This year may have been pretty decent for singles, but for albums? Not so much!!! There were very, very few excellent pop LPs released over the last year, but there were at least a handful with some decent bops’n’bangers in tow.
25. Hurts 2B Human – P!nk
It’s odd thinking back to how much I loved P!nk’s 2012 bopfest The Truth About Love, and then kinda just… forgot about 2017’s Beautiful Trauma, and didn’t pay much attention to Hurts 2B Human when it came out earlier this year. So what changed? Not a lot, really; P!nk’s sound has kinda been the same since 2008. But! I’ve since come to appreciate that that’s no bad thing: this album is safe, yes, but in a way… that’s pretty comforting.
24. Beauty Marks – Ciara
Thinkin Bout You is one of my favourite singles of the year, and the rest of this album is pretty great as well. Is it up there with Ciara’s very best? Not quite. But with a guest appearance from Kelly Rowland and under-valued past singles Dose and Level Up, it’s impossible to dislike.
23. Songs For You – Tinashe
I won’t pretend I wasn’t mainlining Flame for months on end, but Tinashe was fucked over quite a bit by major label shenanigans, and her newfound independence is a great fit for her. Songs For You feels like the proper follow-up to Aquarius; all unrestrained creativity and vocals that sound like they’re directly from the heart.
22. Get To Know – Becky Hill
It’s essentially Now! Becky Hill, but Get To Know is a really cracking opportunity to appreciate just how many HITS this under-appreciated artist has quietly notched up over the last few years. The new stuff is brilliant too (I especially love Stranger), proving that – while she’s already achieved so much in the eight(!!!!) years since The Voice – Becky is still only just getting started.
21. GIRL – Maren Morris
I was expecting a bit more of a pivot to Full Pop after the monumental success of The Middle, but GIRL is still a solid record. Song For Everything might be a bit too ~basic for some but I bloody love it, and Flavour is a BIG MOOD.
20. Head Above Water – Avril Lavigne
Fun fact: Avril Lavigne has still never put out a bad album. This latest offering certainly isn’t as “hit”-packed as its predecessors, and there is a liiiiittle bit of a sag in places (Dumb Blonde? Whew!!!), but the best stuff is awesome: the dramatic Tell Me It’s Over is the highlight, while the title track is up there with her best ballads, and Souvenir is lovable enough to fit on 2002’s Let Go.
19. Madame X – Madonna
It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times: Madame X stumbles a bit in places, but when it’s good, it’s fantastic. God Control has rightly become a huge fan favourite, and Medellín is my favourite Madge lead single since Hung Up. And ultimately, as flawed as this may be in places, it’s still so exciting and inspiring to hear someone overflowing with creativity after this long in the game.
18. Sucker Punch – Sigrid
I had higher expectations from this, but Sucker Punch is still so much better than a lot of people gave it credit for. In fact, apart from Don’t Feel Like Crying (which, to be fair, did its job charts-wise), there aren’t any outright bad songs. The title track is among her best ever, and Basic, Mine Right Now and Never Mine are also big treats.
17. Charli – Charli XCX
It’s been a great year for Charli, in fairness: White Mercedes is a stunning semi-ballad, Blame It On Your Love is a stellar Lizzo-ified update on Track 10, and Gone – with Christine and the Queens – could be her best-ever cut. I can’t say I’ve gone back and listened to this album end-to-end again since its release, but I did really like it.
16. Slayyyter – Slayyyter
Have you ever seen the movie Music And Lyrics from the mid-2000s, in which Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore have to write a song for a Britney-style popstar? Not gonna lie, this album reminded me a lot of the sort of ‘semi-parody’ songs that popstar does; or the kind of send-up of the genre you’d hear on The Other Two or from Alexis on Schitt’s Creek. I do like it and it is really good!!!!!!! But since that thought crossed my mind, I haven’t been able to un-think it.
15. Courage – Celine Dion
Just a load of well-made, efficient pop songs; being sung perfectly by one of the greatest vocalists of all time. Nothing more, nothing less.
14. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? – Billie Eilish
I can’t say that I’ve truly ~cOnNeCtEd~ emotionally with the music of Billie Eilish, but fucking hell, what a talent. I’m in awe. She has undoubtedly left a huge footprint on music in 2019 and I’m sure she’s set the pace for a lot of what we’re going to hear in 2020. This is a very well executed debut album.
13. Lexicon – Will Young
It’s no surprise whatsoever that this album is truly beautiful in places. The likes of Dreaming Big and lead single All The Songs are the big favourites for me, and the vocals are stunning as ever. What a treat to still have Will being an excellent popstar after all this time! A king!!
12. Sunshine Kitty – Tove Lo
There’s a LOT to love on Sunshine Kitty, even if it’s not the kind of all-out slam-dunk Tove Lo has given us in the past. Final song Anywhere U Go is the highlight; while lead single Glad He’s Gone, Kylie(!!!) duet Really Don’t Like U and Jax Jones team-up Jacques also hit the spot. Tove has done a lot more for pop music this decade than she’s been given credit for.
11. Doom Days – Bastille
You know what I forgot until recently: when Bastille first came out, I was a massive fan. That Bad Blood album? A triumph!!! Since then, I don’t know if their quality of output slipped or I just got wrapped up in… I dunno, being gay… but I heard Doom Days very recently and loved them all over again. Dan Smith is an underrated force for good.
10. LOVE + FEAR – Marina
There is a lot of EMOTION on this album, which made it a bit hard to get my head around on first listen; but it is another fine showcase of Marina’s songwriting talents. LOVE + FEAR is heavy-going at times but there’s some great work on here; Orange Trees, Handmade Heaven and Clean Bandit bop Baby among the standouts.
09. Cuz I Love You – Lizzo
Even if the strike rate dips a bit in the second half, Cuz I Love You still has enough 10/10 songs on it to make the other pop girls WEEP with jealousy. Cuz I Love You into Like A Girl into Juice into Soulmate into Jerome? Your fave could only DREAM of it! Tempo is awesome too, and of course the addition of ye olde Truth Hurts to the deluxe edition was a smart move for obvious reasons. This has felt like the Year of Lizzo in pop culture, and deservedly so.
08. Fine Line – Harry Styles
Harry found his way around a good melody on his second album, a strong improvement on his promising debut. Recent single Adore You is just divine, while Lights Up rightly turned a lot of heads and Falling is UGH beautiful. I still haven’t decided if Treat People With Kindness is atrocious or fantastic, but if it’s going round your head for days at a time then that’s at least a small win, right?
07. Dedicated – Carly Rae Jepsen
Dismissed and forgotten by many people for just Not Being Emotion, Dedicated does have a lot going for it: Too Much, Want You In My Room, The Sound, Right Words Wrong Time, Party For One, Happy Not Knowing… plenty to keep any self-respecting millennial gay fed and watered! There are duds too, of course (No Drug Like Me says good afternoon!) but in a year almost entirely devoid of perfect albums, you can do a lot worse than this.
06. Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey
Listen, I won’t lie to you, I’ve found it hard to fall as deeply in love with this as The Masses, which I think is just because I have very basic taste and this is a much quieter and less hook-filled affair than I’m used to. But! The quality of songwriting is outstanding, and this is easily my favourite Lana album since Born To Die. This album feels like a real moment.
05. Pang – Caroline Polachek
I hadn’t even heard of Caroline before this year (I know, I know), but Pang has me all-in. So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings is a great bop, the title track is delicious and Door is also a standout. Thank you to whoever introduced this artist to my ears.
04. The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change – Nina Nesbitt
I didn’t realise how much I loved this album until I put this list together, and realised I’d listened to it much more than the most “critically” “lauded” records of the year. It’s a very strong pop collection in that it’s got the perfect blend of catchy, infectious bops, and more introspective, emotive ballads – and it does all that without ever crossing into Boring.
03. Saves The World – MUNA
No such thing as a Difficult Second Album for MUNA: Saves The World is another triumph, perhaps even more emotionally devastating than 2017’s About U. Katie Gavin is an absolutely fantastic lead, and the trio’s songs tackle complicated emotional dilemmas beautifully. Stayaway, for example, isn’t about the dramatic act of ending a relationship but struggling with the empty aftermath of it; and Taken is a frank admission of wanting to steal someone else’s partner in a misguided bid for self-worth. But it’s not entirely made up of depressing ballads: Number One Fan is a fun pep-talk to yourself, while Good News (Ya-Ya Song) is a pure shot of hands-in-the-air catharsis. Brilliant stuff.
02. Lover – Taylor Swift
I was so relieved when Lover turned out to be really good: it’s long, yes, but actually Me! and You Need To Calm Down are the only songs I could properly do without (now that London Boy has become semi-ironically accepted as a gem). Cruel Summer is poised to be one of the best singles of 2020 if given the release it deserves, while the title track is one of Taylor’s finest love songs, Cornelia Street still makes me a bit emotional, Paper Rings is a riot, The Man is super clever, and False God is the kind of vibey territory I’d love her to play with more in the future. As for I Think He Knows and Death By A Thousand Cuts, they are simply two of the best tracks she’s ever made, if you ask me. Of course this doesn’t top 1989 (what will?!?!?!?!), but it comes a lot closer than I expected.
01. thank u, next – Ariana Grande
How do you follow-up a great album if your name is Ariana Grande? By releasing an even better one less than a year later, apparently. thank u, next is the sound of a star at the very height of her superpowers; firing off mature, trap-infused pop with an assured confidence, making it all sound incredibly easy. This is an album that has you dancing one minute and crying the next; the likes of NASA, 7 rings and the title track keeping toes tapping while fake smile and ghostin are full-on emotional assaults. Elsewhere, break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored (Christ these lower-case titles are a pain!!!) is one of the year’s best singles, and those whistle notes on imagine are still jaw-dropping. Where the everloving fuck does she go from here?!