What makes this Pride different from all other Prides? A lot, actually.
A global pandemic has rendered many of the in-person marches and parades of years past a no-go. Likewise, a righteous movement for racial justice has flooded into our streets, family dinner conversations, and social media screens. In a time of so much political upheaval, celebrating LGBTQ+ freedom seems almost frivolous. After all, how can we celebrate a month honoring social progress when the past few months have revealed just how much progress there is left to achieve?
Yet, Pride has always been about expressing bravery during periods of unease. The very first Pride began as a march down Christopher Street, Manhattan in 1970, in an event known today as Christopher Street Liberation Day. At the time, being an out LGBTQ+ person was a radical, dangerous act. The American Psychiatric Association still considered same-sex attraction a psychiatric disorder. Employment discrimination was not only permissible, but expected.
So, just because Pride looks a little different this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ+ people, even if it’s in a more personal way. Listening to music by LGBTQ+ artists is one of the many ways we can support queer people and queer history this month. Likewise, by uplifting the voices of Jewish artists specifically, we commemorate how many queer Jews, like the late Larry Kramer, were pivotal to early LGBTQ+ activism.
So, whether you’re searching for some background music as you pre-game for the virtual New York City Drag Fest, or if you’re searching for some hype-up music to protest for Black Lives Matter, here are some queer, Jewish artists you absolutely should be streaming this Pride Month (and, you know, always).
1. Troye Sivan
How do you make a playlist celebrating Jewish, queer pride without Troye Sivan? The Australian-born songwriter is not only an international pop sensation, but he also wears his Judaism like a hamsa pendant around his neck. In an interview with Andy Cohen, he discusses hosting Passover seders with celebrities like Ariana Grande and Lucas Hedges. More, dig far enough into YouTube, and you can find a clip of a bar mitzvah-aged Sivan singing the Hebrew prayer, “Ani Ma’amim,” with a black yarmulke perched atop his head.
Pick for Pride 2020: “My My My” is the perfect song for a Jewish day school alumnus embracing their queer sexuality as a young adult. Troye Sivan not only embodies what happens when Jewish and LGBTQ+ pride intersect, but he shares what this bold, self-acceptance sounds like too. With lyrics like “I’ve got my tongue between your teeth,” “My My My” is seductive, smokey, and smooth — everything that a late-night Pride anthem should be.
2. The Klezmatics
Listen, I get it: When you think of Pride month, klezmer music doesn’t exactly come to mind. Pride is campy and passionate; it’s shards of glitter gushing out of a drag queen’s ball-gown. Klezmer music? It’s the somber stuff of sophisticated concerts that your Bubbe schlepped you to on a Sunday morning when you were 9 years old (just me?).
But the Klezmatics are here to change that — all while being totally queer positive. Alicia Svigals, the insanely talented fiddler for the Klezmatics, is openly lesbian. She argues in a blog post how the world of klezmer music can provide a safe space for queer Jews, who might otherwise feel uncomfortable in physical Jewish spaces like synagogues. With bands like The Klezmatics, in which contemporary lyrics merge with traditional musical styles, LGBTQ+ Jews can find their groove.
Pick for Pride 2020: “Mermaid’s Avenue” sounds like what would happen if The Beach Boys and the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof had a baby. A cover of a song originally written by folk singer Woody Guthrie, The Klezmatics discuss Jewish integration into North America with upbeat percussion and culturally specific lyrics like, “Where the smokefish meets the pretzel.”
3. Mykki Blanco
Mykki Blanco is the Jewish, queer rapper you didn’t know you needed in your life. Born and raised in North Carolina, Blanco ran away from home at age 16 to explore the queer culture scene of New York City. Since then, the artist has launched an illustrious career performing in drag as their teenage alter ego, Mykki Blanco. Over the years, Blanco has rapped about relationships, beauty, and adolescence, often collaborating with other artists such as Princess Nokia. They are also openly HIV positive, having revealed their diagnosis through a public Facebook post in 2015.
Pick for Pride 2020: “Lonely” is the perfect background track for hosting your own private rave. Partnering with Jean Deaux, Mykki Blanco raps about their rage and self-loathing after experiencing a bitter breakup. Though the lyrics are dark, Blanco keeps the tone positive and totally danceable. Dim the lights, crack open a packet of neon dollar store glowsticks, and bounce around to tune that feels particularly relevant for a self-isolated Pride.
(Fun fact: Mykki Blanco has a Star of David tattoo on their bicep!)
4. Ben Platt
Ben Platt is everyone’s crush from Jewish summer camp, except grown-up and internationally famous. Formerly known for playing anxious teen Evan Hansen on Broadway, Platt catapulted into stardom in 2019 with his debut pop album, Sing To Me Instead. In the album, he builds upon the style of previous pop-theatre hybrids like Sara Bareilles to create music that oozes with open, emotional sensitivity.
Pick for Pride 2020: In “New,” Platt riffs (and I mean riffs!) about bouncing back from a previous breakup. He displays how confidence and femininity are not mutually exclusive traits, using his natural femininity as a megaphone to call for exuberant self-love. This is the perfect hype-up song for a queer teenage boy applying his favorite brand of eyeshadow in the mirror, re-orienting and redefining his conception of what it means to be a man. Ben Platt paves the way for a long overdue, more emotionally vulnerable version of masculinity… oh, and he’s super proud of being Jewish, too!
Hailing from Washington, this musical trio confronts social issues like classism and gender inequality through riotous punk music. Both the band’s drummer and guitarist, Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein, are Jewish. The latter musician is also bisexual, and she has been open about it since being outed by the magazine Spin at age 21.
Sleater-Kinney’s riot grrrl rage reminds us that Pride month is inherently political. While we might associate the month’s celebrations today with rainbow flags draped over corporate logos and family-friendly parades, it is important to acknowledge that Pride month began as a radical protest against an exclusive, heterosexual world.
Pick for Pride 2020: Sleater-Kinney’s “LOVE” provides the raw, feminist antidote to the overcrowding of male voices on our Pride playlists. Their unfiltered anger and jagged vocals challenge our sense of comfort in Pride in its modern-day, sanitized incarnation, instead evoking imagery of the Stonewall Riots and furious HIV/AIDS-era sit-ins.
6. Lesley Gore
Speaking of queer history, the late Lesley Gore reminds us that LGBTQ+ Jews have been around for much longer than one might think. This Brooklyn-born Jew’s proto-feminist music reminds us that queer Jews have been pivotal to civil rights narratives throughout the 20th century. In the past few decades, her song “You Don’t Own Me,” has become synonymous with contemporary women’s rights issues, appearing everywhere from Saturday Night Live to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Yet, in a 1991 radio interview, Gore admitted that the song isn’t actually about womanhood, not really. Rather, the iconic, Jewish singer discussed how she was writing more broadly about what it means to be a person. In 2005, Gore came out a lesbian, and she dedicated the last chapters of her life to speaking out about LGBTQ+ issues in a public talk show.
Pick for Pride 2020: “You Don’t Own Me,” obviously. “You Don’t Own Me” screams queer liberation just as much as it evokes imagery of Offred marching in slow-motion through the patriarchal Gilead. It’s a song that speaks to any person asserting their agency in a society that treats them like property, LGBTQ+ people included.
7. King Princess
Let’s get real here. King Princess is kind of way too cool for any of us. Nevertheless, this 21-year old Generation Z queer icon has graced us with some truly sick songs in the past few years. Her original hit, “1950,” was written in a single sitting while she was attending University of Southern California (inspired by a Harry Styles tweet no less!). This secular Williamsburg Jew has since risen to stardom, publicly and authentically embracing her genderqueer identity.
Pick for Pride 2020: Okay, call me mainstream, but “Pussy is God” freakin’ rocks! Not only is this 2018 hit a natural body-shaker — I mean, just try listening to the whole thing without flailing at least one of your limbs — but the lyrics are unbelievably queer-positive. In a culture where most clubs play music that demean and objectify women, King Princess is here to tell us that women should be treated with reverence.
8. Alex Blue
Alex Blue is a millennial, Internet phenomenon… and for good reason. The Mexican-Jewish singer-songwriter is primarily known for her eponymous YouTube channel, where she posts videos ranging from covers of musical theater staples to personal q&a sessions. She also came out as bisexual through a 2017 YouTube video, sharing with Alma in the past how her Jewish and queer identity overlap and intersect.
Pick For Pride 2020: The single “Yes But Not Yet” sounds like the kind of song that would play at the end of a wistful, ‘90s coming-of-age dramedy as the teenage protagonist drives off into the distance. Alex Blue provides the soft, slow-dance to bring our Pride playlists back down to Earth. It’s a beautiful song, and a wonderful way to cap off an unusual but wonderful Pride celebration.
Bonus: “Gettin Bi” by Adam Schlesinger
Rachel Bloom’s four season, mental health-focused musical comedy masterpiece, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is a must-watch for anyone who considers themselves Jewish and/or feminist. This 1970s disco parody from Season 1 celebrates bisexuality in all its stripes, saxophone blasting in the background.
Of course, “Gettin Bi” now holds some poignant significance. In early April, its songwriter, the talented Adam Schlesinger, passed away from COVID-19. He was a crucial player in the Crazy Ex Girlfriend songwriting team, having penned other hilarious hits like “Settle For Me,” “Where’s The Bathroom?” and “Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal,” the latter of which won him an Emmy. This Pride Month, listening to this bisexual anthem is not only liberating, but it is also a way to commemorate an outstanding Jewish singer-songwriter.
Header image design by Grace Yagel; image of Lesley Gore by David Redfern/Redferns; of Troye Sivan by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images; of Alex Blue courtesy Alex Blue; and of Mykki Blanco by Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Diesel.