Since I moved from Iowa to New York three months ago, it’s been confirmed: I barely know any straight people. Maybe that’s a product of pursuing a poetry MFA from the kind of East Coast liberal arts college that’s renowned for its lesbianism or maybe it’s just because I’m at a point in my life where I’m building a community of people like me. Whatever the reason, I’ve been getting to know a lot of gay women lately, and something that always comes up in those early getting-to-know-you conversations is Tegan and Sara. Like GO’s own managing editor Dayna Troisi says, “I’m pretty sure it’s in our DNA to like Tegan and Sara.”
The first time I ever heard these beautiful Sapphic angels must have been 2007. How do I remember? Because that year was a formative time for me, both musically and queerly. It was the year we had a chess unit in Mr. Carrel’s English class, and I was infatuated with the girl who beat me repeatedly—writing that now it may have sparked something else, too—and the way her hair fell over her shoulder when she bent down to consider the board. It was also the year that LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, The White Stripes’ Icky Thump, Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion, and Tegan and Sara’s The Con came out. I played all of those albums on my generic USB MP3 player all the time. I let the world, and most importantly my mother (hi, Mom!), know that I liked Mika and The White Stripes, but Tegan and Sara were a secret I kept because part of my queer baby brain knew that Tegan and Sara were a gay band, and I definitely wasn’t gay. Nope. Not me.
Recently, I spent some time with a beautiful friend of mine from my writing program who also moved to NYC. She was showing me the rows of homemade jams she had brought with her from her previous life on a lesbian commune in Oregon—and sure enough, there it was: Burn Your Life Down Blackberry Jam. Someone used to sing it on the commune, she told me, and that’s when it hit me: We all have such magical, sentimental stories about our favorite Tegan and Sara songs that it’s about time somebody scientifically set it to rest and definitively ordered them. If that person has to be me, so be it.
Here it is, the absolutely 100 percent scientific list of Tegan and Sara albums ranked by lesbianism.
My very lesbian method for ranking (based in lesbian science, duh): All eight studio albums are factored into this list and ranked according to a star system. There are only seven number listings for a reason clarified below, and they’re not gold stars because we all know that all lesbians are worthy of love and adoration and the whole gold star lesbian thing is transphobic. Each star roughly corresponds with the number of times I said “that’s gay” to myself while listening to a given album while cooking, lying in bed, walking to class, or dancing with my headphones unaware that my roommate was there.
7. Sainthood ★★
Tegan and Sara’s 2009 release begins with the lyrics “would you take a straight and narrow, critical look at me? / Would you tell me tough-love style? / Put judicial weight on me?” It’s just a coincidence that it’s the first song on the first album of this list, but that is exactly what I’m going to do. It’s a good album, kind of pop-punk, full of really catchy hooks, yet it doesn’t seem that gay. “Paperback Head” is my favorite, but it seems like this album follows the lyrics of that song. It stitches up its spine with well-constructed tracks while keeping its suitors away.
6. The Business of Art & Under Feet Like Ours ★★1/2
While headphone-deep in my research, I realized just how much Tegan and Sara repeat songs across albums. The Business of Art and Under Feet Like Ours were the band’s first two releases and only a year apart. Between them, they share a whole six songs! That’s almost half an album! So, I consider them—hot take—to be the same album. That said, it’s a pretty gay album. And I’m pretty sure that “Proud” has been played at every Pride event in the intervening years.
5. Love You to Death ★★★
Originally, I was only going to give this album two lesbian stars, but I think it earns another just by being so danceable. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, the guy who helped Britney Spears and Kesha make such poppy bops, and that extra bit of sugary sweetness really adds to the wonderful genderbending gayness of “Boyfriend.” I mean, “You treat me like your boyfriend/And trust me like a like a very best friend/You kiss me like your boyfriend/You call me up like you want your best friend/You turn me on like you want your boyfriend/But I don’t want to be your secret anymore?” That’s just a big gay mood.
4. Heartthrob ★★★★
Heartthrob, the album that gave us “Closer”—and I pray to Sappho that “Closer” is the one Tegan and Sara song the new generations of baby gays will keep secret on their iPhones and Apple implants—is such a beautifully gay album. I mean “Closer”:
All you think of lately is getting underneath me
All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me
Here comes the heat before we meet a little bit closer
Here comes the spark before the dark, come a little closer
What more can I say!?
3. So Jealous ★★★★1/2
Tegan and Sara make some danceable hits (you can ask my roommate, Jo, or my partner, Charlie, if you want some embarrassing evidence) but it’s no secret that those of us who love them best love them for the ability to provide the perfect soundtrack to breakups, moping, and general gay sadness. So Jealous and the next album fit that situation just perfectly. As soon as I put on “Fix You Up,” I heard Jo, from across the room, let out a reflective sigh. I think we’ve all felt this before and will probably feel it again:
And what I wanted most, what I wanted most
What I wanted most, was to get myself figured out
And what I figured out, what I figured out, what I figured out
Was that I need more time to figure you out
2. The Con ★★★★★
Do you ever encounter something so gay that you weep? So gay it just hits you right in whatever organ handles digestion of sweet, sweet representation and produces all those good queer feelings. Well, that’s every time I listen to “The Con.” And if this interview with Vulture tells us anything, it’s that they see us. In it, Tegan mentions that album’s most gut-wrenching song, “Nineteen” and says, “It was sort of obvious right from the beginning that [“Nineteen”] was gonna be everybody’s sad, weepy breakup song.”
1. If It Was You ★★★★★
And finally, the gayest album in the Tegan and Sara discography is If It Was You. I am convinced that in the archives of queer materials, a copy of this album will sit beside all the fragments of Sappho, DVD box sets of The L Word, and U-Haul moving boxes. It is iconic, and nothing captures the joy and stress of trying to flag down other queers quite like “Living Room.” And if you need to find me in the next few weeks, just listen for a girl walking down the street singing:
My windows look into your living room
I spend the afternoon on top of you
I wonder what it is
That I did to make you move in
Across away from me
I hope I never figure out
Who broke your heart
And if I do, if I do
I’d spend all night losing sleep
I’d spend the night and I lose my mind