The 2010s was an incredibly gay decade in music. Queer and trans musicians gained more visibility and success than ever before over the last ten years! Here are the best 50 albums of the decade, according to me. But first, a few rules:
1. So that I could make this a bit more feasible, I decided to only feature one album per artist. If not, it would be impossible to choose between two incredible albums by the same artist, and half of the 50 would be repeats. So whenever an artist had two or more albums that could have made the top 50, I chose one and put an Also Check Out: at the bottom of their entry briefly discussing their other great albums.
2. These are the best albums, not necessarily the best songs. A great album is one that I can listen to in its entirety without feeling the need to skip any tracks. However, a great album is also made up of great individual songs! A really incredible banger can uplift the other songs on the album. So I had to evaluate the album both as a whole and as individual songs.
3. I don’t really understand genres any more so I made them up when I didn’t know what else to put.
4. I couldn’t place the top five, sorry! They’re all amazing, and the way I know is that when I listen to them over and over, I don’t have to skip a single track.
Please argue with me in the comments. I agonized over these rankings until I gave up, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter! Enjoy, and of course, here’s the Spotify Playlist:
50. Jónsi, Go
Electronic/Experimental Pop, 2010
Ever so slightly more accessible than Sigur Rós, Jonsi’s debut solo album hits a lot of the same — his soaring falsetto floats over inventive, gorgeous arrangements of strings, synth, and left-of-field production — but he turns it up to 11, and keeps it (almost) pop. If you’re a fan of soaring melodies, he has the soaringest ones. If you like epic, this will take you on a journey. If you’re not a lyrics person, perfect: this is either in Icelandic or it’s largely unintelligible, and when you can make out lyrics they’re largely saccharine-infused positive thinking cliches, which matches the music perfectly. It’s 100% pick-me-up.
Dark Hip-Hop, 2013
I’m not sure why, but a handful of queer rappers blew up in the early 2010s and all had incredibly deep, dark voices. Le1f and Cakes da Killa released debut albums around the same time as Zebra Katz, but in my opinion he used it the best, primarily because he hasn’t felt it necessary to confine himself to any hip-hop tropes. Katz’ minor 2012 hit “Ima Read,” for example, features a single bass drum beat throughout the entire song without interruption. His dark, slow, mesmerizing production and uncommon flow are his trademark. He often raps laconically, but purposefully, and repeats refrains until they lose — or gain — meaning.
The Internet has a lane, and sticks to it, and excels within it. I’ve heard criticism of Syd’s vocals, of how lethargic their vibe can be, and other things that don’t matter because they’re not what The Internet’s trying to do. Ego Death is sexy, soulful R&B/soul for Black weirdos and anyone else who’s interested in catching the vibe they’re delivering. I love the mixture and interaction of live band and programmed elements, and highkey appreciate how gay this album is.
Confessional Pop, 2014
Mary Lambert’s whole shtick is empowering, extra-vulnerable tear-jerkers—either taken to their logical extreme via piano ballads (“When You Sleep”) or arena ballads (“Monochromatic”) or hidden behind extremely catchy singer-songwritery pop hooks (“Secrets”). This was her major label debut, and I think that has positives and negatives. Lambert was a poet/spoken word artist before her big break, and in my opinion her latest album suffers from going too far in that direction. I think Lambert’s best as a super-vulnerable, confessional, singer-songwritery pop singer, and this album best encapsulates that.
Also Check Out: 2019’s Grief Creature is intense, and powerful, but not as accessible as Heart On My Sleeve.
I’ve never been a fan of country music, but not because I don’t like the way it sounds — it’s just always felt so alien to my Bay Area-raised, queer, city-living experience. Bluegrass and Americana are similar genres that don’t have the typical trappings of mainstream country, and Loamlands is one of a bunch of queer Americana musicians making excellent music. When I listen to them, I feel an intense pull toward queer homesteading; I’m reminded of my many road trips through the American South and Southwest, and see myself in a small house, surrounded by a quiet, comforting desert landscape, with other queer and trans folks, just happily existing. With Loamlands in the background.
Also Check Out: 2019’s Lez Dance had a terrible name but was also really solid.
Indie Rock, 2011 (Rereleased 2018)
Laconic, yet powerful indie rock from a musician who doesn’t care about singing well (in some cases this is annoying, in Will Toldeo’s it’s refreshing and disarming) or really about doing anything else in a standard way. Instead of the expected hooks or melodies, his songs are often long and meander in six different directions, with incredibly precise guitar work and deft percussion. He really doesn’t take himself or his band too seriously; on “Bodys” for example: “Is it the chorus yet/ no it’s just the building of the verse/ so when the chorus does come, it’ll be more rewarding.”
Also Check Out: 2015’s Teens of Style or 2016’s Teens of Denial.
I’ll admit it — I’m not a longtime Against Me! fan. I wasn’t listening to them when this album came out. And really this isn’t even my genre, and I wonder if it wasn’t about being trans if I’d really care. But the title track hits me square in the chest, and there are days when I listen and scream along to it over and over and over. Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics are simple and direct and they mean so much to me. “Dead Friend” is basic, perhaps: “You don’t worry about tomorrow anymore/ Because you’re dead.” But I’ve comforted myself with this literal exact thought countless times when thinking about a friend who passed. And on “True Trans Soul Rebel,” she nails the experience of being early in transition: “All dressed up and nowhere to go” is a cliche but in context it’s exactly what we all do: sit in our bedrooms with our femme clothes, not yet brave enough to go outside in them, still a little weirded out by what we see in the mirror, dreading yet eagerly anticipating the inevitable. “Yet to be born, you’re already dead.” Heartbreaking and invigorating at the same time.
DIY Indie Rock, 2017
Jay Som makes bright, accessible “bedroom” guitar rock. I’m not sure exactly what “bedroom rock” means anymore, other than the fact that Melina Duterte wrote and recorded this entire album herself. It doesn’t sound like it! I love a complex arrangement and modern sounds as much as anyone, but she makes basic guitar-based indie rock as fun as it can be without bogging it down in complexity. Or sentimentality: lyrically, this alum is perfect early-adulthood angst, but without being cloying or dour; rather it feels very measured and thoughtful. Title Track “Everybody Works” is a lamentation on the realization that adulthood under capitalism essentially means selling your labor for the rest of your productive years: “Try to make ends meet/ Penny pinch ’til I’m dying/ Everybody works.” But her phrasing is simultaneously uplifting in a way: everybody has to deal with this, you’re not alone!
Also Check Out: 2019’s Anak Ko. Also incredible, but slightly less accessible as it’s more exploratory and experimental.
Pop Country, 2018
This album really grew on me. I’ve lately been trying to listen to all the queer country I can find, and Carlile is a legendary figure; she came out all the way back in 2002! This album had a lot of hype, but the singles I heard didn’t give me hope: to be honest, they seemed kind of corny. “The Joke” is a pretty nice anthem in support of queer and gender non-conforming kids, “The Mother” is a nice, sweet ode to lesbian motherhood, and “Sugartooth” is a sad ballad about mental illness and addiction. But once I let go of my cynicism, I was able to appreciate these songs for what they are. And there are other excellent ones on this album, like the gorgeous and heartbreaking “We’re not going to break up, we’re going to fight until we remember how much we love each other” ballad “Party of One,” or the complex emotional journey of “Every Time I Hear That Song.”
Alt/Experimental R&B, 2018
Alternative R&B had a big decade. Josiah Wise fuses jazz, blues, neo-soul, and electronica together, along with his completely unique voice and vocalizations. His voice is really the most expressive instrument on this wide-ranging album. Both in pitch, as he ventures all the way up and down his register, he also modulates his vocals electronically, as on “messy,” to punctuate the harsh truths of the lyrics: “Each time you deny my mess/ you’ll find yourself/ closer to me.”