2020 has been a tumultuous year for music. With a lack of live shows and those euphoric moments of yelling lyrics openly in a crowded space, it’s been a year of putting some celebrations on hold. But still, artists found strength in solitude and unveiled some incredible works of art. Whether they were lockdown saving graces or platters of pure pop escapism, queer artists across the globe pulled off some unforgettable records.
So, in true GAY TIMES style, we’ve pulled together our favourite 20 albums by LGBTQ+ artists and chucked them in alphabetical order. And, of course, a true wrap-up listicle wouldn’t be fit without a crowning glory, so we’ve given a special mention to our choice Album of the Year.
CHIKA – Industry Games
The free flowing artist dominated with her debut record, Industry Games. Packing seven punchy tracks, CHIKA boasts a fresh standard of creativity, smooth lyricism, and cool confidence. The 23-year-old rapper takes no time in debunking industry standards in her full-length project. Tossing artistic norms aside, CHIKA reinvents the game with slick rhyme and an unrivalled confidence. It’s fresh and we’re here for it.
Dorian Electra – My Agenda
The musical enigma self-released a record the pushes all boundaries. Now adopted as a quirky queer icon, Dorian Electra gifted the community with My Agenda; a vibrant experimentalist sophomore collection of songs. If you’re looking to delve into funky progressive pop, then look no further.
Halsey – Manic
Manic is a rough cut repackaging of Halsey’s emotional turmoil funneled into a raw, confessional pop record. Studded with intimate genre-blending tracks, the singer-songwriter threads soft, intimate moments alongside hysteria-laden breakout choruses. A disruptively familiar third musical mosaic, Manic deserves all the attention it gets.
Kehlani – It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Cool, consoled and It Was Good Until It Wasn’t sinks its teeth into truth-telling ballads and heartbreak. Storytelling is the standout in the record, Kehlani flips a conventional R&B sound to let us inside her album that unpacks rumours, but also a more honest, upfront version of the pansexual star.
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
A mainstream accolaid, there’s an undeniable flair associated with Gaga’s sized up camp electro-pop dominating tracklist. Chromatica was an unquestioned staple in and outside our office, and long stood as a maximalist playing field of feelgood pop and performance. Gaga skillfully wallows in the dark undertones of her galactic sonicscape, while smothering the record in personal pop synths and lyricists. Still, Gaga pulls off a gregarious record destined for sociable dancefloors and scream-along chorus’ at concerts. A top bid for 2020.
Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Clawing back her title, Cyrus always swore she was a rockstar and Plastic Hearts proves it. Decked with throaty vocals and ambitiously executed covers, the American singer spews out songs dedicated to her ex and cements herself as a musical force to be reckoned with. A stand out in its own rights, while it’s not perfect, it’s a genre overhauling we can get behind. Plus, it has some solid bangers too.
Omar Apollo – Apolonio
Commonly described as a “triple threat”, Apolonio leans into a background sound of seductive pop-funk. Layered with soft beats and elastic flicks of guitar, his warm, measured vocals lead you comfortably through the yearning tracklist. A graciously queer album, the self-titled is an irresistible mix of honeyed falsettos with suave rap. Timelessly modern, Apollo serves up a first-try that hits all the right notes.
Pabllo Vittar – 111
Drag queen, singer-songwriter and straight up talent, Pabllo Vittar is carving out a niche of her own. A celebratory dance album, 111 knows how to work a crowd. Taking a note from Charli XCX, including a feature from acclaimed artist, Vittar pulls together an unquestionably commanding record.
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
An eclectic compilation, Mike Hadreas’ fifth studio album is a cinematic revelation of emotion. An expected, but a fitting evolution, Set My Heart of Fire is undoubtedly incredible. A wide-ranging sprawling sound finds space to shoe-in grimy guitar chords, angelic vocals, and a twinkly pop base. Utterly his own, a tour de force even, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately deserves to be honoured.
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
There’s a joke that Phoebe Bridgers is for the sad emotionally damaged fans of Taylor Swift — and I agree. It’s for the girls that play All Too Well just to scream-sing the heartbreaking bridge. If you’re familiar with boygenius, then you’ll recognise Bridgers’ detailed multi-dimensional vision; one that paints an emotive image of moments lost and reeling by. Call it sad, escapist, or psychedelic pop, Punisher is in a league of its own.
PVRIS – Use Me
A return to be reckoned with, as well as a record. Lynn Gunn faces the music in a new, reworked tone. Use Me is a gloomy, cumulative record that showcases an emotionally intelligent plethora of tracks that strike an uneven balance between rabid self-awareness and goulish optimism. Lynn Gunn, and PVRIS by extension, re-emerged as creative contenders.
Ryan Beatty – Dreaming of David
Dripping from mainstream into underground soft pop territories, Beatty has built a musical realm out of dreamy ballads and heartfelt lyricism cocooned in smoothing harmonies, the odd outstretching falsetto, as well as the occasional u-turn lurch towards club beat backdrops. Dreaming of David is an attentive composite record, than showcases its strength with each play.
Sam Smith – Love Goes
A hugely anticipated record, Smith’s third record is liberatingly queer, melodramatic, and, of course, spilling over with heartbreak. Yet, while this album finds a comfortable, often a too familiar fit, it lacks the pivotal turn we hoped for. Still, the non-binary artist sticks safely to their guns to deliver neat, tidy storytelling.
Shamir – Shamir
Conventionally queer pop, this self-titled record seamlessly cut out a space of genre-blending euphoria, Shamir showcases his talent to pull threads of all styles and sounds to a collective a low-fi haze drawn over with slick stylish guitars. A triumphant seventh record, Shamir has still got it going on.
Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant
A pop-punk bouquet splattered in a neon palette, Pink Elephant is a chaotic tracklist wrapped in crunchy guitar riffs and sharp, clean-cut vocals. Lead singer Bonnie Fraser cakes each track in an addictively buoyant attitude and a classically catchy alt sound. Stand Atlantic have long been overcrowding the sidelines of alt-pop, but their ambitious second record saw the slowburn underdogs successfully claim territory on our office playlists.
Tom Aspaul – Black Country Disco
A glittering disco-pop portfolio, Black Country Disco is Aspaul’s crowd-pleaser debut record. Pushing a nuanced modern pop production, Aspaul can falsely lead you to bopping to empty-headed dance numbers, but decked under clumps of pulsing beats, the singer-songwriter’s lyrics shines in the shadows of his funky, bright sound.
Troye Sivan – In a Dream
Tackling the strain of emotional fatigue and romanticised isolation, In a Dream explores how Sivan blossomed from a break-out artist to a self-assured queer icon. An embellished project winding around topics of sleuthy, muted backdrop beats, the Aussie singer delivers a gloomy pop record that outlasts its new-feel shine. Sivan has become a shed his youth days for a darker, matured explorative sound.
Victoria Monet – Jaguar
A strong favourite, Jaguar sees Monet return to the helm of her own art. Knowing for penning chart-topping tracks for high-profile artists, the singer-songwriter takes time for herself in this incredible project. Steeped in funky R&B beats, Jaguar is a confident compilation that allows the artist to claim her space, spotlight, and newly reworked sound.
Zebra Katz – Less is Moor
An obvious list-worthy contender, Katz is not here to mess around. The rappers debut album dices his sound and builds it up all again with flowing segueing from aggressive, gritty rap to ground beats and synths. Katz sandwiches a mixture of open, vulnerable tracks with industrial club songs. Less is Moor is a trip of subverting conventions and self-determination.
Album of the year: Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Taking the top spot, SAWAYAMA is in a class of its own. Mashing together nu-mental and experimental Millennial pop, the Japanese-British singer has prevailed with an album that, for us, remains uncontested. The self-titled record is one that fluidly melds genres together and delves into themes of queer love, romance, friendship, and identity without hesitation. Frustratingly subbed for awards that were well within its reach, SAWAYAMA takes pole position for GAY TIMES.