These queer songbirds are bringing their sazón to the party.
Pop singer Omar Apollo, whose album “Ivory” featured heartfelt tales of same-sex romance, was up for best new artist at the 65th annual Grammy Awards in February. Rapper Young Miko scored her first Billboard Hot 100 entry this summer and served as an opening act for reggaeton superstar Karol G. And Dembow emcee Tokischa teamed up with Miko on the sensual Bad Gyal single “Chulo pt. 2,” which was certified platinum.
In the past, narrow industry norms made it difficult for queer artists to thrive in mainstream Latin music, says Verónica Davila Ellis, assistant professor of Spanish at James Madison University. But new acts are upending tradition with their authentic identities and honest songwriting.
“In Latin American music in general, queer artists have always been there, whether they have been out or not,” Davila Ellis tells USA TODAY. “The new thing is having those two perspectives: their own self-identifications and the content of the lyrics.”
While there are limitations to how queer artists operate within a historically heterosexist industry, Davila Ellis says this crop of LGBTQ creatives is part of a boundary-pushing generation.
“There is a need to widen the types of stories, particularly love stories and sexual and emotional stories, that are not the same heteronormative (stories) that we’ve been fed forever,” Davila Ellis says. “And these artists can do that kind of work.”
In honor of Latino Heritage Month, here are five queer Latin artists who are making their mark.
Young Miko is bringing her sapphic swagger to the forefront of Latin pop. Born María Victoria Ramírez de Arellano, the 24-year-old Puerto Rican rapper broke out in 2021 with a string of singles including “105 Freestyle,” “Vendetta,” and “Katana,” which paved the way for her debut EP “Trap Kitty” in 2022. An openly gay woman, Miko raps unapologetically about the sensuality of queer courtship, as heard on the breezy bangers “Wiggy” and “Castigada.” The rapper says this bold queerness gives her work a strong individuality. “My music is for the girlies and the they/thems,” Young Miko told Rolling Stone in June. “Having the courage to talk about how I feel and what I actually like is what makes my project so different.”
As a songwriter, Apollo grew into this confidence about his queerness after struggling with a religious upbringing. “I had a lot of Catholic guilt, especially when I first started writing music. In the beginning I did (use pronouns), and then my spirit got shut down by some family and I stopped doing it,” Apollo told USA TODAY in December 2022. “Eventually, I was like: ‘I can’t live in service for other people. I just have to live for me.’ ”
María Becerra is truly a girl’s girl. The 23-year-old Argentine singer, who is bisexual, got her start as an online content creator before self-releasing her debut EP “222” in 2019. The EP featured the track “Dime Como Hago,” a bruising love song in which Becerra sings about falling for a girl who’s in a heterosexual relationship. Becerra further explored queer love on her 2022 studio album “La Nena de Argentina” with the heartbreak anthem “Inspiradora.” Becerra takes pride in creating LGBTQ visibility for queer women through her music. “Since I had a consciousness, I’ve liked both girls and boys. I like singing about my real experience,” Becerra told Rolling Stone in 2022. “It’s something that is part of me, and I love when girls tell me they feel represented by what I’m singing.”
Villano Antillano is a rainbow warrior through and through. The Puerto Rican rapper has broken barriers as one of the first transgender artists in the Latin hip-hop scene. The 28-year-old emcee, who was kicked out of her home in her teens by conservative parents, first emerged as a musical entity with the release of the 2019 EP “Tiranía.” However, it was Antillano’s June 2022 collaboration with Argentine DJ Bizarrap, “BZRP Music Sessions #51,” that signaled a mainstream breakthrough (the song’s music video has racked up 230 million views to date).
Antillano’s debut album “La sustancia X” arrived in December 2022, offering up reggaeton and trap-infused anthems of resilience and unabashed hedonism. “I’m creating music knowing very well I may be killed for this, but you know what? We have to be proud and stand tall,” Antillano told Rolling Stone in August 2022.
For Tokischa, there’s nothing better than dancing to the beat of your own drum. The Dominican rapper made her musical debut in 2018 with the single “Pícala,” and a steady stream of singles – including collaborations with J Balvin, Rosalía, Marshmello and Madonna – has transformed her into one of the leading exponents of dembow, a dance genre with roots in Tokischa’s native Dominican Republic. The 27-year-old emcee’s lyrics boldly explore sexual themes, including her queerness as a bisexual woman.
On her Marshmello collab “Estilazo,” Tokischa proudly sings of same-sex attraction and exclaims “long live the gays,” while the rapper playfully shares kisses with Rosalía and Madonna in the music videos for their songs “Linda” and “Hung Up on Tokischa.” Tokischa says this frankness about her sexuality is part of expressing her authentic self in her work. “I am an honest, real person, and I will always say how I feel, what I like, what I want. It’s just part of who I am,” Tokischa told USA TODAY in July. “If you’re real, people will connect with you.”