Ranking the 10 best albums of 2022, including Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny
Often, the best albums of the year come from lesser-known artists who haven’t burst into mainstream consciousness yet.
Last year, singers Remi Wolf and Lucy Dacus impressed us more than the spotlighted hype around new work from Adele and Drake (though we certainly found merits in both, so save your ire, fans).
But in 2022, superlative frequently meshed with popular: Taylor Swift’s top-selling “Midnights,” Harry Styles’ affecting “Harry’s House” and Beyoncé's potent “Renaissance” are clearly among the year’s most memorable musical contributions, while several indie acts and a respected ‘80s duo also crafted noteworthy offerings.
It was, as usual, a pleasant challenge to cull a Top 10 list. So after much contemplation, here are the albumswe loved the most.
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10. Foals, 'Life is Yours'
The British rock trio takes a page from the Talking Heads and La Roux on their disco-flavored, self-described "going out record," which is no filler and all vibes. Unspooling elastic basslines and plinking synths on effervescent album highlights "2001" and "Under the Radar," Foals tip the Richter scale with near-relentless energy, serving up the rare slice of nostalgia that never gets stale. – Patrick Ryan
9. Tears for Fears, 'The Tipping Point'
On their first studio album in 17 years, the duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith made no attempt to revisit the glory of their ‘80s superstardom (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Shout”). These are changed men – particularly Orzabal, who watched his wife die in 2017 from depression and alcohol-induced dementia and suffered his own mental health struggles in the aftermath. The 10 songs on “The Tipping Point” are couched in loss and healing (the chugging title track and heartbreaking “Please Be Happy”), with some room for an acerbic swipe at past management (“Master Plan”) and to champion women (“Break the Man”). Longtime fans will relish hearing the pair’s lush harmonizing, undiminished by time, while newcomers will appreciate their profundity. – Melissa Ruggieri
8. Father John Misty, 'Chloë and the Next 20th Century'
Josh Tillman, better known by stage name Father John Misty, dives headlong into big-band jazz on his sumptuous and melancholy fifth album. With honeyed vocals and a potent dose of gallows humor, the shape-shifting crooner is reborn as a Sinatra-style lounge act, weaving wistful tales of heartache and tragedy over lush orchestrations. – P.R.
7. Florence + The Machine, 'Dance Fever'
With a vocal range that segues from dramatic throatiness to elegant falsetto, singer Florence Welch can tell 1,000 stories in one song merely through her visceral delivery. But along with her mesmerizing voice, Welch and her arty pop-rock outfit consistently craft unanticipated musical shifts. Whether spinning through glistening disco (“My Love”), injecting spoken word oddities (“Choreomania”) or divulging a dark moment over seesawing guitars (“Morning Elvis”), Welch defines chameleonic. She also continues to openly share her anxieties, adeptly encapsulated on the jittery-yet-triumphant “Free” and imposing “King,” with grace and innate relatability. – M.R.
6. Muna, 'Muna'
Few bands made a better case for pop stardom in 2022 than Muna, whose eclectic third album is the purest encapsulation of queer joy and resilience. This year, I hardly felt gayer than when I cried alone in an airport to "Kind of Girl" – an aching country ballad about unabashed self-love – or when I sang along to "Silk Chiffon" at New York's Forest Hills Stadium, where Phoebe Bridgers joined the trio on stage for the sun-kissed, Cupid's arrow anthem. Life's so fun indeed. – P.R.
5. Bad Bunny, 'Un Verano Sin Ti'
He’s the biggest music star in the world right now, not only commandeering the charts, but popping up in movies and packing stadiums with his easy swagger and cheeky songs. This 23-track opus – the first Spanish-language album to nab an album of the year nomination at the Grammys – is a steamy brew of reggaeton, pop and cumbia (a rhythmic style originated in Colombia) and its creativity is boundless. Hits including “Moscow Mule” (stocked with his flirty banter), "Después de la Playa" (a sex-drenched tease that shifts midsong into sprightly mambo) and “Tití Me Preguntó” (infused with elements of trap and reggaeton) fit into his plan, but the scope of the album is much broader. To dismiss Bad Bunny’s ingenuity as indulgent would be incredibly shortsighted. – M.R.
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4. Beyoncé, 'Renaissance'
Countless albums have been called "instant classics," but Beyoncé's rapturous "Renaissance" is one of the scarce few to actually earn the title. From the moment her seventh solo effort was unleashed this summer, its meticulously crafted 16 tracks have been in permanent rotation on stereos and social media, launching a tidal wave of TikToks ("Cuff It") and memes ("UNIQUE!"). Divorced from its pop culture ubiquity, "Renaissance" is still a no-skips masterpiece: celebrating the rich history of Black and queer dance music trailblazers, while also showcasing Beyoncé at her most confident as both a vocalist and producer. Now here's hoping in 2023 that we might actually get those visuals. – P.R.
3. Taylor Swift, 'Midnights'
To say Swift unveiled a “personal” album is akin to remarking that it’s cold in Minnesota in January. Well, yeah. But on her 10th studio release, Swift shifts from veiled breakup laments and the astute storytelling of her previous two rootsy outings (“Folklore” and “Evermore”) to excavate the late-night insecurities that plague us all – even a megastar of Swift’s level. She sings of her depression working the graveyard shift in piercing first single, “Anti-Hero”, admits she got “swept away in the gray” in “Question…?", and surrenders her vulnerability in “Snow on the Beach”. Along with producing partner Jack Antonoff, Swift returned to a slick pop backdrop, finely tuned on the casually strutting “Bejeweled” and biting “Karma," and made it all sound effortless. – M.R.
2. Rina Sawayama, 'Hold the Girl'
Our love affair with Sawayama began back in 2020, when her invigorating debut effort landed at No. 2 on our best albums list. On her sensational second record, "Hold the Girl," the 32-year-old singer cements her status as the most exciting artist in pop music today, detonating a confetti bomb of glam-rock, country and dancefloor bangers that never sacrifice raw emotion. We dare you to find another song that reaches the euphoric heights of "Catch Me in the Air." – P.R.
1. Harry Styles, 'Harry's House'
From the opening blast of spirited funk (“Music for a Sushi Restaurant”) through nods to the ‘80s (the sadness-under synths “As It Was”) and ‘70s (Paul McCartney’s fingerprints dot the vintage-sounding “Grapejuice”), Styles again proved his musical depth. He has never been a one-note pop prince – evidenced from his first solo single, 2017’s woozy “Sign of the Times.” But on “Harry’s House” – its title a nod to another of his muses, Joni Mitchell and her 1975 song, “Harry’s House/Centerpiece” – Styles cements himself as a canny songwriter as well as a mischievous charmer. Any pop behemoth who can squeeze in a sample of The Brothers Johnson (“Daydreaming”) as well as craft a tender ballad about the effects of emotional childhood trauma (“Matilda”) is worthy of celebration. – M.R.
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