Female Artists Rule 2021's Best Albums

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday January 2, 2022

Say what you will about 2021, but some pretty incredible music was released this past year. And, once again, the music industry was able to respond to pandemic life—and release work in spite of it—in a way that other mediums could not. In fact, it's likely that pandemic-era albums will eventually become a tiny category of their own. Of course, it isn't necessarily music about the pandemic, but it's certainly music that helped get us through it.

Here are EDGE's ten best albums of the year, plus one very worthy runner up:

Adele, '30'

At this point, you don't need us to tell you how sublime this album is. It's unthinkable, in some ways, that a single artist could produce a body of work as unimpeachably sublime as Adele has. The expectations were sky-high for "30," her first album in six years, especially after her previous two albums—"21" and "25"—both won Grammys for Album of the Year. "30" is masterful, from her never-better vocals down to the intricate, ornate production. As of right now, Adele seems right on track to win her third Album of the Year Grammy next year.

Taylor Swift, 'Red (Taylor's Version)'

Few artists can create a phenomenon with a single tweet, Instagram post, or TikTok video as Taylor Swift can. Multiply that by 30—that's how many tracks are on the re-recording of her 2012 album "Red"—and you'll have some idea of the impact that Swift made with the release of this album. The 10-minute version of her gorgeous tearjerker "All Too Well" caused a particular sensation, dethroning Don McLean's "American Pie" as the longest song to be on the US Hot 100 chart. Her achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that she took home her third Album of the Year Grammy for folklore last year, and that she's nominated again this year for the stark, wrenching, pristine, evermore.

Brandi Carlile, 'In These Silent Days'

Brandi Carlile could sing nothing but gibberish and she would still manage to release one of the most gorgeous and devastating albums of the year. Her last album, "By the Way, I Forgive You," was a masterpiece of contemporary songwriting and vocals, and it earned her three Grammy Awards plus nominations for Album, Record, and Song of the year. This year, she's up for five more for the intimate and intense "In These Silent Days," another crown jewel in Carlile's impressive oeuvre.

Rauw Alejandro, 'VICE VERSA'

Few artists—let alone international artists—have skyrocketed to what felt like overnight success this year quite like 28-year-old Rauw Alejandro has. The Puerto Rican singer and rapper, known as the "King of Modern Reggaeton," is up for a Grammy for his 2020 album, "Afrodisíaco," and 2021's "VICE VERSA" is an even better, bolder, and sexier record—and just try to get its lead single, "Todo de Ti," out of your head.

Kacey Musgraves, 'star-crossed'

The music of Kacey Musgraves has evolved quite a bit since her 2013 debut album, "Same Trailer Different Park," which put her on the map and won her her first two Grammy Awards. Of course, she would have even more success five years later when the instant classic "Golden Hour" won her four more Grammys, including Album of the Year. Needless to say, all eyes were on Musgraves to see how she'd follow it up. The result was star-crossed, a pop-country-psychedelic concept album that chronicled the deterioration of her marriage. Is it perfect? No. But it's innovative, cohesive, and beautiful.

Jazmine Sullivan, 'Heaux Tales'

Jazmine Sullivan first burst on the R&B scene in 2008 with "Fearless," an album that earned her five Grammy nomination including Best New Artist. She would lose that year to Adele, but in the years that have followed, Sullivan has been nominated 10 more times for the Grammy, including three this year for her fearless and feminist "Heaux Tales." She's up against some heavyweights this year, including Snoh Aalegra, Justin Bieber, Silk Sonic, and the divine H.E.R., but 2022 could be the year that Sullivan finally wins her first Grammy.

H.E.R., 'Back of My Mind'

H.E.R. has been on quite the impressive trajectory as of late, and with the release of "Back of My Mind" this year, she shows no sign of stopping. Lucky us. In 2021 alone, she won both a Song of the Year Grammy for protest anthem "I Can't Breathe" and an Academy Award for "Fight for You" from "Judas and the Black Messiah." Like her previous two albums, 2017's "H.E.R." and 2019's "I Use to Know Her, Back of My Mind" has earned H.E.R. her third consecutive Album of the Year nomination.

Lil Nas X, 'Montero'

Lil Nas X needs little introduction these days, which is all the more impressive given how eager the world was to write him off as a one-hit-wonder two years ago. But five MTV Video Music Awards, two Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, and a whole lot of controversy later, Lil Nas has shown the world that he's here to stay. "Montero" is imperfect, but it is a work of sheer gall and ambition and has cemented his status as both a bonafide pop star and a LGBT icon.

Farruko, 'La 167'

With his eighth album "La 167," 30-year-old Puerto Rican singer Farruko has finally broken through to the kind of international success he's been chasing for more than a decade. This summer, he released lead single "Pepas," a catchy and career-best pop earworm that has now been viewed more than 275 million times on YouTube. Combining guarachero, electronic, pop, reggaeton, and a dizzying array of other tropical sounds, "La 167" is a start-to-finish achievement.

Doja Cat, 'Planet Her'

After achieving worldwide fame with the release of her 2019 single "Say So," Doja Cat has remained a force to be reckoned with, earning an impressive 11 Grammy nominations in only two years. "Planet Her" is an even better album than 2019's "Hot Pink," and there's no one else quite like her making music right now, which certainly makes her one of the most compelling young artists making pop music right now.

Honorable Mention: 'West Side Story' (2021 Motion Picture Soundtrack)

There are a lot of "West Side Story" recordings out there, and a few of them could undoubtedly contend for the title of most definitive recording of the 1957 Broadway musical, including this one. Stephen Spielberg's new version of the musical is a thrilling gut punch, and never has it looked or sounded better. Most of that is due to Gustavo Dudamel, as A-list a conductor as you'll find today, who conducts Leonard Bernstein's score with a boldness and passion that the other recordings lack. In addition, the engineering and production of the score are part of the why seeing and hearing "West Side Story" in a state-of-the-art cinema presentation is such a thrill.