Pandemic Playlist: 5 tracks from trans and nonbinary artists to keep your lockdown Pride celebrations going
These artists are redefining what music can look and sound like outside of cisgender and heteronormative standards
Price Month 2020 might not be the celebration we all hoped it would be, considering we're living through a revolution as well as an ongoing pandemic, but that does not mean we cannot celebrate it from within the confines of our respective homes. So here are five songs from trans and nonbinary artists who are unafraid to live their truth.
Bolton-born, Berlin-based producer Planningtorock aka Jam Rostron is a breath of fresh air with their brand of boldly queer electropop. With tracks like 'Misogyny Drop Dead' and 'Patriarchy Over and Out', it's absolutely no secret what Rostron's message to the world is. And the combination of rebellion and electronica makes for some brilliant music.
'Transome' explores genderqueer desire. The smooth, sensual, dancefloor-ready track is an ode to Rostron's own experiences as a trans-non-binary person. In an interview with Crack Magazine the producer shared, "I enjoyed creating the Transome space, creating language that doesn’t exist yet. You can just enjoy it as a track too — it's not something that has to be specifically for people like me, it’s a fun, sexy track — it’s the most erotic song I’ve ever written, it’s super raunchy." But despite the song simply being a way to explore queer experiences, it faced some backlash when it came to being played on the radio. "BBC Radio 6 wanted to play it but said that I would have to remove the word wet — and I didn’t know what to do. I was talking to Peaches about replacing the word wet with a water sample and that’s what I did. You just hear the water sample, and they took it — but still, what’s wrong with ‘wet’?"
Admittedly, there is something odd about certain words being censored in songs exploring being queer when similar, and in some cases, raunchier words fly entirely under the radar when it comes to music from cisgender and heterosexual artists. But artists like Rostron, who are willing to continue living their truth and finding ways around these forms of censorship, are setting the stage for a brand new phase in queer music history.
Shawnee: 'Warrior Heart'
Shawnee is a two-spirit singer-songwriter and the first Indigenous winner of Searchlight, a Canadian music competition. Raised in Ontario, Shawnee's heritage is Mohawk, from the Six Nations of the Grand River on her mother's side.
Indigenous artists are often overlooked by the larger music scene, even more so when they are queer. Speaking about her experiences with her identity and cultural roots Shawnee explained in an interview with CBC, "I originally came out in my older teen years as a lesbian, and I started to further discover myself and my culture as an Indigenous person. That's when I began to regain the tradition of two-spirit. It made more sense to me. I felt less closed in, and I felt more a part of my culture and a part of my heritage, and closer to myself as a person. It felt like home."
Shawnee is a vocal advocate for Indigenous youth empowerment, with a particular focus on suicide awareness. Speaking about her own mental health struggles she stated, "In my younger teen years I struggled with depression and I struggled with suicidal thoughts. It almost took my life. When I discovered music, it healed me in a way that nothing and no one else could, so my life's mission is to give that back in any capacity that I might be able to, to any person who might feel the same way I did. Music empowered me to live." And on 'Warrior Heart' that's exactly what she accomplishes.
Big Freedia ft Kesha: 'Chasing Rainbows'
Following their collaboration on 'Raising Hell' off Kesha's album 'High Road', Big Freedia teamed up with the singer once more on the track 'Chasing Rainbows', a dance track that sees the two singers forgive the haters and instead, invest their time and energy into loving and accepting themselves.
Freedia has been labeled as trans, gay, nonbinary and beyond, and articles tend to use a variety of pronouns when referring to the artist. Speaking about her own identity, however, Freedia has declared she identifies as a gay man and is comfortable with all pronouns, though she did state in a 2013 interview with Out that she preferred 'she/her'. When queried, Freedia clarified, "I have fans who say 'he' all the time; I have fans who say 'she' all the time. I'm confident in who I am, and I know what I stand for. When they say either/or, I'm not affected by either/or because, like I said, I know who I am." Freedia further clarified in a 2015 interview with LGBT weekly, "I’m a straight-UP gay man. I love my feminine side. She is the diva in me. I think gender identity is on a spectrum and that means there’s lots of grey area!"
Ultimately, it really doesn't matter what anyone categorizes Freedia as. She's her own person, she defines her own identity and how she expresses it, and 'Chasing Rainbows' is the perfect representation of that.
Shea Diamond: 'I Am Her'
A singer-songwriter and trans rights activist, Diamond has been hailed for her ability to bring raw emotion to the music she creates. The soulful singer blends R&B, hip hop, blues, rock and folk to create her own style and draws on her own lived experiences to craft lyrics that speak to the experience of being a trans woman.
Before she was discovered and began building her career, Diamond was a young girl struggling to live her truth. Raised in Flint, Michigan, she ran away from home at 14, spent time in foster care and got emancipated at 17. Often finding herself being forced to act 'masculine' despite being a woman, Diamond tried to find solace in music. Yet, even here, she found herself being chastised for "singing too high". At 20, Diamond had decided to go ahead with gender affirmation surgery, but since she lacked the funds, she chose to rob a convenience store at gunpoint, which landed her in a men's correctional facility where she was put into protective segregation and given limited freedom on account of the facility trying to keep her safe from the male inmates. For 10 years, Diamond struggled through isolation and humiliation, including being repeatedly midgendered, and it was during this time she wrote 'I Am Her'.
A video of Diamond performing the track a cappella at a Trans Lives Matter rally eventually made its way to songwriter Justin Tranter who got in touch with her and eventually got her signed on to Asylum Records. Not long after, her EP 'Seen It All' followed in 2018. And since then, Diamond has continued to put out affirming music and fight for trans rights.
Ah-Mer-Ah-Su: 'Meg Ryan'
Electro-pop artist Ah-Mer-Ah-Su's artistry is, in every way, a celebration of black trans women. She is unapologetically who she is, and while her music gives a voice to one of the most marginalized communities in the world, it does so without seeking validation from cis men or society at large.
Narratives that address the experiences of black trans women often tend to focus on their pain. And while this can be extremely important and validating, it does sit in contrast with the total lack of representation for queer joy, to the point where seeing anyone from any part of the queer community being happy can seem like a revolutionary act. With her debut album 'STAR', Ah-Mer-Ah-Su, drawing lyrical inspiration from the words of Maya Mones, Saturn Rising and Davia Spain as well as musical inspiration from artists like Mykki Blanco, created an album that celebrated her own experiences. Prior to 'STAR', Ah-Mer-Ah-Su dropped the EP 'Rebecca' in 2017 which featured the track 'Meg Ryan', a song that sees the artist explore the fantasy of living life as a white cis woman.
But despite her music being about the experience of a black trans woman, Ah-Mer-Ah-Su makes it clear that her music is not only for people that share her identity. Speaking to Billboard she stated, "Here’s the thing: transgender people have been making music forever, and some of us are noticed and become successful. But, I think the true issue is that trans people are often dehumanized and our experiences are othered. People in power choose not to disseminate (our) message to wider audiences because they don’t see themselves in transgender creatives. They believe that music from LGBTQ artists is specifically for LGBTQ people. Once people realize that they can identify with someone else’s experience, regardless of their differences, we will have more diversity in the music industry, and we’ll probably be represented."
Pandemic Playlist is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained instead of feeling drained while you're isolated at home. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day.