Even before the days of MTV, artists have been rocking the needle forward for LGBT visibility with groundbreaking music videos showing the beauty of our lives, loves, and perseverance.
It’s a tradition that continues today, and while we’re thankful to have an army of allies who have used their art to stand with us in solidarity over the years, there is no substitute for the feeling that comes from seeing our stories told by members of our own community.
As we near the end of LGBT Pride month, we’re turning up the volume and celebrating our past, present and future with these 12 landmark videos by gay artists who were unafraid to let their rainbow flag fly high.
1. Village People, “Macho Man” (1978)
This homoerotic-fueled ode to masculinity was a feast for snacking eyes in the seventies. The super-sized serving of sexuality was initially unnoticed by a majority of straight fans while this track was blowing up the charts, but gay men knew exactly what they were seeing.
2. George Michael, “Outside” (1998)
Only a few short months after George Michael was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a Beverly Hills bathroom, the pop icon embraced his newly-out status with this satirical music video.
3. Divine, “You Think You’re a Man” (1984)
Long before RuPaul commanded us to “work,” legendary drag diva (and John Waters muse) Divine rocked out with her wig out, and gave men everywhere a timeless lesson in masculinity.
4. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax” (1984)
The original music video for the synth bands’ safe-sex anthem featured adventures at a BDSM gay bar. However, it was quickly banned by MTV and the BBC. The band was forced to film the SFW version that became a staple of the eighties, but the original continues to live on in internet infamy.
5. Le1f, “Wut” (2014)
From the rhymes (“I’m gettin light in my loafers”) to the unabashed lap dance with a hunk in a Pokémon mask, Le1f’s “Wut” takes a wrecking ball to assumptions that hip hop is a realm reserved for heterosexual artists.
6. Troye Sivan, “Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy” (2015)
A groundbreaking tale of young love unfolds over the course of three music videos from Troye Sivan’s sophomore album Blue Neighborhood, “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down.” But it’s the cinematic director’s cut that combines the three music videos into one heartbreaking story that packs an unforgettable punch.
7. Culture Club, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” (1982)
The video for the track Boy George later admitted was about his tortured love affair with fellow band mate (Culture Club drummer Jon Moss) is filled with queer imagery and subtext that seems obvious by today’s standards, but flew under the radar in 1982.
8. RuPaul, “Supermodel (You Better Work)”
The glamazon who turned warring wigs into a television phenomenon first shifted drag into overdrive with this 1993 gem.
9. Years & Years, “Desire” (2016)
Two pop powerhouses team up for a video that celebrates sexuality without limits.
10. Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy” (1984)
The gay synth-pop trio’s (not so subtle) music video spotlighting the story of a young man who desires to escape the confines of his homophobic small town was a bold statement in 1984, and one of the many reasons this track has been an LGBT anthem for more than 30 years.
11. Steve Grand, “All-American Boy” (2013)
The singer-songwriter’s first music video went viral moments after it was uploaded to YouTube and proved same-sex love is as American as blue jeans, apple pie, and the 4th of July.
12. Sam Smith, “Lay Me Down” (2015)
Sam Smith kicked down the closet door shortly before his debut album dropped and then went on to shoot this music video which shows the British crooner daydreaming of marrying the man of his dreams.