From the disco-drenched return of Beyoncé to the late night musings of Taylor Swift, here are the albums that got us through 2022…
Some people count their year via a calendar, some via their favourite lunches, and some in the memories that defined it. However, for us, looking back on 2022 means one thing, reflecting on the glorious array of albums the year afforded us. From last-minute drops from Little Simz and SZA, the return of pop royalty with Harry Styles and Taylor Swift’s releases and the idiosyncratic workings of the likes of Steve Lacy and Rosalîa: 2022 was one to remember for music.
Head below to read our round-up of the best LPs to grace our playlists since the year began…
Little Simz – NO THANK YOU
No, thank you Little Simz for sharing yet another window into your remarkable mind with surprise release NO THANK YOU. With Simz dropping this record on a Monday, in mid-december, with no prior warning, it wasn’t one we expected to feature on this list as the year’s final month rolled in. However, as the visionary proved with 2021 fourth album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, an opus from Simz is likely to be one for the history books, and worthy of recording NO THANK YOU is, indeed. The follow up to her Mercury Prize-winning Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was produced by Sault’s Inflo (Adele, Cleo Sol, The Kooks) and saw Simz orbit around the topics of mental health and the industry she finds herself in. “I figured this is the moment,” she explained in opening track “Angel”, before asking “Why did I give you the keys to authorise shit on my behalf?”, in seeming reference to the lack of autonomy she’s at times had to weather in the business. “I been hittin’ some lows and never tellin’ a soul” she later admits regarding her mental health as she weaves around a gospel choir on “Broken”.
An even more candid, unadulterated version of Simz emerged with NO THANK YOU, which only leaves us yearning for the next epoch in her remarkable story. Hopefully as 2023 winds down, we’ll have another Simz masterpiece to grace our end of year round up once again.
Highlights: “Gorilla”, “Angel” and “No Merci”
The Weeknd – DAWN FM
Abel Tesfaye opened the year in January with fifth studio album Dawn FM, told through a language of 80s R&B and soaring disco, with the Canadian flexing his adeptness for crafting pure pop perfection and fronting it in his own inimitable way. Tesfaye compared the record to listening to an adult contemporary radio station, stuck in a queue of traffic in a tunnel, however, instead of a light at the end of the tunnel, death is waiting, and the tunnel is purgatory.
Hopefully, this record doesn’t spell the demise of Tesfaye’s musical career, however, in the event of such dire happenings, he will have at least left us well stocked. With credits from production behemoth Max Martin, names like Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia, as well as longstanding collaborator Oscar Holter, Tesfaye really treated us, including to a succession of haunting but evocative visuals. And real-life neighbour Jim Carrey was involved too, playing a weirdly happy-go-lucky radio DJ, also voicing parody adverts from a post-life realm.
Highlights: “Here We Go… Again” (feat. Tyler The Creator), “Less Than Zero”, “Out Of Time”
Beyoncé – Renaissance
It’s hard to believe, but HRH Queen Bey is 25 years into her pioneering career, with Destiny’s Child’s debut single “No, No, No” dropping all the way back in 1997. Whilst many artists are MIA after five years in the game, let alone five times that, Beyonce’s 7th solo studio album, Renaissance, released in July, has become her most critically acclaimed to date, with a score of 93/100 on review aggregate site Metacritic.
And, well, we can’t say we’re surprised. Her sixth record, 2016’s visual album Lemonade was an album par excellence, with its genre-hopping and allegories documenting infidelity and making a household name of “Becky with the good hair…”, but Renaissance, just has the edge. A den of ecstasy, cataloguing dance music’s storied history, emulating the genre’s cultivation of safe spaces for those who pioneered its divergent scenes in the early days, it’s a Renaissance of Beyonce, but also, of the collective rapture of sweaty, heady, liberating nights together.
With not a single downtempo number, there’s no rest on Renaissance, and thankfully Bey’ recruited a legion of history-makers and present-day industry big hitters for the record’s personnel, including Nile Rodgers, Honey Dijon, Tems, The Internet’s Syd, literal Grace Jones, plus endless more.
A gorgeous love letter to her queer, “godmother uncle” Johnny, Rennaisance recharged all of our summers and will be playing it out of every speaker find-able for the foreseeable, and what’s more, it’s purportedly only the first of three acts!
Highlights: “ALIEN SUPERSTAR”, “CUFF IT”, “CHURCH GIRL”
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’
Marking his fifth release, Kendrick Lamar’s double album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers saw the rap phenomenon introspective on insecurities and views in a way we weren’t quite used to from previous releases. With five years intervening between the record and 2017 fourth album DAMN. the hip-hop world welcomed the return of one of the era’s defining voices, gracing us with another batch of dexterous storytelling delivered with characteristic elegance.
However, the release saw him tackle his own imperfections and moral misgivings – “I am not your saviour / I find it just as difficult to love thy neighbour” on “Savior”. And we heard Kendrick’s instrument, his voice, in more guises than perhaps ever before, flitting between different personas as the record’s tracks unfolded. Single “The Heart Pt 5” even enlisted the contributions of Marvin Gaye via a sample of the singer’s 1976 single “I Want You”. The synergy between the legend of yesteryear and today proved instantly palpable as they coalesced. Kendrick’s next move is anyone’s guess. One thing we can trust is that it will be of equally immeasurable proportions.
Highlights: “N95”, “Savior” and “The Heart Pt 5”
Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
The Internet guitarist Steve Lacy returned with his sophomore solo record Gemini Rights in July, following his 2019 debut Apollo XXI. The Kendrick Lamar, Kali Uchis and Calvin Harris collaborator recruited bandmate Matt Martians and alt-soul New Jersey angel-voice Fousheé for features this time around.
Pulverising that threatening curse of the second album, Gemini Rights was once again a sensual affair drawing on a wider musical pallette than his previous, including bossa nova pepperings, as well as his most pop-sounding track to date in “Sunshine”. A nebulous, lazy, and luxurious listen, the still only 24-year-old Lacy’s second record was a clarion call that the solo artist is built for longevity. Although, new The Internet music is welcome any time guys, just saying!
Highlights: “Sunshine” (feat. Fousheé), “Helmet”, “Buttons”
Rosalía – MOTOMAMI
Rosalía‘s third album MOTOMAMI was, according to the Spanish sensation, her most personal yet. The music industry’s flag bearer for flamenco again coupled the musical traditions of her home with unflinching, boundary-pushing pop on the release.
MOTOMAMI, the name of her mum’s artist management company as well as her March record was said to refer to “an energy”, seemingly a feminine fearlessness judging by the album, which was displayed in all its glory on reggaeton-infused tracks like James Blake team-up “Diablo”, as well as “Chicken Teryaki”. “King’s Dead” hitmaker Blake, who also collaborated with Rosalía on his 2019 LP Assume Form, was in the company of big names like Pharrell in the list of collaborators, who co-wrote and produced pared-back “HENTAI”. Commercially oriented cuts like The Weeknd collaboration “LA FAMA” touched on the perils of fame and see our friend Abel singing in Spanish, both ironically simply earning yet more fame in the process.
Rosalía’s last album, 2018’s El Mal Querer earned her a Grammy Award and well, we’re not one to tempt fate, but with two nominations for Feburary’s ceremony, all signs are pointing to our favourite Spaniard picking up a gong once again.
Highlights: “LA FAMA” (feat. The Weeknd), “CHICKEN TERIYAKI”, “MOTOMAMI”
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
If the previous two years were ones spent largely in our houses, then 2022 looks set to go down as the one we spent at Harry’s.
Styles’ first two solo efforts, Harry Styles and Fine Line, were sometimes considered heavier in pastiche than artistic individuality, however, Harry’s House was the ex-1D boy’s most decisive shot yet at persuading previous sceptics to buy into his musically erudite, flairs-wearing solo persona.
His ongoing Love on Tour gigs have seen stadia around the globe turned into Harry’s House, fully embodying the tour’s title, with the vibes spread as resplendent as his on-stage outfits. Moments like him helping a fan at his Wembley show to come out (“You’re officially gay, my boy!”), have earned virality and added sunshine to an often rainy social media news cycle.
To top it off, the album bagged him his first, prestigious Mercury Prize nomination. So we’re feeling proud of Hazza! He’s come a long way since bounding about that ‘X Factor stage on a Saturday night and has inspired a generation of lads to don pearl necklaces in the process.
Highlights: “Late Night Talking”, “Music For A Sushi Restaurant,” and “Boyfriends”.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
If you graduated this year and didn’t sing “I went to school and I got the big D,” at least once during the big day, then your degree is simply annulled!
Such has the Isle of Wight rock duo’s ubiquity become during 2022, many of us now punctuate our daily business with Wet Leg lyrics – ”Is your muffin buttered?” etc, etc. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers have taken their irreverent, often surreal guitar pop to Glastonbury, US talk shows and become the backbone of many an alternative radio playlist since the year kicked off.
Delivering some of the most helplessly catchy indie rock hooks the genre has seen since most of Wet Leg’s fans were children, the duo unraveled across their debut’s 12 tracks, touching on bubble baths, the incompleteness of your mid-twenties, and the perils of house parties you don’t want be at.
Often veering close to delirium, Wet Leg at-times left us nonplussed, however, once you unbelt yourself from the rollercoaster you’re straight back into the ride queue again. We don’t always know what to make of it, but we know we like it and that leaves Wet Leg firmly in our 2022 musical wet dreams.
Highlights: “Chaise Longue”, “Wet Dream”, and “Angelica”
SZA – SOS
SZA had no interest in muting her feelings on her triumphant return, sophomore album SOS in December. With five years passing since her 2017 debut ctrl she ran the risk of giving Rihanna a run for her money in the waiting times, and when SOS finally became public property we remembered exactly why we’ve been craving her heart-wrenched R&B.
Driven by her imaginations of revenge, “Kill Bill” saw her admit “I just killed my ex, not the best idea”, and in the video for lead single “Shirt” she’s seen murdering guests at a dinner table whilst serenading them. Murdering, musing, or just providing musical greatness – we feel like we could almost get behind anything SZA turned her hand to if she does it with as much deft R&B chops as she exhibited on the record. Relying not on big hooks, but considered left turns and transfixing lyricism to take us on her unparalleled musical journey, there truly is only one SZA and we’re still reeling that she’s back.
Highlights: “Kill Bill”, “Nobody Gets Me” and “Shirt”
Taylor Swift – Midnights
“It’s me? Hi, I’m the problem it’s me?” Taylor Swift fans pondered around the world when Taylor returned with Midnights in October. Whilst recent years have seen many an artist swap hefty promotional schedules for surprise album drops with little fanfare, Swift was teasing her tenth studio album for weeks before it hit our playlists. However, of course it more than lived up to expectations, with the star returning to pop-heavy sensibilities, in contrast to wispy, acoustic lockdown LPs folklore and evermore. Recruiting a small but diverse bank of collaborators spanning Lana Del Rey for “Snow On The Beach”, longstanding co-creator Jack Antonoff, and even an appearance in the credits from Wonderland Spring 2022 cover star Zoë Kravitz, on tracks “Karma” and “Lavender Haze”.
As if listening to Swift’s modern day masterpiece wasn’t enough, the singer also announced a stadium tour for 2023, in support not just of Midnights but all of her albums to date. The Eras Tour saw astronomical, record-breaking demand, with many who tried failing to bag tickets. Those who did can expect on hell of a show however, with the likes of Wonderland Autumn/Fall star Gayle, Wonderland Autumn 2021 cover star Phoebe Bridgers and Beabadoobee stepping in to support. We’re already craving that tour content, however, in the meantime, we’re off to stream Midnights until our hearts’ content. Although how could we ever have enough Swift?
Highlights: “Anti-Hero”, “Lavender Haze” and “Midnight Rain”