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The Daily Californian's Arts Awards: Music of 2022

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(Columbia Records/Courtesy)


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DECEMBER 13, 2022

Best Pop Album

Winner: RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé

This year, the queen brought all the punches. Opening RENAISSANCE with “Please, motherf—ers ain’t stopping me,” Beyoncé decimates anyone who gets in her way before they even get a chance to find their footing. Such is the Beyoncé way, honed expertly on Lemonade, which tore new ones for not just Jay-Z, but cheaters everywhere. RENAISSANCE doesn’t stray too far from this verbal effrontery (it’s a formula that works uncannily well nowadays), but it knows how to have fun too.

The silliness of RENAISSANCE is two fold. On the lyrical end, Bey is “deadass.” Musically, she’s dipping her toes into house and disco, promptly teleporting listeners to the dancefloor. Of course, Beyoncé doesn’t do anything halfway — the record’s innovation is comprehensive and incredibly attuned to detail. “MOVE” is enlivened by Grace Jones, “ENERGY” samples Teena Marie and “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” even features production from PC Music’s AG Cook. 

The embracing of varied and often historically Black and queer musical styles is indicative of a broader trend seen in Beyonce’s oeuvre: making it bigger than herself, tethered to a lineage of artists. The composite that results not only fixes its gaze to the past, paying homage and debts, but also on the present, raising the collective bar.

— Emma Murphree

Photo of album cover for "Renaissance" by Beyoncé.
(Columbia Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: Crash by Charli XCX

Charli XCX’s fifth studio album, Crash, is absolute pop perfection. An amalgamation of her more recent, PC-Music-inspired experimentation, such as “Vroom Vroom” and “Claws,” and her early-2010s bubblegum aesthetics, such as “Fancy” and “I Love It,” the LP is bound to please fans both old and new. 

Returning to the music scene with a much more mainstream ethos, Charli grants listeners digestible, nevertheless authentic tracks all while holding onto the unassailable energy that permeates her entire catalog. Whether one is a full-blown pop die-hard or skeptical of the genre’s integrity, the album is a worthwhile listen and a clear depiction of Charli’s expansive vision for popular music’s future. 

— Ian Fredrickson

Best Alternative Album

Winner: Laurel Hell by Mitski

Darkly electronic, confessional and haunting, Mitski’s Laurel Hell eludes genre. Considerably more upbeat than her earlier works, her sixth studio album is not a departure from the “sad girl” label she champions. Rather, its delicate balance of joy and despair proves Mitski’s ability to translate emotion into sound no matter the genre. 

While the album may be proof of her expansion into the experimental, drawing from brassy new wave and disco pop, on Laurel Hell, Mitski “stays soft.” She hasn’t lost her precise, cutting lyricism or the confessional songwriting she’s known for, even when these elements are laid jarringly over a stuttering synth. Her usual rawness is enhanced by the techno production. On opening track “Valentine, Texas,” she moves from a familiarly melancholic softness to a sudden swell of synth, her voice deep and mercurial against the soaring electronic strings.

Like the Southern Appalachian thicket of laurels that inspired its name, Laurel Hell is dense and explosive. “Fill me up,” she implores on the buoyant dance pop adjacent “Love Me More,” going on to fill listeners up herself until they are brimming with an exhilarating spectrum of emotions. Barely longer than 30 minutes, the album swirls into an apotheosis, like the suck of a hurricane or the slow creep of a storm before its slam, eventually receding and leaving listeners windswept and intoxicated. 

— Vivian Stacy

Album cover of "Laurel Hell" by mitski
(Dead Oceans/Courtesy)

Runner-up: Beatopia by beabadoobee

After the release of her debut record Fake It Flowers, it seemed safe for critics and casual listeners to confine beabadoobee, otherwise known as Beatrice Laus, to electric anthems about Gen-Z adolescence. Following the acclaim of “Coffee,” her first online hit, the artist diverted from the acoustic innocence of the tune and chased after the bold sound of 90s bands.

But with Beatopia, Laus distances herself from these influences and crafts her own sonic dreamworld. Whimsical in vision, the record emulates the childhood habitat she created as a student, but is informed by the emotional intellect of adulthood.

The album centers the charm of Laus; her simplistic poeticism and intimate vocals serve as the heart of this make-believe land. Across visions of star-crossed love and relatable reflections on mental health, Beatopia is fond but never trite, saccharine but always sensible. 

— Dominic Ceja 

Best Rock Album

Winner: Sometimes, Forever by Soccer Mommy

Equally heartbroken and hearty with liquefied hope, Soccer Mommy’s third studio album, Sometimes, Forever, follows her proven pattern of carving listeners open. From the engulfing opening track “Bones,” with a guitar’s sharp scrape undercutting earnest and aching lyrics, to the clashingly experimental thrum of “Unholy Affliction,” the album’s sinewy palate crests, building to a crystalline, cutting climax. Deliberately discordant, the album is perhaps Soccer Mommy’s (whose real name is Sophie Allison) boldest work.

Sometimes, Forever is aptly named for Allison’s themes of writing about the lasting nature of temporary things — the way saying goodbye stays with you, scabbed over like a wound. The way Allison writes about love is desperate and loaded: In “Shotgun,” yearning sharpens under her electric guitar, while in “With U” she melts it down like hot metal, a blacksmith forging sound, red-hot and sparking. 

Guitar-thick, Sometimes, Forever is opaquely haunting in places, even as it burns fiercely in others. Heartbreak festers on “Fire in the Driveway,” which softens the rest of the album’s intensity without sacrificing fervor. It evokes the effortless grit of 90’s dark rock, delving also into shoegaze’s drawling soundscape and indie rock’s soft smolder. Producer Daniel Lopatin’s influence can be felt between the cracks — known for his work with artists such as The Weeknd, Tim Hecker and FKA twigs, he emerges in the album’s industrial jar and clash. 

Loaded with unsprung release, rubber band-taut, Sometimes, Forever lingers long after the pulse of its closing song “Still” fades and flickers away.

— Vivian Stacy

Photo of album cover of Soccer Mommy's "Sometimes, Forever."

Runner-up: Blue Skies by Dehd

In 2022, indie rock is on the come down. Once in vogue, the genre feels stale in the presence of the ethereal synths and sticky “beep beep boop boop” of hyperpop. But occasionally, a gem comes to the fore. Chicago three-piece Dehd released one such specimen this year, Blue Skies, a compact, 13-track LP inflected with cheerily minimalist production and songwriting. 

Much of the album’s intrigue is sourced vocally, through Emily Kempf and Jason Balla’s sundry delivery that hues to that of Alex G on “Runner,” off the other standout rock album from this year. This whimsy is perhaps best captured on “Bad Love,” where Kempf repeatedly barks “I was a bad love/ Now I can get some/ I got a heart full of redemption.” Who knows how to define “bad love” or what it means to have “a heart full of redemption” — the mystique just makes it hit even harder.

— Emma Murphree

Best Rap Album 

Winner: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar’s first album in five years, is, among other things, not what most people expected from the rapper’s fifth studio album. It gets close to going hard, then backs off. It drops a distasteful slur. It wavers on a bed of self-doubt instead of confidence. It’s angry and shy, all at once. It’s not an ultimately satisfying album.

But Lamar’s return remains characteristic to the sonic palette he’s cultivated. His poetic rhythm meshes with lyrics that confront the skeletons that nagged at him as his career ballooned. His style works overtime, not as a vehicle for the genre’s usual bragging, but as his mode of disinheritance. He’s been embraced by high-society tastemakers; Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is all about what they don’t know, the things that might cause them to reject him. 

The album draws in and alienates its listener in equal measure. Lamar doesn’t ask so much as provoke his audience to wonder what’s fair to expect of an artist. He urges them to listen consciously and decide whether they care if he’s trying to push them away.

Dominic Marziali

Album cover of "Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers" by Kendrick Lamar
(Interscope Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: Traumazine by Megan Thee Stallion

In her second studio album, Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion moves beyond the various alter egos she’s appeared as — Tina Snow, Suga, Hot Girl Meg — to the one she has not yet faced: herself. The album takes its name from the chemical released in the brain when one is forced to confront the painful emotions caused by traumatic experiences. In a hallmark of personal and artistic growth, Traumazine definitely works through trauma, and a whole lot more. 

Throughout the album’s 18 tracks, Megan fuses social and political commentary with accounts of her personal experiences. She weaves between hard-hitting beats and mellowed tunes to create a listening experience that speaks to a diverse audience, teaching them insecurities are normal, and that opening a dialogue can help build community and move forward.  

— Beatrice Aronson

Best Indie/Folk Album

Winner: Once Twice Melody by Beach House

On Once Twice Melody, dream pop duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, better known as Beach House, compose a glistening mosaic of hazy ephemerality and half-worn memories. Their eighth studio album sees the pair venture into the most expansive of their endeavors; they craft a wistful panorama that begins in the shadowy solitude of the “summer sun” and concludes with serene companionship set against the backdrop of a “darkness” where “the universe collects us.”

Legrand and Scally continue to thread narratives together through sparse yet intimate lyrics, but now against high-definition synthesizers and strings. The result is a kaleidoscopic, stadium-sized dreamscape that envelops lead vocalist Legrand’s lens of the world. The inventive, refined mistiness of Once Twice Melody meets its match with opaque, cutting lyrics. The album is primarily concerned with the unsayable — the chasm that clouds an individual when one is on the precipice of understanding another, but finds oneself locked within that liminal space.

The melodic equivalent of a gleaming shooting star — always oscillating between the dim and the luminous — Once Twice Melody transforms Beach House’s trademark reverie into a palatial, opulent trance. “When you were mine, we fell across the sky,” Legrand croons in early stand-out track “Superstar.” “It may be out of sight, but never out of mind,” she continues, the shooting star and her enduring affection one and the same. Like both, Once Twice Melody lingers in the recesses of one’s recollection. It’s an album listeners find themselves yearning to relive, if only to find solace in their own yearning to be understood by another.

— Hafsah Abbasi 

Photo of album cover for Beach House's "Once Twice Melody."
(Sub Pop Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: Preacher’s Daughter by Ethel Cain

With an abundance of musical projects that fail to crystallize a singular vision, Ethel Cain’s debut LP, Preacher’s Daughter, is certainly an outlier in the best sense. Preacher’s Daughter focalizes a highly-specific milieu; what Lana Del Rey did for the nostalgia of mid-century Americana, Ethel Cain reconfigures into post-9/11 Southern Gothic. 

But Preacher’s Daughter isn’t all persona and theater, as Cain’s musical prowess is never cast to the margins. Assembling heartland rock alongside airy dream pop and violent, brutal balladry, the record’s genrelessness is all part of Cain’s bit: contradictory fragments artfully threaded together through sheer force of will.

— Emma Murphree

Best International Album 

Winner: MOTOMAMI by Rosalía

In a true testament to the international appeal of the Spanish artist Rosalía, her third studio album MOTOMAMI became the second most-streamed female album worldwide this year. It was praised by musical critics upon its release for its flawless experimentation and genre-bending sound. 

The album was inspired by the Latin music Rosalía danced to as a child and draws heavily upon reggaeton, while also incorporating elements of bachata, hip-hop, flamenco, art pop, chiptune, bolero, electropop and dembow. In what Rosalía has described as her most personal album to date, the lyrics cover topics including transformation, sexuality, heartbreak, celebration, spirituality, self-respect and isolation — in essence, something for everyone to relate to. 

Though she partners with Canadian artist The Weeknd on “La Fama” — the album’s smooth, bachata-influenced lead single — and with Tokischa on “La Combi Versace,” Rosalía powers through the album’s remaining 14 tracks on her own. In doing so, she paves the way for female Spanish artists to gain international recognition.  

MOTOMAMI is separated into two binaries: “Moto” as the divine and experimental, and “Mami” as the genuine, personal and vulnerable side. Rosalía proves herself to be a master of experimentation as she finds a way to strike the perfect chord in balancing these themes and varied genres, leaving listeners with what can only be described as a musical masterpiece.

— Beatrice Aronson

(Jonathan Hale / Senior Staff)

Runner-up: Born Pink by BLACKPINK

BLACKPINK may not release music as frequently as other artists, but when it does, it is sure to leave an impression. Teasing its project Born Pink with the single “Pink Venom,” the K-pop band not only aimed to expand on its core concept as a powerful girl group with a range of talents, but it sought to push the boundaries of its previous music. 

Songs such as “Shut Down” and “Typa Girl” were in tune with BLACKPINK’s signature sound, while “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “The Happiest Girl” branched out with experimentation. A masterclass in growth, BLACKPINK’s second album shows the group reaffirming its place on an international level. 

— Maida Suta

Best Billboard Hot 100 Single

Winner: “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy

“I wish I knew/ I wish I knew you wanted me,” Steve Lacy sings over a catchy, studio-produced instrumental track. Call it love, call it lust — having a crush is a simple aspect of adolescence, but a universal one nonetheless. In his hit summer single “Bad Habit,” Lacy expresses the feelings of desperation, yearning and regret that come from a missed opportunity to “shoot your shot.”

“Can I bite your tongue like my bad habit?” the singer asks, doubly referencing his metaphorical cold feet and alluding to his desired sexual escapades. “Coulda made a move/ If I knew I’d be with you/ Is it too late to pursue?” he sings, describing his inner monologue with earnest vernacular and making his despairing sentiments imminently clear. 

Anyone with a TikTok account is all too familiar with the indie R&B icon’s earworm. Notorious for his lively romantic pining in songs such as “C U Girl,” “Some” and “Dark Red,” Steve Lacy infiltrates the “In My Feels” playlists of Gen Z Spotify users across the globe with yet another simp-tastic tune. 

We can never be fully sure why our minds choose to fixate on that special someone, nor can we be sure if they like us back. But there is one thing that is certain: If you decide to open TikTok today, you’ll be singing this song to yourself for the rest of the week.

— Piper Samuels

Photo of Steve Lacy's "Bad Habit" album cover.
(RCA Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: “Super Freaky Girl” by Nicki Minaj

Unquestionably built for virality, Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl” was one of summer’s most entertaining, energetic songs. Upon release, the track became an instant classic, merging Rick James’ iconic 1981 “Super Freak” with Minaj’s quintessential, sex-forward wordplay. Rapping, “A thong bikini up my a—, I think I’ll go for a dive,” Minaj showcases her knack for absurd lyricism while letting listeners in on a piece of her hilariously horny brilliance. Dancy, bouncy and archetypically clever, Minaj has cemented herself as the queen of samples and proved that a bit of an “F-R-EEEEEE-A-K” lives in everyone.

— Ian Fredrickson


Song of the Year

Winner: “Break My Soul” by Beyoncé

A song of the year needs to do more than just top the charts, it must define an era. And if there is any artist that is up to the task, they call her Queen Bey for a reason.

Beyoncé has no word for “casual” in her dictionary — every breath seems to become a cultural phenomenon. “Break My Soul,” the first single from her 2022 album RENAISSANCE, is no exception to that trend. Juicy and jubilant, the single makes for a perfect track for the populace returning to parties after the past years stuck indoors. Refusing to give in to the stereotype that house music is monotonous, “Break My Soul” builds with every verse. The beat is mesmeric and her vocals follow suit, melding into a nu-disco nirvana.

“Break My Soul” is not the song of the year just because it is an excellent dance track. Heavily reminiscent of ’90s diva house, the track is a celebration of a genre pioneered and championed by Black and queer communities. Featuring a sample from Big Freedia, a queer Black performer based in New Orleans, “Break My Soul” is an anthem of pride and sign of respect for communities that have long been marginalized and still come out dancing. Truly a song for the ages, Beyoncé not only captures a moment, she epitomizes it.   

— Afton Okwu

Photo of album cover for Beyoncé's "Break My Soul."
(Columbia Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: “American Teenager” by Ethel Cain

“God loves you, but not enough to save you, so baby girl good luck taking care of yourself,” Ethel Cain sings with a cool, auto-tuned drawl. “American Teenager” is the second track from Cain’s debut studio album Preacher’s Daughter, and it’s a new kind of anthem for small-town queer girls with religious upbringings and intergenerational trauma. Despite her tendency towards blasé cynicism and hazy melodrama, Cain’s Southern Gothic persona feels wholly authentic. The song’s music video ends with a clever homage to the painting Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, as Cain lies in a field and yearns for something more. 

— Asha Pruitt


Best Music Video

Winner: “Bejeweled” by Taylor Swift

If there’s one thing that Taylor Swift knows how to do, it’s create a music video. Beyond the procedural music videos that artists release nowadays — many with little fanfare and creativity — Swift crafts videos that push the boundaries of what one should expect from music videos. 

Calling back to the good old days of MTV, Swift’s “Bejeweled” music video is full of high-budget concepts and narrative progression. Dazzling visuals reflect the bright and over-the-top, grandeur nature of the track, displaying unfettered opulence at every turn. Even further, Swift employs burlesque icon Dita Von Teese for a surprise cameo in the video, where the two stars shine in a beautifully sultry sequence. 

The final scene of the video sees Swift take ownership of an extravagant fantasy castle complete with dragons after a series of high-profile cameos (including Laura Dern, Alana Haim and Jack Antonoff) in true Swift fashion. Full of fun, vibrance and pure enjoyment, the “Bejeweled” music video is another successful creative endeavor written and directed by Swift herself. 

— Ryan Garay

(Jonathan Hale / Senior Staff)

Runner-up: “Woman” by Doja Cat

Doja Cat possesses the unique talent of both musically and visually representing The Divine Feminine. Her music video for “Woman” begins with a compelling scene: Male intruders threaten the queen (Teyana Taylor) of an intergalactic kingdom. Doja Cat appears as a sensual, otherworldly warrior who distracts and disarms the men. She, along with other empowered women, sultrily dances while sporting various elaborate, futuristic costumes. Doja Cat and her squad are depicted in front of several vibrant, natural backdrops — such as stars, sand, water and fire. By associating women with Earthly elements, Doja Cat emphasizes the power and necessity of femininity. In the video’s conclusion, Doja Cat slowly entangles herself within a shimmering tree, indicating she has succeeded in her quest. The video is not only aesthetically splendid, but also an imaginative celebration of matriarchy. 

Tatum Handel


Best Collaboration 

Winner: “Beg For You” by Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama

After teasing the track for far too long, Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama finally gave in to begging from fans this year, releasing their gem of a collaboration “Beg For You.”

A sparkling single hot off Charli’s acclaimed Crash, “Beg For You” sweetens 2000s bubblegum pop with longing from the dance floor. Although the song is about being chained by lust, its club-ready production suggests a sense of freedom. It’s buoyant and bright, knitting together elements of disco and house to hit that euphoric pop sweet spot.

Part of the song’s euphoria comes from its nostalgic roots; “Beg For You” seamlessly interpolates “Cry For You,” the 2006 hit from Swedish singer September. Yet Charli and Sawayama turn September’s track on its head by begging for someone back, rather than leaning into the memeification of the viral lyric “You’ll never see me again.”

While riding the slick sampled melody, the UK pop darlings romanticize late night obsession and bathroom hookups — among other things. The two transform desperation into an irresistible invitation, shaping brazen sensuality with an intriguing angle.

“Beg For You” proves that being horny on the main can pay off — sometimes, you just have to get on your knees.

— Taila Lee

Charli XCX album cover
(Warner Records/Courtesy)

Runner-up: “Snow on the Beach” by Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey

Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey have notably different music styles. Swift takes a sweet, confessional approach, while Del Rey often imbues her art with a dark seductiveness. Their collaboration can then be described as “weird, but f—ing beautiful.” Commencing with dainty chimes, “Snow on the Beach” encapsulates the magic of realizing one’s love is being reciprocated. 

While Del Rey does not have a distinct verse, she yields a substantial influence on the song. Del Rey’s hauntingly beautiful vocals smoothly collide with Swift’s, saturating the song with ethereality. “Snow on the Beach” is adorned with stunning, cosmic imagery. Both Swift and Del Rey display remarkable prowess in the track’s dreamy lyricism, proving their musical pairing is a match made in heaven.

— Tatum Handel

Best International Artist

Winner: Rosalía

La fama “es demasiada’o traicionera” — fame is too treacherous. Even so, it looks good on Rosalía. The release of MOTOMAMI in 2022, a truly global record, thrust the Spanish singer into the upper crust of pop stardom. It hasn’t gone unremarked upon that Rosalía’s massive success is in some ways unprecedented: Genre-blending often doesn’t sit well with commercial audiences.

But El Mal Querer’s flamenco-influenced electronica broke through in 2018, and the mosaic of pop, reggaeton and hip hop on MOTOMAMI yielded even bigger returns in 2022, swiftly becoming one of the year’s most rapturously received records. El Mal Querer cohered through its genre homogeneity and overt religious themes, but things were a little trickier for MOTOMAMI. The record is more reliant on Rosalía’s vocal fortitude and the musical skill that inhere within a project so valiantly committed to inventiveness and unrestraint. 

On the opener, “SAOKO,” Rosalía warms up; a fizzling of jazzy drums and a couple strident “¿Chica que dices?” fill the empty space before she goes full reggaeton. Her delivery is what makes the track, and the rest of the album too. The word “saoko” is a bit of Puerto Rican slang that Rosalía borrows not just for this track but to form the entire ethos of the record. “Saoko” symbolizes “energy, movement, sauce,” she explains in her Genius interview. Who’s to say what’s in the sauce, but Rosalía’s certainly got it.

— Emma Murphree


Runner-up: BLACKPINK

After yet another hiatus, fans across the globe were anxious about the girls’ upcoming return to music — but BLACKPINK showed that fans had no reason to be antsy. With a bombastic return to music starting with their single “Pink Venom” and leading into their sophomore album Born Pink, the girls came back with a vengeance, building on their signature strong, feminine sound while also expanding their repertoire.

Now on its record-breaking world tour, BLACKPINK continues to demonstrate why it has only grown more popular since its 2016 debut. With stunning vocals and entrancing performances, the girls are an absolute standout in such a competitive international market. BLACKPINK may take its time in between releases, but it is clear that the band is here to stay, easily surpassing its own records and making its mark as an internationally recognized girl group. 

— Maida Suta

Best Breakout Artist

Winner: Omar Apollo

From cracking the Billboard 200 to collaborating with Daniel Caesar and Kali Uchis, it seems Omar Apollo can do it all. Though his previous EPs and mixtape have established his blossoming artistry, it’s with his debut studio album Ivory that Apollo proves his irrepressible talent. Wreathed in the crackling guitar riffs of “Talk” and the stratospheric belts of “Petrified,” the singer’s covetable range — whether generically or vocally — spans as wide as “Desvelado” and “Prototype,” his two 2022 headlining tours. 

Effusing magnetic charisma in both his onstage presence and in-studio candor, Apollo is an artist secure in his discographic niche, evocatively fusing bedroom-pop croons with laidback R&B, fizzling trap and Latin instrumentation. He’s also unafraid to be vulnerable in his lyrics: Alternating between English and Spanish, he wears his heart on his sleeve and in his voice. The combination of his sonic allure and aching songwriting is a concoction poised to seize the world by storm, tugging at listeners’ ears and heartstrings.

As the soulful, yearning-drenched “Evergreen” makes its infectious rounds across TikTok, so too does Apollo’s stardom rocket skyward. Though the Grammy-nominated artist has swept stages, captivated music festivals and surfaced the charts in an astoundingly successful year, it’s clear that the 25 year-old singer has hardly broken his peak: While Apollo might sing “Want U Around,” it’s the music industry that will want him back. 

Esther Huang

(Jonathan Hale / Senior Staff)

Runner-up: Wet Leg

British indie rockers Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers formed Wet Leg only three years ago, but their self-titled album released has already earned five Grammy nominations. The massive success of their infectious debut “Chaise Longue” gave haters ammo to call the band an “industry plant,” but the two cleverly poked back at misogynist trolls on social media. Their lyrics are cheeky and cynical, but by no means disingenuous, and Teasdale’s dry monologue echoes Courtney Barnett and Sidney Gish. Wet Leg’s undeniable sense of humor and showmanship led to Harry Styles covering their iconic single “Wet Dream,” and the band will join him on his international tour next year. 

— Asha Pruitt

Artist of the Year

Winner: Beyoncé

Whether it’s 1997 or 2022, Beyoncé makes one thing certain: She’s that girl

Queen Bey turns lemons into lemonade, takes heartbreak and turns it into a dance anthem. Beyoncé may have made her name in R&B, but she has continually proven that she cannot be contained to just one genre. 2016’s Lemonade saw her collaborate with rock mainstay Jack White on angry, anthemic “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” On Everything Is Love, her rap skills surpassed those of husband Jay-Z. Now, with her 2022 album RENAISSANCE, she doesn’t need to raise the bar — she is the bar. 

Throughout RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé doesn’t feel the need to prove her powerhouse vocals. Instead, she gets playful with genre and sound. While “Heated” opens with her soft, honeyed voice, it concludes with mischievous, rhythmic spoken word. Nevertheless, album standout “Cuff It” calls back to her earlier work, thriving in the upper octaves as the artist sings, “I feel like fallin’ in love, / I’m in the mood to f— somethin’ up.”

Interpolating and sampling predecessors and contemporaries, Beyoncé both acknowledges her position in musical history and carves out a new sound. With the glimmering, ascendent success of RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé ushers in a new era of dancefloor hits like the flawless, alien superstar that she is. 

— Lauren Harvey

(Jonathan Hale / Senior Staff)

Runner-up: Taylor Swift

When Taylor Swift announced the release of her 10th studio album and commanded, “Meet me at midnight,” the world followed without question. With Midnights, Swift once again proves her status as a pop enchantress capable of luring millions under her evocative songwriting spell. Awash in shades of lavender and maroon, she confidently returns to her vibrant confessional pop roots, while also shedding a little skin to show her steamier side.

Balancing ambition, personal relationships and life in the scrutinizing public eye, Swift is (mostly) past breaking hearts on Midnights, but that isn’t stopping her from breaking nearly every record in the book. She became the first artist in history to occupy the entire top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 in a single week, with Midnights also being the most-streamed album in 24 hours. There’s no denying that a diamond’s gotta shine, and Swift is the brightest gem of 2022.

Anne Vertin

Contact Taila Lee at 


DECEMBER 13, 2022