Let’s be clear: 2020 has been a rough year. From the COVID-19 pandemic spreading around the world to the cancellation of Pride events to the continued violence against Black and transgender Americans, 2020 has forced people everywhere to reckon with their own sense of security. Especially in the queer community, where that sense of shared identity is so often expressed through public gatherings, this year has been one of adaptation and adjustment.
But through all of the strife of 2020, there has also been joy to be found — even amid a pandemic, LGBTQ artists from around the world have managed to put out some of their best work to date. Whether it’s unshakeable pop music that fans can dance around their homes to, contemplative R&B for reflecting on your time in isolation, or thought-provoking hip-hop for protesting against injustice, queer artists have successfully provided their fans with a soundtrack to these unprecedented times.
In honor of their work, here are 10 of Billboard Pride’s favorite albums of 2020 (so far) by LGBTQ artists.
Adam Lambert, Velvet
“I’ve been feeling nostalgic… think it’s time for a throwback,” Adam Lambert declares in the opening lines of this year’s Velvet set. It’s something Lambert had proven he knew a thing or two about even before last year’s Velvet: Side A EP, and on its full-length expansion he confirms himself a savant at melding ’70s disco-funk with ’80s electro-rock and his own EDM-era largesse. “It’s all in the strut,” he offers on “Stranger You Are,” and Lambert’s is as timeless as Tony Manero’s. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Alma, Have U Seen Her?
This year, Finnish singer-songwriter Alma told Billboard she felt she “grew up away from [the] EDM dance-y vibe” of her early tracks. Indeed, on the DayGlo-haired-artist’s debut album, she spreads her sonic wings, proving she’s as good at the sweetly somber (“Final Fantasy,” “Mama”) as she is with pounding pop-rock (“LA Money,” “My Girl”). Fear not, as there’s still plenty to dance to. — GAB GINSBERG
Chika, Industry Games
It is rare to see a talent as distilled and refined as Chika on a debut project. With her Industry Games EP, the 23-year-old rapper tackles subjects from love to self-confidence to other rappers’ obsession with clout and cash. She does it all with astounding songwriting and an emphatic delivery that will leave you wondering why it’s taken this long for Chika to be given a proper platform to spread her message. — STEPHEN DAW
Halsey is at the place in her career all pop stars dream of getting to: Where she can do whatever she wants and it works as long as it still sounds and feels like her. Manic is her best and most fully realized LP yet, a combustible brew of last-call R&B, self-flagellating emo, brittle trap and chart-conquering pop, with fellow top 40 grad John Mayer even showing up on her answering machine halfway through to validate that every decision she’s currently making is the right one. — A.U.
Hayley Kiyoko, I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit
#20GayTeen inventor Hayley Kiyoko’s most recent body of work rolled out in real time, as the trailblazing pop singer dropped new music each month leading up to the project’s completion. Standouts include “Demons,” an undeniable earworm about seeking forgiveness for one’s inner demons, and “I Wish,” whose stuttering verses were accompanied by a can’t-miss video where Kiyoko and some pals hold a seance. — G.G.
Kehlani, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Her first official album since becoming a mother and publicly owning her queerness, Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t is her most satisfying, mature release so far, a collection of self-possessed, alluring R&B jams that bring an introspective, meditative quality to themes of romance, longing and desire. Plus, as far as relationship postmortems go, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a better summation than “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t.” — JOE LYNCH
Pabllo Vittar, 111
Fans of Brazilian drag superstar Pabllo Vittar have grown accustomed to hearing the 25-year-old queen sing in her native Portuguese. But with her third studio album 111, Vittar flipped the script and gave fans new music in three languages; Portuguese, Spanish and English. From the club-ready, Charli XCX-assisted bop “Flash Pose” to the pure Latin pop vibes of her Thalía collaboration “Tímida,” Vittar proved once again why she is the name to know among rising pop stars. — S.D.
Perfume Genius, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
It’s been six years since the artist born Mike Hadreas first assumed queer art-pop royalty, but as the bare-bones (and bare-chested) cover of Set My Heart on Fire Immediately suggests, he’s not necessarily feeling that regal this time out. Luckily, Perfume Genius’ quiveringly vulnerable fifth album is also his most musically vibrant, each song a transfixing mini-universe of grunge-pop lust, dissolved-ballad melodrama and even country-disco frustration — his own heart no less safe than that of anyone listening. — A.U.
Rina Sawayama, SAWAYAMA
Despite being almost oppressively straight male-dominated 20 years ago, the sounds of nu-metal have provided surprisingly fertile inspiration in recent years for queer-identifying female alt-pop artists like Halsey, K.Flay and Japanese-British singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama. The latter cemented her cult following on her full-length debut by integrating that genre’s grinding sonics into the dead-center pop instincts and starry command of the biggest artists from across the TRL aisle, a retro combo that still sounds downright futuristic. — A.U.
Zebra Katz, Less Is Moor
Oozing confident come-hither charisma one moment and Harlem ball culture tartness the next on debut album Less Is Moor, Zebra Katz makes it clear that the eight-year wait between his viral “Ima Read” single and his first album was time well spent developing his voice and sonic style instead of rushing out a release to capitalize on an unexpected breakthrough. Stuffed with dark, libidinous bangers like “Upp,” “Ish” and “In In In,” bookmark this queer industrial dance classic for when the clubs open. — J.L.