Last June, with the whole world in multiple simultaneous states of crisis, it was a fraught time to talk about the best music of the year so far, to say the least. This June, things are hardly back to status quo, but they do feel a bit different: The presidential election is over. Sports are officially back. And with at least half the adults in the country now vaccinated against COVID-19, things have started to open up again -- including in the music industry, where festivals, tours and other live events that either took 2020 off or were forced to be radically reimagined are once again being scheduled like usual.
With the music world springing back to life, you'd probably expect that a lot of the bigger artists who'd largely written off last year as a wash would arrange to make their triumphant comebacks this year. And so far, well... sort of. Many of the artists dormant in 2020 have stayed as such through the first half of 2021, or have just begun to peek their heads out, leading to a pretty slow start to the year for major releases. But in their continued absence, a number of new stars have emerged, while some less-hyped veteran artists have also made welcome returns -- and a couple of the biggest names have indeed made their presences felt.
Here are the Billboard staff's 50 favorite albums of 2021 so far, presented alphabetically, with our favorite songs to follow tomorrow.