1 BEYONCÉ, LEMONADE (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia) The Queen broadcasts on her own frequency, cutting through the chatter of a thousand hot takes to assert soulful authority on personal matters as well as those of grave public concern. With Lemonade she appears betrayed but unstoppable, triumphant on a sinking cop car, ready with hooks, hashtags, and fresh choreography.
2 M.I.A., AIM (Interscope) Now that the West can no longer deny center stage to border politics and mass displacement, M.I.A., who has trained her spotlight on the refugee experience all along, tells us this album will be her last. To remind us how far she’s come, the characteristically hooky, frenetic, atonal-then-melodic “Visa” samples her single “Galang,” the jaw-dropper that announced her arrival thirteen years ago.
3 YOUNG M.A, “OOOUUU” (M.A Music/3D) Nobody quite like Brooklyn rapper Young M.A has cracked Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs top ten before. In the video for her breakout single she drinks Hennessy, eats Chinese takeout, and delivers singsongy burns with the laid-back hypermasculinity of her hero 50 Cent.
4 ERIN MARKEY Markey is like Parker Posey mixed with Lily Tomlin but much weirder, with songs. If you can, catch her in New York at the Duplex or Joe’s Pub impersonating her aunt Jan; if you can’t, search YouTube.
5 LADY GAGA, JOANNE (Interscope) The addictive title track features a Lou Reed verse and a Carole King chorusnot literally. Gaga is a master bricoleur and chameleon. In her big pink hat, or butched-up for Collier Schorr’s gorgeous T Magazine video and photo shoot, Joanne might be her best persona yet.
6 CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS, “TILTED” (Because Music) Christine and the Queens is handsome French songwriter Héloïse Letissier, famous for her lush synth-pop. For her self-titled debut album, she teamed up with kindred spirit Perfume Genius, and alludes to other Americans, tooYvonne Rainer and Donald Judd, maybein her pop-Minimalist video for “Tilted.” In it, dancers incorporate quotidian movement into their routine atop a blue rectangle.
7 BALLEZ, SLEEPING BEAUTY & THE BEAST (La MaMa, New York, April 30) In this stunning production, the diverse-in-every-way dancers of Katy Pyle’s queer ballet company played garment workers on the Lower East Side in 1893, then lesbian AIDS activists and fey young swans dying on the dance floor a century latermoving scenes of community, loss, and revolt that resonated well through the summer.
8 FRANK OCEAN, BOYS DON’T CRY (Self-published) While a visual album is now de rigeur for major stars, Ocean also included a glossy “zine” (the coffee-table book Boys Don’t Cry) with his highly anticipated, brilliant new release Blonde. The book is an anthology, a portrait of his milieu, and an assertion of cultural context for an artist whose signature sound is that of pained, gorgeous solitude.
9 ANOHNI, HOPELESSNESS (Secretly Canadian) Anohni’s formidable voice and eco-feminist lyrics mournfully indict technologized warfare and mass surveillance as embodiments of patriarchal love. Her standout track “Drone Bomb Me” is “He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss)” writ large, on a voluptuous electronic backdrop.
10 PRESIDENT OBAMA’S WORKOUT PLAYLIST Speaking of drones, it’s with mixed feelings that we bid our coolest and best-looking president adieu. It’s not likely the next one will include Drake or Icona Pop on the POTUS playlist (though likely that’ll be the least of our problems). I’m a little thrown by the inclusion of a Sting song at the end, but who can argue with its message? If you love somebody, set them free.
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