The TOP 20 of 2020
The Cultural Reset is pleased to present a countdown of the top 20 best albums released by POC and LGBTQ+ artists in 2020!
Each day from December 11th to January 1st we will be counting down to the New Year by highlighting the most innovative and culturally significant albums released by POC and LGBTQ+ artists!
Tune in to see new posts!
CHLOE X HALLE
"Holdin' my breath 'til my face turns blue / head underwater, breath deeply they said."
Ranked #1 of TCR’s Top 20, UnGodly Hour seamlessly transitions Chloe x Halle from their coming-of-age discovery in The Kids Are Alright into a sultry adult-ish R&B masterpiece. Chloe x Halle were young teenagers when their YouTube cover of Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” went viral. Quickly after, Chloe x Halle were signed to Beyonce’s Parkwood label, featured in her Lemonade visual album, and opened for her Formation World Tour. Pushing back the release date a week to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement, UnGodly Hour features songs like, “Overwhelmed” and “Forgive Me” that put into words what most of us have been unable to express the entirety of 2020. As they state on “Baby Girl”, Chloe x Halle set out to “do it for the girls” with this project and ended up doing it for the "girls", the "gays", and the "theys". Claiming writing and production credits on almost every song, Chloe x Halle’s UnGodly Hour exudes a ‘unified togetherness’ skillfully intertwined in every breath and harmony—a feat that has rightfully earned it its place at #1.
Stream: 'UnGodly Hour':
"Born under Scorpio skies, I wanted to see the world"
Coming in at #2 on TCR’s Top 20 of 2020 is Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher. The indie-folk singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is filled with engaging lyricism. In her song “Kyoto” she speaks on the imposter syndrome she felt after performing in Japan for the first time. Later in the song, she shifts to the complicated relationship she has with her father. The cathartic album closer, ”I Know The End” features apocalyptic lyrics and an incredible music video to highlight them. Throughout Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers flawlessly tackles various topics, all while returning to the theme of having the tools to battle whatever troubles come her way.
'IT WAS GOOD UNTIL IT WASN'T'
"I get real accountable when I'm alone"
It should come as no surprise to see that It Was Good Until It Wasn’t comes in at the top of our list at #3. The album addresses singer Khelani’s past relationships and the isolation that comes with leading a public life. Presenting cool, melodic pop infused with old-school R&B, she confronts her own toxic qualities and gets real with how she treats her relationships. On par for 2020, themes of distance come into play as she freestyles her feelings, creating addictive melodies on each track. As an LGBTQ+ person of color, she actively advocates for the community and other cultural problems in society. After Megan Thee Stallion got shot by Tory Lanez, she immediately pulled his verse off “Can I” and removed him from the album entirely in solidarity with her friend. No stranger to singing about her love affairs with women, Kehlani effortlessly expresses her sexuality in It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, remaining open to dialogue online, within boundaries, of course. Kehlani resets the industry by being her authentic self, standing up for the girls, and expressing it in a way that seems almost incomparable to other artists.
Stream: 'It Was Good Until It Wasn’t':
'HEAVEN TO A TORTURED MIND'
"Come ‘n light my fire baby."
Entering #4 of TCR’s Top 20 of 2020 is the seductive, psychedelic sound of Yves Tumour’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind. Also known as Sean Bowie, Yves Tumor is a non-binary musician and producer hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, and currently based in Turin, Italy. They are best known for their experimental sound off of their 2018 album "Safe in the Hands of Love", which incorporated an intricate songwriting experience that would eventually go on to flourish in Heaven to a Tortured Mind. Throughout the album, Yves Tumor re-invents their image once more as they paint a picturesque experience of the beauty and ugliness of romance, all while mixing a variety of sounds and genres to create an era of rock that has not been seen before. With influences from musicians like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie , and Prince - they evolve into a psychedelic, androgynous rock persona that cannot be contained by the boundaries of one sonic identity. This rock persona can even be seen in the music video for Heaven to a Tortured Mind’s lead single “Gospel for a New Century”, where Yves Tumor highlights the alluring, carnal sound of trumpets and horns to blaze the way for the beautiful oddities that make them stand out as an artist.
Overall, Yves Tumor has given new meaning to the sound and look of a rock star and is truly resetting the culture for a new age of experimental rock that has not been seen before in the modern day of music.
Stream: 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind':
"Hey, I've been falling apart these days / Split open, watching my heart go round and around"
At #5 is Soccer Mommy’s second album, color theory. Sophie Allison, a Swiss-born singer-songwriter from Nashville that goes by the alias Soccer Mommy, depicts quite an emotional, reflective tone throughout the album. This sophomore album, with vivid lyricism, centers around themes of vulnerability and emotional spiraling—something that is certainly fitting for 2020. She spoke out in her interview with Paste about how the different colors on the album (blue, yellow, gray) represent depression, mental/physical illness, and mortality, respectively. During a time when most people are feeling at a loss with the difficulties that came with this year, she provided an outlet to remember that you are not alone in feeling so. color theory sheds light on issues with relationships, sickness, mental health, and aging; Allison is able to self reflect on these issues while having listeners relate to these universal human experiences.
Stream: 'color theory':
"Tiene má' de veinte, me enseño la cédula / Ey, del amor e' una incrédula"
Coming in at #6 is a project by Bad Bunny, a 26-year-old singer and rapper from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico that has established a firm placement at the top with his new album YHLQMDLG (Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana (“I do Whatever I want). The album debuted No.2 on the Billboard 200 album chart making it the highest charting, all-spanish-language album in history and making him the most streamed artist of 2020. The project correlated the roots of reggaeton with the current sounds of the latin trap genre with other elements of the latin styles and rhythms Since he stepped on the stage for the Super Bowl half-time Show with Shakira and Jennifer lopez this past February, he's taken over the year and has set himself up for a possible early retirement with the notoriety behind this album. With lyrics covering female empowerment to various forms of toxic masculinity, he drops a bombshell in the album stating he will drop another project towards the end of the year and retire.
LOUS AND THE YAKUZA
"Pourquoi le noir n'est-il pas une couleur de l'arc-en-ciel? / Why isn't black one of the colors of the rainbow?”
At #7 we have Gore, a Hip Hop/Rap album by Lous and the Yakuza, which was released this October. Marie-Pierra Kakoma, known as Lous and the Yakuza, is a Congolese-Belgian singer, rapper, and songwriter. Her mother once told her that “when you’re black you have to work twice as hard; when you’re young, Black and female, make that 10 times as hard.” Kakoma, who witnessed her mother’s arrest for being Rwandan during the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s civil unrest in 2000, has undoubtedly lived a life full of hardship withstanding fleeing war, uprooting her life, and homelessness. Her resilience is certainly reflected through her music. In her interview with The New York Times, she states that the album’s title, Gore, is a metaphor for her life and the darkness she’s faced. The album, primarily rapped in French, represents an autobiographical music composition. As someone who has lived through so much hardship, she’s actively trying to make the world better for others; Lous and the Yakuza recognizes her responsibility to be heard in the music industry as one of the few black, females represented.
"Tú sabes que soy la peligrosa"
Claiming the #8 spot on TCR’s Top 20 of 2020 list is the Y2K fantasy Sawayama by Rina Sawayama. The Japanese-born British singer’s debut album is an extravagant melange of pop, R&B, and nu-metal - with tracks grabbing influence from artists like Evanescence, Britney Spears, and even Korn. In addition to this, Sawayama explores a variety of themes such as microaggressions in “STFU!”, male privilege in “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)”, and the unconditional support of her queer family in “Chosen Family”. Rina also showcases more personal topics as well, like multi-generational family trauma in the operatic track “Dynasty” and her displaced immigrant identity in “Akasaka Sad”. And through it all, she still delivers her signature pop-perfection sound on tracks like “XS”, with dazzling visuals paired perfectly in the “XS” music video.
Overall, Rina Sawayama is paving her own unapologetic path within the pop genre, all while demonstrating every facet of who she is within Sawayama. She stands firmly in who she is, and what she believes in - earning her a well-deserved title of a cultural resetter.
"Tú sabes que soy la peligrosa"
Ranked #9 on TCR’s Top 20, Calambre defies conformity adding salsa, pop and jazz to her undefined production style. Calambre earned its place at #9 due to its genre-defying nature and contractual obligation to acknowledge Nathy Peluso’s path to stardom as a Latinx performer. Born in Argentina, but raised in Spain, Peluso grew up crossing cultural barriers presumably leading to her mixing of reggaeton, jazz, hip hop, salsa, funk, and pop to name a few. Inspired by different female voices, whether lyrically or politically, Peluso keeps her song topics well rounded. Straggling the line between flirtatious and feminist, Peluso calls out economic issues in ‘SANA SANA’ while she adds comic relief and flirty side-bars in ‘Amora Salvaje’ and ‘Sugga’. Peluso, playing with commentary and genres, hopes to inspire and empower women that feel broken with Calambre.
"We gon' have to find a way"
In a claustrophobic time in history, Duckwrth released the funkiest feel-good album of the year. Coming in at #10, SUPERGOOD is a kaleidoscope of escapism in a time filled with bad news. Long overdue, he intentionally released the album at a time in his life where he felt comfortable celebrating himself; fortunately for us, it happened when so many others needed help celebrating themselves. The album is an ode to black joy, black music, and black rhythm. Duckwrth mixes genres (funk, pop, R&B, Hip-Hop) throughout the album, creating a tracklist that anyone can enjoy. Confronting toxic masculinity, Duckwrth shows his feminine side with his clothing and creative direction in the album. He believes it is time to embrace both your feminine side and masculine side without making it a big deal. Duckwrth’s vibrant identity and funktastic anthems are on their way to help reset the music industry and society as a whole.
"It's a perfect world, I'm the perfect girl, You're the nightmare, And I'm the dream."
In the sophomore EP from Sevdaliza, she dives into an opposite realm then her previous material. This fifteen track album is filled with emotional reflections and an hours time to be immersed into this story. On “Darkest Hour” Sevdaliza really can gives us a club techno vibe but with dark heart wrenching lyrics like ‘It's a perfect world, I'm the perfect girl, You're the nightmare, And I'm the dream.” This body of work feels so magical, even right down to the title. Shabrang is the mythical Persian horse, Shabrang Behzād, “night-colored purebred”. This somber experience is filled with stunning bridges, incredible production, and themes to make listeners see who they are rather than tell themselves who they are (Nylon) Turning the light into the dark.
'IT IS WHAT IT IS'
"Stuck in between, it is what it is"
At #11 on TCR’s Top 20 of 2020 is the punchy Thundercat album, It Is What It Is. Thundercat (aka Stephen Lee Bruner) is a bassist, singer-songwriter whose talents range from a multitude of genres. The L.A. native’s fourth studio album is filled with groovy basslines and humor while tackling the challenge of losing his friend Mac Miller. “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good” he sings in the hit song “Dragonball Durag”, taking a comedic approach to trying to impress someone. In contrast, Thundercat reminisces on the memories he had with Mac Miller in a direct tribute to him in the song “Fair Chance.” His ability to fuse humor and grief while creating an ethereal world sonically makes It Is What It Is the culturally resetting project it is.
Stream: 'It Is What It Is':
'LA VITA NUOVA'
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
"Don't you dare ask of the world to stop"
Possibly deserving of a higher rank is La Vita Nuova. This electro-indie-pop EP has been ranked as #13 in the TCR Top 20 of 2020. The electro-synth beats set the undertone for the expertly interwoven English and French lyrics. Every song on this EP meets you where you are and pulls you into the mesmerizing vocals of the lead Queen. The womxn power behind Christine and the Queens is Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier. After her mother's death, Letissier released La Vita Nuova. Her grief related to the world’s grief during 2020. While others attempted to produce quarantine-inspired songs, none came close to the personal sorrows of Letissier. And it shows. The first single People, I’ve Been Sad was named “Song of the Year” by Time Magazine. It was also named second best song of 2020 by NPR and Pitchfork Magazine. While the EP was released on Feb 27, 2020, on the precipice of the pandemic, it has worked wonders as a treatment of depression and uncertainty. Letissier brought light to the dark and strength to the queer community. Christine and the Queens is on the mission to break gender conformity and labels, resetting the standard for artists in 2021.
Stream: 'La Vita Nuova':
"I’m lonely, but would I be better off with someone else?"
Album #14 is Shamir’s self titled album Shamir. Shamir is known for his ability to represent his own life experiences with his unique and experimental production techniques. The result is music that listeners can relate to around the globe. Shamir was raised Muslim in a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada. He was introduced to a wide variety of music at a young age, which inspired him to create music at the ripe age of nine years old. His life-long journey with music can be seen in the way he blends elements of many different genres to create a sound that is completely his own. Shamir’s high levels of social awareness and emotional intelligence can be distinctly heard throughout the album, making it a cultural reset down to its core.
"I do what I want to do when I want to do it."
Debuting at #15 on TCR’s Top 20 of 2020 is none other than Arca’s fourth studio album KiCk i. Arca, also known as Alejandra Ghersi, is a producer, singer, DJ and songwriter. She has produced for notable figures like FKA Twigs, Kanye West, and Björk. KiCk i is the second album by a trans-woman to be nominated for a Best Electronic/Dance Album Grammy. In the first of a four-part album series, the Venezuelan artist showcases the fluidity of her nonbinary identity through the eclectic sounds she masterfully crafts throughout the album. She confidently declares on her first track “Nonbinary” that “I do what I want to do when I want to do it”...the aura of her words can be felt throughout. KiCk i is uniquely her own—effortlessly flowing from ballads featuring Björk to electronic tracks with SOPHIE and Shygirl and even a reggaeton-inspired track featuring Rosalía. In an interview for Garage Magazine, she discussed her multifarious nature within KiCk i, stating that “there was a clear intention [on the album] to allow every self to express itself...there is no such thing as normal.” This concept of multiple selves can even be seen in her futuristic music video for “Nonbinary”. It is clear that Arca stands out as a pillar for queer identity within the pop and electronic genres, making her one of the top cultural resetters of 2020.
Stream 'KiCk i':
"Open today, as you navigate your world. It's time to rise."
Coming in at #16 is a future classic from pseudonymous, British collective SAULT called Untitled (Rise). As the collective's third release in 2020, Untitled (Rise) stands apart from their other projects with its larger than life dance beats mixed with guitars and Brazilian percussion. While not much is known about the British group, one thing is for sure: they are looking to make a change. As the follow-up to Untitled (Black Is) we see the elevation and evolution of their sound from moody and despaired to lively and energetic. The project is a testament to brighter futures and better energies following the year the world has had. The project starts us with motivating words with a house flow to follow and keeps us captivated through its many guitar riffs and words of revolution. SAULT’s sound is the perfect end to 2020 and beginning to 2021.
Stream 'Untitled (Rise)':
“There's a rainbow out my window; brown skin poppin', need a pot of gold."
Coming in at #17 is JP4 by the extraordinary Junglepussy. This album is bursting with themes of self-love, female empowerment and sexual positivity. Junglepussy (aka Shayna McHayle) is known for being one of the most risk-taking and hilarious rappers on the scene today. The New York native has continued to incorporate empowerment in her strong flows as she raps about the real things people experience while navigating both relationships and life. Her ability to fuse hard-hitting rap lines and deep, uplifting messages is not easy to come by and is truly culturally resetting.
“To stake dominion over all that one surveys is the virile, viral way"
Ranked #18 of TCR’s Top 20, Græ is a modern piece of an undefined mix of electric-soul, indie and rock. Græ earned it place at #18 due to its undefined uniqueness and theatrical development of a story. Behind this genius is Moses Semney. Settled in a small town in North Carolina, Moses brings an extraterrestrial component to his lyrical rebellion. Semney refused to work with LA labels who tried to fit him to a mold of a musician he was not. As a result of standing his ground, Semney has found a new path to success in the music industry without conforming. His persistence and individuality make him a part of the new and better music where the power is in the hands of the artists.
“Y no me pidas que te llame / No te rescataré más nunca”
Coming in at #19 is the award-winning Miss Columbia by queer, Colombian-Canadian artist Lido Pimienta. Written and arranged entirely by Pimienta herself, Miss Columbia is a carefully-crafted meditation on the pitfalls of racism and misogyny in the everyday life of black and brown girls. The project brings the traditional rhythms, narratives, and instrumentation of Afro-Columbian culture to the forefront with brash confidence—a globally popular sound only just now getting its fair recognition in the Canadian music industry. Pimienta’s musical prowess, as well as her deep passion for uplifting the experiences of brown-skinned girls, denouncing bigotry, and openly critiquing societal norms that cripple people of color, shine brightly on this meticulously arranged piece. Miss Columbia sets a standard; it is a stylish and direct confrontation of hatred in a way that is a fitting follow-up to Pimienta’s debut LP La Papessa which earned her a 2017 Polaris Prize win—the highest musical honor in Canada. This project is clearly one of a long line of previous and future works designed to revolutionize and reset the culture of discrimination, making it more than deserving of its placement on The Cultural Reset’s Top 20 of 2020.
Stream 'Miss Columbia':
“Heart took some damage, I wish I could vanish”
Taking the #20 slot of TCR’s ‘Top 20 of 2020’ is 23-year-old, Mexican-American singer-songwriter Omar Apollo’s newest release Apolonio. Boasting a wide array of music styles ranging from pop-funk to the narrative-inspired Mexican Corrido, Omar Apollo’s latest release effortlessly reinvents the intention of the long-form project. Sacrificing cohesion for authenticity, Apolonio paints a realistically disjointed portrayal of youthful desire and inner conflict. The project seamlessly blends the funk-inspired stylings of a Parliament Funkadelic era George Clinton with the ambitious and sensual vocal production of a ‘War and Leisure’ era Miguel to a singular end: connecting the lived experience of one to the feelings of others. In an interview with Pitchfork, Omar recalls how his own experience as the child of Mexican immigrants influences his music along with his own “first-hand experiences with love” in his youth. To him Apolonio is an opportunity to connect himself with others in a way that reflects the yearning and infatuation of the project. It stands out as a real collection of the raw musings of young adulthood done different and done right--a feat not easily, or commonly, undertaken in the industry nowadays. And as such it is, without doubt, worth of its placement on the list.