The Best Albums by Queer Artists in 2020
I t’s no secret that the past year has forced our consumption of media to undergo an intense recalibration. Who and what are we turning to in times of solitude, isolation, and quarantine? When is appropriate to release what? 2021 is expected to bring the advent of music produced through and after the COVID-19 pandemic, but the musical releases of 2020 were mostly written, mixed, and mastered before so much as a cough of the novel coronavirus had reached Europe. Interesting, then, how the artists listed below still resonate with the general chaotic mood of the year.
Queer artists in particular have the ability to siphon through the bullshit of mass consumption and touch the heart of their fans with a gentler approach, relying on relatability and the unearthing of unheard stories in the media to carry across the impact of their music. No year has needed such feelings of kinship and understanding from music as this one. Below is an attempt to collect and review six of the best albums of the year by queer artists, with a focus on the rich diversity of experience and music so prevalent within our community.
Because of a Flower, Ana Roxanne
Poised, gentle, deep, and atmospheric, Roxanne unearths a story not often heard in any medium: being intersex. She lets the nature of her gender guide the unique samples and sounds she pulls from, such as New-Wave french cinema and the operatic vocals of a castrato. In doing so, Roxanne crafts an iridescent light of healing to the pain of existing interstitially. It is telling, then, that Roxanne only sparsely uses her own divine yet haunting vocals, as she would rather let the music speak for her. So it speaks, carving out a new path in the ever-evolving world of the ambient genre, both allowing her record to feel distinctly unique yet true to its contemporaries and predecessors.
“Ying, the female principle, and yang, the male principle / These two have joined and out of their junction has come a third / Harmony”
græ, Moses Sumney
Split into two volumes but later collected as one, græ is not an easy listen — but nor does it try to be. Sumney steps up his artistic prowess, letting his unique voice lead the way in crafting dazzling melodies and melismas that feel often too good to be true. Sumney’s own declaration of the album as an “art rock and black classical” record is a perfect reflection of both the sonic and lyrical aspects of græ: distinctly black, distinctly queer, yet never once falters from providing an opening to be wholly universal and expansive to the vulnerability and mortality of the human experience. With careful tremors, Sumney takes us to new terrain between the intersection of art and music.
“That’s when I feel / The most alive / Endurance / Is the source of my pride”
Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers
Whilst often deeply personal and acutely insightful into the struggles of mental health, Bridgers’ never lets you feel like you’re drowning in misery. Instead, you’re swimming in it. Metaphors of death and destruction juxtapose the melodies of folk and soft rock guitars, crafting a profound tale of dissociating from the self and feeling the world coming down in parallel. What does it feel like to watch the end? Bridgers ponders this in the thorough attention it deserves with both soaring-vocals and barely-there-drawls, yet leaves us with faint glimmers of hope toward something better. By the album’s end, she almost brags about knowing when the world is ending and how to survive it. It’s hard to think she foresaw such wisdom before 2020 moved the world into its own pseudo-apocalyptical survival state.
“No, I’m not afraid to disappear / The billboard said “The End Is Near” / I turned around, there was nothing there”
SAWAYAMA, Rina Sawayama
Written mostly in collaboration with the musical prodigy Clarence Clarity, Sawayama harnesses whatever genre floats her fancy to explore the disparate, and oftentimes fragmented, parts of her identity. She weaves seamlessly in and out of rock, pop, nu-metal, electronic, and R&B to unravel the complicated feelings of belonging to both everything and nothing. Listening to the genre-hopping exploration of identity feels like we’re along for the ride with her. Born in Japan, raised in Britain, and both a musical and sonic outsider to her industry, Sawayama ultimately reflects on herself with admirable brazen honesty. But, she achieves what few can do: making it all look easy.
“Twenty-eight and I still want to scream / Can’t face who I can and can’t be”
Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, Perfume Genius
In his latest, and perhaps greatest release, Genius creates art out of everything: from surviving trauma to one-night stands, to contemplating the cunning slight of metamorphosis without total rebirth. Nothing is off-limits in this album, and it feels all the more rewarding because of that. In Genius’ revelatory tour de force of alt-pop and indie rock, we dance, we cry, we contemplate, and we drift into the serene corners of our mind as quickly as we explode into bursts of aggression. By the album’s end, it is hard to think we could not only know much more about Genius himself but ourselves too. What’s next for the lyrical mastermind is hard to predict, and equally exciting.
“Half of my whole life is done / Heather gathers in its place / It was just a dream I had”
Transmissions: The Music Of Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Beverly Glenn-Copeland
It feels somewhat cheating to include Transmissions on this year’s list, as Copeland’s release is technically a retrospective compilation of his life work more so than new music. Nonetheless, his inclusion on the year’s greatest releases is earned, as Copeland’s compilation takes us to the creation of dream pop and dream jazz, pre-dating the boom of electronic music but using the same laconic lyrics, melodies, and textures contemporary artists such as Four Tet have made popular today. The music feels like it shouldn’t work, yet it does — combining soothing vocals with the surreal instrumentals of the 1980s. Copeland’s work is experimental and fragmented, but the songs resonate all the same as one who is content with their inner-self.
“Thou hast possessed me / I can dance upon the water / I can dance upon the sunrise”