Apparently, according to a number of TikToks I’ve stumbled across in the last month, loving these artists means you’re likely bisexual… or at least into bi vibes.
The notion of “bisexual music” is an increasingly popular concept on social media, with discussions on Reddit and plenty of YouTube videos that allude to the aesthetics of bi identity without ever really defining it. I was thoroughly confused the first time I saw this narrative on social media because on its face, it didn’t really make sense: “Bisexual” didn’t describe the musical genres, nor the literal sexual orientation of the artists.
But I also immediately understood that all these artists, including non-contemporary inclusions like Kurt Cobain, shared a certain aesthetic quality — something rooted in indie counterculture, with a dose of sadboi/sadgirl energy woven throughout. Clairo may have very little to do with Frank Ocean in a strictly musical sense, but their wistful points of view on growing up and losing innocence sure align.
Which is how we see things like The Neighbourhood’s moody 2013 track “Sweater Weather” suddenly becoming TikTok’s bi anthem in 2020, even though none of the band’s members are openly queer. Maybe even more telling was the fact that when I jokingly tweeted about talking to straight men who love “bisexual indie” artists, I got a massive response.
“Part of it is simply that we’re in a cultural moment for bisexual people, where there’s greater visibility, less stigma than ever before and recognition that this is a legitimate sexual identity,” says Phillip Hammack, director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Hammack notes the significant rise in the number of people who identify as bisexual, especially among Gen Z. While much of the statistical jump reflects a rise in bi women, there’s also been a shift in how young men think about sexual expression and fluidity, he says. And with increasing interest in bisexuality comes efforts to build culture and a vocabulary around the experience of being bi — including by relating it to music, especially that which has an introspective, sensitive edge.
“As people develop their gender and sexual identity internally, and especially if one falls outside of the traditional cisgender heterosexual norm, there’s an emotional experience that happens,” Hammack explains. “In one TikTok I saw, it mentioned being a ‘depressed bisexual,’ which I found interesting. It sounds sad, but actually, I thought it spoke to the internal process of experiencing a sense of difference from others. And a common theme in literature and media around same-sex relationships is a kind of sad, reflective quality.”
In talking to some of the straight men who love this kind of music, it became clear that a common thread between the artists was a willingness to be vulnerable, both in lyricism and the sonic vibe of the music. Artists like the Japanese House, Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail often tell darkly witty stories about coming-of-age and past love, using the tonal palettes of 1990s alt rock and 1980s pop. It’s music that, as Hammack puts it, loses “the hard edge of masculinity”; it’s no coincidence that many of these artists are women.
Many men also noted to me that their love of the bisexual indie “genre” is a love of authenticity — in the emotions conveyed by the music, as well as the perspective of the artists. “One of my favorite albums is Channel Orange, and one of the reasons I love it so much is because of Frank [Ocean]’s letter he published right before it came out. Although I can’t relate to the struggles of being queer, I found his honesty and vulnerability to be admirable, and it’s always been something that’s stuck with me,” 24-year-old Jimmy, tells me via DM. (Ocean’s “letter” was really a Tumblr reply to a fan asking what he would tell his younger self. His emotional answer went viral, and it spoke to the kind of self-aware longing expressed in the music of Channel Orange, too.)
“There’s an earnestness that doesn’t make you uncomfortable because it’s underscored by a sardonic, borderline morbid sense of humor,” says 29-year-old Spencer Dukoff. “And the artists are often queer, or at a bare minimum write music from a perspective that isn’t heteronormative.”
“‘Bisexual indie music’ is less of a vibe and more of a movement. They’re more pop, but I’m obsessed with Terror Jr. Their raw lyrics and subjects would make Boomers’ heads explode,” notes Michael Vitarelli, also 29. “What appeals so much to me is the authenticity. Whether that’s Phoebe, Chelsea Cutler, St. Vincent or beabadoobee.”
And, maybe to a degree, that “authenticity” is really about the sensation of self-discovery. It’s why the TikTok discourse around bisexuality is frequently framed as “you might be bi if…,” while offering cultural references, celebrities and media to help code the experience of awakening to sexual fluidity.
To be fair, I also heard from a lot of straight men who professed great love of “bisexual indie” artists but couldn’t fathom what on Earth made the music bisexual. Maybe they’re right — perhaps this is just good music, built by women and nonbinary people in the wake of an indie rock culture that was deeply misogynistic and rife with abuse. Or perhaps bi music is just in the ears of the beholder, saying more about us than the artists themselves. Hammack notes that the “tragedy” of bisexuality is that it’s been suppressed and delegitimized in scientific research and broader culture. To him, the trend to define the bi vibe is part of the “growing recognition of the bi experience, rather than the gay or lesbian experience.”
“And we’re seeing a cultural change in masculinity, and how men express themselves,” he concludes. “They can be softer in that expression, and stereotypes are crumbling. All men, I think, are benefitting from that, regardless of their sexual orientation.”