The 10 best albums of 2021, ranked

See which album took home number one.

by A&E Staff

This year our favorite albums provided us with ounces of escapism, stinging feelings of resentment and something to sing and dance to as we returned to concert halls and karaoke bars.

With another year comes another list. The Minnesota Daily A&E writers have compiled our favorite albums that came out this year. Keep reading to see which 2021 album took home #1.

10. “Montero” by Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X solidified his status as a pop-rap icon through his debut album, titled after his given name: “Montero.” All at once, he unleashes an intimate sort of vulnerability on certain tracks (“Dead Right Now,” “One of Me”) while successfully aiming for the unabashed boldness that’s gotten him this far on others (“Montero (Call Me By Your Name”), “Scoop”). Themes of self-acceptance, criticism and queerness, among others, are present among grungey guitar solos and soaring trumpets. A variety of contributors including Doja Cat, Jack Harlow, Elton John, Miley Cyrus and Megan Thee Stallion only serve to enhance Lil Nas X’s talent. The album’s title track, in all of its controversial glory, best establishes the work’s greatest theme — Lil Nas X does not care to cater to those around him; you either like him or you don’t, and that’s your cross to bear. -Sophia Zimmerman

9. “Solar Power” by Lorde
Prior to the release of “Solar Power,” many members of Gen Z took to TikTok to discuss their angst at a lack of Lorde’s guiding presence in the form of new music. “Pure Heroine” presented booming, unfiltered commentary on the digital age and being a teenager without a care. “Melodrama” was an electric, soaring compilation focused on heartbreak and figuring out one’s self. Unlike her prior work, which sought strength in its place in the coming-of-age genre, “Solar Power” thrives in its minimalistic, airy melodies. It’s a laid back assortment whose true power lies in its artful lyricism. The New Zealand star found fame at a young age and “Solar Power” speaks to the time she spent living as far away from the spotlight as she could. The Lorde of this album is akin to a whispering wellness guru (“Mood Ring”), abandoning her status as a reliable pillar of relatability in favor of one that centers the stillness of the place she’s found herself at. “Solar Power” is an ode to the Earth (“The Path”), to growing up (“Stoned at the Nail Salon”) and to grief (“Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)”), among other things. -Sophia Zimmerman

8. “Vince Staples” by Vince Staples
In Vince Staples’ fourth studio album “Vince Staples,” he creates a personal album that focuses on his upbringing where death loomed around the corner. This album shows Staples’ maturation and willingness to allow fans to enter into his headspace. Kenny Beats produced this album and he does a good job at giving Staples heavy knocking, therapeutic, sensational beats and melodies. Staples rides the beats with ease. This is most apparent in tracks, “ARE YOU WITH THAT?” “LAW OF AVERAGES,” “SUNDOWN TOWN” and “TAKE ME HOME.” The only “bad” thing about the album is the 22 minutes of playtime; however, the replay value is high and priceless. Prior to this album, Staples solidified himself as a unique musician, but this self-titled album proves that he stays true to himself and is here to stay. -Jarrett George-Ballard

7. “Collapsed in Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks
21-year-old singer and songwriter Arlo Parks possesses a talent well beyond her years and makes this clear on her first studio album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” Parks’ background as a poet shines on all 12 tracks, as her lyrics take the form of emotional truths and beautifully complex metaphors. Each song sounds like a reading from Parks’ personal diary, divulging secrets about jealousy, love, mental health and various other aspects of the human condition. The album’s light, jazzy instrumentals compliment her soft vocals nicely and make for a relaxing listen during any hour of the day. “Collapsed in Sunbeams” proved to be the ideal breakout project for Parks, cementing her capabilities as an artist and earning her two Grammy nominations: Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist. -Macy Harder

6. “I Know I’m Funny haha” by Faye Webster
The late-pandemic, post-”Punisher” media environment fostered a surplus of “sad girl” music this year. Olivia Rodrigo, Lucy Dacus and Taylor Swift all successfully cashed in on the action, though not with the same humor as Faye Webster. On her fourth album, the Atlanta-based musician writes timelessly about drinking saké on her front porch, sleeping with the lights on and feeling some type of way, kind of. Lackadaisical singing glides on lush instrumentals that recall ‘70s country and ‘90s neo-soul as Webster laughs at her world’s dreariness in the same way one laughs when an old friend sends a stale Instagram meme: laconically. -James Schaak

5. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift
While the re-recording of Taylor Swift’s “Red” comes nearly ten years after its original release, it’s domination in the Swiftiverse manages to remain just as strong this time around. The subtle differences between the original album and its rerelease make it shine through minor changes in lyrical emphasis (“Treacherous”) and the slightest note tweaks (“Stay Stay Stay”) on certain tracks. Even better than the alternations are the bonus tracks of Taylor’s version, featuring collaborators like Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton and Phoebe Bridgers. While the synthy pop vibes of the original album remain, their sound is enriched by the inevitable richer, mature tone Swift has grown into over time. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” delivers an album of a deeper hue that embraces fiery passion and heartbreak just as firmly as it did in 2012. -Sophia Zimmerman

4. “Home Video” by Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus’ third solo album might just be her best one yet. Her vocals on “Home Video” are powerful and dynamic, which doesn’t come as a surprise to fans of Dacus’ other projects, like her second album “Historian” and supergroup “boygenius.” She caters to a range of musical preferences with this album, offering listeners a mixture of guitar-heavy rock anthems, bubbly pop hits and tender, soft-spoken tracks. As usual, Dacus’ masterful songwriting and storytelling is on full display, as the poetic narratives detailed in “Home Video” transport listeners into some of her most intimate experiences. It will be interesting to see what Dacus’ next studio album brings to the table, because at this rate, they just keep getting better and better. -Macy Harder

3. “Heaux Tales” by Jazmine Sullivan
R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan has been telling the tales of loving with abandonment, stinging betrayal and the everyday beauty and sorrow of womanhood since her 2015 groundbreaking album “Reality Show.” On “Heaux Tales,” Sullivan tests the bounds of her soaring vocals to create an album that displays the intricacies of sexual intimacy — and how it can be wielded as a sort of feminine superpower. Alternating with spoken-word interludes, the songs and lyricism of “Heaux Tales” are at once catchy and empowering yet frank and cutting. “Lost One” seeps with sincerity and “Pick Up Your Feelings” recontextualizes the post-breakup mood, while “Put It Down” revels in the pleasure of sexual pleasure and “Pricetags” reminds its listeners that a little bit of cash goes a long way in a relationship. “Heaux Tales” is a tour de force of raw emotion, powerful vocals and nuanced lyricism. -Nina Raemont

2. “SOUR” by Olivia Rodrigo
The debut album from 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo had quite the grip on the music industry and social media discourse this year. The craze began back in January, when the popstar’s breakout single “Driver’s License” shattered streaming records and quickly gained traction on TikTok. After it seemed like the entire world was singing about getting their driver’s license and venturing through the suburbs, anticipation for “SOUR” continued to grow, and Miss Rodrigo did not disappoint. The album’s 11 tracks detail Rodrigo’s experiences with heartbreak, jealousy and other intimate themes through catchy pop hits and tear-jerking ballads. It’s safe to say that “SOUR” effectively demonstrated Rodrigo’s prowess as both a vocalist and songwriter — the album earned her seven Grammy nominations, including Album of The Year, Song of The Year and Best New Artist. -Macy Harder

1. “Call Me If You Get Lost” by Tyler, the Creator

In an August interview, Tyler, the Creator discussed watching DJ Khaled break down after missing the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 200 to Tyler’s 2019 album, IGOR. The interview helps explain the anatomy of Tyler’s decade-long ascent. By bringing the Kanye/Beyoncé maximalism of early ‘10s hip hop into the alternative realm, Tyler has positioned himself as ambitiously weird, if not always “cool,” then always himself. “Call Me If You Get Lost” finds Tyler in a new alter ego, truly rapping for the first time in recent memory. With an expansive list of guests and styles (Lil’ Wayne raps on a song with a Henry Mancini credit), the mixtape theme of “Call Me If You Get Lost” gives Tyler enough room to weave together disparate ideas and stories (the bisexual love triangle) into a masterpiece that could be described as a magnum opus if it weren’t for the fact that Tyler’s already produced a few of those at this point. “Call Me If You Get Lost” isn’t a realization or a breakout. Consider it the final confirmation that Tyler, the Creator is the best rapper alive. -James Schaak