When reviewing our favorite queer albums of 2022 back in December, Billboard noted the backslide that occurred throughout the year when it came to LGBTQ acceptance in society at large. We’re six months into 2023, and it’s safe to say that the situation has worsened dramatically. With record-setting numbers of brazen anti-LGBTQ bills being introduced around the country, as well as rising numbers of hate crimes being committed against the community, 2023 has become a scary year to be queer.
The attacks being levied against members of the queer community have also, to varying degrees, found their way into the LGBTQ music space. Drag performers have seen numerous states attempt to limit or ban their ability to perform publicly; queer and trans artists attempting to showcase edgier art have been targeted by online campaigns deeming them “demonic”; and musicians have even had to pick sides when it comes to the beer that they drink because of rampant transphobia.
Yet one thing has not been diminished by the current wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric: the proliferation of excellent albums from queer artists. Throughout the first half of 2023, LGBTQ performers have continued to prove that they are leaders when it comes to crafting inventive and expansive bodies of work beyond simple soundbites from your TikTok feed. In some cases, these artists doubled down on the themes their fans had come to love; in many others, they flipped their own scripts to bring something fresh and exciting to their listeners.
So, which of those albums stand out against the pack? Below, Billboard staffers pick our 10 favorite albums from LGBTQ artists released in the first half of 2023.
Arlo Parks, My Soft Machine
When we were first introduced to Arlo Parks on her debut album, 2021’s Collapsed in Sunbeams, she was growing but delicate — and on her sophomore effort, she dives into being that juxtaposed “soft machine” even further. “I wish I was bruiseless,” she offers on the project’s opener, which is a theme she continues throughout the album with her sharp, poetic songwriting. Despite the pain, Arlo embraces being human, shifting her feelings about those emotional bruises on “Impurities” when she assures, “Don’t hide the bruise, I know it’s hard to be alive sometimes.” — RANIA ANIFTOS
Boygenius, The Record
Boygenius’s long-awaited debut album, The Record, acts as a toast to womanhood and friendship. The plainness of the album title is apt for the no-frills sincerity of the trio’s writing. From the confessional anthem “Not Strong Enough” to the heart-wrenching and austere “Letter to an Old Poet,” The Record is able to highlight each of the singer-songwriters’ greatest strengths while proving that the super group is not a gimmick, but rather a collaboration greater than the sum of its three parts. — KRISTIN ROBINSON
Christine and the Queens, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love
Change is the common denominator across Christine and the Queens’ expansive ouevre, and nowhere does that spirit reinvention feel more omnipresent than on Paranoïa, Angels, True Love. Spanning an expansive 96 minutes, the free-wheeling album never lets the listener exactly where they’re headed next, as Chris guides his sweeping artistic vision through depictions of grief and sorrow unmoored by constraints of his prior pop sound. A magnum opus from an artist in search of answers, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love stands out as a singular crowning achievement in Chris’ already well-established career. — STEPHEN DAW
Dreamer Isioma, Princess Forever
Despite being set in its own fictional reality, the world of Princess Forever sounds an awful lot like our modern existence. Dreamer Isioma’s luxurious sophomore album tells the story of the titular royal fighting back against a dark political regime set on destroying their people, using the power of love to liberate themselves. With all of the parallels to our current political landscape well-established, Isioma followed through with a hugely impressive album, liberated from genre and propelled largely by an exceedingly well-curated vibe that keeps the dream going for as long as you’re willing to luxuriate in it. — S.D.
Janelle Monáe, The Age of Pleasure
Janelle Monáe’s entire discography has been a nuanced soundtrack for the fight for Black queer liberation. Their latest record, the sexy, summery The Age of Pleasure, finds the Grammy-nominated multi-hyphenate fully embracing pleasure politics. Across the project’s half-hour runtime, they revel in the intrinsic freedom of ball culture by way of amapiano pulses (“Phenomenal”), the sweaty sensuality of reggae grooves (“Lipstick Lover”), and the peaceful melodies of jazz-infused rocksteady (“Only Have Eyes 42”). Featuring contributions from Grace Jones, Amaarae, Doechii, and more, The Age of Pleasure is a gorgeous exercise in preserving and exalting the dual throughlines of queer genius and dance culture that courses through the African diaspora. — KYLE DENIS
Kali Uchis, Red Moon in Venus
The Colombian-American genre-defying singer experiences a full cycle of love on her glimmering third studio album, Red Moon in Venus. While announcing the project, Uchis described it as “a timeless, burning expression of desire, heartbreak, faith, and honesty, reflecting the divine femininity of the moon and Venus.” Over 15 tracks, listeners examine her stuck in the honeymoon phase on the ultra-dreamy “All Mine,” dancing her relationship troubles away with her real-life boo Don Toliver on the slinky “Fantasy,” channeling Sade while blaming herself for making her ex her whole world on “Blue” and being ready to forgive and love again on the super groovy “Happy Now.” No matter where love’s gravity pulls Uchis, she remains centered by her own divine femininity. — HERAN MAMO
“KAYTRAMINÉ in this b—ch, smokin’ on your album,” Aminé raps over a staticky Kaytranada funk&B shuffle on “Who He Iz,” opener to the duo’s self-titled collaborative LP. It’s not idle boasting: You could count the number of LPs from 2023’s first half on one hand that the rapper-producer pair would struggle to roll up and light, such is the earned confidence of their casually swaggering 11-track set of alluring grooves and clever quotables. Unlike other notable superteamings of recent years, KAYTRAMINÉ doesn’t overwhelm with size or scope; it doesn’t feel like an event so much as a really, really good hang, one you’re welcome to join at any point and catch a contact high within seconds. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
After spending five years out of the spotlight, Kelela resurfaced with her sophomore album Raven, a rapturous reflection of her rebirth following 2020’s COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. The Ethiopian-American singer’s ethereal falsettos and soothing ‘90s R&B vocals are buoyed by exhilarating drum’n’bass, garage beats and ambient, spine-chilling synths, with the help of electronic producers like Asmara, OCA, Kaytranada, LSDXOXO AND Bambii. Kelela told Billboard that Raven is meant to “service the people who are there in the front row and have always been there: queer Black people.” But it’s also meant to finally service the singer herself as a queer Black woman who’s understanding the beautiful complexities of her identity. — H.M.
Nakhane, Bastard Jargon
Nakhane has gone from preaching conversion therapy to proudly embracing their queer identity, and on Bastard Jargon, the South African talent celebrates the thrills of erotic attraction and sexual release with a hard-won sense of liberation. Perfume Genius collab “Do You Well” is a buoyant slice of club pop that might’ve soundtracked the credits of a Queer As Folk episode, while the brooding bedroom vibes of “Hear Me Moan” and the rhythmically sophisticated “Tell Me Your Politik” (feat. Moonchild Sanelly and Nile Rodgers) speak to the reflective, existential ego under Nakhane’s dance music id. — JOE LYNCH
Sam Smith, Gloria
The main throughline of Sam Smith’s glorious fourth studio album Gloria is absolutely love: who gets it, who deserves it, how to lose it and keep it, and how to show it to yourself. From the jump, Smith’s “Love Me More” is an ode to love themselves followed immediately by “No God,” which details the love they realize they deserve. Then there’s the love they want to keep (“Lose You”), the love their ready for (“Perfect”) and tracks where love is purposefully pushed to the side (“I’m Not Here to Make Friends”). It’s all delivered in Smith’s signature falsetto over sultry ballads, club bangers and tender serenades that only Smith could deliver so cohesively. — TAYLOR MIMS