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Anni Irish
December 31, 2018 6:00 am

In the last year, openly LBGTQ+ artists have taken the music world by storm. In an industry where diversity is needed, the presence of more out and proud queer artists is helping to level the playing field. And as audiences seek out artists who mirror their own experiences, queer fan bases are growing. With so much new talent bursting at the seams, it’s hard to keep track of all the music we loved this year. From pop to R&B to hip-hop and more, here’s a look back at some of the biggest queer musicians of 2018 who helped break down barriers while creating their art.

1Hayley Kiyoko

Pop sensation Hayley Kiyoko has had a big year. The singer, who had already been popular among a smaller fan base over the last years, first made it onto people’s radars with her 2015 video “Girls Like Girls.” As an openly lesbian woman, Kiyoko has been a breath of fresh air, sharing her own experiences within her lyrics and making great music in the process. Her debut album, Expectations, dropped in March to much critical acclaim, and she was awarded Billboard’s Rising Star award in December. By all accounts, Kiyoko is just getting started and will be someone to watch in the coming year.

2Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae‘s 2010 album, The ArchAndroid, put her on the map, and she has continued to create fantastic music ever since. And beyond music, her two roles in Hidden Figures and Moonlight launched the pop siren even further into the public eye. Monae has always turned heads with her eclectic sense of personal style, and has frequently brought her gender and sexual identity into conversations about her work. Her latest album released in April 2018, Dirty Computer, received rave reviews from music critics (and late icon Prince even worked on it). Monae continued to set the internet ablaze this year when she came out as pansexual and discussed the #MeToo movement at the 2018 Grammys. Be sure to keep an eye out in 2019 to see what Ms. Monae will be up to next.

3Shea Diamond

Transgender singer Shea Diamond has a powerful story. Between 1999-2009, the singer served time in various men’s correctional facilities in Michigan, according to Billboard. Her crime? She robbed a convenience store at age 20 in an effort to fund her gender affirmation surgery. In the nearly 10 years since she was released from prison, Diamond has found her way. The soulful siren’s song lyrics are indicative of where she has come from and where she is headed. This year, Shea Diamond released her debut EP, Seen it All. She has become an outspoken advocate for LBGTQ+ rights, and has even shared the stage with pop icon Cyndi Lauper. Diamond is a rising star to watch, so expect to hear much more from her in 2019.

4Le1F

Khalif Diouf aka LE1F is an accomplished dancer and an emerging rapper and producer. The Wesleyan University grad released his first studio album, Riot Boi, in 2015. In the three years that have followed, the openly gay LE1F has continued to build a strong fanbase. From his subversive lyrics to his layered beats, this MC forging his own way within the hip-hop community, even running his own hip hop label, Camp & Street. His latest project released this year, Blue Dream, also turned heads and got a 6.9 rating on Pitchfork for its ability to be simultaneously conventional and heady as a rap album. As Diouf continues to grow as an artist, he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

5Mykki Blanco

Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. aka Mykki Blanco has had quite a storied career. A rapper, poet, and artist, Quattlebaum’s performance persona, Mykki Blanco, is a teenage girl character he developed in 2010 on his YouTube channel. Since then, he has become well known in queer performance circles. Mykki Blanco has put out 3 EPs to date, and released his first studio album in 2016. The self-titled work, Mykki, was filled with the artist’s signature flair and heavy beats, while tackling serious issues in the lyrics. 2019 will be big for Mykki Blanco, as the artist announced in November that he will be releasing his highly anticipated second album, tentatively titled Stay Close to Music: Stay Close to God, in the new year.

Queer artists will continue to influence the music industry—and beyond—in 2019. Pay attention to the great musicians on this list, and look out for the many more emerging artists from the LBGTQ+ community.

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