The Recording Academy’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards, also referred to as “Music’s Biggest Night,” took place Sunday night. For 60 years, the Grammys have sought to recognize the best the music industry has to offer. It is fitting (albeit shameful) then, that very few — if any — black gay musicians were represented at the ceremony, since they are seldom at the forefront of the music industry in the first place.
Sure, certain individuals have made an effort to make the industry more inclusive for everyone, but it seems as if self-identified black and gay musicians were left behind for decades. If the music business truly seeks to expand its reach and represent some of the finest musical craftsmen of this generation, then the next wave of stars should finally present a Gayoncé: a black and gay global superstar.
Historically, queer men of color have almost exclusively aligned themselves with female pop stars, especially women of color. Artists like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna create music that exudes as much sass and shared cultural knowledge as would music made by gay black men. However, societal homophobia often prevents black gay musicians from reaching the same heights themselves, driving these men to pledge allegiance to black female musicians — arguably, the artists they see the most of themselves in.
Similarly, musical representations of the LGBTQ+ community have largely consisted of white men and women. Queer perspectives are evident in songs by icons like Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Lady Gaga, but their music lacks pointed discussions of racism that black gay men are concerned with alongside homophobia. Thus, today’s musical lineup is missing a figure for those who are caught at the intersection.
Thankfully, there are strides being made. Today, rising stars can be seen in self-identified queer black men like Kevin Abstract (of Brockhampton), Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator. Black gay songwriters like MNEK have benefitted from working with higher-profile acts, and there are also some musicians — such as Jaden Smith and Young Thug — who do not openly identify as queer but actively work to dismantle gender norms and homophobia.
Creating space for black gay artists will be beneficial for everyone. Of course, LGBTQ+ men and women of color will receive much-deserved cultural acknowledgement and visibility, but the music industry is also presented with the opportunity to tap into a mostly unacknowledged market sector.
Gay men and women, especially those of color, are often driving forces behind the popular culture zeitgeist. “Voguing,” appropriated by Madonna and delivered to the masses, originated from black and Latinx gay men in the East Coast ballroom scene; they also spawned much of the vernacular that permeates reality television. The television show “Lip Sync Battle” was heavily inspired by “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” instantly became a pop culture juggernaut upon release. The music industry can leverage the viability of the black LGBTQ+ market for its own benefit while giving healthy representation to those who need it.
Black gay men and women are still routinely assaulted in public, and they comprise a large chunk of the homeless LGBTQ+ youth population. Every day, black and gay children, men and women must navigate the funk of homophobia “at home” in the black community, and casual racism in the overarching LGBTQ+ community. A public figure who understands these circumstances and can speak about them through a medium as powerful and far-reaching as music can potentially transform many lives.
Working to amplify the voices of gay artists of color will only be helpful for the industry; there are myriad possibilities for marketing campaigns, pop-up shops, music videos and even entire cities that may have more economic promise for tours than usual due to their LGBTQ+ populations — which is good for touring and selling merchandise. Rap needs a Gay-Z, and pop deserves a Gayoncé. Representation is long overdue.
Willard Givens is a sophomore writing about the music industry. His column, “From The Soundboard,” runs every other Monday.