June and Pride Month are here, and we’re ready to celebrate with a playlist covering just about every emotion one might experience during the occasion. Although not always at the forefront of cultural conversations about queerness, many API artists across all genres have been coming out with the boppiest of bops about being LGBTQ+, breaking boundaries ascribed by a cultural affinity for heteronormativity and the gender binary. These musicians don’t just showcase the beautiful uniqueness of the API queer community, but also give voice to those who feel like they don’t have one.
These 10 songs tell stories ranging from heartbreak to being hopelessly in love, from sadness to bravery. Rest assured you’ll find a tune that suits your mood this month and beyond.
1.“This Hell” – Rina Sawayama
British pop star Rina Sawayama said “ride ‘em cowboy” with this one. Not only did she kick off a new era of her music with “This Hell,” but the single arrived just in time for Pride this year, released on May 18. In the song, Sawayama confidently bites back at religious anti-LGBTQ and anti-polyamory sentiment, sardonically accepting an invitation to hell with open arms. “God hates us? Alright, then/ Buckle up, at dawn, we’re riding,” she sings to the twangy, country-influenced pop number. Throughout the triumphant chorus Sawayama claims that “This hell is better with you,” and in her music video, dances in a wedding dress down the aisle to be wed to not one, but two partners. If you’re down with a great dance beat, “This Hell” is for you!
2. “The Story” – Conan Gray
For those who aren’t in their party era and are opting for a more melancholic moment, up-and-coming pop it-boy Conan Gray has “The Story.” This acoustic guitar-backed ballad tells three separate tales of heartbreak, with the second verse specifically addressing a queer almost-romance. “When I was younger, I knew a boy and a boy/ Best friends with each other but always wished they were more,” Gray croons. He concludes this anecdote by revealing that the subjects of the song were never able to be together because “They were too afraid of what they’d say,” and “moved to different states.” Although a much sadder tune for the high energy of Pride, sometimes we all need a moment to mourn the what-could’ve-beens—relationships lost to time and prejudice.
3. “Pretty Girl hi!” – UMI
Black and Japanese R&B/soul artist UMI has a knack for writing the catchiest sapphic songs, and the upbeat “Pretty Girl hi!” is no exception. Regardless of the, well, pretty flute synths and easy drumbeat throughout the carefree number, the lyrics have the power to cut idealists and hopeless romantics to the core. “[We] could dance in just our baggy jeans/ We could smoke under laser beams, uh/ Put my mind in a better dream,” UMI sings. During the chorus, she dives into full-blown pining, repeating, “Wish that maybe you could be mine.” “Pretty Girl hi!” might give you the confidence to say hi to a pretty girl this Pride, or at the very least it can be a soundtrack for the yearnful this month, so give it a listen!
Hailing from Malaysia, 25 year old Alextbh joins his uber-chill pop music peers Keshi and Joji by giving a voice to emotional masochists everywhere. His 2020 song “The Chase” highlights a queer perspective of getting burned by casual flings, but coming back for more, because why not? Sure, it’s a little concerning, but it’s also pretty fun—“My walls are porous/ You know where the door is, yeah yeah/ Addicted to the chase,” he sings. Alextbh’s breathy voice and ample use of synths, reminiscent of saxophones and electronic keys, turn “The Chase” into a slow jam, the ultimate song to make a move to.
5. “She Plays Bass” – beabadoobee
This one goes out to queer music nerds and band geeks eveywhere. Filipino-British singer-songwriter Beatrice Laus, known by her pen name beabadoobee, has stated that she wrote “She Plays Bass” about her close friend and the band’s bass player in a fit of happiness (with a dash of confusion). beabadoobee deliberates in the song, saying, “She plays bass, she plays bass/ Nothing matters cause we’re both in space/ Pretty sure we could never date.” In the bridge, she changes the lyrics and adds a caveat: “How I wish we could just date/ So you could teach me how to be more like you.” Does beabadoobee want to be with her dream bass player or be her? Who knows? But this easygoing, dreamy indie number is sure to remind you of your maybe-crushes all month long.
For those settling into new relationships this Pride, Indian American pop queen Raveena Aurora has something to say with her song, “Headaches.” In this psychedelic, indie-rock tune, honey-voiced Raveena tries to get ahold of her emotions through the swinging pendulum that is the honeymoon phase—when you’re so deeply in love, but in completely new territory and still need to build foundational trust. “Don’t play with my heart/ I’m trying to be smart, but/ I can’t control this,” the chorus goes, Raveena wondering whether her partner will care during the difficult times, too. She doesn’t exactly find an answer by the end of the song, but regardless, seems to accept that no matter what, she’ll continue to fall deeper and deeper in love. She sings, “Eyes shut, I’m a wreck, there’s no sunset/ There’s no sunset without you.”
7. “Silhouette” – Kentö
L.A.-based mixed Japanese singer Kentö will be the first to tell you that confidence is key. The artist combines new-wave influences with alternative pop to create unique soundscapes. He also refers to his identity as LGBTQ+ and describes being on the autism spectrum as his “superpowers,” a perspective exemplified in his 2021 song “Silhouette.” The electro-pop number preaches self-assurance and the power of being unique, with each chorus hitting home—“Make it good, make it last so they never forget/ Your silhouette.” A perfect pump-up jam for those in need of a pick-me-up this Pride.
8. “Jo” – Haley Heynderickx
Filipino American Haley Heynderickx’s “Jo” is a song that’s perfectly sweet, slow and most of all, folky. For all the push-and-pull, romantic chaos and partying vibes showcased by many of the other songs on this list, Heynderickx pacifies with a song about a gardener she once knew. She opens the gentle, guitar-heavy track with the lines, “Joan/ You are alone/ Your kindness/ The sweetest that I’ve ever known,” establishing a great affinity for Joan from the get-go. Although this song isn’t explicitly about queer love per Heyndrickx’s explanation, the chorus of “Oh/ I slept like a baby/ With you in my arms/ Out of harm,” can really make you wonder—and long for the touch and care of someone like Joan.
9. “What I Need” – Hayley Kiyoko (feat. Kehlani)
Who knew when watching Hayley Kiyoko as spunky Stella Yamada in Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” that we would witness her ascension to international pop stardom 10 years later? Breaking into the scene with her 2015 track “Girls Like Girls,” in which Kiyoko proclaimed, “I’m real and I don’t feel like boys!”, the openly lesbian singer made even more waves with her 2018 full-length album, “Expectations.” The album features queer, AAPI R&B singer Kehlani on the track “What I Need,” an upbeat pop number that explores a seesaw between a committed relationship and being “just friends” in front of others. Kiyoko starts off the second verse, “When we’re all alone, girl, you want to own it/ When we’re with your fam, you don’t wanna show it/ Oh, you try to keep us on the low/ I only want a girl who ain’t afraid to love me.” In the bass-booted, incredibly danceable chorus, both Kiyoko and Kehlani sing, “What I need, what I need, what I need/ Is for you to be sure.” Just as Kiyoko and Kehlani do in the music video, feel free to ride off into the sunset with your lover to this song!
10. “I’m Not Afraid” – HOLLAND
In “I’m Not Afraid,” another self-love anthem, openly gay K-pop star HOLLAND encourages the listener to have faith in themselves. Heavy synths and a trap-esque beat back his smooth vocals, the first verse reading in English, “Tears that I’d flowed everyday/ Dreams that I’d drawn everyday/ A string that was tangled badly/ The one who will untangle the knot is you.” Reminding the listener that they have the strength to conquer their troubles by themselves, the instrumentals build and explode into an energetic EDM-heavy chorus. HOLLAND displays his power to overcome life’s hurdles, singing, “I’m not afraid anymore.”