During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month this year, OutSmart is sharing this curated list of uplifting albums by LGBTQ Asian artists who stand at the forefront of their movements with music that can empower marginalized communities around the world.
Sawayama by Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama, an openly pansexual Japanese British singer-songwriter, released her much-anticipated debut studio album in 2020. The genre-defying Sawayama features songs ranging from rock to techno-pop, metal, and R&B, all heightened by her breathy and unique vocals that are sure to please her listeners. A love letter to early-2000s chart-toppers, Sawayama’s album takes the best parts of our favorite pop songs and makes a sound that is uniquely hers. And if that wasn’t enough, Sawayama was revealed to be Elton John’s favorite album of 2020, even though Sir EJ was featured in Lady Gaga’s 2020 album Chromatica!
Perfect for fans of: Lady Gaga and Britney Spears
X Marks the Swirl by Kimmortal
Canadian-born R&B, rap, and hip hop artist Kimmortal is an openly queer and nonbinary creator who seeks to honor the great emcees who kickstarted the genre with poetic lyrics and resounding beats. With each carefully crafted rhyme and verse, Kimmortal effortlessly straddles the line between poetry and rap. Their music is an expansion of the work they do as an activist and educator who champions civil-rights protections for gay, lesbian, and trans Asian and indigenous groups.
Perfect for fans of: Princess Nokia and Chance the Rapper
Lucid by Raveena Aurora
Raveena Aurora is the openly bisexual daughter of Indian Sikh refugees, and is known for her trademark style and aesthetics. Her colorful outfits hearken back to ’60s and ’70s retro influences, perfectly complementing the jazzy R&B and experimental pop sounds that make her music dreamy, relaxing, and effortlessly romantic. Through her music, Raveena seeks to empower and create safe spaces for her audience to practice self-love.
Perfect for fans of: FKA twigs and Orville Peck
Angry by Vivek Shraya and Too Attached
Award-winning writer, professor, and openly transgender musician Vivek Shraya is the front woman of the band Too Attached, which she formed with her brother in 2015. Their latest album, Angry, showcases her strong vocals, backed by expertly mixed techno-pop beats that contain enough synth to remind us of musical icons from the ’80s and ’90s—with a modern twist. Each song features topical lyrics that range from comical to full-on revolutionary.
Perfect for fans of: Charli XCX and Scissor Sisters
Evolution by Jake Zyrus
Aptly named, Evolution is Philippines-born Jake Zyrus’ first album since he came out as a trans man after over a decade in the music industry. Known for his incredible vocal range, Zyrus capitalizes on his best asset with the smooth jazz sounds and power ballads that make up the bulk of the album. With trans representation still sorely lacking in mainstream media, it’s a wonderfully welcome sight to see an openly trans artist of color grow and thrive despite all of the public scrutiny.
Perfect for fans of: Sam Smith and Adele
HOLLAND by Holland
Known as the first openly gay K-pop star, Holland personally financed and produced his debut single, Neverland, a catchy dance-pop song that stood out in the competitive world of K-pop. After that release, he found more mainstream success and released his self-titled debut album, HOLLAND, which further showcased his musical talents while maintaining his uniquely smooth neo-pop sound and always-inspirational lyrics.
Perfect for fans of: Hayley Kiyoko and Troye Sivan
Heartbreak on the Dancefloor by Vardaan Arora
Born and raised in India, Vardaan Arora made the move to America to attend New York University, finding success in music and acting on the way. With heavy ’80s influences, his most recent album shows off a stylized synth-pop sound that accompanies his lyrical blues-themed performance. A vocal advocate for neuroatypical awareness in the LGBTQ community, his steady rise into the mainstream promises further visibility for intersectional queer artists.
Perfect for fans of: Years & Years and Kim Petras
The Chase by Alextbh
A raw new talent from Malaysia, Alex Bong (known as Alextbh) celebrates queer love and heartbreak in his retro-inspired discography. A true talent within the R&B music scene, Bong’s silky voice blends with his groovy electronic beats to create a hypnotic sound that any listener will easily become a fan of. Despite being a rookie in the music scene, his audience has grown and expanded across the globe with each new single release, making him an artist to keep an ear out for.
Perfect for fans of: Bruno Mars and Ariana Grande
Temple by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Thao Nguyen, an openly queer Vietnamese American singer-songwriter, formed the folk-rock band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down in 2003, and their latest album is the first to be released since Thao’s coming out. While Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are known for their Americana folk and country sounds, Temple features an innovative incorporation of hip-hop and electronic beats that welcomes new listeners without alienating longtime fans. Also showcasing a wide range of lyrical themes, the album delves into the exploration of identity and the trauma of coming out while in the public eye.
Perfect for fans of: Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves
Premonitions by Miya Folick
An artist in tune with the 21st century, Miya Folick is an openly queer Japanese American muscian who, after learning how to play guitar in college, found her band by searching on Tinder. Armed with a charmingly unique voice, Folick delivers an incomparable pop-rock setlist that ranges from upbeat dance singles to soulful rock ballads. Clever, funny, and vulnerable, Premonitions features an array of relatable lyrics that will tug at your heartstrings.
Perfect for fans of: Tegan & Sara and Miley Cyrus
Eat Your Local Fruits by Shh… Diam!
Fueled by the increasing hatred and oppression of LGBTQ people in Malaysia, this indie rock band loudly and proudly weaves LGBTQ narratives into every song and performance. Reminiscent of early queercore punk bands, Shh…Diam! mixes ’90s grunge sounds with retro rock ’n’ roll riffs that feel like a transformation of familiar tunes. Going beyond inspirational, Shh… Diam! uses their music to fight back against homophobic systems of oppression and bring queer people together locally and globally.
Perfect for fans of: Pansy Division and No Doubt
The Masquerade by mxmtoon
A rising Gen Z star, Maia (aka mxmtoon) is an openly bisexual Chinese American singer-songwriter who gained attention by sharing her “bedroom tracks” on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Known for her effortlessly emotional vocals, Maia’s folk-pop songs are deeply intimate, and her vulnerability endears her to audiences everywhere. Barely 20 years old, her debut album The Masquerade delivers a timely setlist full of comforting melodies that spell a promising future for the artist.
Perfect for fans of: Ben Platt and Rebecca Sugar
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.