The 20 Best Pop Albums Of 2020 (So Far)
Believe or not, we’re half way through 2020! And while this year has been a non-stop cavalcade of horrors, there has been no shortage of good music to dull the pain. It’s never easy to pull together a mid-year list (some of these albums will, no doubt, wear out their welcome by December), but I really wanted to celebrate the heroes that were brave enough to kick off new eras in the middle of a global pandemic. I hope it also gives you a push to check out a couple of albums that you might have otherwise ignored.
There are a lot of projects that probably belong on this list. (Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG, Ingrid Andress’ Lady Like, Mandy Moore’s Silver Linings, Hayley Williams’ Petals For Armor and Skott’s Always Live For Always spring to mind). For whatever reason, the following albums just spoke to me a little louder. But who knows? By the end of the year, they might be back in the mix. Oh, and before you drag me, Harry Styles’ Fine Line was released in 2019. Anyway, here are my favorite albums of 2020 (so far) in alphabetical order.
Anuel AA — Emmanuel
Of all the Latin superstars wreaking havoc on the charts in 2020, Anuel AA lays claim to the best album. Emmanuel is a sprawling, 22-track opus that bounces between gritty reggaeton and pop-friendly collaborations without missing a beat. The standout tracks are “Fútbol & Rumba” and “Que Se Joda.”
Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B
This legend and her collections of studio offcuts that are better than the albums they were recorded for! Carly Rae Jepsen first did it for Emotion in 2016 and now repeats the feat with Dedicated Side B. From the quality of the songs to the pacing, this is superior to Side A in every regard. My favorite cuts are “Stay Away” and “Summer Love.”
Charli XCX — how i’m feeling now
While most of us were eating our feelings and watching Netflix in lockdown, Charli XCX decided to record an album from scratch. And it shows in the best possibly way. how i’m feeling now is a little rough around the edges and the songs do tend to bleed into each other, but it also houses brilliant bops like “claws” and “i finally understand.”
Chelsea Cutler — How To Be Human
Chelsea Cutler’s dreamy brand of lo-fi bedroom-pop made her a streaming sensation before her debut album even arrived, but How To Be Human proves that she’s also capable of pulling together a cohesive collection of songs with a meaningful narrative. “You Are Losing Me” and “Crazier Things” offer a good starting point for newcomers.
Chloe x Halle — Ungodly Hour
Signed to and mentored by Beyoncé, Chloe x Halle were always destined for greatness. I just thought it might take a little longer for the world to catch on given the muted response to The Kids Are Alright. It turns out, the Bailey sisters just needed to let their hair down and record some bops. That’s the approach they take on Ungodly Hour and the hits are already flowing. “Do It” and “Forgive Me” are must-hears.
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
Sophomore more albums are supposed to be difficult, but Dua Lipa obviously didn’t get the memo. Future Nostalgia is a perfectly-calibrated pop album that treats dance music with the respect it deserves. Whether she’s reinventing disco or taking us back to the ’80s, this is never less than superb. “Don’t Start Now” and “Levitating” are my faves.
Fiona Apple — Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Imagine spending eight years bashing away on pots and pans, not to mention using your dogs as backing vocalists, and somehow coming up with the album of the year. That’s the magic trick that Fiona Apple pulls with Fetch The Bolt Cutters, an album so brazenly raw and inventive that it occasionally beggars belief. This is a genuine masterpiece.
Georgia — Seeking Thrills
When is the world going to stop sleeping on Georgia? After releasing one of the best singles of 2019 with “About Work The Dancefloor,” the Brit wasted no time dropping one of the best albums of 2020. Seeking Thrills is essential listening for anyone that misses that frenzied electronica — with heart and soul — of Robyn and the effortless pop nous of Kylie Minogue. Start with “24 Hours.”
Gordi — Our Two Skins
Australian newcomer Gordi conjures one of the best debut albums of 2020 with the astonishingly-good Our Two Skins. This is beautifully constructed alt-pop with a social conscience. Sophie Payton (her real name) explores queerness, gender identity and general matters of the heart with rare skill and empathy. “Airplane Bathroom,” “Unready” and “Extraordinary Life” really resonate with me.
Haim — Women In Music Pt. III
At one point Haim’s much-anticipated third LP, the delightfully-titled Women In Music Pt. III, was almost sidelined by the COVID-19 crisis. Happily, the trio decided the world would be a better place with their music in it, and rolled out the best album of their career on June 26. “I Know Alone,” in particular, is a time capsule of the isolation and world weariness of 2020.
Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
In some ways, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? can be thought of as a companion piece to Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. They both explore club history by dabbling in disco, ’80s synth-pop and ’90s dance beats with extraordinary success. Jessie’s album, however, has a softer touch. There are dreamy mid-tempo moments and a couple of Sade-in-the-club anthems that will melt your heart. “Save A Kiss,” “Spotlight” and “The Kill” are my preferred cuts.
Kesha — High Road
Kesha’s fourth album came and went without making as big an impact as it deserved. A lot of that is due to timing (releasing an album pre-pandemic) and the fact that it’s missing the kind of all-conquering radio hit that launched previous eras. It’s a shame because there is no shortage of gems on High Road. “Little Bit Of Love” and “Resentment” deserve your full attention.
JoJo — good to know
JoJo really wants to drive home the fact that she’s no longer the little girl singing “Leave (Get Out)” with good to know. Instead, she’s a grown ass woman who has spent her 20s making mistakes and working on herself — like the rest of us. That journey of self-discovery is lovingly detailed on good to know, which isn’t afraid to go against the grain by working as a cohesive body of work that cuts a little deeper with every listen. “Man” and “Lonely Hearts” are my go-to jams.
Lady Gaga — Chromatica
God bless Mother Monster for making pop fun again. At a time when less-is-more whisper-pop is king at radio, it’s rather brave to drop a fizzy, frivolous club-pop album about an imaginary planet. For me, it’s almost too much of a good thing (a mid-tempo moment or ballad might have been nice to break it up a bit), but, all in all, Chromatica is Lady Gaga’s most enjoyable album since Born This Way.
Lennon Stella — Three. Two. One.
Lennon Stella is one of those artists that can do everything, which is showcased to full effect on Three. Two. One.. There are perky pop songs (“Kissing Other People”), beautiful ballads (“Golf On TV”), quirky bops (“Fear Of Being Alone”) and even traces of country and gospel. It makes for an eclectic listen that is held together by the 20-year-old’s uncanny knack for melody and a razor-sharp pen.
Meghan Trainor — TREAT MYSELF
The Gays (TM) did Megan Trainor so dirty in 2020. The “All About That Bass” queen went above and beyond on TREAT MYSELF, piecing together a high-camp collection of dance-pop anthems that would slot into any Pride Playlist. I mean, she even got the Pussycat Dolls to sing backing vocals on “Genetics.” This is one of those projects that is destined to attain cult status in years to come.
Niall Horan — Heartbreak Weather
After debuting with a rather serious collection of singer/songwriter-y tunes on Flicker, Niall Horan decided to have a little fun on Heartbreak Weather. Which is a breakup album, not that you would know it from the upbeat, ’80s-influenced production and gooey ballads. My Favorite cuts are “Arms Of A Stranger,” “New Angel” and “Black And White,” which is the closest thing to a One Direction ballad we’re going to get any time soon.
Rina Sawayama — SAWAYAMA
Just when you thought pop was in danger of becoming a little stuffy and boring, along comes Rina Sawayama to break every rule and remind us how thrilling the genre can be when approached with originality and irreverence. Falling somewhere between Blackout-era Britney Spears and ARTPOP-era Lady Gaga, the Japanese/British newcomer serves bop after bop on SAWAYAMA. The perfect starting point is the delightfully-demented “XS.”
Selena Gomez — Rare
It feels odd to write this about an album that topped the charts, but people need to stop sleeping on Selena Gomez’s Rare. This is an extraordinarily accomplished pop album that tackles serious issues like self worth and mental health while still serving breathy bops and one Grammy-worthy ballad. As much as I love the title track, it wasn’t a great choice for second single. For a better idea of the delights that Rare has to offer, listen to “Vulnerable,” “Ring,” “People You Know” and “A Sweeter Place.”
The Weeknd — After Hours
The Weeknd got the dream team back together for After Hours. And by dream team, I’m referring to Max Martin and cohorts. The producers helped make Beauty Behind The Madness a blockbuster, and work similar magic on the Canadian’s latest LP. While this Abel’s darkest album thematically, it sounds like a lost pop offering from the 1980s with synths, chunky keys and a love for big, soaring choruses. “Blinding Lights” is the obvious pick here.