitable Carrie Brownstein – is a ripping and riveting celebration of female sexuality, its fervour only amplified by its snarling guitars and bold, assertive vocal runs that cut right into the soul.
10. Sleater-Kinney – ‘One More Hour’
We purposely neglected some of the more iconic queer acts in favour of today’s trailblazers, but we’re pretty sure it’s illegal for an alternative site to write a listicle about queer bands without mentioning Sleater-Kinney, so here we are. And for good reason, no doubt – ask any queer punk band post-1995 for their influences, and there’s a 90 percent chance these Washington State riffers will make the cut. Plucked from their ’97 effort, Dig Me Out, ‘One More Hour’ is a lo-fi love song driven by yin and yang vocals, dirty guitars and roomy drums; a truly quintessential jam.