What makes the ultimate LGBTQ+ Pride anthem? A euphoric (usually female) vocal? The call to arms of emboldened identity or perhaps a powerful piece of evocative storytelling? Maybe just perfect timing – simply the right song at the right moment? These 40 best LGBTQ+ Pride songs all exemplify much of that list, but also deliver an extra special something that elevates their status from a worthy canon. Music can effect change, and this countdown is the narrative of a struggle that’s decades in the making, with so much achieved but still so much further to go…
50: P!nk: Raise Your Glass (2010)
What has made P!nk an international LGBTQ+ icon is a ferocious work ethic and a reliable consistency for delivering rousing height-of-the-night anthems that sound as fierce on radio as they do at one of her many stadium concerts. Created with Max Martin and Shellback, who know a thing or two about crafting a cut-through pop smash, Raise Your Glass launched P!nk’s first greatest-hits collection and topped the US charts. The lesbian community, in particular, has gravitated towards the star’s earthy charisma, and this pop stomper effortlessly raises the roof at any Pride event.
49: Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Relax (1983)
One infamous statement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read, and a phenomenon was unleashed. Forever enshrined as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, Relax’s already-solid sprint up the UK singles chart was powered into overdrive by the BBC’s subsequent ban on the song, and a year-long assault on the nation’s sensibilities was to follow (the next two Frankie Goes To Hollywood singles, Two Tribes and The Power Of Love, would also peak at No.1). The Liverpool five-piece allowed the Midas touch of producer Trevor Horn to transform their urgent demo into a Hi-NRG supernova, offering just enough of a sniff of a thrilling gay subculture to potentially corrupt the kids. The tabloids and the record-buying public couldn’t lap it up fast enough!
48: Dua Lipa: Don’t Start Now (2019)
Dua Lipa has seized the Queen Of Contemporary Pop crown, and the sassy nu-disco banger Don’t Start Now launched her second album, Future Nostalgia, to staggeringly successful effect at the end of 2019. Lipa has managed to recycle the best of the old and mix it with a powerful cocktail of the new, kickstarting a broader revival in classic dance sounds and securing a brace of critical Grammy nominations. Relatively early in her career, her impact is nothing short of a phenomenon, and the LGBTQ+ community’s early adoption of this assured newcomer makes her the act to watch.
47: Christine And The Queens: To Be Honest (2023)
Issued as the lead single from PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE, To Be Honest is a complex but very compelling synth ballad that demonstrates just how fascinating the career of Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier continues to be. One of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of recent years, as the tune builds, the melody and emotional weight gains mass and seductively draws you closer to a climax that somehow never quite envelops. It’s the ultimate emotional and, yes, intimate tease, and a track that signals a dazzling return to the pop hooks that may yet give him the huge commercial hit to match his critical acclaim and the adoration that has made him one of the most pioneering LGBTQ+ musicians of recent years.
46: Dusty Springfield: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (1966)
With her most successful single, Dusty Springfield strained every emotional sinew in the English-language lyrics reworked from the original 1965 Italian hit by Pino Donaggio. One of the best 60s female singers Springfields’s career witnessed many ups and downs – from her days as part of The Springfields folk trio to her glorious run of mid-60s success, that seminal Dusty In Memphis album, her fragmented 70s and her triumphant late-80s revival with Pet Shop Boys on What Have I Done To Deserve This? – but her resilience cast her as one of the music industry’s great survivors. Her sexuality was a lightly guarded secret throughout much of her professional life, but the soul in her voice spoke more loudly than any characterless statement on the matter.
45: Troye Sivan: My My My! (2018)
Drawing on his relationship with model Jacob Bixenman, the Australian singer-songwriter created this perfectly intense, emotional dance track in 2018, and it later went on to be nominated for an Australian Recording Industry Association Music Award as Song Of The Year. Though a decent-sized hit, as an LGBTQ+ Pride anthem it failed to break through as big as it should have, suggesting that perhaps its gritty riff – most evident in the smoking-hot video – was too sexually charged for the most conservative radio and music-video stations. In May of that year, as a guest on Taylor Swift’s colossal Reputation tour, Troye joined her on a duet of the track. Swift knows a thing or two about picking talent, and the chemistry between the pair was infectious.
44: Dead Or Alive: You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (1984)
In the mid-80s, Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman recycled the energy of “Boystown” Hi-NRG and began to pair it with the melodic simplicity of classic pop, creating a phenomenally successful musical movement in The Hit Factory and PWL. Dead Or Alive had admired the trio’s first hit with Hazell Dean, Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), and sought out the still-struggling production outfit for help creating this classic single during a tense overnight recording session. One of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs still guaranteed to fill dancefloors, You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) took an epic 17 weeks to reach the UK chart summit, and would revisit the Top 10 twice more in the 21st century. On the death of flamboyant frontman Pete Burns, in 2016, Spandau Ballet songwriter Gary Kemp said: “Pete was one of a triumvirate of cross-dressed boy stars, brought up on a diet of glam rock, who stormed the barricades of macho rock in the 80s. He also created one of the best white dance records of all time.”
43: Cyndi Lauper: True Colors (1986)
Despite generous, life-affirming records such as this, Cyndi Lauper’s career never quite locked on a steady, upwards trajectory in the 80s. Shockingly, True Colors was her final US chart-topper, and it didn’t even breach the UK Top 10 on release in September 1986. Lauper’s future success lay on a broader canvas, including the huge Broadway hit musical Kinky Boots (she would become the first woman to win a Tony Award for best original score). She didn’t write this classic ballad – it was penned by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who had created Like A Virgin for Cyndi’s big 80s rival, Madonna – but its greatness lays in her delicate delivery. Lauper admits the then recent loss of a friend to HIV/AIDS helped her find the song’s heart and inspired her to establish the True Colors Fund, a charity for homeless LGBTQ+ youngsters.
42: Mika: Grace Kelly (2007)
Easily one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of the 2000s, the gay singer’s second single shot to the top of the UK charts in its second week and ended up 2007’s third-biggest seller on the eve of the download era. This joyful pop gem has across-the-board appeal and launched Mika as a big international star. Across much-loved studio albums, many singles and an extensive TV career – including co-hosting the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest – the BRIT Award-winner has increasingly used his platform to speak up against homophobia. This singalong anthem with a theatrical twist remains a highlight in a stellar career, and there’s another link with Grace Kelly to the legendary song contest, too – 2023’s UK entrant, Mae Muller, appeared in its video when she was just nine years old.
41: Sam Smith: HIM (2017)
Sam Smith’s determined identity has been gradually unveiled as their confidence in the spotlight has grown. Declaring themself as non-binary in 2019, this affecting ballad was lifted from their sophomore album, The Thrill Of It All. “That song is a coming-out song from a boy to his dad,” Smith told the NME. “It’s just a general story. It’s not my story. I wanted to make that song for my community, for the LGBT community.” Smith’s career has witnessed some extraordinary peaks since their 2014 breakthrough, including the first James Bond song to hit No.1 in the UK, Writing’s On The Wall. With some still fighting the tide of social justice, Smith’s determination to own their identity while building on their professional momentum has been nothing less than inspirational.
40: Taylor Swift: You Need To Calm Down (2019)
You Need To Calm Down is Taylor Swift at the pinnacle of her pop career to date, using her influential platform to speak to the increasingly fractious mood of the 21st century. The songwriter had plenty to say about current social and culture wars on Lover’s platinum highlight, which, as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of that year, earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance. If there are moral battles Swift is afraid to fight, we have yet to identify one, making her one of today’s strongest champions for social and ethical causes. Around the time of this song’s release she told Vogue: “Rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male. I didn’t realise until recently that I could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of.” She’s proving a quick learner.
39: Panic! At The Disco: Girls/Girls/Boys (2013)
Sexual charisma seeps out from the music video which promoted this Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die track as a single. It also marked the end of Panic! At The Disco as a band, with singer Brendon Urie continuing as a solo act under the name until 2023, when he called time on the project in order to focus on his family. Identifying as straight but on the record as having had experiences with men, Urie uses the rock-pop cut Girls/Girls/Boys to explore female bisexuality; it was inspired by his first threesome as a teenager.
38: Elton John: Elton’s Song (1981)
The bold narrative of the video for this deep cut from a pioneering songwriter who needs little introduction explains why it was never broadcast back in 1981, when its parent album, The Fox, was released. Director Russell Mulcahy shot an atmospheric clip narrating the story of an unrequited schoolboy’s crush on an older pupil. “Elton’s Song is so beautiful, and Tom Robinson’s lyric is so beautiful,” John told Rolling Stone decades later. Confirming his intention for the tune to be regarded as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, John continued, “It reminded me of the film If…., by Lindsay Anderson – it was very homoerotic. It was the first gay song that I actually recorded as a homosexual song.”
37: Hazell Dean: Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man) (1983)
Europe’s Hi-NRG scene briefly went mainstream in 1984, and Hazell Dean’s anthem Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man) is one of the best remembered of that heady summer. The singer, who retired from performing in 2021 but still records, made her name in the gay clubs and bars, and this was her breakout hit. In a community ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, the “boystown” scene remained a rare space of safety and defiance back in the mid-80s, and the music that fuelled it reflected that. Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man) became the “Queen Of Hi-NRG”’s first UK Top 10 single. Dean then went on to work with Stock Aitken Waterman, creating a string of dance classics that could find a home among the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, including Who’s Leaving Who and Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go).
36: Melissa Etheridge: Come To My Window (1993)
This yearning love song was released at the end of 1993, not long after US singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came out as a lesbian, and it became a sizeable radio hit, signalling that – perhaps – hardened attitudes towards sexuality were starting to soften. Etheridge’s record label had been worried by her announcement, and the singer recalls being told not to “flag wave”. There’s a defiance in the lyrics to Come To My Window, and the song’s memorable promo video, starring Juliette Lewis, strikes a similar, unapologetic punch. This recording won the 1995 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
35: Frank Ocean: Chanel (2017)
When Frank Ocean announced his bisexuality in 2012, there was a palpable shift in the conventional norms governing assumptions about what Black male LGBTQ+ artists could say about their sexuality and how it might affect their careers. Issued as a single in 2017, Chanel was perhaps Ocean’s boldest artistic statement yet on the matter. “My guy pretty like a girl” is quite the opening statement on this hypnotic shuffler among the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, and is entirely characteristic of this trailblazer’s standard for pushing against creative and political boundaries.
34: George Michael: Outside (1998)
Getting caught cottaging in a Los Angeles public toilet isn’t the subtlest of ways to announce to the world you’re gay, but George Michael seized the moment and turned the tabloid scandal into something approaching a calculated masterstroke. This new-disco belter was the hookiest track he had recorded in more than a decade, and the British public roared its approval by rewarding the singer-songwriter with a No.2 hit (though the more conservative US chose to overlook it, despite the cut receiving decent club play). One of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of its time, Outside was the perfect launch single for Michael’s first hits compilation, the aptly-titled Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best Of George Michael. The much-missed icon had his troubles, but this anthem reminds us he lived his life on his own, unapologetic terms, and knew when to tell us not to take it all quite so seriously.
33: L Devine: Naked Alone (2019)
Olivia Rebecca Devine is a glorious example of a contemporary act whose sexuality is almost the least interesting thing about her. The unfolding tapestry of her work since her 2017 breakthrough, School Girls, is one of music’s most current must-watch narratives. Working with Charli XCX secured her some attention, but the sultry summer jam Naked Alone made waves on its own merits. “I feel like even saying the words ‘All I really want is some sex’ is even a bit taboo for a young girl like me to say,” she told Paper. “And that was also something that was really important: for me to own my sexuality and every sense of the word.”
32: Pet Shop Boys: Go West (1993)
The UK’s most successful musical duo enjoyed one of their biggest hits with this remake of a Village People single from 1979. Thirteen years after its original release, Pet Shop Boys performed Go West at an HIV and AIDS fundraiser, and their Euro-house interpretation was included on Very, a UK No.1 album in 1993, and became a massive single around the world, peaking at No.2 in their homeland. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the Village People,” Chris Lowe, one half of PSB, said. “I thought Go West would suit Neil [Tennant, singer]’s voice… a song about an idealistic gay utopia. I knew the way Neil would sing it would make it sound hopeless – you’ve got these inspiring lyrics, but it sounds like it’s never going to be achieved.” In the early 90s, with HIV treatment and equality legislation some years off, that sense of pessimism seems justified, making this entry among the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs something of a “mood board” from that moment. Brighter times ultimately lay ahead.
31: Robyn: Dancing On My Own (2010)
The electro-pop genius that is Robin Miriam Carisson (aka Robyn) has crafted an unconventional career that’s considered enough to keep the hipper crowd happy but isn’t afraid to let a generous pop tune have its moment in the sun. This glorious “sad gay disco anthem” or “ultimate sad banger” is rated so highly, it made Rolling Stone magazine’s prestigious 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list in 2021, with a hugely impressive No.20 ranking. “I think Dancing On My Own is totally from me just being in clubs and going out and dancing a lot, and seeing people and thinking, What are they doing here?” Robyn has said of her contribution to the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs. The rest of us just revelled in its introspective euphoria… Written with producer Patrik Berger, Dancing On My own was covered by Calum Scott in 2016, with a more acoustic arrangement.
30: Scissor Sisters: Let’s Have A Kiki (2012)
The cult New York City outfit that became massive stars (in Europe, at least) saved their most flamboyant moment for their almost-closing chapter. Let’s Have A Kiki, drawing on gay slang for gossip, was the third and last single from the group’s final album to date, 2012’s Magic Hour. Scissor Sisters, helmed by charismatic frontman Jake Shears, became the poster-quintet for a fresh breed of out musicians in the new millennium: fiercer but curiously less controversial than those that had gone before. Bar the collaboration with MNDR on Swerlk, which was issued to commemorate victims of the Orlando gay-club massacre of 2016, Let’s Have A Kiki signalled a lengthy hiatus for the band, but we hope they’ll be back again someday…
29: RuPaul: Supermodel (You Better Work) (1992)
The TV fame was some years away, but Supermodel (You Better Work) was the international breakthrough for drag icon RuPaul. Released towards the end of 1992, it crossed over from the gay club scene and inspired a generation of acts to “sashay, shantay” while “working” it to the left (and not forgetting to turn to the right). Hypnotic house hooks coated a colossus of charismatic attitude, proving that style can sometimes pack as much punch as substance. Collaborations with Elton John, on a cheesy cover of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, for his Duets album, would chart higher, but don’t be fooled: this is RuPaul’s finest musical moment.
28: Culture Club: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? (1982)
This classic single was first picked up by BBC Radio 2 in an era when the station truly was the housewives’ choice, but its message and styling was determinedly new wave and, when the British public first caught sight of Boy George on Top Of The Pops, a global phenomenon was born. Startling at the time, George’s appearance was instinctively pitched just right, with a look that was impossible to categorise. The result? Everyone fell in love with the charismatic pop icon and the irrepressibly catchy singles that followed, failing to question things much further. In time, we would learn many of Culture Club’s songs were inspired by the turbulent romantic relationship between the singer and the act’s drummer, Jon Moss. Released in September 1982, this melodic breakthrough was arguably the most subversive gay-themed record yet to top the UK charts, let alone break into the US Top 10 the following year.
27: Chaka Khan: I’m Every Woman (1978)
The debut solo single from R&B icon Chaka Khan, I’m Every Woman is a dancefloor classic so revered that only Whitney Houston dared to tackle it (at the height of her powers, on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard). Despite Houston’s best efforts, Chaka’s version remains the definitive article. Having set the gay (and mainstream) club scene ablaze on its 1978 debut, it remains, to this day, a guaranteed floor-filler, and one of the best Chaka Khan songs to boot. Legendary producer Arif Mardin sprinkled his customary stardust on top, and this earworm, written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, sees his pop-soul tooling leaving space for Khan’s once-in-a-generation vocals to soar.
26: Queen: I Want To Break Free (1984)
Freddie Mercury’s death from AIDS at the end of 1991 arguably did more to reposition the health crisis in the minds of the general public than any amount of well-meaning social or political intervention. His passing felt personal, and the outpouring of grief and support for the rock titan and his band began to turn the tide of hitherto-hostile public opinion towards many AIDS victims. Mercury’s sexuality was overt but largely overlooked in that less knowing of eras, but this 1984 single, which saw the ultimate showman and his bandmates dressed up as characters from British TV soap opera Coronation Street, remains a camp classic that all but ended their career in the US.
25: Tina Turner: The Best (1989)
First recorded by Bonnie Tyler, Tina Turner made The Best her signature song in 1989 when she recorded it for her Foreign Affair album, under the steer of the late Dan Hartman (who would likely appear on the next tier of this list). One of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of the 80s, it’s an everyman (and -woman) anthem that pulls no punches. Whether it’s heat-of-the moment magnetism or something that lasts longer than the weekend, this sentiment can feel the same. Who will forget the seminal moment when Patrick serenades David with a version of the song in Season Four of Netflix sensation Schitt’s Creek? Why The Best? “I always thought it was one of the most beautifully written pop songs in history,” admits series actor/writer/producer Dan Levy. Schitt’s Creek might have been the song’s watercooler moment, but we’ve all had our own with this track…
24: Lizzo: Juice (2019)
Bringing the Pride story almost bang up to date, the 2019 eyebrow-raiser Juice somehow transcends the standard parameters of a gay anthem while riffing on its 80s funk inspiration (most fabulously in the pop-culture smorgasbord of its video). Pride is as much a sense of attitude as anything more political, and Lizzo is the embodiment of sassy confidence and knowing sexuality at the forefront of a new generation of stars continuing the legacy of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs. This saucy, self-aware package (and we’re talking both singer and song) is simply the hottest of its generation.
23: Perfume Genius: Queen (2014)
This is about as pop as Michael Hadreas’ singer-songwriter project, Perfume Genius, gets and, while Queen didn’t much trouble the mainstream in 2014, its reputation as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs has grown over time. Hadreas says its lyrics were built around the issue of “gay panic” and the power that the victims of this sort of prejudice can sometimes seize from gaining understanding around that. It’s confrontational but entirely the sort of socio-political statement a new generation of queer-identifying artists were determined to own as a reaction to decades of oppression. As Perfume Genius, the US songwriter has issued five studio albums to date and, while he’s yet to create any sort of major commercial breakthrough, he remains one to watch.
22: Donna Summer: I Feel Love (1977)
The “Queen Of Disco”’s glittering reputation was tarnished by some alleged ill-advised comments at the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but this single sounded like something from the 21st century on its release way back in 1977, and it still sounds fresh today. For thousands of gay men, Donna Summer was disco, and the throbbing club culture those men created in nightclubs across the Western world was shaped by this, its earliest anthem. Today, I Feel Love’s evocative hedonism is tinged by the tragedy of what was to come, but its sexual charisma remains as heady as a sniff of amyl nitrate.
21: Lil Nas X: Montero (Call Me By Your Name) (2021)
Building on the country-rap phenomenon that was Old Town Road was going to be quite a tall order, but the lead single from Lil Nas X’s debut album, MONTERO, surpassed all expectation, shooting straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, where it immediately established itself as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of the modern era. This clever confection remains hard to characterise, but Lil Nas X wasn’t keen on any lingering ambiguity about his own identity, coming out while still at the top of the charts. Montero (Call Me By Your Name) references all manner of gay sex slang and, if there’s any provocation, it’s entirely deliberate. “If they feel offended, they were never really here for me,” said the scene’s slickest new star.
20: Rod Stewart: The Killing Of Georgie (Part I And II) (1976)
It’s not always about the divas or the brash dance anthems. Veteran rocker Rod Stewart wrote this 1976 single about the murder of a friend for his breakthrough band, Faces. He admitted the true story was reshaped to suit the dramatic narrative of the song, but the honest and uncompromising subject matter was a bold move for a mid-70s pop act; despite proving a sizeable success in Stewart’s homeland, it raised eyebrows and failed to make much headway in the US. “I’ve had gay people thank me for the song many, many times,” the singer told The Guardian in 2016. “Recently, the boyfriend of a big-time British Olympic champion came up to me and said he heard it when he was 17 and he said it gave him some identity and independence, which is wonderful.”
19: ABBA: Dancing Queen (1976)
This universal anthem of dancefloor liberation crosses all generations and forms of self-identification, which makes its inclusion in this list of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs no less legitimate. When Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, of arguably the world’s greatest pop band, created this track, they knew they had a fine song. Singer Agnetha Fältskog agreed. “We knew immediately it was going to be massive,” she said. Odd, then, that it sat on the shelf for almost 12 months before finally getting its moment in the spotlight as the lead single for the group’s Arrival album. Inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame almost 40 years after it was written, Dancing Queen topped the US charts (the peak of the band’s stateside success) and become the ABBA’s biggest worldwide hit. It’s the sound of a billion wedding discos, but it is also far more significant than that: Dancing Queen is the best representation ever created of that hedonistic confidence that comes from getting lost in music, immortalising what has been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community since time immemorial.
18: Village People: YMCA (1978)
Back in the late 70s, this global phenomenon could play out on TV screens without (hardly) anyone getting hot under the collar. A perennial entry among the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, it’s one of pop’s most subversive moments: gay fetish culture marketed to the masses on Top Of The Pops. Look beyond the costumes (if you can) and there are these ever-so-knowing lyrics (vigorously denied, of course, at the time). It even features on an album called Cruisin’… but perhaps we should stop there. YMCA is one of the 40 biggest-sellers of all time, tops lists of the greatest dancefloor hits ever and can claim an omnipresent impact on pop culture, latterly earning its ultimate accolade: to be selected by the Library Of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
17: Sara Bareilles: Brave (2013)
Written about the coming-out of a close friend, 2013’s Brave rewarded Sara Bareilles with one of her biggest successes in a career that has continued to build steadily since her sleeper-hit breakthrough in 2007 with Love Song. Jack Antonoff, of Bleachers and fun. fame, earned a writing credit, and both admitted that the struggle for self-acceptance and the civil-rights tensions around sexuality inspired this power-pop tune. In 2014, Sara and Cyndi Lauper performed Brave in a mash-up with True Colors to raise cash for children’s cancer causes. It was the perfect match: two of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, each speaks to very distinct generations, both of whom are still saddled with battling many of the same old prejudices.
16: Charli XCX: Boys (2017)
This 2017 slab of bubblegum pop might just be the grandchild of that 80s summer delight Boys (Summertime Love) by Sabrina, with whom it shares a similar call to arms. Its statement? Nothing more complicated than that celebration of being mad about the boy. This critically acclaimed smash was supported by one of the decade’s standout videos – check out the cast and see who you can spot. From Tom Daley to Joe Jonas and Diplo, it was less a Who’s Who, rather a “who’s hot?”, and led Boys to gold status in the US and yet another career milestone for this fabulous English act.
15: Candi Staton: Young Hearts Run Free (1976)
Emancipation and release was central to much of the theme of gay identity in the past, and this disco-soul rallying cry almost made it to the top of the UK charts on the eve of 1976’s scorching summer. Its sentiment remains evocative today, even if life is easier for some – but not all – LGBTQ+ people. A relatively modest stateside hit (it only made No.20 on Billboard, but did top the soul charts), Young Hearts Run Free proved the international peak of Staton’s up-and-down career, though You Got The Love would be a sizeable success in Europe more than a decade later.
14: Tegan And Sara: Closer (2012)
This electro-pop belter comes from the Canadian duo’s seventh album and topped the US Billboard dance charts on its 2012 release. Seized by culture vulture Ryan Murphy for an interpretation in the hit TV series Glee – a show noted for its attention to diversity – the following year, Closer was elevated to classic status. Numerous features in TV soundtracks followed, but nothing can beat the euphoric original, which was selected by Canada’s answer to the Grammys as the Juno Single Of The Year.
13: Dana International: Diva (1998)
What makes the annual Eurovision Song Contest like Christmas Day and the FA Cup Final all wrapped up in one for the LGBTQ+ community? The post-50 among us might blame Katie Boyle’s jaw-dropping eveningwear of the 70s or, more obviously, ABBA’s Waterloo breakthrough; 80s kids will signal Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up’s skirt-ripping iconography; for anyone younger, Dana International’s 1998 victory for Israel is the answer. This is a camp classic with one hell of a powerful political punch. Transgender invisibility was the norm even in the late 90s but, one night in Birmingham, Europe voted for something more than just one of the best Eurovision songs.
12: Erasure: A Little Respect (1988)
Synthpop titans Erasure were at their commercial peak in the late 80s, and this melodic gem, understated in its way, has continued to build a stellar reputation as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs. Ironically not the biggest of their many hits, A Little Respect is indisputably the duo’s finest hour, the partnership of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke making for the perfect balance of belting pop genius and old-school showmanship. In 2004, Andy announced he had been HIV-positive for six years, long after the song’s first issue, in 1988, when the devastating impact of that virus was first being widely felt. The message of this anthem was a beacon of positivity in the darkest of hours.
11: Sister Sledge: We Are Family (1979)
Another singalong standard from the golden age of disco, this is Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards at their creative peak in 1979. Despite the backlash against the musical genre that was just around the corner, We Are Family became the signature hit for the vocal harmony sibling group Sister Sledge and led to further success with singles such as Lost In Music. More than two decades later, the track cemented its reputation as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs after it became the inspiration for the We Are Family Foundation, a New York-based not-for-profit with a mission to educate people about the need for respect, understanding and tolerance of cultural diversity. That sounds like our kind of family…
10: David Bowie: Starman (1972)
The late David Bowie arguably did more to push sexual boundaries than any male performer before him. What was performance art and what was truly going on in the bedroom of this notoriously private artist is hard to tell, but it matters little. Bowie’s command of the visual statement was unambiguous. When he rocked up on that classic episode of Top Of The Pops to perform this The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars single in July 1972, he had already claimed to be bisexual, and the staging, with that knowing camaraderie with guitarist Mick Ronson, created a teatime sensation: half the audience were aghast at the brazen display, and the other half immediately switched on for life. These are the moments when careers are made…
9: Judy Garland: Over The Rainbow (1939)
In an era when same-sex relationships remained taboo and largely criminalised, this poignant classic from The Wizard Of Oz spoke powerfully to an audience that was well versed in reading between the lines. In 1939, when the Harold Arlen ballad (with lyrics by Yip Harburg) was issued, the world was on the brink of war, and there were dark times ahead for Judy Garland, who would die in 1969 at the age of 47. But there is a gritty resilience in this heartbreaking performance, and Over The Rainbow would become the star’s signature song. Garland was adored by gay men, and a performance of this standout among the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs was always the highlight of her legendary live shows.
8: Cher: Believe (1998)
Cher had always been a gay icon (those spectacular Bob Mackie outfits created for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour – and the spin-off formats that followed – saw to that), but her forays onto the dancefloor were rare since that brief flirtation with disco at the end of the 70s and hits like Take Me Home. Twenty years later, the rock formula that had served her so well was running out of steam and a dancefloor-diva reinvention was suggested by her UK record label. Not only one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of its time, Believe would go on to be the biggest hit of Cher’s lengthy career, reviving her fortunes in spectacular style for decades to follow. Anyone who was there at the launch event for London’s Heaven nightclub knew the tectonic plates of dance-pop had shifted forever.
7: Lady Gaga: Born This Way (2011)
Ignore the sniff of controversy that surrounded this seminal release (2011’s Born This Way may owe something to Madonna’s 1989 anthem, Express Yourself)… who can claim that much magnificent pop music isn’t above such restless reinvention? Beyond any doubt is Lady Gaga’s commitment to self-belief and identity politics. Such is the ferocity of her army of fans, billed Little Monsters, and the hypnotic brilliance of this freedom anthem that it became a cultural reference point of its own magnitude, seizing awards for its surreal video and securing phenomenal radio play and millions of digital sales.
6: Kylie Minogue: Better The Devil You Know (1990)
Saturday night at midnight, week in, week out, London’s legendary G-A-Y nightclub always erupts to one evergreen anthem. Kylie’s 1990 reinvention saw her emerge from the sensible chrysalis of her Teen Queen costume into startling Sex Kylie and the pop icon of the decades to follow. Long embraced as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, Better The Devil You Know was, in many ways, the ultimate coming-out, and this Stock Aitken Waterman masterpiece – one that even the Hit Factory’s harshest critics grudgingly concede has something – remains a PWL classic. One of the best Kylie Minogue songs of all time, it will continue to be a reliable highlight of her live shows in the years ahead.
5: Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive (1978)
The song that really fought to find its audience, I Will Survive first surfaced as the B-side to a long-forgotten single before eventually becoming a Studio 54 anthem beloved of hen-party singalongs ever since its 1979 breakthrough. Its status as one of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs is tinged with sadness – arguably a last stand against the backlash of homophobia that would secure disco’s first demise and add so much extra suffering to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, then just around the corner. This transatlantic chart-topper would overwhelm Gaynor’s career but, as defining moments go, it’s in a class of its own.
4: Diana Ross: I’m Coming Out (1980)
Yes, the divas keep on coming – and so, too, do Bernard Evans and Nile Rodgers. Inspired the sight of drag queens in a New York City club impersonating the Motown icon, this 1980 classic was something of a risk for Diana, despite the obvious pedigree of the writers and the clear hit appeal of the song. I’m Coming Out inevitably topped the US club charts but proved something of a harder sell on the mainstream listings, failing to return her to the top of any of the international charts. It has been covered many times, but its sample in The Notorious B.I.G.’s Mo Money Mo Problems is perhaps its most famous reinvention.
3: Madonna: Vogue (1990)
Few acts have championed minority rights as loudly and proudly as Madonna, a trailblazer who tears through record books and the international zeitgeist, ripping up the rulebook as she goes. Inspired by the drag-ball subculture of the underground Black and Latin community, Vogue would go on to be the world’s best-selling single in 1990. Madonna has form with cultural referencing, but nowhere near as successfully as this. That club scene – and this, its indisputable anthem – was recreated in evocative glory for the TV series Pose, while Vogue revisits the dancefloor-liberation theme found in many of the best Madonna songs, including previous successes such as Into The Groove.
2: Bronski Beat: Smalltown Boy (1984)
The lo-fi impact of this uniquely British LGBTQ+ synth-pop titan cannot be understated. Smalltown Boy spoke directly to the experience of many thousands of UK teens and became a memorial to the search for identity and something better. Despite its national perspective, the song became an international success. The story was universal. Bronski Beat burned brightly after this unlikely breakthrough, but imploded after one seminal album, 1984’s Age Of Consent. After gifting us one of the all-time best LGBTQ+ Pride songs, lead singer Jimmy Somerville remained a cultural draw and juggled more hits while establishing himself as a figurehead for Act Up (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).
1: Sylvester: You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) (1978)
How do you top a list as strong as this countdown of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs? The force of nature that was Sylvester would likely rather keep us guessing, but the cultural – and, yes, political – impact of this single is beyond dispute. Sylvester’s then-controversial gender statement might have got him noticed in 1978, but this soaring soul-disco concoction needed no support cutting through. Its blazing self-belief, stoked by the utopian San Francisco scene from where it first emerged, launched Sylvester as an international star. AIDS took him far too soon (just ten years after this bold statement of empowerment), but the confidence of his moment lingered. At the close of that dizzying decade of liberation and advancement, no one could predict the horrors that lay ahead or the painful drip-feed victories of social justice that would test the most determined, but songs such as You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) helped, ever so slightly, to keep heads held high and one’s gaze fixed firmly somewhere over that proverbial rainbow.
You’ve heard the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs of all time, now find out the most pioneering LGBTQ+ musicians you need to know.
Original article: 1 June 2021
Updated: 19 February 2022, 4 June 2023.
Extra words: Mark Elliott
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