Why Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko and Other Openly LGBTQ Acts Are On the Rise

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Long warned against coming out, the artists now telling their stories are amassing followers — and support from labels.

The global music industry is enjoying a golden age of queer representation: Bisexual phenomenon Halsey had her first top 10 hit in 2017 with “Bad at Love,” a song about queer romance; Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani saw their first music video together gain millions of views in a matter of days; Troye Sivan even got to flaunt his sexuality during a Saturday Night Live performance in January.

It’s a paradigm shift from decades past, during which openly queer artists like NSYNC’s Lance BassRicky Martin and Years & Years singer Olly Alexanderdiscussed being warned by others, both inside and outside the music industry, that coming out could be a career-ending move.

One reason for the shift: Artists brave enough to discuss their own sexuality are scoring big points with fans on social media.

“Honesty is winning these days,” says RCA Records co-president John Fleckenstein, noting that young audiences are looking for authenticity from those that they follow. “There’s a much more direct kind of interaction with fans.”

Take Troye Sivan, for example: Upon the release of his single “Bloom,” the singer tweeted the hashtag “#BopsBoutBottoming” to describe what the song — which he had previously cryptically claimed was simply about flowers — was really about. Within hours, the hashtag was trending as Sivan’s fans turned his tweet about gay sex into a rallying cry for the song, even after he deleted it.

The music business also has had to keep up with its fans: four acts on Billboard Hot 100 chart at the end of 2017 identified openly as queer — Miley Cyrus, Halsey, Sam Smith and Kesha — compared to zero on the same chart a decade ago. (Cyrus was featured twice in 2008, but didn’t discuss her pansexuality until years later.) Capitol Music Group COO Michelle Jubelirer says that “the younger generation is more open now than it ever was. That requires everyone to be more open.”

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But although CMG has signed some of the most popular LGBTQ artists today, including Halsey, Sivan,  Smith and MNEK, Jubelirer says the company doesn’t “categorize them by their sexuality; we sign each artist based on their unique ability to tell their stories.”

Says Fleckenstein, “If that part of their life is important to them, and if they feel like they want to speak about it and have it be a part of their message, then that decision generally finds its way into the DNA of their music.”


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