2015’s Best Albums: Idolator Editors Pick Their Favorite 15
Welcome to the end of 2015, a year where, once again, anything seemed to go in pop, and no one really seemed to sell many albums unless their names were Taylor Swift and Adele. That said, the past 12 months still managed to produce some more than decent music, the best of which we’ll be rounding up as the weeks go by.
To kick things off, we’ve gathered together Idolator’s editor picks for the 15 best albums of 2015. Pop, hip hop and DIY sets from newcomers and returning favorites make up our list, so let’s get to it and jump into the finest the year had to offer below.
15. Selena Gomez, RevivalReleased: October 9
In the battle of the former teen queens, Selena Gomez looked the least likely to prevail. Demi Lovato has the better voice, while Miley Cyrus is a living, breathing headline. But the doe-eye diva is killing them quietly with a carefully curated album that proves there’s so much more to her than a famous ex and a Disney sitcom.
Revival is the latest in a long line of female reinvention albums that can be traced back throughout the history of pop. (See: Olivia Newton-John’s Physical, Janet Jackson’s Control and Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, to name just three). The themes here are empowerment, independence and matters of the heart with a sprinkling of upbeat fluff and sultriness. — MIKE WASS
14. Rae Sremmurd, SremmLifeReleased: January 6
Sure, there have been many incredible albums released this year from artists like Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples that made 2015 one of the most exciting times for rap music. But what happens when you just want to turn up and have some fun that may or may not involve a styrofoam cup? (No, we’re not talking about Future this time.)
In comes Rae Sremmurd’s debut LP, SremmLife LP, which is the sole epitome of fire flame emojis. The two brothers from Tupelo, MS (along with the help of Mike WiLL Made-It) created a tight, 11-track wonderment that is filled with warbled lyrics, insanely charged-up chaos, trap-heavy production and overall grimy tracks to get everyone moving (see: “Lit Like Bic” and “Up Like Trump”) — from basement parties to big stage festivals. Not to mention the slight punk aesthetic that underlines Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy’s personalities. What other rising rap act is doing that? — BIANCA GRACIE
13. Ryn Weaver, The FoolReleased: June 16
Was there another album released in 2015 that was as cruelly misrepresented by its lead single as Ryn Weaver’s The Fool? Not that there’s anything wrong with “OctaHate.” A big, bold statement of a song with contributions by Charli XCX and Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, the pop radio hit promised noisy production, huge hooks and sing-along choruses. You can imagine the confusion when listeners were confronted with a sprawling collection of folk ditties and synth-rock oddities.
The irony is that Ryn’s considerable charm and songwriting nous shines through on the quieter, quirkier moments. “Traveling Song,” an ode to her late grandfather, is the most touching pop song of 2015, “Pierre” is a relentlessly-enjoyable romp through the newcomer’s little black book and “New Constellations” has a rare poetry about it. Throw in “Promises” and the gaudy title track and you’ve got one of the year’s slept-on gems. — MIKE WASS
12. Little Boots, Working GirlReleased: July 10
Anyone who takes inspiration, no matter how loosely, from Working Girl, Mike Nichols‘ 1988 romantic-comedy commentary on women in the corporate workplace, is okay by us. On her third LP, Little Boots picks up with the retro house sound she had the prescience to explore with 2012 single “Every Night I Say A Prayer” and 2013 album Nocturnes and runs with it.
The result: a banging, funky jaunt full of confidence, introspection and emotions splayed across sharp grooves. If there’s a direct pop descendant of the cool British dance-pop Saint Etienne and Black Box Recorder were so deft at churning out in their heyday, it is Little Boots’ Victoria Hesketh — one of the few former major label pop acts who’s now doing it their way (via her label On Repeat Records) and doing it perfectly. — ROBBIE DAW
11. Big Sean, Dark Sky ParadiseReleased: February 24
This Detroit rapper created an absolutely exciting storm as soon as his third studio LP Dark Sky Paradise boomed onto the scene back in February. Hands-down his best album thus far, Big Sean has finally proved that he is one to watch — from rap and beyond.
Sean Don may have come across as too corny and try-hard before, but he gained respect by solidifying his artistry. From the fiery flow in “Blessings” to the middle-finger anthem that is “I Don’t Fuck With You,” the rapper rightfully ruled the airwaves for months on end. When an artist you used to skip on your Spotify playlist now creates a body of work that is loved by some of the biggest rappers in the game, you have no choice but to be inspired, shut up and listen. — BIANCA GRACIE
10.Melanie Martinez, Cry BabyReleased: August 14
Imagine the look of confusion on the faces of Atlantic record execs when Melanie Martinez announced that she was making a concept album based around the adventures of a fictional child, complete with toy sounds and an accompanying storybook. It speaks to their imagination and the 20-year-old’s powers of persuasion that it ever got the green light. It’s a flat-out miracle that it works on every level, from the artwork to the music.
Lead single “Pity Party” is a pretty good litmus test for your appreciation of Cry Baby. A dark and demented synth-pop anthem that samples Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” the twisted tune is equal parts euphoria and misery. Other highlights include sullen banger “Soap” (note the amazing bubble drop) and the surprisingly optimistic “Training Wheels.” Intriguingly, the escapades of Cry Baby (the titular character) are far from finished. Melanie has already revealed that she will return for album number two. — MIKE WASS
9. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The MadnessReleased: August 28
Who ever could have predicted that 2015 would be the year The Weeknd would become one of the most sought-after pop stars? The Toronto crooner took the melancholic, drug-laced sonics from his mixtapes that die-hard fans couldn’t get enough of and somehow managed to translate it into something the mainstream couldn’t resist: Beauty Behind The Madness.
It takes talent to have a straight-up pop masterpiece like “Can’t Feel My Face” and the terrifyingly sexy “The Hills” dominate the charts and radio simultaneously, and a Taylor Swift co-sign definitely did not hurt either. The once-mysterious artist who used to hide his face is now owning his stardom. — BIANCA GRACIE
8. Brandon Flowers, The Desired EffectReleased: May 19
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the slicker, glossier albums by higher-profile male artists in 2015, though no less an achievement, was The Desired Effect. Brandon Flowers’ second solo album came half a decade after the arrival of his first, and it’s a much more solid effort. (In fact, it effectively manages to erase any bad taste left over by The Killers‘ last studio album.)
Jettisoning usual producer of choice Stuart Price in favor of working with Ariel Rechtshaid was a gamble Las Vegas crooner Flowers made that paid off in spades. The fruit of their labor is a collection of 10 synth-driven pop songs that possesses a quality most acts typically fumble with at best: timelessness. — ROBBIE DAW
7. Justin Bieber, PurposeReleased: November 13
Whether people want to admit it or not, 2015 was the year of Justin Bieber. After having a hard grip on the charts with his “Where Are Ü Now” collaboration alongside Skrillex and Diplo, the former bad boy decided it was time to give America an apology. And guess what? They actually listened and loved it.
Purpose finds Bieber at his most vulnerable and mature state yet, with his tears-laden lyrics anchored by some of the best production to come out this year. Songs like the dancehall-tinged “Sorry” is vibrant to keep you grooving throughout the cold winter, while “No Pressure” proves that the urban Biebervelli from Journals past still lives on. No matter what age or gender, you were not ashamed to say you enjoy Justin Bieber’s music this year — and that says a lot about the singer’s artistic growth. — BIANCA GRACIE
6. Marina And The Diamonds, FrootReleased: March 13
After working with a Who’s Who of pop producers and songwriters on her first two LPs, Marina Diamandis scaled back the showiness and bared her intimate side on 2015’s Froot. That’s not to say the album is a plodding, spare or stripped-down affair. There are still plenty of blip-and-bloop-filled melodies and hallmarks of Diamandis’ clever lyrical ability at play here.
Spacey and hauntingly beautiful, Froot was dealt with an early leak — originally scheduled to arrive in April, it got bumped up to a mid-March release once it found its way online prematurely. But no matter; the album was met, deservedly, with critical acclaim and gave Marina her first Top 10 chart placing on the Billboard 200. — ROBBIE DAW
5. Carly Rae Jepsen, E·MO·TIONReleased: August 21
Almost every song on E·MO·TION feels like a hit from another era. There’s 2010s disco-pop on “Boy Problems,” a saxy ’80s strut on “Run Away With Me,” TRL bubblegum and sparkly mall pop and aughts blog-wave — Carly Rae Jepsen’s third full-length has the stylistic breadth of a greatest hits collection. The fact that there’s absolutely no attempt to define a particular aesthetic or “trademark” CRJ sound could’ve made her seem like a bystander on her own album, but instead, Jepsen comes across as a proud pop ambassador, loyal only to the power of the hook.
Nothing is played close to the vest here. You know exactly how each song will turn out within the first 30 seconds, you know when the verse will explode into a magnetic, melodramatic chorus, and yet every time it happens it still brings a rush of euphoria. It’s like when a pitcher can broadcast his next throw knowing he’ll still smoke it past the batter. Cynics will deride such straightforward sugar as inherently manipulative, since it’s crafted with a near-scientific precision to latch onto your heart and burrow into your skull. But why over-intellectualize something just because it triggers a flood of serotonin? Instead, just give in to the emotion. — CARL WILLIOTT
4. Miguel, WildheartReleased: June 29
Miguel’s third full-length is incredibly sexy, but it’s also pretty heavy. Wildheart opens with a song about dying young, and later on the singer proclaims he’s going to Hell. One track is called “destinado a morir,” which translates to “destined to die,” and another looks at how society forces individuals to choose an identity (what he calls “programming”). These deep thoughts arrive alongside the deep thrusts chronicled in songs like “the valley” and “FLESH,” meaning the album mimics the way we live and love now. The outside world spills over into the bedroom, when we’re done clutching our lovers we clutch our iPhones and inevitably face a torrent of horrific shit on Twitter.
So Wildheart is a sex album poisoned by society, a psychedelic album anchored in reality, a cerebral soul album. It’s so erotic because it’s so nihilistic, as if to say we gotta soak up the ecstasy so we don’t succumb to the futility. — CARL WILLIOTT
3. Lana Del Rey, HoneymoonReleased: September 18
Lana Del Rey lied to us. In an interview with Billboard earlier this year, the mysterious diva promised her third LP would be a return to the (literally) genre-defining dark-pop of Born To Die. Instead, she delivered a languid, sprawling jazz-tinged album with six-minute songs and a reworking of a T.S. Elliot poem.
This is that rare body of work that demands patience. Honeymoon is an album that unfolds and intoxicates with each additional listen, which is a big ask for fans hungry for another “Video Games” or “Blue Jeans.” However, if you submit to Lana’s vintage soundscape, and let her gorgeous torch songs slowly work their magic, you’ll be rewarded with the songbird’s most complex and fully realized work to date. — MIKE WASS
2. Adele, 25Released: November 20
If the universal appeal of Adele’s modern day classic 21 was that it was a breakup album — a bar-raising, numbers-busting one at that — then the relatability of 25 can best be attributed to another shared experience we can all rely on at some point: the awareness of getting older. For all the accolades and musical achievements Adele’s career has been met with (and there are many), they appear to be bittersweet fruits — reminders of the simpler times, laid out here in the lyrics on 25, that the British singer is still clinging to.
Motherhood, an adult relationship with a romantic partner and — oh, right — the gravity of being the most popular singer in the world are heavy responsibilities. Luckily for us, Adele funnels these weights upon her shoulders into vivid tales of nostalgia and insecurity like “Hello,” “When We Were Young,” “Water Under The Bridge” and “Million Years Ago,” songs which are no doubt destined to become pop standards when all is said and done. — ROBBIE DAW
1. Grimes, Art AngelsReleased: November 6
Back when Grimes released “Go” and a tepid Bleachers collab, it seemed she was less interested in subverting the mainstream machine and more interested in joining it. But that was misdirection. She was cultivating her pop skills so that on Art Angels she could ramp up her eccentricities while delivering them in a package that was as melodic and immediate as anything the Top 40 factories churned out. The material is aimed at listeners’ gooey pleasure centers but refracted through an alt lens, a heap of sugar to help the medicine go down. Rap is propped up by demented surf rock on “Scream.” Sassy “Hollaback Girl”-style chants are preceded by feral shrieks on “Kill V. Maim,” like Crystal Castles doing Britney. The male gaze is dismantled before a laser breakdown straight out of the male-dominated EDM world on “Venus Fly.” It’s a glorious mess of unrelated influences disguised as uniform pop.
And the fact that Grimes wrote, produced and performed the entire thing herself, save for a pair of features, may be the most iconoclastic thing of all. Because, while this album won’t have the commercial weight of, say, a Diplo product, it’s proof that artists seeking an inventive, muscular singalong don’t have to come crawling to a super-producer. That the future of pop doesn’t have to be a congealed, beige blob of ’80s rehashes and Max Martin approximations. Art Angels is proof that in an era of stars banking on calculated weirdness, there are still true oddballs infiltrating the system. — CARL WILLIOTT
There’s still time to vote in our readers’ poll for the best albums of 2015. Let us know what you think of our editors’ picks below!