Why Queer Girl Bands Were What My 15-Year-Old Self Needed

I can easily picture my nine-year-old self, receiving my first iPod Nano and scrolling through iTunes with my dad and adding all of his top artists to my collection and fully understanding that those artists would change my life. I remember hearing "No Cars Go" by Arcade Fire for the first time in this setting and for my entire life to change in those five minutes. I remember a few years earlier listening to my first Bowie song ("Space Oddity," if you were curious) in my music class in third grade and immediately learning all of the lyrics that night. I remember my first concert that was my idol at the time, Paul McCartney, I remember taking over three years of listening to Radiohead nonstop, from age 12 to 15, to finally like the band and soon fall in love and drive for 12 hours just to see them live. I'm ten again, and I'm riding the school bus and showing my friends all my top artists on my iPod, and I say in fifth-grade lingo that I really only listen to male musicians because the female ones just "weren't that good." Now, I look back ten years later, not surprised by this statement but also curious if the ten years leading up to my sexual epiphany as a lesbian would have gone any differently if I idolized Tori Amos instead of The Beatles. Do I blame my father for only perpetrating typical white male artists into my music taste, or do I just blame the heteropatriarchal system that music typically succumbs to? 

Fortunately, a combination of simply growing up upon one semester at university and taking far too many queer studies courses forced me to step outside myself, view my past experiences, and realize how heavily they were affected by the heteropatriarchy. When I was 15, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, and Keaton Henson dictated my feelings; I played The Smiths when I was head-over-heels for some indie sad boy; I sobbed over Jeff Buckley and Band of Horses when those indie sad boys wouldn't notice me. Wonderful music, yes, but memories that only make me cringe, as I was not my real self. After my ten-year-long committed relationship with music, I've come to realize that music inherently forms identity, so instead of blaming the comfort of the closet and my conservative hometown, I could blame what I was listening to. All men, all singing about heterosexual relationships, whining about their sad boy-feelings when that one girl rejected him or, heaven forbid, broke his heart.

Most of the music I immersed myself with created this mainstream narrative of straight girl falls for boy and boy breaks her heart, or boy gets heartbroken by girl and falls into a life-long crisis, or girl and boy live happily together in the comfort of their heterosexual worlds.  My closeted self only wanted to live inside these songs, and my current self only wonders what I would have wanted if this narrative was queered. Artists like Sufjan Stevens broke these boundaries with his gay content, but never did I actually articulate this, or even worse, listen to female artists and think Gee, I can relate to this woman singing about loving other women. Did it all change when I broadened my music vocabulary to include girl bands, and (here's a shocker) queer girl* bands?

*Girl not necessarily the applicable identity for all of the artists I mention, like Stephanie Knipe of Adult Mom

No definitive realization exists in this narrative, just as the idea of a singular coming out moment is absolute bullshit for most. It may have begun with me finding out Annie Clarke of St. Vincent and Romy of The xx are both queer, or when my Riot Grrrl obsession sprouted and all I could think was that these lead gals have got to be gay, at least in some sense. Listening to female-identified artists and seeing them sing about things other than being romantically involved with men was the first step in my musical revelation, as I placed myself in these female artists' shoes and felt what life would be like without the dependence of men for the first time. Before I even discovered queer artists, I, at times, would imagine these ladies to be singing to other ladies, even if they identified as straight. Upon my first ever (and downright frightening) crush on a girl when I was 17, I took these songs and queered them to fit my own experiences. Karen O's Crush Songs was the soundtrack to this crush, btw. 

I'm grateful for finally discovering queer artists at a time when I felt pretty secure in my identity, as it legitimized my feelings through the power of other lived experiences. However, as so much of the music I listen to today now fits under this category, I can only imagine what it would have done for me if it had been there for me when I was 15 and deep in the closet, pining over that one boy and playing Damien Rice's "Delicate" on repeat when things went awry. I can only imagine what bands like Snail Mail would have done for me when I was just 15, where Lindsey proudly sings about teenage heartache in their newest song, or when Stephanie Knipe of Adult Mom sings about the scary parts of realizing that maybe, just maybe, liking girls isn't a one-time thing in "Told Ya So". I would have loved to use Waxahatchee's "Sparks Fly" to soundtrack the moments I can see myself falling for someone rather than Mac DeMarco's "Let My Baby Stay," I'd rather listen to all of The Internet's Ego Death in the highs and lows of my relationships instead of Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism, and I wish I had Julien Baker's all-too-real songs on being queer to get me through the pains of being a 15-year-old girl who had no clue who she was at the time. Where queer voices typically remain unheard, these artists, among many others, make them visible, even if it is done through indie or DIY means. Even more significantly, these voices hopefully impact those teenage girls who have the struggle of being forced to question the legitimacy of their crushes and who hopefully find solace through discovering the right music for that certain time in their lives.

While I typically say how it does not necessarily matter when these moments of realization occur, as all experiences are only a product of that certain individual, having queer artists to look up to, to have crushes on, or to depend on to make some of the adolescent brain mush make a little more sense is only what I wish I had in my years of fraudulent boy crushes and attempting to fit in with typical standards of girlhood. There seems to be an understanding that our music tastes may just be a reflection of our identities, but what if our identities aren't fully formed? Do we depend on the music we already have to shape them, even if this music doesn't match our true selves? To my 15-year-old self: I wish you could see five years into the future, because maybe songs like Modest Mouse's "Little Motel" are not your anthems, and instead of diving into the worlds of straight songs about their inevitable heartbreak only because you felt that they spoke for you, dive into the worlds of queer artists. They might just speak to you and with you instead.

Listen to the playlist below for my favorite artists, all including queer women (or nonbinary folks) who love other women and sing about doing just that.


Are you interested in seeing more music-related posts on this blog, including playlists, personal essays, or concert/album reviews? If so, please let me know! I am attempting to expand my blog to other pursuits than just style, and I wanna make sure I'm doing it in a way that everyone wants to see.

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