Popular music has an iconic lineage of LGBTQ+ artists and songs written even by straight allies that uplift and validate LGBTQ+ people. One theme that links a lot of this music is the learned shame and internalized homophobia that comes from growing up in a society that is heteronormative at best and anti-LGBTQ+ at worst, especially in its religious aspects. A song that balances the desire to be one’s true self against the difficulty of being open and honest in our culture is Elton’s Song by Elton John, which was released in 1981. With a chorus that includes yearning lyrics (“If you only knew what I’m going through / Time and again I get ashamed to say your name”) and John himself admitting that this was the “first gay song that [he] actually recorded as a homosexual song,” Elton’s Song chronicles the pressure and stigma that comes from same-sex attraction in a beautiful but haunting way.

Ten years later in 1991, R.E.M. released Losing My Religion. Though Michael Stipe, the lead singer and one of the writers of the song, has revealed that the song is not actually about religion at all, there has been a lot of speculation about other potential meanings; in more recent years, Stipe has come out as queer, which has caused fans to listen to the lyrics from a different perspective. Lyrics like “Every whisper of every waking hour I’m choosing my confessions / Trying to keep an eye on you / Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool” conjure the image of a person trying to hide their sexuality and feeling blinded by the ideas they’ve been raised on. Again, though the song is not explicit about this, it’s an important interpretation to consider given the song’s title and the lead singer’s more recent openness about his sexuality. The song may be understood by some as a narrative about a person navigating their LGBTQ+ identity and becoming disillusioned with religion as a result.

Almost 15 years later in 2015, Troye Sivan released his first album, which is chock full of music that discusses his sexuality in both positive and difficult ways. One such song is Heaven, which features Betty Who. Like the other songs in this lineage, Heaven makes an attempt to reconcile embracing one’s sexuality with the shame that comes from society and, more specifically, the influence of religion. Lyrics in the chorus ask “Without losing a piece of me / How do I get to heaven? / Without changing a part of me / How do I get to heaven?” and lead to “So if I’m losing a piece of me / Maybe I don’t want heaven.” Because the Church (or, more specifically, many of its members) remain steadfast in a less-than-ideal stance on LGBTQ+ people, it becomes a difficult task to have both sides. In this song, Troye is trying to navigate both spaces; he doesn’t come to any cut and dry conclusion, but by the song’s end, it’s clear that he’s wondering if he can ever have both his sexuality (which is an inherent and unchangeable part of himself) and also his religion.

So much of this theme can be seen in The Village. Wrabel’s critique of our culture and religion is only further validated by the shame and struggle that’s illustrated in the previous three songs. It becomes clear how necessary it is for change that between 1981 and 2015, almost nothing has changed in the fact that gay people are still afraid to fully be themselves for fear of societal backlash or hellfire. This lineage helps to illustrate that our culture is so infused with religious ideology that even if the more secular sects of society are starting to come around, there are still people who are facing dire oppression because of religious affiliation.


Having said all of this, there’s also a comforting aspect to Wrabel’s song. While the verses tell the story of oppression and prejudice, the chorus of The Village ensures LGBTQ+ people that the problem lies in the world around them, and that there isn’t a fundamental incorrectness in their existence. Songs that celebrate as opposed to lament are more readily found in recent years. Perhaps the most iconic of songs like this is Born This Way by Lady Gaga, which came out in 2011. This song is very explicitly pro-LGBTQ+, and as a bisexual woman herself (although this is a label with a complicated and somewhat controversial past for the singer), coming from Gaga it feels all the more comforting due to her open allyship. The lyrics of this song directly oppose and assuage the feelings of guilt that come from both society and religion. Gaga sings “I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way” and also urges the listener to practice self-love and not to hide their true self.

The next year, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis enlisted the help of Mary Lambert and released Same Love, which was an attempt to draw attention to the struggles of LGBTQ+ people and lift them up. In the song, Macklemore not only stands as an ally, but also uses his platform to share the voice of Lambert, who is an LGBTQ+ artist herself. Her inclusion on the track provides a sense of accountability from Macklemore and Lewis, as they are using their popularity to magnify the art of a gay artist. The chorus of “I can’t change, even if I tried / Even if I wanted to” clarifies to the world that being LGBTQ+ is not a choice, which was a harmful notion that many people had about the community. This song also contains some religious themes and direct calls to action: “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all / But it’s a damn good place to start / No law’s gonna change us, we have to change us / Whatever god you believe in, we come from the same one / Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love.” The song is demanding marriage equality in particular, and the lyrics back up this desire with the idea that all love is the same at its core and the bigotry surrounding this community is outdated and ignorant.

Mary Lambert then created an extended version of her feature on Same Love. In 2013, She Keeps Me Warm was released, which includes even more of the singer’s perspective on same-sex love and how, much like any other kind of love, it can be pure and gentle and authentic. It borrows a lot of the melody of Same Love but slows it down just slightly; the more ballad-like form of this follow up song just emphasizes the passion and power behind it. One of the lyrical section that Lambert carried over was one in which she repeats “I’m not cryin’ on Sundays” and “Love is patient, love is kind.” These lyrics highlight the idea that Lambert has found a way to remedy the rift between religion and her love. The latter lyric example is a quote directly from the Bible, and it’s compelling that Lambert is using a Bible verse to bolster the relationship between her and her partner. Where before the two things seemed to be in direct opposition, Lambert has reclaimed religious language as an uplifting and affirming device.

This lineage is rooted much more in acceptance and celebration of sexual identity, and often this includes harmonizing the ideas of religion and LGBTQ+ love; these artists are of the conviction that not only are they not inherently adversarial, but that they can and should go together. Wrabel’s song draws from this to a certain extent, though his lyrics don’t do as much work when it comes to drawing the two forces together. Rather, Wrabel is focused on encouraging LGBTQ+ people—and youth especially—that certain religious doctrines and ideologies that have been harmful don’t have the power over them that they may think. Perhaps one thing that can be learned from this progression of songs is that it’s possible to have a song that makes an attempt to show that one can be a member of communities both religious and LGBTQ+, which then prompts the question: why didn’t Wrabel more directly attempt this himself? Perhaps he’s not of the same mindset, or just felt that trying to speak positively about religion while also so directly criticizing it would soften the emotional power of his message.