Notes of Hope: Music Born of the Pulse Shooting

· Updated on June 13, 2022

This story is part of INTO’s seven-part series, in which we’ve asked queer voices to respond to the surge in gun crime and the sixth anniversary of the Pulse shooting. We hope these varied perspectives encourage dialogue and change to end the needless violence plaguing our country.

“Art is a place where tragedy meets beauty.” – Akshay Vasu

The days after June 12th, 2016 saw the queer community and those aligned with us attempting to pick up the pieces after the unthinkable tragedy. In the aftermath, the creatives of our community — and lord knows there are many — got to work contributing to the healing process the best way they know how.

Here are a selection of songs written by queer and queer-allied folks in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Change by Christina Aguilera (June 16, 2016)

Released just days after the Pulse tragedy, Aguilera’s voice flies strong over this earliest of musical memorials for Orlando. Her trademark riffing and belting are almost out of place here, but something about them adds a sense of conviction to lines like “One day we won’t have to sing this chorus/Waiting for a change to set us free.” The song was first written in 2015 following the police shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey in St. Louis and was intended to be a general statement against hatred and gun violence for her upcoming album, but was repurposed and mastered in honor of the lives lost in Orlando in 2016. The proceeds from this song went to the National Compassion Fund to benefit the victims’ families.

Related: What Sondheim Taught Us About Gun Violence

Pulse (Love Will Always Win) by Melissa Etheridge (June 17, 2016)

When Etheridge heard about the Pulse tragedy while on tour, she was immediately compelled to contribute what she could to her grieving community. She stated in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I feel called to speak; to do what musicians do… We want to try to make sense. We want to try to heal.”

In this anthemic guitar ballad, Etheridge calls out to the love, the heart, and the pulse within each of us. She even calls out to the bigoted opposition in the bridge, asking, “Who you gonna hate now/When there’s no one left but you?/Who you gonna gun down/If you can’t kill the truth that’s inside of us?” All proceeds from the song were donated to Equality Florida.

Hands by Various Artists (July 6, 2016)

This loving charity single was the culmination of an unending list of queer and queer-allied musical talents, including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Kacey Musgraves, P!nk, Mary J. Blige, Selena Gomez, Halsey, Troye Sivan, Adam Lambert, MNEK, Alex Newell, Mary Lambert, RuPaul and the entire Trans Chorus of Los Angeles. The music video features even more queer creatives offering their voices and amplifying the song’s message. Proceeds (as well as many celebrity donations) went to multiple queer charities, including The Center Orlando and GLAAD.

Related: Why We Need to Say Goodbye to the Romance of the Gun

God Control by Madonna (June 14, 2019)

This lengthy, experimental dance track features a gritted-teeth spoken word portion, a dance breakdown, a children’s chorus and more as it takes a trip through the night of the Pulse shooting in reverse. Originally a deep-cut from Madonna’s Madame X, “God Control” grew into something larger than itself with its graphic music video (the graphic content warning of which should not be taken lightly.) The video, though controversial and shocking in nature, was received mostly positively by both gun control advocates and music critics. It was critiqued by some Pulse survivors like Patience Murray and Brandon Wolf as being too disturbing, though both also voiced their appreciation for the urgent intent behind the video.

Que Rico Fuera by Ricky Martin (June 10, 2021)

Ending on a high note, “Que Rico Fuera” serves as a celebration of life rather than a reminder of loss. Martin made headlines last year as he became the National Spokesperson of the onePULSE Foundation in support of an official Pulse memorial. Five years out from the tragedy, “Que Rico Fuera” is a joyful love letter to the queer Latinx people who’d arrived at Pulse nightclub that fateful night ready to celebrate together.

In an interview with Billboard, Martin explained, “All [the Pulse victims] wanted was to dance.”♦

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