The Best Pop Albums & EPs Of 2017
Good pop albums are in danger of becoming extinct as we plunge ever deeper into the streaming age. The once-powerful LP doesn’t sell anymore, so why bother creating a cohesive body of work when you can drop singles and make the same amount of money? Happily, a handful of artists bucked the trend and delivered a listening experience in 2017. Lana Del Rey captured our collective confusion at world events on Lust For Life, while Kesha promoted love and healing on Rainbow.
Not that it needs to be that deep. There’s something to be said for a collection of really good bangers and pop stars like Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha and Astrid S took care of that. I’ve rounded up the year’s best pop albums below. EPs are included given the ever-blurring line between formats and the dearth of great LPs. As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the rankings. The difference between 1 and 20 is negligible.
20. Pop 2 — Charli XCX
Hidden gem: “Tears”
Frustrated with the ever-changing release date of her third LP, Charli XCX dropped two mixtapes in 2017. Both were killer, but Pop 2 did a better job of showcasing the Brit’s profound pop sensibility via girl-power collaborations (guests include Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo and MØ) and PC Music beats.
19. James — Phoebe Ryan
Hidden gem: “Be Real”
Phoebe Ryan documents the life cycle of a relationship on the warm, witty and brutally-honest James. Each song on this five-track EP is an emotional sucker-punch that comes at love from a fresh perspective. Bring on the album.
18. 17 HERO — Morgan Saint
Hidden gem: “Just Friends”
Morgan Saint’s debut EP is a revelation. The newcomer describes her sound as “moody pop,” but there’s a lightness of touch and unforced eccentricity about 17 HERO that separates her from other gloomy divas. Falling somewhere between BANKS and Kate Bush on the art-pop spectrum, the New Yorker is definitely One To Watch in 2018.
17. Like A Woman — Kacy Hill
Hidden gem: “Lion”
After cutting her teeth on alt-R&B, Kacy Hill experiments with synth-pop on her very good debut LP. The 23-year-old’s feathery voice is the perfect foil for the legendary Stuart Price, who wraps it in lush synths. The hip-hop tracks add depth and dimension to the project.
16. Tell Me You Love Me — Demi Lovato
Hidden gem: “Ruin The Friendship”
In many ways, 2017 was Demi Lovato’s year. She went from strength to strength, landing the biggest hit of her career with “Sorry Not Sorry.” The pop star also won rave reviews for Tell Me You Love Me, her most consistent album to date. My only hesitation is the lack of obvious hit singles, which are necessary for an artist of Demi’s caliber.
15. CollXtion II — Allie X
Hidden gem: “Vintage”
No one does offbeat electro-pop better than Allie X. Behind the funereal styling and goth overtones lies a brilliant pop mind and CollXtion II is brimming with clever lyrics, sweeping melodies and sing-along choruses. It’s hard to pick a standout, but lead single “Paper Love” and “Vintage” spring to mind.
14. The Ride — Nelly Furtado
Hidden gem: “Magic”
Nelly Furtado’s The Ride has been conspicuously absent from year-end lists, which is a shame. She should be recognized for producing that rarest of objects — a pop album for adults. The Canadian sings about everything from the encroaching paralysis of middle age to coming to terms with post-fame life over John Congleton’s loose and lively production. I hope we don’t have to wait five years for her next album.
13. Flicker — Niall Horan
Hidden gem: “Paper Houses”
While the solo careers of Harry Styles and Zayn Malik got the most attention, Niall Horan clearly spent the most time figuring out who he is as an artist. While it sometimes feels like his former band-mates are playing dress-up, the Irishman’s foray into singer/songwriter pop feels utterly sincere. There’s nothing too showy here, just a collection of really good songs.
12. Party — Aldous Harding
Hidden gem: “Swell Does The Skull”
Sounding like a cross between Nico and Annie Lennox, Aldous Harding has one of the most arresting voices in pop. She employs in brilliantly on Party, segueing from lush crooning to jarring shouts on breakout single “Imagining My Man,” while paring it right back on hauntingly sparse gems like “The World Is Looking For You” and the disconcertingly-titled “What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming.”
11. We Could Be Beautiful — Wrabel
Hidden gem: “Poetry”
With his knack for documenting the minutiae of heartache in elegantly-constructed pop songs, Wrabel is something of a throwback to the singer/songwriters of the ’90s. He pulls together five gems on We Could Be Beautiful, delivering one of the best EPs of 2017. Standouts include “Poetry” and “Bloodstain.”
10. All Your Fault Parts 1 & 2 — Bebe Rexha
Hidden gem: “Small Doses”
Bebe Rexha’s debut LP arrived in two installments, each packed with fully-realized pop anthems. The project shows the 28-year-old’s stunning versatility with sugary bops, hip-hop collaborations and even a country detour. Speaking of which, “Meant To Be” is shaping up to be Bebe’s biggest hit to date. Other highlights are “(Not) The One,” “Small Doses” and “Gateway Drug.”
9. The Far Field — Future Islands
Hidden gem: “Shadows”
Future Islands specialize in romantic, widescreen synth-pop and fifth LP The Far Field finds them at the very top of their game. Emotions surge on retro anthems like “Ran” and “Cave,” while Samuel Herring & Co. get their New Wave on for tracks like “Shadows,” a lovely collaboration with Debbie Harry.
8. Witness — Katy Perry
Hidden gem: “Miss You More”
The year’s most-polarizing pop album, Katy Perry’s Witness is a journey of self-realization that bounces through club sub-genres with sunny abandon. It’s brave and bonkers and destined to be declared a cult classic in years to come. While it’s a little uneven, the good (“Bon Appetit,” “Deja Vu” and “Miss You More,” for example) outweighs the bad by some margin.
7. Meaning Of Life — Kelly Clarkson
Hidden gem: “Heat”
Kelly Clarkson turns her back on the pop/rock that made her a household name in favor of an old school R&B sound on Meaning Of Life. If I’m being completely honest, I miss the fiery rush of songs like “Don’t Let Me Stop You,” “Long Shot” and “I Forgive You.” However, she makes up for it with the most consistent and authentic record of her career.
6. Party’s Over — Astrid S
Best song: “Such A Boy”
Astrid S was the unsung hero of pop in 2017, releasing a glut of perfectly-crafted pop songs and staggeringly good collaborations. The former are collected on Party’s Over, a six-track set brimming with icy synths and winsome Scandipop. It’s hard to pick a highlight, but “Breathe,” “Bloodstream” and “Such A Boy” capture the full spectrum of Astrid, from edgy electro-chanteuse to mainstream pop queen.
5. Nervous System — Julia Michaels
Hidden gem: “Pink”
Nobody helped shape the sound of 2017 as much as Julia Michaels. When she wasn’t writing brilliant tracks for other artists (Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and Justin Bieber & BloodPop’s “Friends”), she was rapidly expanding her fanbase with hits of her own like “Issues” and “Uh Huh.” Debut EP Nervous System shows the full extent of her artistry as she bounces for confessional bedrooms anthems (“Pink”) to raw love songs (“Worst In Me”).
4. MASSEDUCTION — St. Vincent
Hidden gem: “Los Ageless”
Alt-pop goddess St. Vincent took a cautious step towards mainstream pop on MASSEDUCTION with a little help from Jack Antonoff, arguably the hottest producer of 2017 with credits on Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Reputation. While those superstars tended to lose themselves in the Fun. hitmaker’s signature ’80s sound, Annie ushered him into her quirky soundscape. The result is a marriage made in spiky pop heaven that never feels watered down.
3. Lust For Life — Lana Del Rey
Hidden gem: “Heroin”
It took me longer than usual to succumb to Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life. After the multi-layered daydream of Honeymoon (my favorite album of 2015) and the bristling anger of Ultraviolence (my favorite album of 2014), Lana’s latest felt less cohesive and intimate. Instead of the diary entry-type songs that we’re used to, she looked outward — trying to make sense of world events (with a sprinkling of ballads and hip-hop bops thrown in for good measure). It took a couple of listens, but Lust For Life eventually won me over — particularly the brilliant album tracks “Cherry,” “13 Beaches” and “Heroin.”
2. El Dorado — Shakira
Hidden gem: “Amarillo”
You wouldn’t know it given her exile from pop radio in the US, but Shakira is bigger than ever. Just look at the YouTube views of her recent collaborations. “La Bicicleta,” “Chantaje” and “Deja Vu” have amassed 3.3 billion, while lead single “Me Enamore” has racked up more than 500 million. All of those bangers are included on El Dorado, making it something of a greatest hits collection. However, the album really comes alive when the Colombian strips it back on introspective, Spanish-language gems like “Nada,” “Amarillo” and “Toneladas.”
1. Rainbow — Kesha
Hidden gem: “Finding you”
Everyone loves a fairytale ending and it couldn’t get any more preordained than the critical and commercial success of Kesha’s Rainbow. It’s a shame that it took a scandal for the world to realize that the former K$ is one of the best songwriters and vocalists in the game, but better late than never. While the opus is definitely shaped by her horrendous ordeal, there’s so much hope and unexpected levity. For every mantra (“Learn To Let Go”), mission statement (“Hymn” and “Woman”) and raised-middle finger (“Praying”), there’s an oddball country detour or pretty love song. This is pop with heart, hope and jaw-dropping skill.