The latest revival of Manual Labor’s music rotation comes from Giovany Vasquez. Volume V highlights bops and ballads that have resonated with queer audiences around the world. Time to take you on a musical journey to understand what Pride really is about.
Behind the Scenes:
Every June, folks around the world recognize Pride month, a time to celebrate the resilience and downright awesomeness of the LGBTQ+ community. For decades, we have fought for the right to be ourselves, love who we love and proudly live out loud (read more about the history of the LGBTQ+ fight for equality here.)
In honor of Pride, I wanted to create a playlist that was all-encompassing. Featuring run-to-the-dancefloor tunes and heartfelt ballads, the true focus of this playlist is on queer artists: a vital part of pop music and culture that have often been forgotten or overlooked. So this year, throw away those corporate, generic playlist and hit play on one curated by a true gay icon, me! Without further ado, I present Manual Labor’s LOUD & PROUD Playlist:
VINCINT featuring Alex Newell & Princess Precious
When I first heard “Higher,” I was hooked. Honestly, I wouldn’t even let the song finish completely before starting it again. What VINCINT, Alex Newell, and Princess Precious were able to do in recording this song is encapsulate what it's like to be queer in NYC during the summer. I’m sure that won’t make sense for some of you but if you get it, you get it. This song is pure fun and unbridled joy. The consistent, pulsing bass paired with vocals singing the joys of falling in love, and hearing those lyrics come from openly queer artists… this song is reaffirming in a way that I don’t know if the artists are even aware of. So go out, meet a stranger, dance the night away, and fall in love! Just like the heteros do!
Years & Years
When I think of a song that is pure joy, there are several that pop into my head from British trio, Years & Years. Inspired by the synthpop of the 80s, “Shine” is one of those songs, lyrically using light as a metaphor to describe the feeling of falling in love. The verses are subdued, imitating the sort of crackling feeling you get on the inside when you meet someone that your entire being finds fascinating. Then the chorus hits, which is this huge, run to the dancefloor, sort of chorus, that tips those initial feelings into an overwhelming and oftentimes unstable devotion to this new person in your life. While love can be a scary prospect for many, if it feels like it does when you hear this song, maybe it might be worth it.
Love You Like A Love Song
Selena Gomez & the Scene
There are many great pop songs that were released in 2011, from “Born This Way” to “We Found Love.” But none were as ubiquitous as “Love You Like a Love Song” from Selena Gomez & the Scene. In an electropop song with a hint of Eurodisco, Gomez sings about a relationship in its honeymoon phase, where everything is shiny and fresh. And while the lyrics are cute, though, at times cringe-y in its campiness, the chorus is a sticky one. “I-I love you like a love song, baby” is repeated over and over again, making sure that you can’t escape the song for years to come. It has made itself a permanent resident in my mind but I’m not phased by it; 2011 was the first year I attended my city’s Pride parade and this song reminds me of the freedom and happiness I felt then.
Secret Love Song Pt. II
In May 2022, music lost one of its greatest contributors when Little Mix officially went on hiatus. Throughout their careers as one of the biggest girl groups in the world, the now trio have delivered bop after bop after bop. But for today’s feature, I’ve decided to highlight one of their top-tier ballads, “Secret Love Song Pt. II.” The girls sing about the frustrations and inability to openly love who you love, oftentimes questioning why things are the way they are, with lyrics like “Why can’t I hold you in the street?/ Why can’t I kiss you on the dance floor?/ I wish that it can be like that, why can’t it be like that?/ Cause I’m yours.”. As I’m sure you’ve already imagined, this song has become an anthem for many in the LGBTQ+ community, who often have had to keep their love hidden due to the possibility of hate ,violence and/or death. While Pride is a celebration of who we are and how far we’ve come, it’s important to take time to remember that there’s still so much progress to be made, with many around the world still unable to live out loud.
If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, chances are you’ve been told that you’re going to burn in Hell. In this song, Japanese-British singer, Rina Sawayama, takes that sentiment and gives us a country-pop banger. With lyrics like “This hell is better with you/ We’re burning up together/ Baby, that makes two,” Sawayama proudly proclaims that if her penance is going to Hell simply for being herself, she doesn’t mind that at all. In fact, she welcomes the proverbial flames, and frankly, so do I. Folks have used religion as a way to continue to persecute and openly hate an entire community of folks simply for being true to who they are. If Hell is a place without bigots like that, well I’m glad I have a one-way ticket there :)
Lady Gaga and BLACKPINK
There are two musical queens in my life: Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. And when I heard that Gaga was releasing a new album in 2020 (Chromatica) and it featured a collaboration with my latest obsession and newfound loves, BLACKPINK, I was gagged (shocked for those not in the know of queer lingo). My anticipation was palpable and with “Sour Candy,” it was met. With a pulsing beat inspired by house music, the song is just tantalizing. The lyrics, sung in Korean and English, depict the singers as similar to sour candy when in a relationship. Think of the Sour Patch commercials (Sour then Sweet then Gone!). I wish I knew how to vogue because this song is just begging for an amazing performance at a ball.
Make Me Feel
Speaking of tantalizing, “Make Me Feel” is just that. Taking inspiration from the music of Prince, Janelle Monáe constructed a funk song that is packed with raw sensuality. With lyrics like “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender/ An emotional, sexual bender/ Mess me up, yeah, but no one does it better/ There’s nothing better/ That’s just the way you make me feel,” the song is a celebration of the multiple and overwhelming positive feelings your partner can inspire in you. The entire song is gender neutral and when paired with the theatrical music video, it’s no surprise that this song has become an anthem for the bisexual community. Sexuality is extremely fluid, with love and lust coming in many different packages, so it’s great to see a well-known artist showcase that in their music. And when the song is this great, it’s even better!
Save Room For Us
Tinashe featuring MAKJ
Perfection. That’s the word I would use to describe this song. Tinashe and DJ MAKJ have delivered a tune that gloriously taps into the yearning and loneliness that comes with heartbreak. With lyrics sprinkled with the hope that your ex will see the error of their ways and come back, you’ll think it would be a song that inspires tears. But with the pulsing beat, it’s actually one that makes you want to dance! And Tinashe’s vocals are so on point that you can’t help but scream the lyrics with her: “It still hurts when I see you with her!” If there was any justice in the world, this song would get the “Truth Hurts” treatment and dominate the music charts this year. After years of Tinashe delivering underrated bops, it would be much deserved.
Every Friday is New Music Friday, which means that new albums and tracks are released for public consumption. This April saw the release of Ivory, the debut album from singer Omar Apollo. Tucked away towards the end of the album is “Evergreen,” a song that caused me to literally pause what I was doing and just immerse myself in it. Inspired by the sounds of Motown, Apollo taps into the queer tragedy that is being in love with a man who is straight. Lyrically and vocally, he bares it all with lines like “Was there something wrong with my body?/ Am I not what you wanted, babe?/She could never love you more than me.” There’s an element of defeat and resignation when Apollo sings “Evergreen, he tears me to pieces/ Doesn’t even have to try.” The pain and heartbreak is palpable and at times uncomfortable, which is the genius of this song.
Like a Prayer
There was no way we could create a Pride Playlist and not include the Queen of Pop herself, who has been a fierce ally of the LGBTQ+ community since she first stepped onto the scene in 1982. The question was which of her bops do we feature? No better answer than “Like a Prayer.”
“God?” That’s the opening line for the greatest pop song ever recorded*. Lyrically, Madonna sings about a love that inspires a religious devotion in her. While there is plenty of sexual innuendo within the song, which both shocked and awed audiences, the true gem is the production and music itself. At first, a choir and organ come in, which are then joined by drums. Drums and guitars come in and out throughout the first two verses, allowing the music to build up to a climax that doesn’t come… until the bridge. And that’s when the magic happens. The rest of the song is a true symphony of all of the elements above. Hearing this song on the dance floor of a club, under the shine strobe lights, is a religious experience. God indeed.
*Survey conducted by the author, respondents were 1 person (the author).
Whether you're celebrating alone in your room or strutting down your city streets alongside a parade, know that you are seen and loved by so many. Don’t let anyone dim your shine and in fact, turn it up a notch and blind them! Happy Pride, all 💕