When it comes to the ‘90s, I don’t miss being stuck in a town full of football freaks and straight people, but I do miss flannel shirts, “Friends,” and most of all, the music. Thankfully, I now live in a city and Spotify, aka the Greatest Invention Ever, exists. Turns out, the ’90s were great for lesbian music, from the subtle references in “32 Flavors” to the very obvious “I Kissed A Girl” (not the Katy Perry version). Here are my ten favorites gayest songs of the ’90s, ranked from least gay (baseball hat backwards) to most (U-Haul vibes all around).
“Sunny Came Home” (Shawn Colvin)
I’d completely forgotten about Shawn Colvin until she showed up on an episode of “The L Word” in the early aughts. That’s a shame, because Colvin only had one mainstream hit, but it was a doozy. While not overtly gay, “Sunny Came Home” was deadly lyrics sweetly sung; Colvin’s smooth voice glided over tales of vengeance and pyromania. Honestly, I can’t think of anything queerer than the combination of pretty and dangerous, ready to seduce you while simultaneously burning your house down. Colvin may be straight in real life, but Sunny sure ain’t.
“32 Flavors” (Ani DiFranco)
I’m not a DiFranco fan (Dayna, GO’s Managing Editor, audibly gasped while reading that), but I still have the lyrics to “32 Flavors” memorized. The melody is soothing, and the lyrics introspective, reminding us that no one is who they first appear to be and emphasizing that we all contain multitudes. And sometimes, these multitudes are very queer. Yes, even straight people can find meaning in lines like “I am a poster girl with no poster,” but all in all, “32 Flavors” celebrates the nuances in queer female identity.
“What’s Up” (4 Non Blondes)
A song that still demands singing along at the top of your lungs, the one-time hit of band 4 Non Blondes has “queer” written all over it. I mean, “And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed/Just to get it all out, what’s in my head, and I/I am feeling a little peculiar” is a feeling lodged in the mind and heart of every girl who was gay in the ’90s, whether or not she was fully aware at the time. “What’s Up” has riot-grrrl energy with a radio-friendly twist and acceptable lyrics for your little sister. Would 4 Non Blondes have gotten gayer with time? The world will never know, but they live on with one of the gayest songs.
“You Suck” (The Murmurs)
Before lesbian goddess Leisha Hailey rocked our worlds as Alice in “The L Word,” and before she was one half of Uh Huh Her, and even before her band GUSH was GUSH, they were The Murmurs and had brief mainstream fame with “You Suck.” This is everything a girl who loves girls could want: two guitars blending voices that are cute yet angry and a video featuring Hailey with short, hot pink hair. There’s even a sly reference to “pussy” (followed with the word “cat,” but still counts). Who can resist an epic takedown that still shows the vulnerability inside? Certainly no queer women I know.
“Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” (Sophie B. Hawkins)
Make no mistake: this song is a lesbian mood. The promise of hot sex that leaves you “smiling and warm?” Mentions of cages might as well be closets, and the rage that comes with longing? A black-and-white video that starts and ends with the shot of a train and culminates in Hawkins whisper-singing in a basement with tousled curls and (get ready) a cut-off flannel shirt? Also, the pronouns. Hawkins explicitly sings about making love to her — by an ocean, no less. Who knows if she got her lover in the end, but Hawkins’ journey is enjoyably sapphic.
“Come to My Window” (Melissa Etheridge)
There’s no love more intense than lesbian love, and in her signature distinctive voice, Etheridge describes dialing numbers just to listen to someone breathe (which we all did with at least one crush before texting was a thing), among other obstacles she’d overcame to get one step closer. She instructs her lover to “Crawl inside/Wait by the light of the moon,” adding an irresistible air of forbidden romance. Perhaps best of all, the black and white video features an angsty Juliette Lewis apparently in the throes of a breakdown. Positively ’90s-tastic.
“Take Me or Leave Me” (from “Rent”)
“Rent” broke a lot of musical theater and pop culture ground. Most significantly, it showed a lesbian relationship in all its “thin line between love and hate” glory through attention-loving performance artist Maureen and sensible, straightforward lawyer Joanne. Even 23 years after “Rent” premiered on Broadway, “Take Me or Leave Me” is still a rocking, explosive duet between two women who are wildly attracted to one another even as they point out each other’s flaws with stunning precision. Try not to dance or force your friend to perform this, one of the gayest songs, with you at karaoke night.
“Power of Two” (Indigo Girls)
I’d have to hand in my queer card if I didn’t include the Indigo Girls. Elegant harmonies, peaceful guitar, and Earth Mother vibes all around, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers were Lesbian 101 for so many of us. “Power of Two” is among their catalog’s gayest songs, as it celebrates lady love, road trips, and the eponymous U-Haul. (Okay, it’s a car with luggage in it, but still.) Promising to chase away monsters and ghosts through affection alone, the Girls were never afraid to be exactly who they were: very, very gay.
“I Kissed a Girl” (Jill Sobule)
Cutest. Video. Ever. Jill Sobule and company know what’s up. Even in the bright pastel 1950s, ladies were getting it on behind closed doors. Unlike the late 2000s song of the same name, Sobule’s song has a knowing vibe under its playful lyrics. This is someone who didn’t just like kissing a girl, she’s actively marking time until another drink, smoke, and liplock. Sobule conveys experience and understanding with every coyly delivered note, and queer girls of the ’90s rejoiced. Katy who?
“Constant Craving” (k.d. lang)
You don’t get gayer (or more ’90s) than k.d. lang and her seminal hit. It’s all there in the title, really. Who didn’t listen to this way back when and dream of the girl they couldn’t quite work up the nerve to talk to? Beyond that, the lyric “Always someone marches brave/Here beneath my skin” is a one-line anthem for those who knew themselves but weren’t in a place to express. When you think about it, queer womanhood is one long constant craving, and lang’s flawless crooning tells you she understands and isn’t going anywhere.
Want to hear them all? Check out my Spotify playlist!