Country music's next wave is loud and queer
Daisha McBride, aka The Rap Girl
Nashville House spotlights the LGBTQIA+ artists who are pushing the genre into the future
Tuesday 8 February 2022 By Hunter Kelly
If you’ve only been keeping up with the state of country music by reading recent write-ups in either The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times, you’d probably never know the format is also home to a growing group of LGBTQIA+ artists ready to compete in the mainstream. Thanks to Apple Music’s country radio station, operating next door to Nashville’s new Soho House, a wider array of queer artists than ever before is now able to plant their rainbow flag in the country music space.
For the past year or so, I’ve hosted Proud Radio on Apple Music Country, a two-hour show featuring LGBTQIA+ artists making country and Americana music around the globe. This monthly platform has documented in real time the emergence of openly queer artists in mainstream country music, including Brothers Osborne’s T.J. Osborne, as well as major label acts, Brooke Eden and Lily Rose.
Proud Radio also gives hundreds of acts the opportunity to show up as their full, authentic selves and challenge the status quo of what a country artist can sing about, look like, and sound like. I see every day how this music fosters strong connections in marginalised and often isolated groups of people who have never seen their story represented in country music until now.
Of course, none of this music is meant to live in a bubble apart from the rest of the genre. My hope is that these artists exercise influence on the sounds and attitudes prevalent in Nashville’s music industry, because country music as a whole is truly desperate for fresh ideas. It’s beyond time for creative growth, evolution and innovation in country music.
So, let me introduce you to just a few of the LGBTQIA+ country acts who are leading the charge:
Mya Byrne, above, has been central to the queer country movement ever since performing on Lafemmebear’s remix of Reba McEntire’s ‘I’m A Survivor’; backing now-iconic queer country act Lavender Country, and appearing as one of two trans artists performing at 2021’s AmericanaFest in Nashville. Now, Byrne is preparing to release a new studio album produced with current Grammy nominee, Aaron Lee Tasjan.
A few months back, I was fortunate enough to visit the studio and witness these two absolute talents laying down guitar and mandolin parts. The finished product traces the process of being pulled into the emotional disruptions and physical catastrophes of life, before eventually coming to a place of healing and equilibrium again. Byrne’s music beautifully illustrates the essential role community plays in the work of recovery and healing in structured, nuanced, and melodically driven narratives.
Jett Holden has a voice that makes an instant, intense impression. He rides a wave of emotion as he performs – erupting in a yell mid-song or breaking from his piercing lower register into a sweet falsetto. These impassioned vocal performances only punctuate the incisive and witty lyrics Holden pens himself, on topics ranging from resurrecting a metaphorically dead love on ‘Necromancer’, to his call for action on the Black Lives Matter movement on ‘Taxidermy’. Already featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, and a cornerstone of The Black Opry’s growing line-up, Jett Holden is ready for the world stage.
Daisha McBride, aka The Rap Girl
Daisha McBride, aka The Rap Girl, stands proud and tall as a queer woman on her latest genre-bending album, Let Me Get This Off My Chest. Deftly weaving her rhymes with a commanding singing talent, McBride delivers a portrait of a twenty-something southern Black girl embracing her queer identity and wrestling with romantic relationships while also getting cheeky as hell on tracks like ‘FWB’ and ‘Ties’. These two songs explore the delayed ‘ho phase’ a lot of queer people experience when they first come out. You can check out McBride joining me on the latest episode of Proud Radio.
Though Byrne, Holden, and McBride all mainly record in Nashville, the story of queer country music is being written outside the Tennessee border, too. Since Proud Radio launched during the pandemic in late 2020, virtual meetings and the power of social media have allowed me to connect with queer artists working around the world, including Anika Moa in New Zealand, Gabeu in Brazil, and Man of the Minch in Scotland.
Canada is also a hotbed of talent with Graham Scott Fleming’s ‘Better Man’ recently hitting the top 40 on Billboard’s Canadian Country Songs chart. D’orjay The Singing Shaman brings the kind of style and creativity the country space needs with her album, New Kind Of Outlaw, and Mariel Buckley continues to flip the script on gender roles in songs like ‘Jumping The Fence’.
Speaking of Canadians, Montreal native Allison Russell sings eloquently of life at the intersection of her identity as both a Black and queer woman. Do not miss her Grammy-nominated album, Outside Child.
Representation moves hearts and changes minds, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to amplify these world-changing voices. I’ve seen it happen, and there are so many more artists to discover in this space. Tune in and listen to new episodes of Proud Radio With Hunter Kelly on Apple Music Country on the first Sunday of every month. The show’s companion playlist is updated every month, too.
Proud Radio With Hunter Kelly airs monthly on Sundays at 2pm PT on Apple Music Country at apple.co/_ProudRadio.
Listen to the show’s companion playlist here.