Girl in Red, Vincint, Demi Lovato, Arlo Parks
Pride

15 Best Albums By LGBTQ Artists of 2021 (So Far): Staff Picks

To say it's been a tough year and a half for the world would be a colossal understatement. Between a pandemic, extremist politics, widespread environmental breakdowns and more, the last 18 months have been, to put it mildly, nightmarish.

But the LGBTQ community has always had a penchant for fueling hope, inspiration and change in moments of adversity. Our music is no different — even the Wikipedia entry for the phrase "gay anthem" notes how LGBTQ artists revel in the themes of "perseverance, inner strength, acceptance, pride, and unity." So, in a year marked by the slow shift back to whatever normal means, queer artists have been providing music to soundtrack our march into a brighter, better future.

To celebrate those artists, check out Billboard's picks for the 15 best albums released by LGBTQ artists in 2021 so far below.

Arlo Parks, Collapsed Into Sunbeams

One of the most anticipated full-length debuts of 2021, Collapsed Into Sunbeams more than makes good on English singer-songwriter Arlo Parks' early promise, with 12 tracks as warmly produced, tenderly delivered and exquisitely penned as a set of its title would imply. Parks deals with love, depression, anxiety and joy on Sunbeams, but it's her empathy -- as when she offers "I could never blame you, darling" to a publicly closeted ex in "Green Eyes" -- over laid-back indie-soul grooves that stands out. But it never comes at the expense of her own self-respect, with Parks declaring of a suffocating relationship on "Bluish": "When I ask for space, I shouldn't have to ask you twice." -- ANDREW UNTERBERGER

Ashnikko, DEMIDEVIL

"I'm crazy but you like that," proclaims singer-rapper Ashnikko on her Demidevil opener "Daisy," ably setting the stage for one for some of the best, most in-control pop mania you'll hear on a 2021 mixtape. She borrows Kelis' most furious hook to convince an ex to back off on "Deal With It," plays a game of Mrs. Steal Your Girl with Princess Nokia on "Slumber Party," and invokes Avril Lavigne's most beloved kiss-off with "L8er Boi," reducing that song's love triangle to a love single ("She's in love with her damn self"). "F--k a princess, I'm a king," she also insists on the project's kickoff, and the evidence there is similarly overwhelming. -- A.U.

Brockhampton, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine

Following the mainstream and TikTok success of 2019's "Sugar," BROCKHAMPTON did not disappoint with the release of their sixth studio album, which combines their signature smooth beats with introspection -- creating a balanced, mature sound for the group. “I was broke and desperate, leaning on my best friends," Kevin Abstract unloads on “The Light,” where Joba also delves into his father’s suicide and its aftermath. As a result, the no holds barred nature of Roadrunner's darker themes became therapeutic for fans during a particularly difficult year. -- RANIA ANIFTOS

Chika, Once Upon A Time

"Fairy tales are stories with lessons and allegories/ That tell us about the world that could be," Chika croons in the opening moments of Once Upon A Time. "But I see no mention of bad shorties or ni--as sippin' on forties/ No heroes inside a book look like me." With one simple phrase, the Alabama-born rapper proves once again within a year of her debut EP that she is hip-hop's next big thing. Throughout her stunning mixtape, Chika weaves her own fantasy, telling a modern, queer-coded version of the story of  Cinderella ("Cinderella, Pt. 1 & 2"), foretelling her own future in the industry ("Hickory Dickory"), and making it abundantly clear that she's not close to being done growing as an artist. -- STEPHEN DAW

Chloe Moriondo, Blood Bunny

"I promise I didn't ask if my piercings are attractive to you / That's weird, and I'm 18, so I really don't care, no I really don’t care," Chloe Moriondo sings on Blood Bunny album opener "Rly Don’t Care"; the phrase makes for an unlikely second half of a hook, but perfectly encapsulates the singer-songwriter’s defiant wit and shaggy charm. A YouTube artist turned major label star, Moriondo understands pop-punk’s winning combo of a self-deprecating sneer and chewy choruses, but her accounts of infatuation and queer love can also be downright heartwarming. -- JASON LIPSHUTZ

Claud, Super Monster

With a title like Super Monster, you'd be forgiven for expecting the debut album by rising indie-pop artist Claud to be a high-energy, rollicking album of pop anthems. What you'll find instead is one of the most essential indie albums of 2021 — throughout their debut, Claud creates a chronicle of coming into your own, as they explore everything from young love ("Soft Spot"), breaking out of generational patterns ("This Town"), betrayal ("Gold") and much more. Not only do the lyrics capture Claud's experiences perfectly, but the music the rising star creates -- from the simple strums of an acoustic guitar to some mind-altering uses of synths -- leaves you wondering why you didn't hit play sooner. -- S.D.

Demi Lovato, Dancing with the Devil...The Art of Starting Over 

Tied to their YouTube Originals docuseries of the same name, Lovato shares the two-part story of their 2018 near-fatal overdose and recovery. “I asked if anyone could hear me as I danced with the devil. And because of that, I was blind. But now I see.... This is the art of starting over,” Lovato whispers for the chilling 30-second "Intro” track that signals the powerful transition. After their 2020 Grammy performance of “Anyone” took fans’ breath away, Lovato finds theirs again in the album that showcases their most confessional songwriting to date. -- HERAN MAMO

Ethel Cain, Inbred

 

With vertiginous guitar work, elegiac themes and a preponderance echo-y voices, Ethel Cain's Inbred is a beautiful, mesmerizing work that wafts over you like a warm, dry southerly wind. The cover art brings to mind American Gothic, but the lovely yet haunting atmospherics conjure up Twin Peaks vibes. Listening to her meditative whispers and heart-rending belts is liable to make anyone a believer in the Church of Cain.  -- JOE LYNCH

Girl in Red, If I Could Make It Go Quiet 

A year before the acclaimed debut album from Girl in Red (born Marie Ulven) arrived, she had a strong and growing fanbase thanks to LGBTQ+ TikTok users behind the hashtag #doyoulistentogirlinred -- tagged to over 12 million clips and counting -- used to help determine someone’s sexual identity and interests. The album, written and largely produced by Ulven, cemented her status not only as a queer cultural touchstone but an artist to bet on. Standout track “Serotonin,” produced by Finneas, climbed to No. 7 on the Alternative Airplay chart and helped propel her to the No. 4 spot on the Emerging Artist chart this May. -- LYNDSEY HAVENS

Joy Oladokun, In Defense Of My Own Happiness

The listener can land anywhere on In Defense Of My Own Happiness and be completely entranced by Joy Oladokun's voice. Whether Oladokun is in the middle of trying to forgive herself for her many perceived faults like on opener "Someone That I Used To Be," or wiping the tears away from her loved one’s face on "Sorry Isn’t Good Enough," her voice settles you into her most intimate moments. The depth of the album showcases Oladokun at her most vulnerable and her most fierce like when she reminds a friend, "If you want you can always put your faith in me." -- TAYLOR MIMS

Julien Baker, Little Oblivions

One of the most observant and unsparing songwriters alive, Julien Baker translated her skillset to richer arrangements on Little Oblivions, her first full-band album that she produced herself. Songs like "Faith Healer" and "Hardline" contain the same lyrical clarity as 2017’s masterful Turn Out the Lights -- this time, Baker focuses on her sobriety, mental health and the concept of morality -- but the words are buoyed by more robust arrangements, as if the album’s big questions require a higher wall of sound. -- J. Lipshutz

Serpentwithfeet, Deacon

The tender embrace between two men featured on the album cover for Deacon is an early tell of what the project will feel like -- and how important its songs are. From "Same Size Shoe" (which features the adorable, envy-inducing line: "Me and my boo wear the same size shoes") to "Derrick’s Beard," Serpentwithfeet explores and shares the highs and lows of loving another regardless of gender identity. And while standout track "Heart Storm" featuring NAO captures the feeling of any whirlwind romance, the subtle first word, "Boy," brings it back to the artist’s own journey. -- L.H.

Siena Liggins, Ms. Out Tonight

Siena Liggins’ Ms. Out Tonight doesn’t sound like any other musician out there. Listeners will undoubtedly hear traces of pop influence, followed by hip-hop and then some EDM – and then all those genres at once. Ms. Out Tonight is a truly unique sonic deluge that submerges the listener in Liggins’ unabashed confidence and swagger. And whether she is telling ladies not to fall in love on opening track "Girlfriend" or betting "you lose your composure" on "Blush," Liggins is unflinching in her representation of queer sexuality. -- T.M.

Starrah, The Longest Interlude

The Grammy-winning hit songwriter finally released her debut studio album The Longest Interlude, taking listeners on a trippy, after-hours, Auto-Tune-laced R&B journey that will leave them seeing stars. Starrah adroitly mimics a vibrating cellphone that only her lover can reach on "Made For You," while the percussion-driven "Love Mania" compares the sheer euphoria of cruising down Pacific Coast Highway to being in love. After penning multiple Billboard Hot 100 hits for pop and R&B superstars, including Megan Thee Stallion’s Grammy-winning "Savage," Starrah confidently finds her own lane and sticks to it.  -- H.M.

Vincint, There Will Be Tears

The dancefloor as a cathartic sanctuary is a hallmark of queer culture, and with debut album There Will Be Tears, Vincint demonstrates just how intimate and emotionally authentic dance-pop can be. His silky crooning and effortless falsetto cut to the core, but the pillowy synths, thumping beats and disco-house flourishes lift your spirits to the sky. Good thing the Weeknd advised us to save our tears – we needed them for Vincint. -- J. Lynch