In a year of underdog mega-releases and skyrocketing debut albums, 2023 has proven that LGBTQIA+ artists—and their experiences—are what make the music industry interesting. Victoria Monét revived R&B in style, Sufjan Stevens made us all weep, and Troye Sivan’s comeback reminded us what it’s like to get lost in a party. Oh, and Boygenius defied all expectations with an alt-rock full-length drop. Nobody would’ve guessed how artists like Janelle Monáe or Chappell Roan would shake up the sounds they play with, or how 100 gecs would gleefully shred the rulebook. In 2023, queer artists boldly showed us the music they live in and the art they embody. Here are our top 15 albums, selected by the GAY TIMES team, from this year.
100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
Nothing is left to the imagination on 100 gecs’ mayhem record, 10,000 gecs. Splashy guitars and 90s pop-punk riffs run riot on Laura Les and Dylan Brady’s second studio album. Sugar-rush single ‘Hollywood Baby’ cranks out moody Y2K skater boy lyrics that zealously pit the creators against a green dollar industry. On ‘I Got My Tooth Removed’, the duo, temporarily, expel emo-rock tenancies in the zingy ska-punk tune that feels like you defending into some cartoonish world of delirium. And if you didn’t think gecs could cram any more into this super genre-fusion album, then cue nu-metal ‘Billy Knows Jamie’ and ‘Dumbest Girl Alive’ while you’re at it too. 10,000 gecs might be a revivalist soundscape free for all, but it’s got bangers and they know it.
Arlo Parks – My Soft Machine
Arlo Parks has long been revealed as Britain’s soft-spoken alt-indie darling. Her debut full-length album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, earned her critical acclaim and snagged her the Mercury Prize award. Parks’ recognisable delicate vocals made her emotionally low-fi songs cut deep. On her latest project, My Soft Machine, the singer’s gentle poetry holds its weight. A shared track with Phoebe Bridgers (‘Pegasus’) nurtures her soulful cinematic qualities, while songs like record-pleaser ‘Impurities’ remind us of the artist’s talent in style and songwriting. On this album, Parks’ honeyed vocals and sweet secretive details about her relationship radiate through the album, like a star.
Ashnikko – Weedkiller
“I’ve been training for murder,” Ashnikko warns us. Her album title track, ‘Weedkiller’, is a steely battle cry buoyed by familiar hallmarks – guzzling guitar riffs, earthquaking beats. Album opener ‘World Eater’ joyfully, almost tauntingly, clarifies a worldly state of emergency as humanity falls victim to beasts that “kill for fun”. Ashnikko, however, paints herself as something equally inhuman. A pioneering debut record, the singer staggers through this album, a sword-wielding clairvoyant, mastering the grotesque and the theatrical. She encapsulates her pain, sexuality, and fatality in maximalist anthems. Her blue-haired avatar, like something from the Final Fantasy gaming franchise, makes her emo-leaning perspective something you can viscerally envision. Personal disaster, in Weedkiller, is just as pronounced as the worldly devastation that threatens Ashnikko’s nightmare apocalypse. And, the deadline date for this boot-stomping blood-soaked album seems entirely on the artist’s terms.
Anohni and the Johnsons – My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross
From its first listen, My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross the striking humanity and tragedy of this album hits you. On her sixth studio album, Anohni traipses through emotions of grief, love and longing with masterful effect. On ‘Can’t’, a soulful dedication to a passed friend, Anohni pleads: “I don’t like this place”. Elsewhere, ‘Scapegoat’ underpins the same sense of hopelessness and she ruminates on the subject of trans rights — “A scapegoat is all I can be.” Although broad in its themes – and intention – My Back is a vulnerable and powerful record where Anohni blends R&B, jazz and disco into a timeless record. And as we reach the gentle final track – ‘Be Free’ – Anohni bids her farewell, singing: “Done my work / My back was broke.”
Angie McMahon – Light, Dark, Light Again
“It’s okay, make mistakes!” Melbourne’s Angie McMahon cries out on ‘Letting Go’. McMahon’s second album Light, Dark, Light Again is tranquility in movement; an ode to recuperating and slowing down. Guitar flourishes wash through like running waters, McMahon’s skilled vocals serve as percussive beats, and harmonies, while sounds of nature decorate the tracklist like soothing white noise. After McMahon’s quietly powerful songs (‘Serotonin’, Divine Fault Line’, ‘Exploding’) pull you through the cycles of life, she gives you a final nod of encouragement, singing: “Rise, fall, rise, life, death, life again”.
Amaarae – Fountain Baby
On her 2020 debut album The Angel You Don’t Know Ghanaian-American artist Amaarae proved herself as a breakout Afrobeats star, with Fountain Baby, she bested that. “I want to be the quintessential African princess of pop,” Amaarea said in an interview three years ago. With her new borderless fusion album, the Ghanaian-American singer achieves exactly this. Amaarea proves her detailed creative -and career- ambitions on Fountain Baby, crafting songs with R&B, rap, pop, and soft rock influences. On the punchy alt-rock track ‘Sex, Violence, Suicide’, she sings: “Don’t care ‘bout what I’m asking you just fucking tell me yes / Tell me I’m the one, tell me I’m the best.” While confident tracks, ‘Angels in Tibet’ and ‘Co-Star’ showcase Amaarea’s talent as a pop auteur. Fountain Baby is an elegant record full of glistening production marking the arrival of an artist on the rise. As Amaarea so confidently tell us; “Step into your power / Play your part”.
Boygenius – The Record
In The Record, Boygenius are together, in every sense, even when they’re scared they might not be. Listening through, the trio’s overlapping skillset speaks like a lesson on their learned closeness. It’s easy to discern which track belongs to which one of the boys. $20 is inextricably Julien Baker. From its guitar riffs to picture-painting of American politics, it’s a recognisable token that she’s mastered on her own albums. Dacus and Bridgers both weigh in; the latter colouring the swelling outro with throaty screams that wouldn’t be amiss on a rebellious 90s grunge-spirited rock record. ‘Satanist’ and ‘Anti-curse’ give and take between Dacus and Bridgers. Fan-favourite ‘Not Strong Enough’ mediates as an equally divided track but, ultimately, it’s an album -in its highs and lows- that wouldn’t exist without one another.
Chappell Roan – The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess
Chappell Roan is America’s next queer pop sweetheart. On her thrilling debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, the LA-based artist opens with a ferocious dance tune, ‘Femininomenon’ — a title that sounds like a drink you might order at a gay dive bar. It’s maximalist, cheeky and the selling point: it interpolates revving chainsaw noises and quirky humour. Roan choice of production may seem overblown but it’s her bold eccentric flair – and personality – that make the album delightfully enjoyable. On synth-y’ Casual’ she unpacks the stews over a situationship, while first crush disco fever ’Naked In Manhattan’ is shimmers and captivates. No matter the track, Midwest promises a good time and pop melodies you’ll fall in love with.
Janelle Monáe – The Age of Pleasure
“I had to protect all my energy,” Janelle Monáe quips on album opener ‘Float’. The singer’s latest record, The Age of Pleasure, is a project of unbridled joy, self-confidence, sensuality and gratitude. Monáe’s dancehall and R&B tracks talk about relishing in the achievements – and hard work – that you’ve put in — “Don’t ask me shit about work, ‘cause I’m on my Champagne shit.” The rapper’s party-ready record isn’t just about big outings and treating multiple partners, but it’s an album that marks her versatility – in sound and creative concepts – as an artist. The Age of Pleasure is beachy, carefree and some of Monáe’s best work yet.
Reneé Rapp – Snow Angel
Reneé Rapp, the new-gen triple threat — powerhouse singer, actress, and Broadway star — has been causing a stir. On her debut EP, Everything To Everyone, the newly pronounced star unravelled her inner monologue drawing lines between romance, self-realisation, and reckoning with who she was. On ’Pretty Girls’, a semi-exasperated Rapp unveils a routine encounter with straight girls who “have a couple of drinks” and “wanna kiss all the pretty girls”. ‘So What Now’, ‘Tummy Hurts’, and ’The Wedding Song’ showcase the singer’s synergy with R&B beats, tracks that effortlessly balance out the glossy pop tunes of ‘Pretty Girls’ and the undervalued verve of ‘Talk Too Much’. Snow Angel is a signal of Rapp’s future stardom as the industry’s rising star of emotional pop.
Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
Sufjan Stevens’s tenth album, much like its title, carries itself deceivingly lightly and buries itself deeply. His specificity of feeling, grief and love, glue the record together. Folksy arrangement and beautiful harmonies decorate a record dedicated to his late partner. On Javelin’s opener, ‘Goodbye Evergreen’ he sings to an unnamed subject with an open-heart declaration: “You know I love you / But everything heaven sent must burn out in the end”. Elsewhere, shifting electronic arrangements cut through ambient sounds and harmonies. It’s an album that sits close to the artist, to the listeners, to its dedicated subject – and there’s some comfort to be taken from that. A marvelling mixture of chiming folk-sung stories, sombre storytelling and, at times, hopeful glimpses of song, Javalin is a heartbreaking and outstanding delivery from Stevens.
Slayyyter – STARFUCKER
On her third album, STARFUCKER, Slayyyter has transformed herself into a vampy neo-noir heroine. It’s a bold reinvention, particularly for an artist whose ascent was fiercely DIY and digital-first – releasing iconoclastic SoundCloud singles which sounded like album cuts from a reality-tv-star-turned-singer and building up a fierce LGBTQIA+ following on stan Twitter. Tracks ‘I Love Hollywood!’ and ‘Miss Belladonna” are touchstones in the artist’s transition from hyperpop to saturated club pop beats. Taking inspiration from her favourite soundscapes – European electronica and camp pop divas Lady Gaga and Marina – Slayyyter distilled the chaos (and camp) of Hollywood pop culture into her glitzy latest project.
Troye Sivan – Something To Give Each Other
Troye Sivan’s third album, Something to Give Each Other is a joyful celebration of queerness, pop and outright hedonism. On his latest project, the 28-year-old Australian singer sheds the wide-eyed alt-pop of his past discography and, instead, morphs into an artist unafraid to experiment with vibrant pop beats, rugby boy chants and dancefloor synths. An album shaped by a band break up and an aching want for connection, Something to Give Each Other is a summer record and then some. Sivan skilfully taps into the highs of hooking up, nightlight adventures and the joy of finding your community — it’s the ultimate comeback record.
Victoria Monét – Jaguar II
Victoria Monét has held a number of roles in the music industry: girl group member and a Grammy-nominated contributor to projects outside of her own work. On Jaguar II it all comes into focus. Simply put, Jaguar II is excellence. Lead single ‘Party Girls (feat. Buju Banton)’ is a sultry bass-topped track signalling the standard to come. Mellow ballad ‘Hollywood’ features the soulful Earth, Wind & Fire (and her daughter, Hazel) reaffirming her talent in confidently switching styles up. ‘On My Mama’ is an immediate classic and one of 2023’s best songs to drop. On her 11-track LP Monét makes stepping into the R&B big leagues look easy.
yeule – softscars
Singaporean singer-songwriter yeule’s (Nat Ćmiel’s) third album, softscars, is a diaristic catalogue of selfhood set against a nostalgic cyber emo soundscape. The artist blends pitched electronica, synthesised AI storytelling and shredding guitars into a sprawling post-human project. And, in its misfit heart, processed pop-punk melodies and scratchy screams archive stories of self-harm and survival. softscars is a fizzing mixture of synth and stacked guitars but it’s also Ćmiel’s visionary invite of letting listeners step into their personal cyber dimensions.