Pop icons matured and bands explored the dark side on the best albums of 2022

The year’s best included works by Harry Styles, The 1975, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and more.

In music, 2022 was a year full of stunning releases — in which a pop star showed growth, an icon displayed her roots, a British band felt like home, a folk band went for the dark and the light, and a Puerto Rican star reveled in his global appeal.

The albums to which I gravitated are, I expect, the last remnants of the musical and creative surge artists experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people started to come out of isolation, these musicians were ready to greet them.

Here are my seven favorite albums of 2022:

“Harry’s House,” Harry Styles

Following up the success of his sophomore album “Fine Line” could have proven an impossible task for Styles, but “Harry’s House” meets that challenge — and in many instances, the album outpaces the rest of his discography.

On “Harry’s House” we get a bit more lyrical exploration from Styles, backed with stellar production and thoughtful instrumental use. It’s also the best album to showcase his range as a vocalist, with high notes in “Daydreaming” and a lower, equally evocative register in “Love of My Life.” It’s one of those albums where there isn’t a single bad song.

Styles’ self-titled debut album was safe, while “Fine Line” was a step up, a sign of Styles coming into his own. “Harry’s House” launches what I anticipate to be the beginning of a more experimental, free era in his discography.

“Being Funny In A Foreign Language,” The 1975

The British pop band’s fifth album was somewhat of a relief for die-hard 1975 fans, after their last two albums didn’t hit the spot. “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” is a return to some of the crucial elements for which the band is known: Gut-wrenching, emotion-driven lyrics set to a background of catchy, experimental pop.

It’s like coming home, which might be what inspired their home-themed stage set-up on tour. But it also pays homage to the heavier, more melancholic melodies and ideas the band explored in their last two albums. Dolled up with saxophone and other jazz hints, “BFIAFL” is the perfect showcase of a band that exploded onto the scene and now has the freedom to experiment while staying true to its roots.

(Lola & Pani ! Island Records/Interscope) The cover of Dermot Kennedy's album "Sonder."

“Sonder,” Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy’s second album, “Sonder,” in many ways, is the exact opposite of his debut “Without Fear.” The first album was chock-full of intensity, while “Sonder” feels like its bright, untainted younger sibling. Even the cover is lighter, a gentle, brighter picture compared to the dark, brooding image on “Without Fear.”

“Sonder” is delicate and thoughtful, with Kennedy being reflective and thankful. His knack for empathetic songwriting and killer production shine.

The singles from “Sonder” did well on their own, but the album’s true merit comes from the fact that you must listen top to bottom, just to get the full effect of the stunning closer, “Blossom.”

(Republic Records via AP) This image released by Republic Records shows "Midnights" by Taylor Swift.

“Midnights,” Taylor Swift

I admit to being a bit underwhelmed by Swift’s 10th studio album, but it still charts high on my 2022 list because of its best moments.

“Anti-Hero” is some of her finest lyrical work. The album has other gems, including “Lavender Haze,” “Snow On The Beach” (her duet with Lana Del Rey) and “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” “Midnights” is also a nod to Swift’s roots from all of her past albums. In each track and progression, true Swifties can pinpoint which previous album/era it can fit in with.

(The album also got a midnight listen from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and his daughter.)

(Dualtone/Decca Records) The cover of The Lumineers' album, "Brightside."

“Brightside,” The Lumineers

You know a band is good when you have trouble picking just one of their albums as a favorite. That’s the case for me with The Lumineers, though “Brightside” might just be at the top.

The Americana folk band is known for its penchant of staying true to the genre and also having general popularity. “Ho Hey” from their 2012 self-titled album is what many think of, and for the deeper fans, anything from “Cleopatra.”

“Brightside” is a perfect combination of those two albums, a listen for the bright days and the dark. It’s melancholic and appreciative. It’s proof that the band just keeps getting better.

“Un Verano Sin Ti,” Bad Bunny

At this point in the year, it feels like a monumental task to try and describe why I loved “Un Verano Sin Ti,” what with all its success.

There’s something for everyone on this album, whether you are a native Spanish speaker or not. There are hints of reggae, dance, bomba and bachata. All 23 songs are perfectly crafted, but my favorites are “Moscow Mule,” “Tarot” (featuring Jhayco) and “Un Ratito.”

What’s most remarkable about the album is its ability to achieve mass audience appeal, a testament to the changing face of what’s deemed “world music” and its popularity in general music markets.

“Superache,” Conan Gray

There’s a subset of younger artists coming into the pop music scene that are brimming with talent. (Examples include Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett and Gracie Abrams.) Conan Gray isn’t necessarily new to the music industry, but “Superache” is the album that put him on the spot for me.

In all 12 tracks, Gray manages to capture a unique sense of isolation, loneliness and longing. Each song has a sense of rekindled and familiar pain to it. With Dan Nigro’s production, “Superache” is an anthem album that often can be devastating. It’s for those who have experienced heartbreak, unrequited love, or just feel like they’ve been processing certain things for far too long. It comfortably licks old wounds in a crafty way.

The singles

I’d be remiss in not mentioning singles from artists I discovered through the app TikTok that I spinned all year, many on constant repeat: “21″ from Gracie Abrams, “July” from Noah Cyrus & Leon Bridges, “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)” from Omar Apollo, “Quarter Life Crisis” from Taylor Bickett and “Can I Be Him” from James Arthur.

Through TikTok, too, I discovered (and re-discovered) past releases that I fell in love with all over again, including “For Emma, Forever Ago” by Bon Iver, “Speak Now” by Taylor Swift (arguably one of her best albums) and “Strange Desire” from the Bleachers.