From Alex the Astronaut to Anika Moa, Ladyhawke to Troye Sivan, LGBTQIA+ artists have increasingly been making their voices heard in Australia and New Zealand. In honour of this year’s Pride Month, Rolling Stone AU/NZ unearthed seven queer acts destined for the top.
After a rewarding retreat into her Māori heritage with her TE KAAHU project last year, Em-Haley Walker has returned to making supremely stylish alt-pop as Theia in 2023. Her second single of the year, the intoxicating “Crucified By U”, was released just a few days after she joined queer icon Peaches at Auckland’s Powerstation. It was the type of unapologetic pop that Peaches herself probably wouldn’t have minded calling her own. Whether she’s crafting some of the best pop gems of 2023 or sharing beautiful te reo Māori compositions, Em-Haley Walker is always herself.
A fledgling star moving from strength to strength each year. Nominated for triple j’s Unearthed Artist of the Year in 2020, Sycco’s career has flourished, including making it to number forty-six on the triple j Hottest 100 of 2022 with her infectious hit “Ripple”. The Brisbane singer-songwriter and her band have established themselves as a fun festival circuit favourite, with Sycco’s shining indie pop gems enjoyed at Laneway, Electric Avenue, and many more events so far this year.
There’s a reason Luca George was the only Aotearoa artist selected by Troye Sivan for the first-ever WorldPride SongHubs songwriting camp in Sydney this year: he’s extremely good at making moody pop music. Barely out of his teens, the singer-songwriter has impressed on a string of melancholic anthems, including the aptly-titled “Blue Again”; an unflinching detailing of a toxic relationship and the first taste of his eagerly-anticipated debut EP. George has toured with Callum Scott, worked with BENEE co-writer Josh Fountain, and is the first Kiwi artist signed to renowned London artist development agency Platoon (Billie Eilish, Jorja Smith).
Theatrical and camp, vulnerable and serious, this Melbourne duo — Heather Riley (they/them) and Jono Tooke (he/him) — have struck upon a truly winning formula in their music. They filter pop punk and rock through a proudly queer lens, including on last year’s confessional and confrontational anthem “People Like Me” — a deeply personal track exploring Riley’s trans experience. Cry Club’s empowering debut album, Spite Will Save Me, already has a strong claim to be one of the best albums of 2023.
What a busy few years it’s been for Caitlin McGregor. Under the moniker HANDSOME, the Sydney-based creative has barely stopped for breath, touring all over Europe with MAY-A, performing at Sydney WorldPride, and working with stellar contemporaries like Chloe Dadd and flowerkid. Her first release of 2023, “Dumb It Down”, is a dance-pop collaboration with EGOISM’s Olive Rush — a euphoric ode to the naive ecstasy of young love. Don’t be surprised if we see HANDSOME rise to the level of her touring mate MAY-A very soon.
Huntly despise restrictive conformity. Their excellent second album, Sentimental Still, touches on classic UK garage, breakbeat, electropop, and even R&B. Mixing stunning vocals alongside experimental production, the duo recall the expansive sound of English peers Jockstrap. Nominated for the Australian Music Prize in 2019, it would come as no surprise to see them nominated for the prestigious award again.
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There can’t be many bands having more fun in Australian punk than The Buoys right now. The fearless four-piece inject excitement into everything they do, whether it’s careening around Sydney in a comically oversized backpack for a music video, or rocking the stage at Sydney WorldPride. After making triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown back in 2021, there’s a very good chance their first single of 2023, the rollicking “I Want You”, could gain them another entry into the countdown.