Alaska, Detox, Roxxxy, Katya and the other dazzling six All Stars queens from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2’ brought us lots of joy in an otherwise trash fire Election of a year. And we’re not the only ones, Billboard put RuPaul’s ‘Read U Wrote U’ at #7 on their 10 Best LGBTQ Music Moments in 2016.
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There’s no denying that 2016 was a punch in the gut for the LGBTQ community. First, we lost two of the greatest gender-bending icons: David Bowie and Prince. Then there was the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. And to cap it off, Donald Trump and his exceptionally homophobic running mate Mike Pence were elected to replace Barack Obama — the LGBTQ community’s biggest ally ever to hold the presidency. On a lighter note, our favorite divas Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga abandoned the dance floor in lieu of artistic albums. To add salt to the wound, Ariana Grande’s “Into You” couldn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100 top 10, and Carly Rae Jepson’s euphoric “Emotion: Side B” failed to produce any radio hits. But 2016 wasn’t all bad for the community — and it’s not healthy to focus on the negative. Before looking forward to what 2017 could bring — Gaga’s halftime show! Albums from Katy and Nicki! J.Lo in “Bye Bye Birdie”! Squee! — here are 10 shimmering highlights from 2016 to help remind us that it’s not all bad.10. Ricky Martin Announces His Engagement
The Puerto Rican crooner announced that he was engaged to Swedish painter Jwan Yosef on an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
9. Laura Jane Grace Gets Biographical
Laura Jane Grace, lead singer of Against Me!, released a memoir titled Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. The book includes never-before-seen entries from Grace’s journals. The memoir made Billboard‘s list of 100 Greatest Music Books of All Time.8. Madonna Delivers Rousing Speech
The gay icon accepted her award as 2016 Woman of the Year at Billboard’s Women in Music event with one of the most honest speeches of her career. She touched on her life as a teenager in New York City during the AIDS epidemic and how she lost several friends to the disease. She also talked about being inspired by David Bowie, though he could get away with gender-bending as a man, while she was chastised for owning her sexuality.
Her award was presented to her by Anderson Cooper, who proclaimed that “as a gay teenager growing up… Her music and outspokenness showed me as a teenager a way forward. Through her music, she told me and millions of teenagers — gay and straight — that we are not alone. We are connected to each other.” After listening to her empowering words at the awards event, his assessment rang true as ever.7. ‘Drag Race’ Stars Got Bars
Every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race offers new, demanding challenges, but this year’s All Star edition debuted a real jaw-dropper: The final four contestants were tasked with writing and recording original raps, learning a complex choreography routine and then performing it as a girl group in front of Mama Ru herself. The results? Mind-blowing!
Three of the queens — Alaska Thunderfuck, Katya and Detox — executed the challenge with the swagger of Nicki Minaj and finesse of the Pussycat Dolls. The underdog, Roxxxie Andrews, while clearly out of her element, still looked fierce as she gyrated in front of a wind machine.6. Le Tigre Reunite for ‘Her’
Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman reunited for their first new song in over a decade, “I’m With Her,” a pro-Hillary Clinton anthem. The music video featured footage of the trio bopping around in pantsuits and clips of cats — a likely reference to Trump’s comments about grabbing women by the p—y.
5. Troye Sivan Hits the Road
Sivan is a breath of fresh air: He’s young, he’s received mainstream success and he’s completely unapologetic in his sexuality. To promote his latest album, the 21-year-old embarked on not one, but two tours through 2016.
The first, his Blue Neighborhood tour, featured the genderqueer artist Shamir as an opener on select dates. The follow-up, his Suburbia tour, saw a portion of its ticket sales donated to The Ally Coalition, an LGBTQ charity.4. Tegan and Sara Aren’t Your ‘Boyfriend’
While the twin sisters have never hid in the closet, “Boyfriend,” the lead single from this year’s Love You to Death, is quite possibly their most unapologetically queer single to date. Lyrically, the song tackles a love triangle between the narrator (a lesbian) and a bisexual woman who had never dated her own gender and was also still dating a man.
While the song may not feel immediately relatable to the masses, Sara explained in an interview on Beats 1 that “we’ve all been in that situation where we really like someone and we want to make it official, and they’re not ready. That’s what the song is about.”3. Mykki Blanco Takes On YouTube
The transgender rapper saw her video for “Loner” pulled from YouTube for failing to meet the site’s community guidelines; it is believed the video was removed because it showed a man’s bulge. In response, Blanco tweeted, “Why is Queer sexuality censored & policed but images for a Cis male gaze of sexualized women are not ?”
The video was put back online — albeit with a “content warning” that requires viewers to confirm their age. In a statement to Mic, Blanco stated, “It is exhausting that as a queer artist not only do I experience homophobia in the entertainment industry but also censorship for the unapologetically queer imagery I promote.”2. Tyler Glenn Goes Rogue
The lead singer of Neon Trees famously parted ways with the Mormon Church a year after publicly coming out. Though he originally tried to balance the religion with his sexuality, he felt betrayed when the church announced new rules that singled out gay members. In October, Glenn released Excommunication, an album that documented the roller coaster of emotions he felt leaving the church.
His video for his first solo single, “Trash,” featured an intoxicated Glenn swigging a bottle of wine, spitting on an image of Joseph Smith, making the church’s temple tokens with his hands and painting a red X across his face — all actions considered blasphemous by the LDS church.
While the album is personal and documents Glenn’s experiences, its message is universal for any LGBTQ person who’s struggled to balance their faith and sexuality.
1. LGBTQ Albums Receive Critical Acclaim
Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated sophomore album Blonde debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. Not only that, but it placed in the top 10 on nearly every major year-end list; in fact, it took the top spot on Time’s list and the runner-up position for Pitchfork.
Trans artist Anohni released her first solo effort, Hopelessness, to stellar reviews as well, landing at No. 8 on both Entertainment Weekly and Pitchfork’s year-end lists. The second single from the album, “Drone Bomb Me,” is from the perspective of a young girl in Afghanistan who saw her family killed by drone bombs and is hoping for the same fate. The music video stars a tearful Naomi Campbell.
Finally, while Blood Orange (also known as Dev Hynes) has said he doesn’t label himself as gay or straight, he posted on Instagram that his latest album, Freetown Sound, was intended for those “not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way.” The album also found its way onto several best-of-the-year lists.
All three albums ended up on Billboard’s 50 Best Albums of 2016: Critics’ Picks, with Ocean at No. 5, Anohni at No. 16 and Blood Orange landing at No. 33.