After months and months of speculation, it seems like we're about to get swept up in Frank Ocean's musical undertow once again.

The widely beloved, if elusive, artist is rumoured to be releasing Boys Don't Cry - the long-awaited follow-up to his debut album, Channel Orange - on Friday.

On Orange, he talked candidly about sex, money and, perhaps most revelatory, his unrequited love for another man. Singing about an honest desire for someone of the same sex is a rarity in mainstream music, and was especially bold at the time of the album's release in 2012.

Although Ocean has not put a specific label on his sexual identity, he has been open about his experiences with both men and women.


The LGBTQ community has often struggled to find its footing in a pop world that celebrates queerness more for shock value or as a punchline than as a genuine experience. After all, you can't be mainstream if you're not seen as marketable to a larger audience.

Recently, that's started to change. Ocean and several other queer artists like him have been in the trenches, fighting to shirk that stigma as niche and as something that isn't able to sell. They're celebrating their sexuality and gender identity like we really haven't seen before - and doing so in ways as vast as the many identities in the community itself.

The use of same-sex pronouns

Using a correct pronoun to identify a lover might not seem like a big change to some, but it's turned into one of the most defiant ways that artists can identify their same-sex relationships.

Synth-pop duo Tegan and Sara know this all too well. Both women are attracted to other women, and use their music to showcase that.

"You turn me on like you would your boyfriend," the two sing on Boyfriend. "But I don't want to be your secret anymore."

This song could have taken other approaches. It could have been a vague, woe-is-me about feeling used by a "lover." They never needed to use the word "boyfriend," but that's exactly why it's powerful: They used words that described the situation exactly as they felt it, and as many in the overall LGBTQ community have felt it, too.

Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander has consistently noted how important using "he" is in his music, because it takes the pain of past relationships to a more authentic place; his band's album includes two songs that use that pronoun.

And country artist Steve Grand completely throws out the genre's rule book when he pines for his All-American Boy with an equally emotional video to match.

But it's not only in sad cases.

Rapper Le1f fires off a shade storm of take downs in Koi, squashing another man's feeble attempts to hit on him. "Boy, come try your luck, four-leaf clover / If you ain't got no swag, then this conversation's over," he spits confidently. (Apparently, the dude really didn't have swag.)

The flirty fun of Who Is Fancy's Boys Like You tells the story of a man falling for the bad boy ... as a boy yourself. Featuring Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor, the song is unapologetic about putting a gay man's perspective right alongside two straight women.

For queer artists like these, using "he" when you mean "she" just doesn't cut it anymore. The story just isn't complete or compelling unless it's honest.

Translating music stories into visuals

Some LGBTQ musicians opt for the "show, not tell" approach when it comes to expressing their queerness.

If they're not specifically calling out their love interests by name or gender pronoun, many are using the visual part of their art to make a statement.

YouTuber-turned-pop-star Troye Sivan is a prime example. Weaving together the series of singles from his debut Blue Neighborhood, Sivan created a trilogy of music videos that tell the complete story of a troubled same-sex relationship.

In the videos, Sivan's love interest struggles with a father who isn't accepting of his son's sexuality - so much so that the son pushes past his feelings for Sivan's character and dates a girl.

Alone, these videos act as chapters in a novel, but together they show a complete narrative that's important for the public to see. There is kissing and intimacy. There is hand-holding. And there's fighting - all of it done with two male characters. It's a beautiful story that demands its rightful spot in the mainstream.

Alex Newell, a dance artist and Glee alum with a powerhouse voice, goes even further in his music video.

Newell, dressed from head-to-toe in beautiful drag, gets sweet revenge on a jilted male lover in Basically Over You (B.O.Y.) Filled with humour and heart - oh, and America's Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco, who himself identifies as sexually fluid - the video confidently throws gender roles and dating norms to the wind.

British crooner Sam Smith, who has a complicated history with the LGBTQ community, tells a heartbreaking tale of falling for someone who doesn't reciprocate in Leave Your Lover.

Smith, part of a trio of friends and/or lovers, is longing for the other man in the group. The man consistently chooses someone else - whether that someone is a man or a woman.

Even if the music isn't explicitly expressing a more gendered approach, it doesn't mean the queerness isn't there.

Advocating and activism

Some queer artists also use their music to make more forceful statements of queerness. It's not all breakups and heartbreak - sometimes it's about calling for equality.

Enter Lady Gaga's Born This Way. It's a screaming, prideful anthem that reminds people, critics and the LGBTQ community alike that what you are is perfectly perfect, and you don't need to change for anyone.

When Gaga sings "No matter gay, straight or bi / lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born to survive," she delivers a clear message: Accept the LGBTQ community as they are, or keep moving.

Folksy singer Lowell's Lgbt gleams as another shining example. The 2014 pop tune might not be the ubiquitous hit it could have been, but it's thematically focused on acceptance.

"Oho, don't hate our love," she sings on the refrain. With just five words, Lowell delivers a commanding take-down of discrimination.

Mary Lambert captures similar sentiments on She Keeps Me Warm, which you may remember hearing during Macklemore's Same Love. While it clearly touches on love, its focus is much more on the fact that she "can't change, even if she tried."

Owning personal identity

Historically, there have always been prominent gay artists whose mere existence and success paved a path for the many expressions of identity. Artists like Elton John, Freddie Mercury, RuPaul and more have helped to slowly bring queerness into the mainstream.

Today, many artists are picking up that mantle simply by embracing their identities and being truthful in how they present themselves - regardless of the gender or sexuality in the actual music.

Look at Shamir, an alt-electro musician who also just happens to have "never felt latched to a gender." Look at Miley Cyrus, the sometimes-problematic wrecking ball of a performer who came out as pansexual in 2015. Look at the army of drag queens RuPaul has inspired.

Or look at Ocean again.

He, like many of the artists represented here, is helping bring his queerness to the public in a way that is both authentic and personal. That's an undertow we'll gladly get swept up in.