Snippets of Sapphic Joy: songs about Women Loving Women that I treasured growing up
The teenager lost in self-indulgent angst is a cliché as old as time. I may be all optimism and tote bags covered in bees now, but I didn’t escape the whole woe-is-me routine in my adolescence, and a big reason for that is the media I consumed. At fourteen or fifteen, I’d just come to terms with being a lesbian, but I was still surrounded by homophobia in the religious grammar school of my small town, and the media I consumed was no different. Characters like me were either hypersexualised, very clearly there to turn on a male audience, or killed off as soon as an audience gets attached to them. When you’re constantly surrounded by media portraying your identity as this big tragic thing, it’s easy to feel like you’re not really being seen. This is an issue affecting many Queer women.
Many queer women decided that if they weren’t being represented, they’d represent themselves. Music was a great way to achieve this, as a song can share a message or tell a story more succinctly than any other medium. In honour of pride month, I wanted to share a few songs I loved growing up that showed the joy of queer identity, not just the tragedy.
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‘Girls Like Girls’ – Hayley Kiyoko
I think a big part of lesbian culture is finding Baby’s First Queer Rep and absolutely adoring it until you find something better. If you didn’t do it with Hayley Kiyoko you probably did it with the L Word, or TaTu. So many of my queer female friends worshipped this woman that she was widely nicknamed ‘lesbian Jesus’ amongst terminally online teenagers in the mid-2010s, and her most famous song makes it easy to see why she was so adored.
Her synth-pop single ‘Girls Like Girls’ has such an overall message of positivity, one that anyone growing up in a less-than-accepting community needed to hear; that they weren’t freaks, that their attraction was “nothing new”, and that they didn’t have to “feel like boys” to be deserving of a frothy summer romance. Yeah, Hayley Kiyoko isn’t the best singer on earth, and most of her fans from this era outgrew her within a few years, her contributions still hold a special place in our hearts.
‘Marceline’ – Willow
Willow has been a musical shapeshifter throughout her career, slotting just as easily into the pop-punk world nowadays as she fit into the sensitive singer-songwriter niche half a decade ago. The magical realism of this song taps into the desire for representation of queer romance away from the dark cloud cast by homophobic assumptions.
Instead, Willow uses her versatile vocals to provide us with some sunshiny escapism. This ode to a character who’s gained something of a retroactive following amongst queer women with fond memories of her and her onscreen “gal-pal” just adds to this song’s fond place in a lot of people’s hearts.
‘Girl I Met on The Internet’ – GIRLI
This single was my introduction to alt-pop singer GIRLI, and I’m not convinced anything she makes will ever top it again. The production of ‘Girl I Met On The Internet’ was inspired by early hyperpop artists like Hannah Diamond, GIRLI’s voice a little more rap-rock than her more recent efforts in the pop-punk revival. There’s a synth in the choruses that builds anticipation brilliantly and adds an edge to the lyrics of a frothy teenage crush.
I think my love of this song just comes from how painfully relatable it was when I was younger. GIRLI never attempts to hide her British accent or slang, making her insecure chat dispersed with witty observations sound like my internal monologue. Her lyrical prowess succinctly captured the zeitgeist of being seventeen and alienated, surrounded by main characters and not feeling like one yourself.
‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ – Shura
I think the music video for ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ sums up what I love about the song itself. It’s set up like a cliché John Hughes movie, with two geeky friends helping each other get the popular girl and school jock respectively, but in the process of finding out about the popular kid of their gender, they both end up falling for them.
It’s a sweet little switcheroo, subverting the expectations of your standard teen romance, but honestly, it’s just a lovely example of sappy-but-sweet love stories I’ve mentioned before. The song itself is similarly charming: an indie gem fizzing with excitement at every turn. There’s not a cloud in the sky with this summery production, just the thrill of an early crush.
Songs like this give queer people equal access to romantic narratives without the need for tragic endings; Really, doesn’t everyone deserve a bit of sweetness once in a while?