Kehlani has created space for fluid, authentic queerness in the R&B world

The singer-songwriter proves that queer identities are free to evolve

Kehlani normalizes queer relationships through her lyrics.

When I first heard Kehlani’s “Nights Like This,” I immediately noticed the subtle hints that she was singing about a woman. It was the bridge that piqued my interest, when Kehlani sings, “You gon’ get my hopes high, girl,” in the old school R&B voice I’ve been in love with forever.

Though it may not seem like a big deal, it undeniably stood out to me, a girl whose playlists consist of Summer Walker, Jhené Aiko, Rihanna, and of course, Kehlani. I’d never heard a woman R&B singer sing openly about a queer love interest.

It validated something in me that I had no idea needed validating. Kehlani’s lyrics were a reminder that queer relationships are everywhere, don’t need a label, and don’t need to be performed. There’s an unspoken expectation that celebrities need to define their sexuality and publicly showcase their relationships. Kehlani’s identity transformation and subtle lyrics reminded me that no one owes the world a performance of their queerness.

“Nights Like This” was my introduction to Kehlani’s sexuality, but their 2017 single “Honey” was the beautiful track I couldn’t stop listening to for months.

I was the last of my friends to become obsessed with the song—everyone else had it on repeat two years prior—but I quickly became infatuated with the soft, romantic lyrics and Kehlani’s stripped-down voice. The chorus is still one of my favourites, especially when Kehlani sings, “I like my girls just like I like my honey; sweet/A little selfish/I like my women like I like my money; green/A little jealous.”

In the R&B and rap worlds, romantic relationships between women are often fetishized and perceived as primarily sexual. Kehlani has carved a space for romantic, queer love songs to exist in a heteronormative music industry.  

My heart flutters when they sing, “all the pretty girls in the world/ But I'm in this space with you […] my fire was fate with you.”

There was intense speculation surrounding Kehlani’s sexual and gender identity after they released “Honey,” and I felt so seen in the way the singer-songwriter addressed the rumours.

In a 2020 interview with DIVA Magazine, Kehlani discussed their fluidity:  “My energy has always been extremely fluid between masculine and feminine so that’s why I use ‘queer’, and also, queer is inclusive to non-binary people.”

Since then, Kehlani has opted for she/they pronouns and labelled themselves a lesbian on TikTok.

To me, Kehlani has always seemed to prioritize the energy and aura of an individual before their gender. It’s the soul connection that matters—not the labels or stereotypes. After her daughter Adeya was born, Kehlani spoke openly about raising her surrounded by “loudly queer” loved ones, vowing to normalize healthy queer relationships for her daughter.

Kehlani unapologetically embraces her masculine and feminine energies in fashion, prolific music, and everyday life—you’ve probably seen an iconic picture of them in a suit—along with celebrating their sexual and gender identity through language that’s freeing, not confining.

Watching Kehlani talk about the gender spectrum, use more pronouns, and adopt new labels for her sexuality reminds me that our identities are constantly evolving. Growth and fluidity are a part of human nature, and though social media and societal expectations demand categorization, queerness can be a personal, individual facet of identity.

When I listen to Kehlani’s music, I’m reminded of my own humanness, vulnerability, and capacity for growth. From “Toxic” to Thank U,” she reminds me to embrace my identity in every chapter of my evolution—flaws and all.

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