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Queer as folk: The country artists you should be paying attention to right now

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Photos courtesy of the artists
Photos courtesy of the artists

For a long time, I've classified my love for country music as a guilty pleasure. Being a Queer woman with liberal, leftist politics, it's never been something I was eager to share with other people. The truth, though, is that because I grew up with it, I've always had a soft spot for it and always will. More than a symbol of national pride, country music is one of the many ways that I and many others indulge our nostalgia (and sometimes our homesickness as well).

I can't deny that the country music scene is generally in line with the American right and comes with its share of problems. On the other hand, the genre has evolved to survive just like any other and, in the process, is becoming a crossroads for modernity and tradition. A prime example is in the the world of Queer country.

The history of the LGBTQIA+ community in country music is a vibrant one — think of the Seattle-based group Lavender Country, Orville Peck, and Lil Nas X. Beautiful displays of advocacy and acceptance have also come consistently from allied artists, like Dolly Parton and Kacey Musgraves. Even with its muddy history and controversies, there is a safe space in the world of country music for anyone who might come looking, either for nostalgia's sake or to try something new.

Here are some emerging (Queer) folk and country artists to check out now:

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Brooke Eden
In the last few years, Brooke Eden has been carving herself a warm and inviting space, both in Nashville and on the internet. Since her debut album in 2014, Eden's creativity has shifted to reflect the exploration and self-compassion that have informed her in more recent years, particularly as she came out. Now, she has a growing discography that perfectly scratches the guilty-pleasure country itch whenever needed.

Her sound is brighter and faster than the artists mentioned further down and makes for a great sing-along driving moment (trust me). I particularly like her song "Got No Choice," which feels like a classic love ballad and a fresh Queer anthem all at once.

Find her @brookeedenmusic on Instagram and TikTok.

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I originally stumbled across Loamlands in my "Discover Weekly" on Spotify a couple of weeks ago. Based out of Durham, North Carolina, the group describes themselves on their website as "a project built out of love for southern Queer culture and a desire to listen to and tell stories of the Queer community."

Influences of folk and bluegrass are a bit easier to hear in Loamlands's work than in Brooke Eden's more contemporary pop-country sound. Borrowed from their Spotify page, the term "distorted country" is a perfect description for the group, who offer an experimental mix of rock, funk, and folk for a refreshing taste of Southern comfort music. I enjoyed tracks "Little River," "What Kind of Love," and "Baby I'm Running," all of which vaguely reminded me of Brandi Carlile's early work.

With only 2.1K monthly listeners on Spotify, Loamlands is a gem waiting to be discovered. The band is on Instagram and TikTok @loamlands.

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Olivia Klugman
Though Olivia Klugman pushes the boundaries of country music and leans more heavily toward folk, their work deserves a spot on this list regardless. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Olivia is now based in Los Angeles, booking small shows across the US and creating an online presence that has garnered 147.3K followers on TikTok alone.

With alluring brevity, Klugman's music wants you to feel your emotions. The lyrics are often bittersweet and introspective, inviting listeners on a journey to meet the artist's younger self and glimpse into their first, precious Queer experiences, which remind us of our own. My favorite song from their discography is "Raining in June," a track that explores the frustrations of emotional restlessness and helped me put a feeling of my own into words that made sense. In short, Klugman makes music for the heart.

Beyond "Raining in June," I would also recommend streaming "Self Help" for a moment of introspection and "Not Forever After" for some Queer comfort.

Olivia will hopefully release an album in the near future. In the meantime, follow them on Instagram and TikTok @oliveklug for updates.

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Mad Lasso
A lucky Instagram discovery for me, Mad Lasso is another star on the rise having debuted earlier this year in April. The brainchild of Austin-born Franklin Smith Ellis, Mad Lasso blends indie and country for a sound unlike any others. In his Spotify profile, Ellis mentions his struggles with Bipolar Disorder, substance abuse, and personal trauma, which Mad Lasso has helped him cope with.

Ellis isn't very outspoken on social media about his sexuality, but his top song "Missouri" — one of my favorites — touches upon religion-based trauma and navigating Queer experiences. His music feels comforting and thrilling all at once. I also enjoyed the more contemporary and indie-infused style in "Crystal," as well as outlaw country-esque "Your Cheatin' Heart."

You can follow his journey on Instagram with @madlasso on Instagram, and be sure to keep an eye out on November 4th for his second EP, "Sad Lasso Pt. II."

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Honorable mention: Odie Leigh
It's unclear if Louisiana local Odie Leigh identifies as Queer, but her work is still a must-hear for anyone in search of new folk tunes. In particular, I would recommend streaming her song "Crop Circles," which feels like a lovely, Joni Mitchell—inspired number.

Leigh also happens to do some collaborative work with Klugman — the two sing covers together on social media and were recently performing together around the US.

Check out her work @odieleigh on Instagram or TikTok.