2016: A year riddled with corruption, injustice and violence. It was, more often than not, hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One thing that always offers a glimmer of hope, though, is music. Whether it was a searing take on the state of the world and its people, a cry for help, or a welcome distraction from the anxiety, music was a response to our tense times. Importantly, this lists shows that even in a year when many things seemed to be holding them back, women–especially queer and black women–thrived. These are my top albums of 2016.
10. Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman
9. Sia, This Is Acting
8. Shura, Nothing’s Real
7. Foxes, All I Need
6. Rihanna, Anti
5. Gwen Stefani, This Is What The Truth Feels Like
4. Tegan and Sarah, Love You To Death
3. Beyonce, Lemonade
Losing greats like Prince and David Bowie this year was a sobering realization that true visionary pop artists are becoming fewer and farther between. Music consumption is readily measurable, thanks to streaming services and sales numbers. It make sense then, that music is created by a formula, born in a lab to feed what those at the top think we need. It’s all algorithms and assumptions. “People like you liked this song, so we’ll make something nearly identical and you’ll like it.” Enter, Beyonce.
Like Prince, Bowie, Madonna and select others before her, Beyonce tells her stories in a way only she can. She took the rules, studied them, and threw them away. The mysterious narrative of Lemonade, casts a shadow of emotion over a gritty genre-bending epic, funneled into a now trademark Beyonce visual album. It’s a body of work, but it’s also an experience. Now more than ever, Beyonce’s grandiose ambition pushes her into the upper echelon of Greats. Welcome, Bey.
2. Solange, A Seat At The Table
The Alt-Soul opus A Seat At The Table mixes R&B with raw drums, loose pianos and flourishes of electronica. The effortless floating from different sounds scores heavy yet poignant messages of race, family, and self-worth. Solange looks down the barrel of 2016’s gun of blatant racism, brutality, and discrimination and speaks her mind. She shares her perspective as a black woman in America today, punctuated with thoughts from her parents and peers. The result is a powerful, bold body of work that invites you to listen and understand; It’s a chance for these stories to shine, without interference.
Solange’s messages are incredibly meaningful today. The fact that she manages to glide through them with grace, style, and creativity highlights her continued importance as a figure in popular culture.
Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion: Side B
Last year, I wrote that my favorite album of 2015 was Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen. This year we were treated to an EP of tracks recorded for that album. Emotion: Side B is more than proof that everything recorded for the original album was gold (and that everything CRJ does is perfect), it is a musical body of work respectable in it’s own right. From the joyous confessions of “Higher,” to the simmering yearning in “Fever,” Side B continues Jepsen’s lovers-to-friends? or friends-to-lovers? storytelling that makes her relatable yet revolutionary. With help from collaborators like Dev Hynes and RØMANS, Side B is able to encapsulate the buoyancy of 80s pop, while keeping it just left-of-center enough to keep things fresh.
1. Britney Spears, Glory
An album from Britney Spears in 2016 had the potential to be a lot of things: phoned in, half finished, or thrown together by people other than Britney. At best, her critics expected a compilation of four-on-the-floor club bangers with overtly sexual come-ons and robotic distortions. What we received, however, is not another attempted comeback, but a brilliant display of a superstar returning to form.
Never before has Britney been this experimental and carefree, yet decided in an album. Glory prowls from belting cabaret, to sassy honky-tonk, to Bieber-esque tropical manipulations with ease. Elements of Reggae and R&B smooth over the set, giving it a mature confidence even in its ambitiously wide reach. She’s singing in three languages on this album, yet the eagerness and clarity of her voice is something we haven’t heard in over 10 years. Britney is dipping her toe in more pools than ever before, fully regaining the determination to swim again.