The 2010s proved to be a revolutionary decade for the LGBTQ community. In ten years, the United States repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” and legalized same sex marriage; Time magazine declared that we had reached the “transgender tipping point”; and the community rallied together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of a movement at The Stonewall Inn.
That revolution also applied to the music of the decade. Artists big and small made clear their support for queer lives. Many musicians used their talents to come out to the world while others capitalized on platforms of privilege to help shift the course of history — and they did it while making some of their best music yet.
To celebrate the last ten years within the queer music space, Billboard Pride put together a list of the 25 greatest LGBTQ albums of the 2010s — bodies of work by queer creatives showing the power of the LGBTQ community to embolden and create excellent art.
Adam Lambert, Trespassing
In 2012, Adam Lambert easily could have put out another glam rock-inspired record like his post-American Idol debut For Your Entertainment. Instead, he gave us Trespassing, a pulsating electro-pop album that many saw as a departure from his work on the show. That kind of willingness to experiment only benefitted Lambert’s career and allowed him to make one of his best records to date. — STEPHEN DAW
Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
After Laura Jane Grace officially came out publicly as trans in 2012, fans of Against Me! wondered if her transition would mean the end of the band. Nothing could have been further from the truth as Grace and the group proved on Transgender Dysphoria Blues — the album not only kept their raw rock sound, but allowed Grace to let the world know that she wasn’t going anywhere. — S.D.
Her first album since public coming out as trans, Anohni’s 2016 LP Hopelessness is quite possibly the bravest, boldest album of the entire decade. Shimmering synths and skittering beats dress up Anohni’s heartbreaking meditations on our culpability in destroying the planet (“4 Degrees”), each other and ourselves — the erotic, yearning “Drone Bomb Me” still sucks the air out of any room with a dazzling intensity. — JOE LYNCH
Big Freedia, Just Be Free
For years before her mainstream breakthrough, Big Freedia reigned supreme as the undeniable Queen of Bounce in New Orleans. But thanks to a docuseries on Fuse that debuted in 2013, the world was finally getting to know Freedia when Just Be Free, the star’s third full-length release, gave them something to dance to. The 2014 LP marked the Queen Diva’s breakthrough moment, which would only lead to her further success with Beyoncé, Drake and Kesha. — S.D.
Brandi Carlile, By The Way, I Forgive You
After a long career of penning uplifting stomp-clap anthems for her fans, Brandi Carlile stripped down to her soul with By the Way, I Forgive You, using her platform to move past pain and help queer kids do the same. Whether it’s her reassuring tune for bullied kids with “The Joke” or her call to arms on “Hold Out Your Hand,” Carlile rallied her fans to a place of love and acceptance in a genre that often lacks that kind of inclusive messaging. — S.D.
Cakes da Killa, Hedonism
On Hedonism, rapid-fire NYC battle rapper Cakes da Killa flaunts ineffably winning wordplay as he spits brilliant queer couplets that speak to his bravado (“ain’t never steal my light / I sunbathe in shade”) and his vulnerabilities (“I switch up so clueless / Could catch me getting wasted doing Jell-O shots with Cupid”) over 100mph electro-rap that races past the listener almost as fast as his flow. Hedonism is a visceral injection of libidinous energy that’s a complete pleasure – but never overindulgent. — J.L.
Christine and the Queens, Chris
Héloïse Letissier, better known as Christine and the Queens, is tired of the way society forces gender into our daily lives. So donning a masculine, genderfluid persona on Chris, the singer decided to tear down the walls of gender and play around. With impeccable pop beats and a fresh perspective, Christine defied expectations and proved that for a record about the boundaries of identity, the sky is the limit.
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
It’s not that often that you get to hear an album that you know will become a classic. But on Channel Orange, Frank Ocean made a stunning statement with his powerful lyrics and understated melodies. Released shortly after Ocean publicly revealed his sexuality, Channel Orange has gone on to become a canonical piece of LGBTQ music history, showing the power of a queer man relaying his truth to his fans, but never paying it so much attention that it feels forced or overstated. Ocean simply is who he is, and Channel Orange lives by that same mantra. — S.D.
Halsey, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Rarely do we see honest representations of bisexuality in the pop music space. But with Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, Halsey spun a bisexual epic, complete with a fully-fledged story, conceptual videos and heart-wrenching lyrics that gave her bisexual fans the validation they were missing. Coming off of the rock-pop sounds of Badlands, Halsey brought experimentation to the studio, and with “Bad at Love” and “Strangers,” crafted fresh, intimate cuts that would help define her career. — S.D.
Hayley Kiyoko, Expectations
There’s a reason Hayley Kiyoko’s debut full-length was titled Expectations — after years of releasing strings of singles and EPs, there was anticipation. Those patiently waiting were certainly not disappointed: with confessional lyrics and frank discussions of dating as a lesbian, Expectations lifted Kiyoko up from her station as an underappreciated pop singer to her new position as Lesbian Jesus. — S.D.
Janelle Monaé, Dirty Computer
Even with a discography as impressive as hers, Janelle Monáe still managed to stun the world with Dirty Computer. After officially coming out as queer in the pages of Rolling Stone, the star’s third studio album is filled to the brim with activist imagery as she sings about everything from police brutality to the gender pay gap. But in her most shining moments on the impressive album, Monáe claims a place for herself and queer people everywhere as worthy, active members of a society that attempts to oppress them — we’re not “bugs” in the system, we’re not abnormalities of humankind, she declares. We are our own people, deserving of dignity and joy just as much as anyone else. — S.D.
After spending the better part of this decade climbing her way into popular consciousness, Kehlani triumphantly announced her arrival into the mainstream with SweetSexySavage. The album is frank in the way it approaches its many themes, as it shows Kehlani always bossing herself up and demanding her space be taken seriously. — S.D.
Kevin Abstract, American Boyfriend
Even with his solo debut’s title, Brockhampton frontman Kevin Abstract made it clear to whom American Boyfriend was addressed. With soothing R&B production, the young star details his high school experiences with love, loss and family, and deals openly with everything from coming out to his parents to fearing what his classmates think of his relationship. Throughout every moment of the extremely relatable project, Abstract wipes away the sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek sheen he wears during his Brockhampton performances, and replaces it with deep-cutting vulnerability. — S.D.
Kim Petras, Clarity
Transgender pop sensation Kim Petras captured the attention of the queer community all throughout the late years of the 2010s with her incredibly memorable singles. With the release of her first full-length project Clarity, she kept their gaze focused on her as she morphed her bubblegum-pop tunes into darker, more complex tracks about dealing with self-doubt, loneliness and heartache, all while still giving her fans something to dance to. — S.D.
King Princess, Cheap Queen
With Cheap Queen, King Princess proved that she’s not just another pop singer to throw on your playlist. The complex, mercurial album sways effortlessly between R&B, indie rock, and even the occasional dance-pop jam, all while Mikaela Straus (the star’s real name) weaves in mature, lovelorn lyrics for the aching hearts of queer kids everywhere. It’s no wonder why Mark Ronson decided to make her the first signee of his label Zelig Records. — S.D.
There is something gratifying about seeing MNEK’s name as a lead artist, rather than in the liner notes as a songwriter. Language, the star’s debut album, sees MNEK taking his rightful place as a pop auteur, crafting blissful, escapist pop and taking ownership of every aspect of his sound (“Who wrote this song?/ Who made this beat?/ Well, take a guess” he sings on “Correct”). Language is an exercise in celebrating what your deepest accomplishments mean, and MNEK proved that he earned his spot in pop history. — S.D.
Mykki Blanco, Mykki
Much like Mykki Blanco the artist/activist, 2016’s Mykki is a boundary-melting experience that deliriously oscillates between bonkers bravado and piercing honesty, finding Blanco adopting a cartoonish, deranged masculine affectation on “My Nene” and a reflective, wounded croon on “You Don’t Know Me.” And standout “For the C–ts” is a beautifully queer banger for the tartest tongues in the club — complete with demonic, bitchy giggling. — J.L.
Perfume Genius, No Shape
Mike Hadreas, best known as Perfume Genius, has been making queer indie pop music since the decade began. But his 2017 masterpiece No Shape saw him embracing the full extent of his experimentation, which resulted in his best work yet. Gone were the grand protestations against hate and bigotry, now replaced with quieter, more intimate vignettes into his deep love for his boyfriend, Alan. With No Shape, Hadreas proved that he was a master of his domain, taking his artful pop music to a realm few reach. — S.D.
Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
Before 2014, Sam Smith was a name the world had yet to familiarize itself with. But the star made sure theirs was a name to be remembered with the brilliant debut album In the Lonely Hour. Written about a boy who refused to love them back, Smith deftly flew from song to song about heartbreak and loss, all with the gentle kiss of their other-worldly falsetto voice. From start to finish, In the Lonely Hour proudly displays Smith as a pop star worthy of the mainstream acclaim and love they would achieve. — S.D.
St. Vincent, Masseduction
“I can’t turn off what turns me on,” St. Vincent asserts on the title track to her 2017 album, delivering the line both as a panicked plea and a confident tell-off at different points. That dichotomy and fluidity gallops throughout the album, from her droll complaints about uncomfortable fetish gear on “Savior” (“none of this shit fits”) to her relatable ode to loving leaving a club even more than hitting its dancefloor on “Slow Disco.” — J.L.
Sophie, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Even while openly working in the hyper-experimental field of PC Music for a decade, producer Sophie managed to keep her identity a secret from the public. But with her breakthrough album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, the DJ stepped out of her shell and let the world see her for all of her glory. The album, as bizarre as it often is, gave listeners a deeper insight into the enigmatic star’s personality, as she twisted, scratched and tore through conventional wisdom to make one of the decade’s strangest, most ambitious albums. — S.D.
Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
For the first decade of their existence as a band, The Quin twins became widely known as the indie rock act to watch, even if some of us had been watching for years. Heartthrob, their seventh studio album, marked a decidedly different tone. With Tegan and Sara shifting their sound toward pop, many speculated that it could mean the loss of lyrical import. But take one listen to the escapist dance fantasy, and you’ll see that with the help of tracks like “Closer,” “I’m Not Your Hero” and “Shock To Your System,” Heartthrob saw the duo bringing their ever-inclusive message to an even bigger audience. — S.D.
The Internet, Hive Mind
Something beautiful happened with The Internet’s Hive Mind. After receiving the mainstream recognition they badly deserved with their Grammy-nominated album Ego Death, the five-piece R&B outfit, led by queer pioneer Syd, tightened their sound, polished their lyrics and managed to deliver their magnum opus. Hive Mind sees the group at its very best, flexing some of the best R&B of this decade. — S.D.
Troye Sivan, Bloom
In 2010, Troye Sivan was a 14-year-old aspiring performer whose resumé sported a few small film roles, three appearances on a telethon in his home of Perth, Australia, and a YouTube channel filled with some heartfelt covers. Today, he’s become nearly-synonymous with the rise of the queer pop star, in no small part thanks to his 2018 album Bloom. A moving, mature effort, Bloom sees Sivan not only owning his sexuality, but having fun with it, as tracks like “Bloom,” “My My My” and “Dance to This” became shining examples of the star’s blossoming talent. — S.D.
Years & Years, Communion
Years & Years have never been interested in censoring their lyrics to appease a straight audience. On their introductory album Communion, the British synth-pop trio, led by enigmatic frontman Olly Alexander, proved their point with lyrics that lifted the unspoken taboo of singing about queer sex, all filtered through their irresistible, tropical pop aesthetic. — S.D.