By James Barker, Staff Writer
A big part of expressing ourselves as LGBTQ+ folk is openly expressing our love, affection and feelings for someone. With Western culture often built around romantic relationships – and particularly where love-songs or songs about love are so pervasive – homophobia and heteronormativity can often leave us feeling unseen, unheard and unacknowledged.
Valentine’s Day itself is overly commercialized and there has been a lot of important critiques of institutions like marriage and whether queer politics should endorse these. However, we deserve the right to be cynical on our own terms out of choice, not rejection, as well as the right to choose to celebrate our love, or cry about our broken heart like everyone else. However you choose to spend this Valentines’ Day, here are 10 essential queer country love songs to keep you company.
“If She Ever Leaves Me,” The Highwomen
There’s nothing like hearing openly queer lyrical content in a country song. Sometimes artists will avoid featuring pronouns in their songs, but if an LGBTQ+ artist does it because they cannot mention the gender of their partner, it just makes the cold reality of country music’s closet all the more visceral. That’s why Brandi Carlile’s voice ringing loud and clear about her love for another woman on this beautiful ballad, as part of a mainstream country release, is so wonderful.
“Put Love First,” Patrick Masse
“Put Love First” is Masse’s take on pithy country wisdom about the importance of love and putting in the work to make love last. ‘Put love first if you want to make it last’ may sound mushy, but when it’s this catchy, it’s irresistible. Valentine’s Day may be overly sentimental, but we would like the choice to participate or be cynical and jaded by it on our own terms – like everyone else!
“Stay,” Steve Grand
Grand’s first song and video, “All American Boy,” received some criticism for presenting queer relationships with so much misery, but his follow-up song is the sunny-side reverse of it as he sings to his lover ‘Stay with me.. all summer… under the covers’. “Stay” is easy, sexy, no inhibitions kind of love – and we need that sometimes!
“I Love Her So,” Roseanne Reid
When writing about UK queer country, I rediscovered this great Scottish singer-songwriter. “I Love Her So” is a romantic ballad, and Reid’s voice croons, over a brass accompaniment, the words: ‘I love her so’. These words so simple, yet still so powerful to hear for listeners of country or Americana. This is quality ‘first-dance at a wedding’ material!
“Stay a Little Longer,” Brothers Osborne
After T.J. Osborne came out, becoming the only openly gay country artist currently signed to a major label, I have been listening to Brothers Osborne more. What better song to include than “Stay a Little Longer,” from 2015? Even though Osborne was not yet out publicly, the band still used their platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ people by featuring a same sex couple in the music video. This song is simply beautiful, as its melody perfectly encapsulates feelings of desire, excitement and hope: the heady mix of the first-time meeting whether it’s a long-term relationship or just one night.
“You Belong to Me,” Luisa Lopez
Love is not always simple and easy, yet with the right person it’s worth the hard work. Lopez’s ballad perfectly captures this, singing ‘It’s a web or a tapestry’ – reflecting the tension within some relationships – which is then undercut with the beautifully simple, ‘You belong to me’. Lopez’s voice is the perfect balance between the brittle bite of heartache and warmth, just as love has to be engaged with the harsh complexity of the world, while also being a comforting refuge from it.
“Love Thing,” Ryan Cassata
Whether this is country, pop, hip-hop or rap, “Love Thing” is a love story that wraps its listeners in an engrossing narrative. Expressing feelings for someone who is with another, yet still hoping that a relationship could start, “Love Thing” perfectly captures the excitement, longing, and slightly deluded sense of hope in these situations we can sometimes find ourselves in despite our better judgement!
“Next to Me,” Chely Wright
Warm and tender, Wright’s “Next to Me” conveys the sense of safety, refuge and sustenance that our relationships can provide for us. Released in 2016 after Wright’s own public coming out, this song perfectly encapsulates the peace that, in the end, coming out, stepping into our own light, living as our true selves, can make possible.
“Short and Sweet,” Brittany Howard
On an eclectic album Jaime, which mixed electronic sounds and R&B, there’s a queer country love song that shines through. Nominated for Best Roots Recording at this year’s GRAMMYs, “Short and Sweet” is a passionate torch song that evokes longing through the image of the ‘Mountains between us.’ Howard’s voice gives the perfect balance between light and shade in the vocal performance that shows how lucky country music is to have her.
“A Lover’s Prayer,” D’orjay the Singing Shaman
With soaring vocals, a melody that builds and builds, and lyrics of hope to drive out the darkness, “A Lover’s Prayer” is a different kind of love song, and an essential one. For all of Valentines’ Day’s contrivances, there is a sense that love is an important political and spiritual part of our lives, driving us to companionship, community and growth. “A Lover’s Prayer” embodies that in the way only D’orjay can.