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The Best Albums of 2022

Best of Music List Variety
Lamar: Getty Images; Swift/Rosalia; Courtesy Image; Lizzo: Courtesy of AB+DM

There’s really hardly such a thing as a hive mind in music anymore. Accordingly, there are no direct repeats among the two Variety music critics’ top 10 lists … at least not until you factor in our respective honorable mentions, at which point it turns out that, when you get down to it, everybody does like consensus leaders like Beyoncé, Rosalía, SZA and Wet Leg. But the general lack of crossover between our lists is a further indication that, now more than ever, music is not just your greatest entertainment value but your greatest multiverse. In 2022, music reached the point where more than 100,000 new songs were being uploaded to DSPs every day, and while no one broke out how many albums that adds up to, suffice it to say that no one is coming close to keeping up with all the records that get critical love in a year, let alone the detritus falling to completely deaf ears in a forest. What we can strive for is to take in as many as possible of the thousands of terrific recordings being released in a year, before succumbing to the inevitability that any path into the year’s greatness is going to have a strong choose-your-own-adventure component.

Deputy music editor Jem Aswad and I have plenty of adventures in store for you in the top 10s below. You’ll find a lot of consensus favorites among these lists, including Taylor Swift, whose “Midnights” was just designated by the RIAA as the year’s most highly certified new seller, and Beyoncé, whose “Renaissance” has dominated early critics’ consensus lists, with Rosalía’s “Motomami” not so far behind. There’s room here for polarizing picks, too, like Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” a record that produced such split opinions (most of all within fans’ own minds) that it was destined to land in most consensus top 10s but also foreordained not to be No. 1 on any of them.

No matter what your tastes, any music lover is going to find something brand new to cherish, checking out these multi-faceted, multi-genre lists. If not? Maybe you’re the problem, it’s you. —senior music writer/chief music critic Chris Willman