It’s almost easier to define the first half of 2022, musically, by what we haven’t had yet as by what we have. There’s been no big-diva-energy comeback, like an Adele, and no breakout by a new star that brings the world together in rapt pop fascination, like Olivia Rodrigo, who’d captivated us by this point last year, or Billie Eilish not so many years before her. There’s not been a hip-hop record the world can agree on, either, with Kendrick Lamar having come back but produced a somewhat polarizing effort. Without any of these kinds of global consensus picks in the year to date, we’re left as we so often are… with pet sounds.
And if it’s not important to have a No. 1 record that teaches the whole world to sing, then 2022 is turning out to be as fruitful as any other recent one. We’ve had the Latin-pop delights of Rosalia, singer-songwriter goodness from Angel Olsen, Soccer Mommy and Father John Misty, Amber Mark as a new bright light in R&B, raging rock from Jack White, the crackling smart-ass new wave of Wet Leg, country’s Miranda Lambert rediscovering her rowdy side, and Cecile McLorin Salvant breaking more of the rules of jazz. Oh, and even if it is divisive, there is a thumbs- up to be had here for Lamar after all, as still our most fascinating hip-hop leader, whether or not “We Cry Together” is the ultimate skip.
Variety‘s deputy music editor Jem Aswad and senior writer/chief music critic Chris Willman have sifted through the gold in these first six months, even as we await July 29 to see whether Beyoncé will be the one to unite a fractured rhythm nation.