Pop Crave contributors: Drew Howard, Raul Mencia, Sami Baker and Shawn Westcott
It seems only fitting that 2019 closes out this tremendous decade of music the same way it kicked off: with female domination.
For the first time in this century, the year-end Billboard Top 200 list saw the top four spots occupied exclusively by women, a far cry from 2017 in which the entire top 22 were dominated by either men or soundtracks. This stat is indicative of the music narrative of 2019 at large, one that saw artistic peaks for alternative favorites like FKA Twigs and Lana Del Rey as well as emergence of A-list stardom in Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Ariana Grande. And with 2020 upon us, 2019 also blessed us with the budding brilliance of our next decade of superstars such as Megan Thee Stallion, Kim Petras and Kehlani.
With the dust settling on 2019, Pop Crave looks back at the most impressive albums, EPs and mixtapes of the year. Continue reading below for our staff’s top 25 picks:
25. Beyoncé — The Lion King: The Gift
It may take a few years or so for audiences to fully comprehend our greatest sin of 2019. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200 with 54,000 copies sold, ‘The Lion King: The Gift’ was perceived by and large as a commercial disappointment considering the massive promo for the film remake and Beyoncé‘s cultural cachet. The album was surprisingly buried in the general consciousness after free-falling to #21 on the chart the next week.
Don’t let the numbers fool you, though, as ‘The Gift’ proved to be one of the most pure and joyful pop records this year. Featuring a slew of producers, writers and performers hailing from Africa, Beyoncé succeeds here in representing African culture with tracks that genuinely feel like they could breakthrough on the U.S. charts (see: “BROWN SKIN GIRL,” “FIND YOUR WAY BACK” and “MY POWER”). Perhaps Beyoncé’s attempt to push African artists into the mainstream was too big of a mission for even the queen of the music industry, but it certainly didn’t go unappreciated. – Drew Howard
24. BLACKPINK — Kill This Love
K-Pop’s biggest girl group were a force to be reckoned with this year with the release of their electrifying EP, ‘Kill This Love.’ Accompanied by the smash lead single of the same name, the girl group composed of members Jennie, Rosé, Lisa & Jisoo took the Western hemisphere by storm when they became the first Korean group to perform at Coachella and broke YouTube’s record for the most views in 24 hours for “Kill This Love” with over 56.7 MILLION.
With adrenaline-filled tracks such as “Kill This Love” & “Don’t Know What To Do,” this EP is the perfect project to jumpstart any party at any time. Songs like “Kick It” show a sexier & sassy side of the group over a rocking hip-hop production, while “Hope Not” sees the group trading their action-packed trademark sound for a more intimate affair that exhibits their soothing & vulnerable vocals. We can definitely catch BLACKPINK coming to our area very soon as they ready their next project, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next. – Raul Mencia
23. Jonas Brothers — Happiness Begins
While a Jonas Brothers reunion could’ve been played as an easy cash grab amidst our ever-growing reboot culture, ‘Happiness Begins’ is anything but a gimmick. The fresh, funky album is free of the cliches you might expect from the typical reunion record, and instead manages to successfully play catch-up with the evolution of the Top 40 sound since the group’s last project.
Sculpted by pop’s best creatives (Greg Kurstin, Louis Bell, and Shellback to name but a few), the record succeeds in adopting a 2019 pop sound while staying true to group’s roots. The Jonas Brothers‘ success this year is no surprise considering the A&R masterminds behind it. Republic Records’ Wendy Goldstein has helped shape the growth and direction of Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and Julia Michaels, all who have operated in different sounds within the pop sphere to huge success. There’s something for everyone on this record, from reggae-tinged tracks like “Only Human” and “Every Single Time” to the new-wave-inflected “Don’t Throw it Away” and the adult-contemporary smash, “Sucker.” If ‘Happiness Begins’ tells us anything, it’s that some things really are worth the reboot treatment in 2019. – Sami Baker
22. Harry Styles — Fine Line
Despite having a more commercial sound than his self-titled debut album, ‘Fine Line’ manages to showcase an elevated and assured pop-rock brand for Harry Styles that pleases both his day one fans and new listeners. Styles has described the project on the press circuit as an embrace of new freedom, and this theme is no more evident than on the lead single, “Lights Up.” Surrounded by a sea of both naked women and men in the official music video, Styles kicks off his era with a message that he’s not afraid to break tradition both personally and with his throwback 70’s rock sound. The budding rock star feels most in his lane on ‘Fine Line’ with the vibrant “Golden” and radio-ready “Adore You,” while “Treat People With Kindness” showcases more offbeat production that we hope translates into the next project. The album’s sleeper hit appears to be “Falling” at the moment, an emotionally raw ballad that earned the most streams out of all the project’s new tracks on Spotify opening day. – Drew Howard
21. Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated
Carly Rae Jepsen triumphed in 2019, despite being in a difficult position going into her fourth studio album. She began this decade with the pop-phenomenon, “Call Me Maybe,” but was never able to follow up that type of pop ubiquity. Conversely, her follow up album, ‘Emotion’ proved to be a surprise critical darling with little radio support that struck a chord with LGBT+ pop fans. When you take into account her bubblegum origins plus a newfound critical respect and cult following among pop gays, Jepsen had a lot of different segments of her audience to appease this year. Luckily for everyone, she did it.
On ‘Dedicated,’ Jepsen combines her masterfully crafted brand of pop with fingerprints of Disco glossed over the final product. Songs like “Julien” and “Too Much” are the standout examples of Jepsen’s Disco ambition coming to full, unabashed dance-floor ready fruition. ‘Dedicated’ was a rightful success with critics as well as the varied corners of Jepsen’s perpetually expanding fanbase. Its influence is already possibly spreading across the industry, as Dua Lipa preps a Disco album for release while Ava Max has already made the ABBA-inspired “Torn” an official single. With the release of ‘Dedicated,’ Carly Rae continues to assert herself as an industry tastemaker who does not need to chase Top 40 trends to remain a pop force. – Shawn Westcott
20. Sabrina Carpenter — Singular Act II
Disney popstress Sabrina Carpenter paints a mature image of life with ‘Singular Act II.’ On the lead single, “Pushing 20,” Carpenter sets her priorities straight by focusing on her own outlook on life instead of listening to other peoples’ opinions. This theme follows her on the breathy ballad, “Exhale” which has Carpenter contemplating her own life choices as both family members and her record label try to alter her image.
Carpenter also displays a sultry & sexier side to herself on Saweetie-assisted collaboration, “I Can’t Stop Me,” in which the duo confidently trade salacious verses over a killer trap beat. Moreover, the star continues her streak of pop gems with the excellent “In My Bed” & bubbly “I’m Fakin,” two tracks that we believe to be potential pop hits on the airwaves. ‘Singular Act II’ is another great chapter in Sabrina‘s discography as she slowly but surely breaks away from her Disney image. – Raul Mencia
19. Cashmere Cat — PRINCESS CATGIRL
Magnus August Høiberg, mostly known under the moniker Cashmere Cat, has his paw prints on such notable hits as “Señorita” by Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello, “Nightmare” by Halsey and “Wolves” by Kanye West. Following the release of his debut album ‘9,’ Cashmere Cat returns with his heavenly new album, ‘PRINCESS CATGIRL.’ The new project sees the producer ditching star-studded features from the likes of Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello & Jhené Aiko on past projects in exchange for an e-friendly superhero dubbed Princess Catgirl.
Høiberg‘s sophomore album showcases the producer’s experimental evolution from 2017’s ‘9.’ This growth is evident on the SOPHIE-inspired single, “EMOTIONS” as well as “MOO,” a bouncy cut that interpolates XXXTENTACION’s “Moonlight.” Track #2, “WATERGIRL” also stands out with its inspired sample of Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.” With further assistance from Francis and the Lights, Tory Lanez, Tove Styrke & Starrah, this short but influential album perfectly embodies the wondrous emotions of love. – Raul Mencia
18. Camila Cabello — Romance
Just about everyone on Stan Twitter seemed to have an opinion on Camila Cabello‘s highly-divisive album rollout scheme. Following the success of her #1 smash global single, “Señorita” with boyfriend Shawn Mendes, Cabello made her intentions clear about her sophomore album: she wanted to build a world. And to the disappointment of select chart-obsessed fans, this meant a lot of promo singles.
Cabello gets the final word with the release of ‘Romance,’ though, an excellent follow up to her debut album that further establishes her brand of saucy dance floor hits and angelic ballads. Teaming up with hitmakers like Louis Bell (“Havana”), Savan Kotecha (“break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored) and Finneas O’Connell (“bad guy”), Cabello delivers more than a handful of strong radio single contenders while never losing sight of project’s overall cohesiveness. Our favorites at the moment have to be “My Oh My,” “Easy,” “Living Proof” and “Used To This.” – Drew Howard
17. Doja Cat — Hot Pink
After gaining notoriety among the general public with her meme-able track, “Mooo!” Doja Cat secures her ground on the hip-hop scene with her steamy & alluring sophomore album, ‘Hot Pink.’ The cohesive 12-track project encapsulates her magnetic wit on tracks like “Cyber Sex,” an anthem for the Tinder dating age with a music video that has as much personality and silliness as a Katy Perry production. Conversely, Doja Cat means business on the stellar single, “Rules” where she emulates the cold-hearted personality of the men she hustles from in order to protect her own emotions from heartbreak.
Doja Cat gets nostalgic with her disco-influenced song, “Say So,” showcasing a more vulnerable side as she impatiently tries to convince her shy crush to make the first move on her. With its smooth production & slick vocals, Doja Cat proves she’s a worthy contender to make it up atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. ‘Hot Pink’ concludes with the standout viral banger, “Juicy” featuring Tyga from earlier this year. The fruity collaboration serves as an anthem for body positivity that oozes confidence, an attribute that will serve Doja Cat well as she makes her way to rap’s big league. – Raul Mencia
16. Maggie Rogers — Heard It In a Past Life
Much has been made of Maggie Rogers‘ “Cinderella story” in the industry, which saw the singer blow up virtually overnight after she played her now-hit song, “Alaska” for Pharrell Williams during a student masterclass series at NYU. Rogers laid out her goals for the track and her overall sound moving forward to Williams in the viral video: “I want to combine that folk imagery and harmony and natural samples that I’ve been picking up while hiking over the last couple years with the backbone and energy of dance music.”
Rogers makes good on her 2016 ambitions with her fantastic debut studio album, ‘Heard It In a Past Life,’ which sees the folk-pop artist processing her overnight success and journey into adulthood on a magnified scale. The album’s breakout track, “Light On” encapsulates the theme of the project as a whole. Kicking off with an earthy drum beat and acoustic guitar, Rogers conveys the isolating feel of young fame over a synth-laden, thumping chorus that makes the track feel as alive as the nature she draws inspiration from. ‘Heard It In a Past Life’ is a singular and exciting vision of alternative pop that has us even more excited to see what Rogers has in store next. – Drew Howard
15. Megan Thee Stallion — Fever
Megan Thee Stallion owned 2019 with more than just her music. As a curator of the viral Hot Girl Summer cultural movement, she’s an example of how social media can help modern rappers refine their personas. Starting the year with her first Billboard entry, “Big Ole Freak,” the Houston rapper made it clear that she represents an eclectic return to hardcore rap. Her style is a sharp contrast to the melodic and slower rap of recent years, reminiscent of the lower-register-style of Missy Elliott while also encompassing the comedic ad-libs and pop culture references of her contemporaries.
Opting for harsh electronic drums and heavy bass, and void of almost any melodic production, ‘Fever’ is a mixtape that is loud, controlled, and full of technical mastery from Megan and her collaborators. With her continued chart success and ever-growing cultural presence online, 2020 looks to be an even bigger year for Thee Stallion. – Sami Baker
14. Taylor Swift — Lover
Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album concludes with something of a thesis statement for the project on its final track, “Daylight”: “I want to be defined by the things I love. Not the things I hate. Not the things I’m afraid of, the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I think that you are what you love.”
Since dipping her toes into the pop scene with ‘Red’ in 2012, each Swift project has served as a grand reintroduction of sorts for the global sensation. While ‘1989’ saw the singer morph into a full-fledged pop star and ‘reputation’ introduced a darker and more mature sound, ‘Lover’ plays like a Greatest Hits project where Swift embraces the sounds and personas that have built the icon she is today – but with a modern, indie Jack Antonoff twist. At 18 tracks, the project has faced criticism in some corners for overstaying its welcome and playing with too many colors in crayon box. But it’s this willingness to experiment with her sound, politics and messages on ‘Lover’ that makes it such an exciting new chapter in Swift’s discography. There’s no clear-cut jabs at ex-lovers, the media or her famous nemeses like Kanye West to be found here. Instead, it’s a pure celebration of Swift’s evolution over the years the reminds listeners exactly why they’ve been paying attention to her music for over a decade now. – Drew Howard
13. Kim Petras — Clarity/TURN OFF THE LIGHT
Kim Petras deserves double mention for not one but two stellar pop albums in 2019: her debut studio album, ‘Clarity,’ and the spooky ‘Turn Off The Light Vol. 2.’
Coming off her first era, Petras cemented herself as the underground pop queen of proper bops with a string of synth-heavy, dance-pop singles that would have fit in during the female domination of the early 10’s. For her second era and official debut album, ‘Clarity,’ Petras trades hedonistic party themes and 80’s pop influences for contemporary hip-hop and a more honest perspective on heartbreak. The pivot ultimately paid off as she managed to maintain her fan base while expanding beyond just pop-heads. On “Icy” and “Broken,” Petras soars with a mid-tempo heartbreak anthem, while “Sweet Spot” sees the singer entering the euphoric pop sphere with great success.
This October also saw Petras complete her Halloween inspired album, ‘Turn Off the Light Vol. 2,’ which was repackaged simply as ‘TURN OFF THE LIGHT’ with the inclusion of 2018’s Vol. 1. With the contemporary Halloween music lane being rather desolate, Petras has quickly been crowned the queen of Halloween pop. But she didn’t earn the title solely due to a lack of competition. “Wrong Turn” is a slinky, dark-pop gem deserving of official visuals while “Everybody Dies” is the gorgeous power ballad we never knew we needed. Whether or not she continues her annual October releases, it feels safe to say that Petras will be a Halloween party staple for years to come.
Both ‘Clarity’ and ‘TURN OFF THE LIGHT’ feel like they inch Petras closer to the mainstream-pop stardom her growing legion of fans know she deserves. Already a main pop girl within the LGBTQ+ community, Kim’s 2019 releases suggest the rest of the world might be next in 2020. – Shawn Westcott
12. Charli XCX — Charli
The highly-anticipated third studio album from one of pop’s most adventurous songstresses finally surfaced this year after multiple delays a string of fan-pleasing singles. With production led by PC Music’s A.G. Cook, ‘Charli’ takes the self-reflective and emotional elements that often come with a self-titled album and the futuristic, glossy Europop sound of ‘Pop2’ to create a truly honest record. Charli’s self-assuredness is more evident than ever as she takes listeners through jarring, intentionally uncomfortable outros (see “Click”’s final 40 seconds) and into songs about love, anxiety and depression over twinkly synths reminiscent of early Britney album cuts. Despite being most known her for her adrenaline-fueled, car-referencing hedonism, ‘Charli’ shows the comedown and consequences of chasing highs. – Sami Baker
11. Melanie Martinez — K-12
Following a four-year hiatus, “The Voice” contestant Melanie Martinez returns to the musical spotlight with her latest album, ‘K-12.’ The project serves as a sequel to her debut LP, ‘Cry Baby’ which follows the main character of the same name through the hardships of childhood & academic growth. Fitting with the themes of growth, Martinez showcases her artistic versatility on ‘K-12’ with writing and directing credits on the accompanying feature film that brilliantly translates each of her songs into a cinematic experience.
On the self-assured new project, Martinez tackles real life politics on her R&B banger “The Principal,” female objectification on the sweet electro-pop cut “Strawberry Shortcake” and even the taboo subject of eating disorders on “Orange Juice.” Martinez is an exceptional example of an artist who isn’t afraid to take as much time as she needs on her craft, and it shows with the singer’s growing cult following online. With two more planned visual albums on the way, we absolutely can’t wait to hear more from the alternative star. – Raul Mencia
10. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
Lizzo’s breakthrough record is proof that persistence and self-belief pay off. Despite being her third full record, ‘Cuz I Love You’ signaled the breakout year for the queen of positive bops thanks to universal praise and unprecedented chart success.
Helmed by the Hot 100 #1 hit “Truth Hurts,” ‘Cuz I Love You’ is a soaring jukebox of positivity covering pop, hip-hop, soul and R&B that’s packed to the brim with Lizzo’s energy and charisma. Empowerment is at the heart of this album, with Lizzo shaking off stereotypes on “Like a Girl” and declaring herself her own partner in the mirror on the single-worthy “Soulmate.” Even when the album shows more vulnerability with tracks like “Jerome,” there is still an unapologetic nature behind every lyric, hook and production choice. Lizzo’s belated breakout is a testament to the power of the streaming world that shows there’s no definitive timeline for success in 2019. – Sami Baker
9. Clairo — Immunity
Whether she likes it or not, Clairo (born Claire Cottrill) has become something of a poster child for DIY, bedroom pop music in 2019. A product of the internet age, Clairo first found success online in 2017 with the viral track, “Pretty Girl” followed by her first EP, ‘Diary 001’ and a collection of promising tracks. The steady rollout helped build an incredible word-of-mouth buzz around her debut album that somehow manages to meet expectations.
While much has been made of the singer’s industry connections and appropriation of the DIY pop image, the overwhelmingly positive reaction to her music should stand alone at this point. The project reaches its fullest potential on tracks like “Closer To You” and “I Wouldn’t Ask You,” which see the singer’s homegrown image blend with modern production to create a signature sound. Other cuts like “Softly” and “Sinking” feel born out of a Spotify chill-wave study playlist, while the more uptempo “Bags” proves she had what it took to play big arenas alongside Khalid this year. – Drew Howard
8. Tinashe — Songs For You
“All these songs for you baby, you know who you are,” whispers Tinashe on the interlude track “You.” While it’s likely she’s dedicating the record to a lover here, this message also feels squarely directed at the singer’s fanbase who have been patiently waiting for the quadruple-threat’s next project.
Both explosive and understated, Tinashe’s ‘Songs For You’ was absolutely worth the wait. From rapping over hip-hop beats (“Link Up”) to showcasing her mature vocal ability (“Know Better”) and sultry delivery (“So Much Better”), Tinashe proves she can hop across genres and styles while retaining her signature sound that made us all stan in the first place. Much like her widely acclaimed debut effort ‘Aquarius,’ Tinashe once again demonstrates that she is behind the wheel of her work, only this time there’s nothing stifling her drive. – Sami Baker
7. Kehlani — While We Wait
It was looking like Kehlani was about to have her industry *moment.* Following her breakout 2015 mixtape, ‘You Should Be Here’ and her stellar debut album, ‘SweetSexySavage,’ 2018 saw Kehlani’s profile on the rise with high-profile collaborations like Cardi B’s “Ring,” Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” and KYLE’s “Playinwitme.” From an outsider’s perspective, Kehlani was being groomed for the general public in 2019.
Kehlani‘s poetic fourth project, ‘While We Wait’ is a much more intimate affair than expected considering her explosive past couple years – and it’s all the better for it. Dropped just weeks before giving birth to her first daughter, Adeya, ‘WWW’ explores the highs and lows of love from the perspective of a refreshingly self-aware protagonist. On the 6LACK collaboration, “RPG,” Kehlani questions the motives behind everyday romantic gestures with painfully real lyrics (“You said I look beautiful, ’cause I told you you don’t tell me enough”), while “Footsteps” asks just how many chances you can give someone before finally letting them go (“I left footsteps in the mud so you could follow me”). Kehlani also comes close to embracing a Top 40 sound on the project’s first single, “Nights Like This” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, proof that she could write an album full of streaming playlist-friendly tracks if she really wanted to. Like the title of her debut album, ‘WWW’ shows that Kehlani contains multitudes across nine tracks that are equal parts romantic, heartbreaking, sexy, vulnerable, ruthless and so much more. – Drew Howard
6. Mark Ronson — Late Night Feelings
In his new YouTube documentary, “How To Be: Mark Ronson,” the Oscar and Grammy-winning producer attempts to describe the instrumental arrangement that opens his latest album, ‘Late Night Feelings’: “I think of them as three-dimensional. There’s all these melodies and wonderful things, but it’s not just an X and Y axis…there’s like this swirling.. I don’t know why, but it’s like, round… I just knew I wanted to have this thing start the record that felt like you were being sucked into a story.”
This hypnotic magic in the prelude for “Late Night Feelings” sets the tone for the rest of the project, a 13-track set that conjures images of 3AM. drives, moonlit dance floors, hazy dive bars and the eerie middle-ground between one day ending and another beginning. Comprised exclusively of female vocalists, Ronson could’ve settled with creating a collection of well-produced, slinky dance singles resembling something closer to a playlist. Instead, Ronson weaves together an impressively coherent sound with a group of wholly unique, signature talents like Camila Cabello, King Princess, Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys, among others. What they all have in common, though, is the soul and incredible storytelling ability they bring to each track. – Drew Howard
5. FKA Twigs — MAGDALENE
FKA twigs‘ deeply feminist second LP, ‘MAGDALENE’ finds one of music’s most fascinating and avant-garde personalities at her most human stage of life. Following a highly-publicized break up with actor Robert Pattinson, twigs describes the recording of her masterful album as the process of “un-meshing” herself from both her partner and the societal expectations of women planted within her at a young age. The title, ‘MAGDALENE’ – a reference to Mary Magdalene of The Bible – serves as a thesis statement of sorts for the project. Known as Jesus’s right hand woman and one of his most loyal disciples, Magdalene has also been portrayed in many sects as a “prostitute” and “repentant sinner.” The imagery serves as a direct reflection of twigs‘ romance with Patterson, which saw the singer lose control of her narrative and her own identity outside of the mega star’s life.
Twigs‘ “un-meshing” results in her most self-assured project yet, one that returns to the electronic, synth-heavy and industrial sound that built her fanbase while also introducing a new bag of tricks. Tracks such as “sad day” and the Future-assisted “holy terrain” see the singer embrace a more pop-forward sound that remains specific to her brand, while the meditative “cellophane” is one of the closest things to a traditional ballad that the singer has ever put out. The project’s standout track, though, is “fallen alien,” an aggressive banger of a love song that makes good on pro-femme theme promised by the album’s title. If there’s one takeaway from ‘MAGDALENE,‘ it’s that twigs certainly can’t be pinned down – not by a man or any musical genre. – Drew Howard
4. Ariana Grande — thank u, next
2018 was an understandably challenging year for Grande. Amidst her first musical comeback since the Manchester Arena terrorist attack with the hugely cathartic ‘Sweetener,’ she spent most of the year in the spotlight during her high-profile relationship with Pete Davidson as well as after the passing of her late ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller. Despite claiming she was taking a break from music in a now-deleted tweet, it’s at this time that she picked herself up, called her best friends and wrote herself back to a place of happiness, saying that doing so “kind of saved my life.” Released as a surprise with no prior promotion, the eponymous lead single became a cultural and commercial hit. The past year has seen Grande earn her first two #1 singles, break the YouTube 24-hour record with her chick-flick inspired music video for “thank u, next,” and nab five Grammy nominations for the upcoming 62nd Grammy Awards.
‘thank u, next’ polarizes Grande as a woman with both steadfast confidence and intense insecurity. In one breath she sings about being overly needy and carrying trauma from previous lovers (“needy”), and in the next she’s exclaiming that she’s the entire universe and needs more time on her own away from her romantic partners (“NASA”). The success of the record, singles and tour have helped bolster Grande’s A-list status, but it’s her commitment to being in control of her work – and the speed at which the record was fully-formed in light of her personal struggles – that makes the record so impressive. – Sami Baker
3. Tyler, The Creator — IGOR
Tyler, The Creator‘s fifth studio album, ‘Flower Boy’ was largely agreed upon to be the peak effort of his career in 2017 – that is, until ‘IGOR.’ Over a decade into his career, Tyler throws listeners for yet another loop by embracing the grungy, lo-fi and sometimes messy sound of his early years with a polished and funky twist. Taking a cue from Childish Gambino’s ‘Awaken, My Love!’ and even Frank Ocean, Tyler goes the extra mile in embracing his IGOR alter-ego with heavily pitched vocals that make you second guess if you clicked on the right album. The project succeeds in its ability to convey the raw, earnest emotions that made ‘Flower Boy’ such a refreshing chapter with tracks like “EARFQUAKE” and “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” among others. There’s also cuts for Tyler fans going back to his somewhat immature, emo days of ‘Goblin’ on the brilliant bangers, “WHAT’S GOOD” and “NEW MAGIC WAND.”
Despite the inclusion of guest appearances by Playboi Carti, Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert and Solange, among others, the real star of the show here is Tyler’s brilliantly off-kilter and experimental production. ‘IGOR’ serves as the culmination of everything we know and love about Tyler: brilliant, strange and unexpected. – Drew Howard
2. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Calling Billie Eilish the breakout artist of 2019 feels a bit shortsighted considering her output over the past few years. Breaking onto the scene with her Soundcloud hit, “Ocean Eyes” in 2015, Eilish continued to make waves in the industry with her arguably anti-pop releases like “bellyache,” “idontwannabeyouanymore” and “my boy” from her first EP in 2017, ‘don’t smile at me.’ The “breakout” artist of 2019 already garnered a rabid and intense fan base ahead of her debut album, making the success of ‘WWAFA, WDWG’ feel more like a victory lap for the young talent if anything.
Co-produced and written with older brother Finneas O’Connell, ‘WWAFA, WDWG’ is one of the decade’s most self-assured debut albums that will certainly have every record executive looking for “the next Eilish.” The singer’s penchant for dark, atmospheric production combined with a voice that fits just as well behind a ukelele as it does on the thumping “bad guy” bassline has helped her tap into an audience that defies modern genre conventions. With the 2020 Grammys coming up along with a new leg of her world tour scheduled, it appears that Eilish’s debut era is only just beginning (despite already having the most-streamed album on Spotify this year). – Drew Howard
1. Lana Del Rey — Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey closes out the decade she helped to largely influence with her artistic peak on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!,’ the best album of both the year and her impressive discography.
Del Rey’s newly-minted relationship with superstar producer Jack Antonoff proves to be the extra ingredient that helps elevate the artist’s singular, alt-pop/rock vision into career-defining work. While her earlier work was preoccupied with old-Hollywood camp, ‘NFR’ sees her trade most of that in for a singer-songwriter driven style of soft-rock. The soft psych-rock and piano production that populates ‘NFR’ is a far cry from Antonoff’s signature upbeat, quirky pop production style, proving him to be one of music’s most versatile producers. And as for Del Rey, breaking away from her usual team of collaborators and her signature lush, cinematic pop sound gives a chance for her underrated songwriting abilities to fully shine.
While the classic Del Rey themes of hopeless romance, self-destruction and a whimsical sense of Americana are present on ‘NFR,’ the songwriting feels more honest, emotionally varied and narrative-driven than ever before. “How to Disappear” and the title track see Del Rey craft her usual themes around characters into full bodied stories that feel destined for a short film along the lines of “Tropico.” More so than any other time in her discography, Del Rey sings of hope on the beautiful “Love Song,” the forceful “Happiness is a Butterfly,” and the aptly titled, “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It.” And it makes sense that LDR has a lot to be hopeful about heading into 2020. After spending much of the beginning of the decade fighting off largely misogynistic scrutiny over her backstory, appearance and artistic vision, Del Rey is entering the new decade as one of music’s most influential artists and respected songwriters. – Shawn Westcott
What was your favorite album of 2019? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter at @PopCrave!