After the explosion of queer artists over the last decade, LGBTQ acts are finally in a position where they are able to create art that speaks not only to their lives, but to their community, with more freedom than ever before. For some, that meant crafting deeply personal, genre-shifted bodies of work that refused to bow toward what is deemed socially acceptable. For others, it meant publicly coming out, regardless of their level of fame, to imbue their catalogue with new meaning.
Whatever way you slice it, queer artists delivered in full force throughout 2019, and now it’s time to celebrate. Here are Billboard Pride‘s picks for the 20 best albums by LGBTQ artists from 2019.
Adam Lambert, Velvet: Side A
It appears that touring with Queen only helped make Adam Lambert better. The first half of his solo project Velvet (the second is due out in 2020) shows audiences a more mature, refined version of the glam rock star they came to know on American Idol. Lambert refuses to box his sound in, gliding between soulful ballads (“Closer To You”), ‘70s funk (“Overglow”) and his classic pop-rock sound (“Superpower”). It’s all in the title — Lambert’s EP is a smooth as velvet. — STEPHEN DAW
Brittany Howard, Jaime
Alabama Shakes’ gritty gospel-soul isn’t absent on Brittany Howard’s solo debut Jaime, but it’s augmented by wider spectrum of sound — “13th Century Metal” could be a Silver Apples homage and “Run to Me” has shades of soul-synth Bowie — and a deeper look into Howard’s psyche beyond what we’ve seen before. And what she reveals is the strength, thoughtfulness and refusal to flinch that anyone would need to come to terms with their sexuality, publicly at that, in their mid-twenties. — JOE LYNCH
The decade of bedroom pop was bound to produce a couple legitimate stars by its end, and the biggest of those going into the 2020s might be Clairo — a genre-spanning singer-songwriter whose name Billie Eilish can’t mention without smiling. But while debut LP Immunity does contain the closest thing she’s had to a radio single in the aching breakup saga “Bags,” it’s also still very much music for the intimate moments — both solo and interpersonal — that the genre name implies, whether she’s still singing from a post-coital haze on the fuzz-poppy “North,” addressing early celebrity crushes with a shared first name on “Sofia,” or thanking a friend for essentially (and maybe literally) saving her life over the arresting chug of “Alewife.” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Greyson Chance, Portraits
“Men don’t talk like that — boys do,” Greyson Chance recalls in a Portraits interlude of his mother chiding him for past onstage antics. Of course, Chance actually was a boy at the time — just 12 years old, having recently gone viral for a stunning performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” — but he’s walking and talking like a man now. Not in the self-conscious “I Sex Now” fashion familiar to many grown-up teen stars (though sex is certainly on the table, and in the lustful “Black on Black,” on the floor), but simply as the assured performer behind biographical ballads like “West Texas,” detailed relationship tales like “Timekeeper” and pitch-perfect singles like “Yours.” Troye Sivan is an obvious reference point, but so is Khalid: compelling pop from a maturing singer-songwriter with choruses you can’t shake and stories that make you want to hear more. — A.U.
Kehlani, While We Wait
With a title like While We Wait, Kehlani wanted to set expectations for her third mixtape — this is a transitional project. Written and recorded during her pregnancy, the album was likely not intended to be anything more than a thought-provoking set of songs. And yet, While We Wait is one of the singer’s most coherent, well-crafted projects to date. Her ethereal production, crystal-clear vocals and inspired songwriting, especially on standout “Footsteps,” makes While We Wait a showcase for Kehlani’s unwavering talent as an R&B auteur. — S.D.
Kevin Abstract, Arizona Baby
Brockhampton star Kevin Abstract often gets teased by his fans for only writing about being gay. While his queerness still takes front and center on his second full-length solo project Arizona Baby, it’s also joined by a sense of seriousness that has been noticeably absent from some of his past work. Sure, he still gives fans some truly meme-able lines like “I’m a power bottom like a Free Mason” on “Big Wheels,” but he also lets fans see into his personal, familial trauma on gorgeous ballads like “Baby Boy” and “Mississippi.” — S.D.
Kim Petras, Clarity
Why make your fans wait for an album to drop all at once when you could give them almost all of the songs over the course of two months? That was the mindset powering Kim Petras’ first full-length project Clarity, where the star released 9 of the 12 tracks in the weeks leading up to its release. The singer gave her fans music they were clamoring for with sugary pop bangers like “Sweet Spot” and “Got My Number,” while also taking a break from her escapist fantasy to give us crying-on-the-dancefloor anthems like “All I Do Is Cry” and “Blow It All.” The real Clarity, it appears, is Petras’ vision for her own pop superstardom. — S.D.
King Princess, Cheap Queen
Just one year after her official debut with “1950,” King Princess proved why she became the name to remember in indie pop with Cheap Queen. Her debut full-length album, Cheap Queen, sees KP taking on a groovier, more turned-down sound than fans were used to hearing from her, while still making sure fans had songs to get their feet moving to. The star also made clear that her queer-identifying lyrics were still as strong as ever, especially on songs like the bottoming anthem “Hit the Back” and her most empowering queer breakup song yet, “You Destroyed My Heart.” –– S.D.
The artist born Kristine Flaherty‘s first album since revealing her relationship with fellow alt singer/songwriter Miya Folick is her warmest, friskiest yet — no more blood in the cut needed now, just ice cream brain freezes and suggestive sororal relationships. Which isn’t to say K.Flay is completely cured of all the anxiety that ailed her on past releases — “Bad Vibes” and even “Good News” are still filled to the brim with such worries — but she’s resolved now that “This Baby Don’t Cry,” and over the song’s Mark Ronson-goes-post-punk bass rumble, you have to take her word for it. “I like myself most of the time — is that a crime?” K.Flay asks on the set’s opener. Nah, it’s actually kind of a triumph. — A.U.
Lil Nas X, 7
2019 was the year that “Old Town Road” became one of the most inescapable songs of all time. While the chart dominance of Lil Nas X’s smash hit will certainly go down in history, it’s important to also look at the context in which he presented it. Nas X’s 7 EP is a thoughtful, well-crafted reflection of the rising star’s inner life. Especially on the project’s standout track “C7osure (You Like),” Lil Nas takes us beyond his Meme Lord appearance and gives us a glimpse into his true identity as an innovative queer voice here to make whatever kind of music he pleases. — S.D.
Mika, My Name Is Michael Holbrook
Coming out of a four-year hiatus from the music industry could be a difficult feat for any artist these days, but Mika is not any artist. On My Name is Michael Holbrook, Mika takes creative risks with the bubblegum sounds fans have become accustomed to, dabbling in retro pop sounds and sweeping ballads. With each song changing up the singer’s style, My Name manages to reintroduce Mika as a vital voice in the landscape of pop, and one that has no intention of going anywhere, anytime soon. — S.D.
Muna, Saves the World
How do you follow up a groundbreaking debut that tackled political realities, challenged prejudicial constructs and uplifted a community in mourning? That was the question facing pop trio Muna for the two years following their 2017 breakout success About U. They answered that question handily with Saves the World, an album that managed to reign in the scope of their subjects, while broadening their musicality. Instead of speaking to the entirety of the queer community, as they did with their anthemic “I Know a Place,” the trio instead sang to themselves, proving that personal growth can be just as revolutionary as protest. — S.D.
Orville Peck, Pony
Take Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings, add a touch of Lady Gaga’s theatricality, throw in a fringe-covered mask for good measure, and blend it all together. That’s Orville Peck. The masked queer country star’s debut album Pony takes on the classic country sounds of those previously mentioned stars and subtly updates it for modern day. “Dead of Night” essentially serves as a story of two gay cowboys traveling the desert together, while “Turn to Hate” shows an angrier side of Orville as he begins to resent his position as an outsider. In a musical landscape that can feel overwrought, Orville Peck’s debut plays like a breath of fresh air. — S.D.
Pabllo Vittar, 111 1
While it may only be the first part of her larger album, Pabllo Vittar stunned fans with 111 1 in 2019. The EP serves as a showcase for the star’s supreme talents and her club-ready bangers, like “Ponte Perra” and her Charli XCX collaboration “Flash Pose.” But perhaps the most fascinating factor on the album is Vittar’s decision to sing in three different languages throughout the four tracks — her native Portuguese, English and Spanish. For an artist eyeing global recognition, the drag queen’s choice to reach her fans via their own language is an inspired one — S.D.
With sharp songwriting and an invigorating new sound, Shura burst onto the scene in 2014 and gave fans high hopes for her career. Her sophomore album Forevher plays, from front to back, as the fulfillment of those expectations. With unexpected genre twists and some poignant lyrics about the hardships of long-distance relationships, Forevher is the kind of album that Shura’s biggest fans won’t stop talking about for years to come — S.D.
Tegan and Sara, Hey, I’m Just Like You
With only two members in their band, you’d think Tegan and Sara would have already tried out every permutation of their voices at this point in their 20-year career. But when Tegan Quin hands lead vocals over to Sara Quin on the crashing rock jam “I Know I’m Not the Only One,” splitting the track right down the middle, it’s a genuine thrill — like flipping the switch from black and white to full color. The identical twins have spent much of their careers writing separately, but as they’ve become increasingly collaborative over the years, their work has also taken on new power. On their ninth studio album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, made up of reimagined versions of their earliest demos, the line between a “Tegan song” and a “Sara song” erodes in surprising ways — proof that, in looking to the past, their creative futures have never been more exciting. — NOLAN FEENEY
The Japanese House, Good at Falling
Amber Bain’s The Japanese House might be shrouded in a degree of obscurity, but one thing she’s not cagey about is her sexuality, using same-sex pronouns in her meditations on desire and drifting apart that are so specific they, inevitably, become universally relatable. Good At Falling is all synthy layers of reverb, cascading vocals and wondrous production flourishes that never detract from the subtle, affecting honestly of the music. — J.L.
Tove Lo, Sunshine Kitty
Gone are the days of Tove Lo tearing herself down to build up a hit single like “Habits (Stay High)” — on Sunshine Kitty, the Swedish superstar is embracing a “f–k it” attitude and singing about how she feels, when she feels it. The stunning album features her most club-ready production to date, getting you in the mood to dance while the star wails about infidelity, queer heartbreak and casual hookups, all with assists from LGBTQ favorites like Kylie Minogue and Alma. — S.D.
Wrabel, One of Those Happy People
When he’s not collaborating with Kesha or P!nk, Wrabel is a master of delicate balance on his own music, possessing a wounded but strong croon while delivering songs that are idiosyncratic yet easy to imagine as radio hits for Chris Martin, Adam Levine or one of the many pop queens he runs with. Yet these songs are still distinctly Wrabel, from the reverb-laden, delicately propulsive “Love to Love U” to the nimble, head-nodding “Magic.” — J.L.
Young M.A, Herstory in the Making
It would have been easy for Young M.A to fade into the background after the viral success of her breakout single “OOOUUU.” But the 27-year-old rapper kept her goals clear when putting together her long-awaited debut album Herstory in the Making, a sprawling rap magnum opus, filled to the brim with the star’s signature flexes, along with more melodic cuts like “Kold World” or “Bipolar.” M.A kept herself independent despite various major label offers, and if Herstory is any indication, it looks like the rising superstar made the right choice. — S.D.