Alex Picha/Dante Velasquez
By Carson Mlnarik
On March 25, 2021, listeners were captivated, aroused, and scandalized by a rapper’s shameless descriptions of gay sex. “Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin’,” Lil Nas X quips on “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” complete with an explicit visual in which he makes out with himself in the Garden of Eden and, of course, gives Satan a lap dance. Critics celebrated it as an “unabashedly queer” work of art, something the artist nodded to when he took home Video of the Year at the 2021 VMAs. “I want to say thank you to the gay agenda,” Lil Nas X said during his acceptance speech, marking not only an edifying moment for a rising musician, but a milestone for queer representation.
Only a decade earlier, Adam Lambert was lambasted for kissing a male bassist during a 2009 AMAs performance, Frank Ocean divided fans with an open letter on Tumblr about his sexuality, and Mary Lambert’s use of same-gender pronouns in Macklemore’s 2013 hit “Same Love” felt subversive. While heterosexual artists have long had the freedom to sexually express themselves in music, the success of moments like “Montero” signifies a turning point for LGBTQ+ artists. Now, they’re not only able to be candid about their lovers — they’re allowed to get sexy, too.
Some of today’s biggest artists have built their careers off being explicit, like bisexual pop star Slayyyter, whose songs casually boast lyrics like, “I am the queen, white castle / Pussy real fat with a tight bleached asshole.” She tells MTV News that she’ll “say anything,” explaining that her songs have “a tongue-in-cheek vibe” to them. “There’s a character of humor in them where even though it’s sexual, there’s an element of like, ‘There’s no way she just said that.’”
The St. Louis-born artist took inspiration from Y2K culture and bimboism in crafting her in-your-face persona and the titillating visuals for her most recent album Troubled Paradise. It is an unhinged electro-pop joyride that finds her owning the title of “Throatzilla” on one track and demanding that a lover “better grab my boobs when I ask you” on another. Inspired by the defiant energy of acts like Ke$ha, Slayyyter set out to make “really sexual music” after being turned off by the “formulaic” pop machine. Her tight-knit fans seem to understand that her raunchy lyrics are delivered with a wink and a nod, and even outside of the queer pop scene, Slayyyter thinks songs like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” help push the limits.
“I feel like people are starting to break down the barriers of, ‘This is appropriate to say in a song and this is not,’ which is great,” she says. “I feel like we should be more sexual in our music. It’s fun.”
Slayyyter feels she has carte blanche to express her sexuality without being written off by collaborators and fans, a luxury not always afforded female cultural icons. “I feel like back in the early 2000s or in the ’90s, bimbo-type women were treated so badly,” she explains. “It was this thing, if you were blonde and hot, you were [considered] dumb [but now] it’s become this feminist movement.
Meanwhile, Kim Petras did not mince words on her most recent EP Slut Pop, an over-the-top, raunchy Valentine’s Day collection featuring horny tracks like “Treat Me Like a Slut,” “They Wanna Fuck,” and “Throat Goat.” Acts like Fletcher, Girl in Red, and Troye Sivan have also left little to the imagination with their own lyrical references to sexuality. This openness has inspired queer pop’s next generation to go there with their music, helping to destigmatize queer sex and push the boundaries of a sexphobic society.
Today’s class of LGBTQ+ pop stars, like Jordy, recall growing up listening to heterosexual artists like Avril Lavigne and Backstreet Boys sing about their relationships. It’s only natural they’d do the same. “My mindset is, if I was able to connect with straight artists as a kid, not only should queer people be able to connect with my music, [but] so should straight people,” he tells MTV News.
Born in the suburbs of Chicago, the TikTok-approved singer came out as gay in a “super supportive and accepting community,” so when it came to his career, he felt a duty to remain authentic about his experiences for fans who might not have the same support. “I feel comfortable wearing my heart on my sleeve. I’ve been doing it since I was 15,” he explains.
And he certainly spares no detail. His latest single “Dry Spell” dropped with a candid confession: “I wrote this song about how I’m horny AF but too sensitive of a human for casual [sex] lol does anyone relate.” Its opening words casually profess, “Kinda sucks to be the guy / Who likes to fuck but loves to cry.” And while his same-gender references have resonated with LGBTQ+ fans, his blunt and open discussion of sex resonates widely. “It’s about the pronoun, but it’s also just about bad hookups, and hookup culture, and gay people, and straight people, and bisexual people, and transgender people,” he says. “Any human on any spectrum of sexuality or gender can relate to those experiences.”
His debut album Mind Games is flecked with the same frank candor. “Better in My Head” references gay hookup culture — “At this point, it’s a habit / For me to go to his place / Then walk in with shame and wishin’ that I hadn’t” — while “If He’s in Your Bed” advises listeners to “Don’t cancel all your plans just for some shitty head.” “[My collaborators and I] all looked at each other and we were like, ‘Can I say that?’” Jordy recalls. “It’s just real. I want to say the things that people are too afraid to say, that’s my job.”
We might have reached an era where the LGBTQ+ community is able to sing freely about sex and top the Billboard charts. Yet the recent flurry of anti-transgender legislation passed in states across the country, as well as Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill have shown that while acceptance has hit the airwaves, the act of singing openly about queer sex is, in some circles, still radical. “I do think there’s always going to be a political aspect to it because there are people who are going to associate sexuality with their political stance on things,” says Jack Irvin, a music and culture writer who’s also contributed to MTV News. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a political act to create a song like ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ but I would almost say to release it is when it becomes political, because then you’re putting it into the hands of people [with] thoughts and opinions that they probably already made before they even clicked on the song.”
Perhaps the biggest sign of progress is that our queer pop stars can not only frankly sing about sex but also live out their lives as members of the LGBTQ+ community in the open. “We’ve always had queer music, but it’s the queer pop spectacle of it all that I actually think makes the major impact on society,” Irvin says, pointing to artists like Sivan and Lil Nas X whose careers span beyond music into film, TV, and brand deals. “It’s when queerness isn’t something that you can just avoid by turning off the radio, it’s everywhere.”