The Music of Netflix’s Heartstopper
Historically, recorded music has featured predominately heteronormative subject matter largely produced by straight musicians, with a few nods to the queer musicians that aligned themselves to mainstream culture’s standards. In contrast, Heartstopper‘s prioritization of musicians who are themselves part of the LGBTQ+ community points out how they are normally underrepresented in other aspects of media, and offers some well-deserved attention to these talented artists.
The soundtrack to Heartstopper features numerous talented musicians, but the actors and creators of the show have an especially unique connection to one in particular. The South African singer Arabella Latham, artistically known as Baby Queen, was able to forge a personal connection with the cast as shown in their engagement on her instagram, and likely inclusion in an upcoming music video for her song “Colours of You”. Four of her songs are featured in Heartstopper‘s first season, setting the standard for the indie lovesick style of music the show has embraced, and as member of the queer community herself, Baby Queen has worked in tandem with the show to create this representational media and consequently give voice to younger queer artists.
Baby Queen has discussed her sexuality briefly in the past— recognizing her attraction to women and mentioning several sapphic inspirations in her music, but has been hesitant to label herself. She’s mentioned some identification with bisexuality, but ultimately she’s admitted to being unsure. In a way Baby Queen’s hesitance to label herself with a concrete queer identity is refreshing. Baby Queen has grown up as part of a society that demands answers so it can easily categorize people into specific and organized boxes, but things as intimate as person-hood, sexuality, and music are not easily summarized with such limiting vocabulary.
Ultimately, Baby Queen’s music is an integral part of Heartstopper‘s production, and her music and public figure are giving validity to younger LGBTQ+ people that haven’t had much opportunity to see themselves previously represented in media.
girl in red
Another musician representing queer artists in Heartstopper is the Norwegian Singer-Songwriter Marie Ulven Ringheim who performs as girl in red. Her music has explored queer attraction and she has identified as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, though she has expressed her own personal dissatisfaction with the label lesbian. girl in red’s song “girls” became a vital part of the characterization and coming-out story of characters Darcy (played by non-binary actor Kizzy Edgell) and Tara (played by Corinna Brown). Regardless of being a supporting background relationship in the story, Tara and Darcy quickly became fan favorites, in large part thanks to girl in red’s unfiltered and unashamed musical description of the two fictional schoolgirls.
Ulven has been making music since 2017 as a teenager and has been credited, along with musician Beabadoobee, as for fronting the emerging bedroom pop subgenre. Going viral with her song “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” Ulven has been a major figure in the indie-queer community since 2018, and has continued to be with her newest album if i could make it go quiet released in 2021.
girl in red has been one of the most popular openly-queer musicians for the last four years. With major popularity on Tik-Tok and growing internet cultures, girl in red has proved her importance to the LGBTQ+ community repeatedly. Her music has been important to the evolution of queer culture as a whole, and it’s even become sort of a subversive codeword among younger queer people. Asking someone if they “listen to girl in red” has become synonymous with “are you interested in women?” She’s become an icon for queer people attracted to femininity as well as those with a preference for soft indie music with a focus on existential mediocrity.
Acting as the background music for an incredibly pivotal scene in the early stages of characters Charlie and Nick’s relationship, Beabadoobee’s “Dance With Me” has become the default slow shoegaze song for Heartsopper fans. The easy sweet melody and lyrical choices reflective of adolescent romance make “Dance With Me” an adorable love song, that’s made more significant to queer audience members with Beabadoobee’s identification with bisexuality.
Beatrice Kristi Laus, who creates under the name Beabadoobee, is originally from the Philippines and has been a critical component in the semi-recent explosion of bedroom-pop. Her music first became popular in 2017 with her internet success “Coffee,” and appreciation of her unique blend of grungy melodies and vulnerable emotion filled lyrics, has only increased since. The London-based musician has discussed facing discrimination in the past and internalizing that criticism — mutating it into feelings of worthlessness and depression. For her fans, her musical and personal success story is an inspiration and motivation to continue persevering regardless of discrimination and hate they might face.
The Irish singer-songwriter Orla Gartland created “Why Am I Like This?” a folk-inspired self-reflective and tentatively happy song that serves as the background music for the character Nick first figuring out his interest in Charlie and the possibility of his being bisexual. This song, with a poppy melody smoothed out by the acoustic guitar and soft vocals, is an anthem for the recklessly love-sick. In Heartstopper it became the song most associated with possibly-queer character Nick (played by Kit Connor) as he struggles to figure out his attraction to Charlie (portrayed by actor Joe Locke).
“Why am I Like This?” purposely used to characterize Nick’s sexuality is even more wholesome considering Gartland’s own identity with bisexuality. Orla Gartland came out in 2021 on twitter and briefly discussed her internalized biphobia. She also discussed how difficult discovering her sexuality was— as well as joking about how no one should be surprise her 2020 song “oh GOD” is about her attraction towards women.
Gartland’s real journey with accepting herself and embracing her bisexuality coincidentally mirrors the fictional journey of Nick in Heartstopper incredibly well, and makes her contribution to the soundtrack so vital to others also experiencing internalized hatred, and those still learning to embrace themselves and celebrate their identities.
Greta Kline, the New York musician known as Frankie Cosmos had her song “Sappho” used in Heartstopper for a scene between Charlie and Nick as they both struggle to talk to one another, overwhelmed by gay panic and romantic butterflies. It’s one of the earliest scenes in the TV series that implies queer attraction, and for viewers it is a scene that’s charming because of the characters’ juvenile but genuine feelings.
The song loosely centers around the ancient Greek poet Sappho who was characterized as a queer women so extensively that the word “lesbian” comes from Lesbos—the island where Sappho lived—is a sweet but self-conscious love confession. Kline herself has been active in hosting conversations about gender presentation and identity, and has been very vocal in queer spaces and in advocating efforts focused around LGBTQ+ rights.
Heartstopper has many other musicians involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy featured in its soundtrack, and it seems likely this theme will be continued as the series progresses. The show has become important in the LGBTQ+ community because, for the most part, young romantic comedies about queer couples are either nonexistent or end in some sort of tragedy. Heartstopper gave LGBTQ+ people a lovable and genuine story, weaving together several representational narratives, and solidifying its support with queer communities by prioritizing LGBTQ+ musicians. For queer audience members, this representation is revolutionary and it validates and inspires creatives to continue with their artistic endeavors.
Highlighting the talents of queer musicians in a story about queer romance allows audience members to remember that there are artistic LGBTQ+ people that are trying to operate in a reality that primarily caters to heterosexual preferences, and perpetuates a non-representational narrative. Making queer, inclusive, and representational music is difficult in a production world that normally would underutilize these musicians in a soundtrack because their messages aren’t applicable. Being able to present this collection of musicians in Heartstopper is remarkable, as this sort of amalgamation is novel and exciting for those who identify with the musicians.