1. “Renaissance” by Beyoncé
Metacritic score: 91/100
Billboard 200 peak: No. 1
Believe it or not, Beyoncé has never won album of the year, despite several nominations and game-changing drops. It’s ludicrous that the woman with the most Grammy nominations in history has yet to go home with the show’s most prestigious award.
That fact alone would make “Renaissance” the clear frontrunner. Snubbing Beyoncé again would be historically shameful for the Recording Academy, essentially confirming the out-of-touch irrelevance they’ve been repeatedly accused of. (When you have three of the most lauded artists and commercial juggernauts in the world declining to submit their music for consideration — Drake, The Weeknd, and Frank Ocean — some would say it’s already too late for that.)
“Renaissance” also had an undeniable impact on the cultural landscape, as did its two predecessors (“Beyoncé” and “Lemonade”). Across the country, there are bars and clubs hosting events just to play the album in its entirety.
But most importantly, “Renaissance” deserves to win album of the year because it’s the best album of the year. It’s a queer-indebted, house-pop masterpiece with shades of both personal liberation and political resistance; in a society that profits from self-hatred and subjugation, “Renaissance” asserts that joy is a powerful form of rebellion.
In the same song, Beyoncé can call out former President Donald Trump (“Votin’ out 45”) and the oppressive tactics of white women (“Them Karens just turned into terrorists”) while simultaneously calling upon the mythical power of “good energy” and siren-like seductiveness (“I’m crazy, I’m swearing / I’m daring, your man’s staring”). Throughout “Renaissance,” the dance floor is Beyoncé’s ocean and we are the unsuspecting sailors, thrilled to submit to the lure of the disco ball.
To borrow my own wording from two years ago, in the hopes of recreating the same positive outcome, anything other than a “Renaissance” win this year would be a disgrace.
Highlight: “Virgo’s Groove” is a clear highlight, but I just can’t get enough of the flawless transitions between “Alien Superstar,” “Cuff It,” and “Energy.” There hasn’t been a stronger three-song stretch in years. If Beyoncé had only released that one chunk, it would still deserve to win album of the year.
Downfall: If I had to pick the weakest song, I’d go with “All Up in Your Mind,” but it’s still better than anything on “30.”