The queer and trans songs we couldn’t get enough of in 2023

This year, we loved these tunes from Chappell Roan, 100 gecs, Janelle Monáe and more!

Another year has come to an end, and another roundup of the LGBTQ2S+ songs Xtra staff and music writers couldn’t get enough of is here to close out 2023 and ring in the new year. From memeable queer pop anthems like Kylie Minogue’s “Padam Padam” to an avant-garde turn from Arthur Russell to an indie rock breakup song from Palehound, these are the songs that we couldn’t get enough of throughout the year. 

Until 2024!

“Red Wine Supernova”—Chappell Roan

I wavered a bunch about what my song of the year would be, but when it came down to making this selection for Xtra, specifically, you’d be hard-pressed to find lyrics more canonically queer on a 2023 release than “I heard you like magic/ I got a wand and a rabbit.” This femme-4-femme anthem off Chappell Roan’s The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess was an early release off the album, and it’s danceable, witty, sex-forward—all of the things you want a homo-song-of-the-year to be. 

The 25-year-old femme pop princess is currently on her own tour, on which she has nightly themes and drag queens, and oh-so-much fringe and as much pink. Next, she’ll open for Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts world tour, which I honestly tried to get my 13-year-old tickets for in part to see the young teens and their moms’ faces when Roan takes the stage. (We got wait-listed, so there’ll be no follow-up report in 2024.) 

—Tara-Michelle Ziniuk, senior editor, politics

“Independence Day”—Palehound

To me, the genius of El Kempner’s writing is in their use of the exquisite everyday details that signal a doomed relationship. The mundane violence of accidentally hitting a deer with your car on a night drive; the cat you adopted together running under the bed, tail between its legs—all of these moments point toward a larger, inevitable truth. In these moments, you can’t help but dwell on what you could’ve done differently, even if it’s physically painful to think about: “I don’t wanna see that other path,” Kempner sings, over and over again. “I don’t want to see it.”

 

I consider “Independence Day” the centrepiece of Palehound’s fourth album Eye on the Bat, released earlier this year. Eye on the Bat is a phenomenal queer breakup album that makes space for deep rage and hurt—which feel like they are always on the verge of erupting, even on more subdued songs like “My Evil”—while still maintaining Kempner’s characteristic dry humour. There’s a hint of a giggle on the edge of their voice on some lyrics that lets you in on the joke, tells you to go ahead and laugh—what else can you do when it feels like your life is falling apart?

—Oliver Haug, contributing editor

“She Said”—Katie Tupper

This song to me encapsulates a lot of young queer women’s experience with other women: you have feelings for someone, but don’t know if the feeling is reciprocated. Especially if that other person is flirty, but not so flirty that you can tell for sure what they want. Like, “are you flirting with me? Do you want me? What is this?” Also, Tupper’s vocals are sublime and airy, perfectly surrounded by the horns in the song. It’s gay neo-soul and I didn’t know I needed that in my life. 

I found this song by playing my favourite Spotify game. I put on a playlist, and then when I get to a song I like, I start a radio. Repeat and repeat until I have found new music and artists to listen to. I think I found “She Said” on Moonchild Radio, which is very fitting. I can’t wait to put this one on all of my gay-yearning playlists. 

—Dani Janae, contributor

“The Boy With a Smile”—Arthur Russell

For fans of Arthur Russell, the 1986 album World of Echo is sacred music. Bathing his voice and cello in the titular electronic effect, this collection of songs is one of the avant-pop artist’s most personal statements, in a discography full of them.

Since Russell’s death from AIDS in 1992, Steve Knutson of Audika Records has been tasked with unearthing a vast archive of unreleased music approved by Russell’s longtime partner Tom Lee. The new compilation Picture of Bunny Rabbit collects nine additional songs captured during the World of Echo sessions, and “The Boy With a Smile” (previously only heard in live recordings) is its glittering crown jewel. As always, Russell’s mumbly tenor makes the lyrics difficult to parse, but when he sings “you’ll find in me the boy with a smile on his face,” the feeling of pure joy is palpable.

—Jesse Locke, contributor

“Tarmac”—Blondshell

I’ve written about Blondshell, the moniker of queer singer-songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum, a few times over the past year. But with her debut self-titled album being one of my absolute favourites of 2023, I couldn’t resist including her once again. A name like Blondshell could only deliver spunky, angst-driven indie rock à la Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette. But Teitelbaum’s music also possesses a beautifully raw and vulnerable essence, as she paints vivid pictures of unhealthy love, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and the persistent fears of being young and lost, growing into a life that seems ever-changing and stagnant at the same time. 

“Tarmac” is a song I’ve replayed to death this year. It’s catchy, it showcases Teitelbaum’s powerful vocal abilities, it’s delicate and devastating all in one breath—simply put, it’s pretty much everything I want out of a confessional rock song. On “Tarmac,” Teitelbaum finds herself going through the empty motions of a relationship she knows is wrong for her, but can’t bring herself to part from, hanging on to the single thread of attachment she still holds for the other person. Loving people and things that slowly erode your sense of self and don’t fulfill you in the ways you so desperately need is a recurring theme in Blondshell’s roster. We’ve all been there, and it’s why a Blondshell song always feels like a Band-Aid being ripped off of a half-healed wound. When Teitelbaum, with a gentle rasp and waver in her voice as though she’s about to break down at any moment, sings, “I’m afraid of leaving, I don’t hide it well,” and “I’m in love with a feeling, not with anyone or any real thing,” you feel it, and you believe it.

—Jordan Currie, associate editor, audience engagement

“mememe”—100 gecs

As a band, 100 gecs seems to exist to answer the question: what if something was so annoying and unbelievably enjoyable at the same time? When the hyperpop duo released their second album, 10,000 gecs, this year, one Pitchfork journalist likened the experience of listening to it with “being hit in the face with pies for approximately 26 minutes,” which is honestly pretty apt. That didn’t stop the album from receiving favourable critical reception, though, and in 2023, 100 gecs songs wound up being played all over—including several times, inexplicably, on Fox News. 100 gecs songs seem built for an audience whose brains have been irreparably altered by a life spent online: they’re high-energy, frenetic, undeniably catchy—and most of them clock in under three minutes. But the band also manage to achieve what few artists can: they’re sincere without ever taking themselves seriously. 

I listened to “mememe,” the album’s final track, on repeat this year—while I cooked with my girlfriend, while I walked home at night, while I had drinks in a friend’s living room. It’s crisp yet glitchy, vulnerable yet defiant. “I tried on your lipstick, I thought I looked pretty/ But you didn’t care, no, ’cause you’re always busy,” Dylan Brady sings in a verse before the chorus insists over and over, “You’ll never really know anything about me.” 

The best listen was when I saw the band live back in April. As the song built toward its first chorus, and the drums kicked in, I watched the two other trans friends I’d come with grab each other by the face and kiss each other on the head in excitement before we all started to dance.

—Ziya Jones, senior editor, health 

“Padam Padam” — Kylie Minogue

It’s not 2023 in queer music without Kylie Minogue. The ageless Australian pop sensation has long been beloved by the gays, but hit a new stratosphere in 2023 with this inescapable hit that dropped just in time for Pride. Yes, it’s based off of a half-century-old Édith Piaf song. Yes, the lyrics are as simple as “Padam Padam, I hear it and I know.”

But something about all of the factors clicked together and this was the (gay) song of the summer. Seriously, you couldn’t go to a gay bar, Pride parade, or frankly, any space remotely associated with homosexuality, without getting a full blast of that unavoidable chorus. At a Kim Petras concert I attended earlier this year, the reception that crowd of gays gave to song’s appearance on the pre-show set list rivalled the reaction to the actual music we were all there to see. 

The song itself inspired a wave of memes, but here’s the thing: it’s actually good. Minogue still has the uncanny pop music instincts that gave us hits like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “The Locomotion.” The slow build, the relentless chorus, the dance! It’s pure pop perfection, and I genuinely could listen to this song on repeat for four hours and probably not get tired of it. 

—Mel Woods, senior editor, audience engagement 

“Float”—Janelle Monáe

When it comes to anthems that were the soundtrack to my liberation of queer expression this year, Janelle Monáe’s “Float” is top of the list. The cry of confidence and being in one’s greatness by floating on by in whatever space they occupy is freeing, allowing one not to be weighed down by societal standards. 

Personally, as I began my gender-affirming journey, “Float” drowned out the outside noise and left me unencumbered in pursuit of my whole self. Monáe’s journey of sharing their non-binary identity with the world inspired me to embrace my transness, and it also lent an understanding of gender expression to the shared communities we come from.

“Float” is smooth, with a crescendo that fills every nerve of your body, ready to bounce along to the infectious track. In verse three, their queerness takes centre stage as they flex about lovers on both coasts: 

“Came back from the future to take all y’all n***** and take all y’all h*es/

They said I was bi, yeah, baby, I’m by a whole ’nother coast/

She stay in the Hills, he stay in Atlanta, I paid for them both.”

It’s a fun record not limited by binary notions of gender, sex or what our confidence has to look like to appease others—a reminder for us to “float on ’em.”

—Daric L. Cottingham, columnist 

On occasion, the number of editors and other staff who contribute to a story gets a little unwieldy to give a byline to everyone. That’s when we use “Xtra Staff” in place of the usual contributor info. If you would like more information on who contributed to a particular story, please contact us here.

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Culture, Music, Rainbow Rewind 2023

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