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24 Songs That Sound Different When You Know The Reality Behind The People Who Sang Them

Go ahead and start this playlist for the effect of the story below.

If you come to my house on a Saturday morning, you'll probably catch me with earbuds in, vacuuming and dancing in my underwear while singing any one of the songs above. It's not pretty, but it's true.

As a young gay boy, it was hard for me to relate to love songs. I mean, I liked music growing up. Plus, there was never a dry eye in the room when I belted "On My Own" from "Les Miserables" (and by "room," I mean my New Kids on the Block/'80s posters staring at me from the walls of my actual room), but I never really understood the hype behind what the musicians were trying to get at. I just liked their passion.


(These are all examples of the posters hanging in my room. I still swoon a little bit over NKOTB. Hey, Danny, Donnie, Joey, Jonathan, and Jordan ... you hearing me out there?)

I connected with the music, but the words were harder for me to hear. Men were singing about women, and women were singing about men, and that's totally "normal" and beyond OK. It's just that I never related to it, and I suspect many gay people experienced the same thing. So I performed my little pre-gay heart out with fervor. (It's important to note that I did not know I was gay yet. Go ahead, I can handle your disbelieving eye rolls.)

By my early 20s, I had full understanding of my inner gay. While spending a Friday night watching a gender-bending drag show at my local gay bar, I had a realization I want to share with you. The performer was a female dressed as a male (that's called a drag king), and he was singing "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton. It was the first time in my life that I'd actually felt the words to a song. So there I sat in a smoky gay bar in western North Carolina bawling uncontrollably. (It's important to note that you've not lived until you've had a room full of bears from the mountains of N.C. console you.)

For the first time, I could not only hear what love in songs sounded like, I could experience what it felt like. It changed my life.

Here's a playlist of 24 LGBTQ singers and their songs (plus I threw in Patron Saint Dolly even though she's not gay because Dolly). Maybe listen closely to the words and hear what message the performer is conveying from their perspective as a gay recording artist. If nothing else, I want you to shake your groove thang while listening to these, then share them with a friend or two so you all can have a virtual dance party!

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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