Top 16 of 2016: Albums and EPs

Aryaan Hussain and Miko Miwa

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1. Lemonade by Beyoncé

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Lemonade, a visual album which aired on HBO without much warning, had a huge impact on 2016. It eluded to Beyonce’s husband, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, cheating on her, and controversy sparked when fashion designer Rachel Roy implied that some lines in the album about Jay Z’s supposed mistress were about her. But drama aside, Lemonade managed to transcend genres, with songs playing tribute country, pop, alternative, and more. With an angered tone and electrifying melodies, the album is a deep look into Beyonce’s true feelings. “Freedom” and “Formation” revolve around the pride Beyonce has for her blackness, and both were definitely standouts when it comes to the album as a whole. In the end, Queen Bey slayed everyone else, and so it’s no wonder why she ended up topping the list.

 

2. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

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Ariana Grande has already one of the most stunning voice ranges known to man. Mix that with some rap from Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, or even a collab with Future, her album Dangerous Woman has broken the charts skyrocketing when released in May of 2016. One of her most prominent songs, “Side to Side”, featuring Nicki Minaj was a huge hit for weeks, and still remains in the charts up until today. She performed her songs live on tour and coming to the DC Area in February of 2017. Even live her amazingly pitched voice leaves the audience in awe. No autotune needed for her performances. When she started making music in her newer albums such as Yours Truly with songs like My Way, moving into My Everything with Break Free and Problem, she was renowned as a singer that would come to be, and still is a talent artist of this generation.

3. Straight Outta Oz by Todrick Hall

Inspired by Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade and the classic tale of The Wizard of Oz, Straight Outta Oz tells the story of Todrick, a gay black man from Texas who aspires to be a famous performer in Oz Angeles. Along the way he faces the temptations of fame and the stark reality of living in a prejudiced society set on seeing him as nothing more than his race and sexuality. With featured voices of Amber Riley, Jordin Sparks, Bob the Drag Queen, Nicole Scherzinger, and others, Straight Outta Oz offers a variety of songs that play an important role in shaping the story. Standouts include “Dumb”, a stark message about privilege and fighting against inequity, “Lions and Tigers and Bears”, a powerful melody about a mother’s love, and “Water Guns”, commentary on gun violence in the United States and those our country has lost to it. With a touching story and bopping melodies, Todrick Hall created a masterpiece with impactful messages relevant to our world.

 

4. Citrine by Hayley Kiyoko

Hayley Kiyoko’s third EP, Citrine, holds nothing back when it comes to her feelings as a sapphic woman. It starts of with “Gravel to Tempo” an upbeat song with an infectious rhythm focussing on the message of staying true to oneself and going your own way, even if it is conventionally unpopular. “Ease my Mind” and “Pretty Girl” follow, full of whimsical notes and lyrics about loving girls and pining for their affection. The fourth song in the EP, “One Bad Night”, has a more mysterious vibe, revolving around midnight drives and the playful feeling that comes when the sun fades. Hayley Kiyoko ties up her 2016 release with “Palace”, a darker song than those preceding it, about placing those you have lost on a pedestal in an effort to preserve them but recognizing the need to move on.

 

5. Starboy by The Weeknd

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The Weeknd was known for his “abstract” hair cut throughout his last albums featuring songs such as “Can’t Feel My Face”. In his new album and song Starboy, he shows himself with a new cleaner, fresher look. His new album is not only a change in hair, but a change in his act, the understand of privilege, beauty of life. In his music video “Starboy”, he can be seen smashing his trophies, symbolizing a new beginning to his career, that fame and trophies, don’t take you all the way. Hidden within this rich pop song is in fact a deeper meaning that people glance past while they listen to the beat of his songs.

6. Not to Disappear by Daughter

The voice of lead singer Elena Tonra has always been beautifully haunting, and with Daughter’s second full length album, Not to Disappear, Tonra’s voice only seems to shine brighter. Each song is simply mesmerizing, with it’s soft echos and wonderfully orchestrated melodies, it’s hard to not be engulfed by the raw emotion radiating from every note. “Doing the Right Thing” is the song that stands out the most, it’s chilling and vaguely reminiscent of Daughter’s earlier release “Youth”. With tones of melancholy over those lost and gone forever to the cold hands of time, it shouldn’t be hard to guess why such a song would stand out. The album continues on with this idea, songs of pain and the crippling feeling of being alone, left to grow into a stronger person, someone who can no longer be fazed by the taunting of life.

7. This is Acting by Sia

This is Acting is a compilation of different cultural songs, and pop songs. The album starts off with the first single released, “Alive”. Then goes on to “Cheap Thrills”, a song that was made with Sean Paul to add a Carribean element to it. Her songs add a new tone to music that most singers cannot add. Another song released as a single, but in the deluxe album is “The Greatest”, featuring Kendrick Lamar, a particularly emotional song tributed to the 49 victims of the mass shooting in Orlando in the summer of 2016. In all of her songs from earlier, Chandelier, till today she is able to bring the effects of her music videos and her powerful singing all together.

8. Blackstar by David Bowie

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Released two days before his death, David Bowie’s final gift to world is haunting and reminiscent of his older work. Bowie managed to jump between themes and melodies, from whimsically haunting, strong and dangerous, to prideful and soulful, a range that only legends like Bowie could pull off. “Lazarus” was a song that stood out, in a way that only a song surrounded by other works of art could. It’s pained and almost prophetic lyrics sing of the sweet embrace of death and the relief that comes with everything finally coming to an end.

9. 24k Magic by Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars in the past has made many good albums such as Woo-Doops and Hooligans, featuring “Just the Way You Are” and many others, he also the 2014 hit of “Uptown Funk”, a song that stayed on the charts, and is still played today commonly. His new view of music with this new album 24K Good, brings back his elements and mixes in a little bit of new. His song “24K Magic” is a perfect example of this, the songs is about the nice things in life, partying, and enjoy life to the fullest.

10. Joanne by Lady Gaga

Rightfully considered one of Lady Gaga’s most iconic albums, Joanne brings a fresh new look into Gaga’s vocals and skills when it comes to entertaining in multiple genres and styles. The album is extremely personal compared to her past works, and the strong vocals combined with various instrumentals make a well rounded piece of work with songs bound to catch the eyes of everyone looking for something fresh.

11. The Ransom by Catey Shaw

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The Ransom is a short, but powerful, EP featuring Catey Shaw’s unique voice and taste in music. Unlike her other EPs (Clouds and The Brooklyn), The Ransom has a much stronger tone and more forceful melodies of broken love and false happiness. The opening song, “Tell Everyone”, tells the tale of life when left with a bitter ex, its extremely catchy rhythm and fast beat make for the perfect feel good song after a breakup. “Walks All over You” is the standout song of the album, it is reminiscent of a typical 80s bop and Catey’s voice shines through with the teasing lyrics. “The Ransom”, is a tune of tempo changes with steady verses and an upbeat chorus about being stuck in a loveless romance. It’s followed by “Lovesick Jerk”, a more lighthearted song that carries a blunt message of the struggles that come with being in a relationship where your partner is self-hating and extremely insecure. The EP ends with “I’d Be Laughing”, which is similar to a more traditional breakup song full of the heartbreak that comes with being played, and its lyrical melody accompanied by powerful piano brings for an emotional tune that makes The Ransom a well rounded EP.

12. Darkness and Light by John Legend

A refreshing album drowning in soul, Darkness and Light showcases the music that makes John Legend, well John Legend. His mastery of R&B brings for an entrancing album with a powerful message. The opening song of the album, “I Know Better”, instantly catches attention, with it’s message of the power public figures have over society, and it’s chilling piano help drive forward this idea. The album as a whole takes a look at Legend’s thoughts, with a few tunes featuring more traditional pop sounds that attract the ears of the general population.

13. Here by Alicia Keys

Here is an album packed full of power and pride, both for Keys’ unapologetic love of her race and her gender. The albums starts off with strong vocals and gospel inspired melodies, preaching about community and unity while harmonizing with the choir like backup vocals  accompanying her. It quickly moves to more intimate songs, where prominent acoustics and Keys’ voice shine through while delivering lines filled with heavy meanings.The album then moves to songs inspired by Hip-Hop and R&B, a combo Keys is familiar with due to her years of experience in both fields. “Holy War” ends the album, a raw and powerful piece about society’s deep ingrained prejudice and how it isn’t too late to change.

14. Anti by Rihanna

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Rihanna’s hit that went viral was “Work”, featuring the also famous and well known, Drake. Rihanna known for many past collabs with people such as Eminem have been star hits for genres such as R&B. By earning 795 million streams by June of that same year, Anti has become on of Rihanna best albums, and overall earns a major spot on this list.

15. Perfectly Imperfect by Grace VanderWaal

12 year old Grace VanderWaal, winner of the eleventh season of America’s Got Talent, with her enchanting voice and beautiful melodies created an EP perfect for reintroducing her to the world of entertainment. “I Don’t Know My Name” the iconic song which she wrote and performed for her America’s Got Talent audition, has quirky lyrics of self-acceptance and discovery and is accompanied by her ukelele which gives the song, and the album as a whole, a very minimalistic feel. Another standout song of the EP is “Light the Sky”, is powerful and quite frankly beautiful, with a melody perfect for swaying in the breeze and watching the stars while with the person you love. The EP as a whole is unique and whimsical, bringing forth calmness and yet strength.

16. Blonde by Frank Ocean

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After releasing Channel Orange in 2012, fans had been waiting in anxious anticipation for Frank Ocean to drop his next album, and Blonde did not disappoint. With inspiration from a new brand of R&B, Ocean crafted songs both rich and light, drifting between light highs filled with clouds and tinted smoak, to crimson velvet and powerful tunes. The ability to manipulate emotions in such a way is a feat in itself, much less leaving the world craving more, we can only hope that Ocean doesn’t leave us for another 6 years before reappearing like an angel toying with us mere mortals.

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