The return of live music signaled a big moment for the industry, but perhaps what was even bigger was the influx of great album after great album. From the birth of our next great pop princess to the diverse offerings of rock, we rounded up our favorite records of the year.
This year birthed a new pop princess who has the legs to possibly be in for the long haul. When “Drivers License” dropped in January, the High School Musical:The Musical: The Series actor went from Disney star to pop sensation overnight. Best captured by that SNL sketch, Rodrigo’s aching heartbreak inspired a million TikTok and singalongs, setting her up for the year’s biggest debut with the release of Sour in May. From the infectious pop punk of “good 4 u” to the tender “hope ur ok,” Rodrigo proved she’s only just getting started.
It’s crazy to realize that Lil Nas X released his debut album just this year. The 22-year-old artist had us by the fingertips throughout 2019 with Old Town Road, particularly with the Billie Ray Cyrus-featuring remix, but things only went up from there. Between all the spectacle and outrageousness, Lil Nas X has given the proper kind of controversy and flashiness of a pop star— and all while being laugh-out-loud whip smart on social media.
It was going to be hard for Tyler to follow up anything after FlowerBoy, his 2017 album that certified the rapper as a bonafide pop star. But as expected, the Los Angeles native leveled up, first with 2019’s Igor and then with this year’s tale about Tyler Baudelaire (a reference to French poet Charles Baudelaire and their common history of stirring up controversy). Awards may not mean everything, but there’s a reason Call Me If You Get Lost scored Tyler his second No.1 album and earned a Grammy nomination for Rap Album of the Year.
Earlier this year, Halsey announced she was pregnant and if you know anything about her, you know what a big deal it was (and not in the big celeb pregnancy announcement kind of way). The artist has publicly discussed her endometriosis, which can complicate the ability to have a baby. So come July when she announced her new album, it was no surprise she had created a concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth. Halsey has generally leaned into various iterations of pop, but Power saw her finally lean into the rock spectrum she has so long been a fan of and all with the production assistance of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
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It’s a pretty concrete fact that Adele’s fourth studio album was the most widely, highly-anticipated album of the year. 30 tackles divorce and motherhood under the lens of fame and leaves us with sweeping choruses and swelling bridges that make tangible the emotion of heartache and learning to find ourselves once again. Big thanks to the English star for this piece of art.
Swift has been making the rounds on re-recording her old albums as a metaphorical middle finger (and logistical ownership tactic) to he who shall not be named. Fans have been buzzing with excitement for the re-release of Red in the hopes that we would finally have access to the mythical 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” The album’s release caused a social media firestorm around Jake Gyllenhall, but ultimately gave us the new opportunity to fall back in love with the pop star’s greatest heartbreak album.
After six years, the R&B artist finally blessed fans with not just new music, but a killer, cohesive album that explores sexuality, feminism and class. Between the tracks, Sullivan invites a number of women to perform spoken word poems that interlace the album’s larger concept and includes the likes of Ari Lennox and H.E.R.
The British quartet’s follow up their Mercury Prize win is just as enticing as its accompanying visual project. Singer Ellie Rowsell shows off her ability to easily take on punky spitfire (“All the Greatest Hits”), delicate musings (“No Hard Feelings”) and big-finish crescendos (“How Can I Make It Ok?)— all to prove Wolf Alice as among the best rock bands out there.
The Baltimore-native band has been a long time favorite of the scene, but the release of their third studio album catapulted them to new heights, adding some new fans (and media recognition) along the way. Turnstile notably took a genre-fluid approach to their hardcore sound for a top-to-bottom killer listen.
Sophomore slump, who? The 29-year-old artist released his second studio album to disprove the long-held industry myth. Upon release of the album’s first single, “Get Your Wish,” we learned so much time had passed since his debut because he was struggling to make music while dealing with depression. But Nurture is a victory lap— one that finds Robinson exploring his artistry.
Photography by: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images