The first ten days of 2016 started off on a sour note with the deaths of Natalie Cole and David Bowie. At the same time, it launched with one shining glimmer of hope — namely, Bowie’s astonishing farewell album, Blackstar, released just two days before his death — which paved the way for more bold sounds that gave Us a lot to be thankful for.
Yet nothing was able to top the pinnacle reached by Mrs. Beyoncé Knowles Carter, who helped dry our purple tears by dropping her depth-defying visual album, Lemonade, just two days after Prince’s untimely passing in April.
Us Weekly’s Entertainment Director Ian Drew has once again narrowed down the best albums and tracks of the year for your listening pleasure, starting with Queen Bey. Check out the full lists below:
Best Albums of the Year
1. Beyoncé, Lemonade
She slayed, all right. Taking a baseball bat to convention, Queen Bey’s grandest surprise yet was a genre-melding visual album and a global cultural event. Her manual for surviving marital turmoil — from betrayal (“Pray You Catch Me”) and anger (“Sorry”) to forgiveness (“All Night”) — spoke volumes to every woman and launched a thousand memes (future generations will be trying to figure out who Becky with the good hair is for years to come). Also boasting the middle-fingers-up rallying cries “Freedom” and “Formation,” the album possesses a brilliance that was just about the only thing we could all agree on in 2016. Your turn, Jay.
2. Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings
Country’s answer to Lemonade explored what happens on the other side of divorce. Pulling herself out of the wreckage, Lambert (on the heels of her sudden divorce from Blake Shelton in the summer of 2015) struggles to put the pieces of her broken heart back together and finds the nerve to dip her toe into budding romance in the fantastic, spare “Pushin Time,” accompanied by new boyfriend Anderson East. This double-disc epic proves it’s all about the journey.
3. Frank Ocean, Blonde
That was harsh. The universe had to wait four long years as the neo-R&B enigma kept missing release dates while he tweaked his transcendental follow-up to 2012’s Channel Orange. A magical dreamscape of sound and stream-of-consciousness narratives about drugs — not to mention a transfixing interpolation of the Carpenters “Close to You” that sounds like it was recorded underwater — new revelations come to the surface with each note. There’s nothing dumb about it.
4. David Bowie, Blackstar
The Man Who Fell To Earth sure knew how to make an exit. By dropping his inventive, jazz-infused meditation on mortality just two days before his death at age 69 following a private battle with cancer, the pop rebel saved his most profound artistic statement for last. “I know something is very wrong,” he moans in the majestic, horn-accented closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Well, not here.
5. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
Taylor Swift might beg to differ, but Ye’s latest was a bombastic masterstroke of his beautiful dark, twisted genius. Reverberating with ceiling-raising gospel (“Ultralight Beam”), defiant stone-throwing (“Famous”) and, oh, yeah, a healthy dose of ego (“Saint Pablo”), he refused to take it easy. We wouldn’t expect any less.
Honorable Mentions: Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth; Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book; Solange, A Seat at the Table; Brandy Clark, Big Day in a Small Town; Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker; Green Day, Revolution Radio; A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service; Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial; Maxwell, BlackSUMMERSnight; Zayn, Mind of Mine; Pet Shop Boys, Super; Metallica, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct; Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger; James Blake, The Colour in Anything.
Best Tracks of the Year
1. Desiigner, “Panda”
Hope you can understand this: It was the year’s most irrepressibly terrific beat — no matter what he’s talking about.
2. Rihanna, “Love on the Brain”
Enough with the work, work, work, work, work. RiRi’s love-starved torch ballad from Anti had Us like ah-ah-ah-ow.
3. Maren Morris, “My Church”
Give her all the amens she wants! Finding redemption on the FM radio dial, the Next Big Thing became a Music City Hero by conjuring a new country classic that could make Hank Williams and Johnny Cash shout “Hallelujah!”
4. Drake, “One Dance”
Drizzy quit kvetching to let go for a moment with a Hennessy in his hand in this island-flavored highlight of the only four great cuts from Views.
5. Zayn, “Pillowtalk”
He’s even sexier than he looks. The boy-bander-in-exile (and Gigi Hadid’s man) took a titanic solo step in the right direction with this deliriously sexy smash. That 1D reunion tour? So not necessary.
Honorable Mentions: Beyoncé, “Formation”; Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles”; Sia, “Alive”; Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna, “This Is What You Came For”; YG & Nipsey Hussle, “FDT”; The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, “Closer”; Maxwell, “Lake by the Ocean”; Miranda Lambert, “Vice;” Yo Gotti, “Down in the DM”; DJ Snake featuring Justin Bieber, “Let Me Love You.”