The music industry depends on the LGBTQ audience in surprising ways

Rainbow flag with musical notes

Despite the way some companies run their businesses, the LGBTQ community’s spending power isn’t only valuable one month out of the year. In fact, data shows that throughout the year, queer music fans are significantly more likely than the general public to put their money where their mouth is.

While in decades past LGBTQ audiences may have been looked at as a fringe demographic within the larger context of the music industry, data shows that today, queer and trans audiences are more likely to spend their dollars on music — buying physical albums, artist merch, concert tickets and more — at a higher rate than other averages would suggest.

LGBTQ influencers will be the first to tell you they’re cultural trendsetters, but you don’t have to take their word for it. For decades, data has shown that LGBTQ consumers are early adopters of technology that was once niche but is now ubiquitous, from social media to mobile phones to the Internet itself.

Luminate (the data company that powers the Billboard charts) gave a presentation today at Music Biz in Nashville to outline their very interesting findings on the LGBTQ audience, influencers within the LGBTQ genre, and LGBTQ identifying music artists.

The queer consumer influence is felt in music. LGBTQ folks are over-indexing when it comes to consumption of vinyl and video content, pushing artists, songs, and genres to prominence. But it’s not just contemporary tunes that see a boost from queer culture: from RuPaul’s Drag Race to TikTok, LGBTQ creatives are propelling catalog tracks to new streaming heights as well.

Thanks to LGBTQ consumers, wax’s comeback shows no signs of waning, with Gen Z’s LGBTQ community being 78% more likely to listen to vinyl in a typical month. Of course, newer venues of music consumption are benefitting, too: LGBTQ music fans are 10% more likely to stream music videos than the general population and are 27% more likely to discover music via short video clips on websites or apps. They’re more engaged, too, watching more musician-created video content and over-indexing on YouTube.

How well represented are LGBTQ artists among the most popular of their peers?

Popularity and visibility for LGBTQ artists is undoubtedly on the rise, but how well represented are LGBTQ artists among the most popular of their peers? According to the data, not particularly well. Within the top 100 artists (ranked by total consumption in 2021), 5% identify as LGBTQ, while of the top 1,000, that percentage drops down to 2%. Amongst those percentages, though, a few LGBTQ artists stand out from the pack.

When it comes to streaming, Tyler, the Creator takes the crown as the most popular LGBTQ artist currently working in the industry, with over 1.75 billion total streams, as well as 1.64 billion in audio only streams in 2021 alone. In terms of video, however, Lil Nas X is far and away the most popular queer artist, raking in over 407 million video streams in 2021. Artists like Queen, Halsey, Frank Ocean and Miley Cyrus also broke the 1 billion mark in total streams through 2021.

Among the growing list of genres available to the listening public, LGBTQ listeners are predominantly listening to rock and pop music on a weekly basis, with 46% of LGBTQ respondents saying they listen to rock music on a weekly basis, while 34% said they listen to pop on a weekly basis. However, LGBTQ listeners are notably more interested in pop and Top 40 music than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. LGBTQ’s are 17% more likely than the average respondent to listen to pop music on a weekly basis.

Kehlani prefers she/they pronouns and the 10th most-streamed LGBTQ artists last year

LGBTQ respondents are also listening to 11% more R&B each week than the general public. It is fitting that Kehlani, who recently came out as a lesbian and prefers she/they pronouns, was one of the 10 most-streamed LGBTQ artists last year. They’re just one of several out-and-proud female or nonbinary artists of color dominating R&B these days, from established stars like Janelle Monae to rising talent such as Arlo Parks. Kehlani in particular enjoys measurable support from the queer community, with 28% of Kehlani’s fanbase identifying as LGBTQ.  And her fans are 7% more likely to purchase a ticket, 5% more likely to care about an endorsement, and 60% more likely to follow Kehlani on socials.

Hip-hop/R&B has been the dominant genre on Billboard’s charts since 2017, and sure enough, the top two artists with the biggest 2021 year-to-date streaming totals are rappers who have lyrically expressed (albeit to varying degrees) that they exist outside of heteronormative culture: Tyler, the Creator and Lil Nas X.

Queer women are some of the hottest rising talents in the game, too, from Young M.A to Chika. But the queer community’s support for hip-hop is far from limited to rappers who identify as LGBTQ: When it comes to the fanbases supporting Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion and Saweetie, nearly 1 in 4 identifies as LGBTQ.

LGBTQ audiences are not all the same. LGBTQ audiences are anything but stereotypical. They consistently break the mold and deviate from the trends set before them — and even within the community itself. While queer audiences tend to place a high value on an artist’s activism, other preferences — such as physical music consumption — are far from set in stone across the full spectrum of the LGBTQ community.  

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