Pop music had its moments in 2018. We could name dozens that graced the charts but somehow we narrowed it down to a select handful that managed to stand out among the rest. With purposeful debuts from breakout artists to newfound sounds from established musicians, these are our best albums of this extraordinary year.
15. Hayley Kiyoko, ‘Expectations’
Every track from Hayley Kiyoko‘s debut album ‘Expectations’ is an absolute pop banger dream. It’s a solid start for the former Lemonade Mouth star. She proudly sings about her love and attraction for women and as an extremely popular rising star in 2018, it makes a bold statement: this should be normalized. ‘Expectations’ is a combination of pop-perfection and delectable dance tunes that are sugary to the soul. We’re so used to hearing about men and women pining after one another, now it’s time to make room for vulnerable LGBTQ anthems to make an entry—Hayley Kiyoko is helping change that.
14. Now, Now, ‘Saved’
Emo-pop duo Now, Now actively stay true to their roots with their third album ‘Saved’ but with a different twist. Following the departure of their guitarist in 2017, the shift in the duo’s music is obvious but it’s not unwelcome. There’s a slight pop spin with their new sound—all rock but synth-heavy—that allows them to advance down a new path that could possibly reveal a more attainable pop-like band. ‘Saved’ is an album about starving of affection and thriving off salvation, all while sounding like we’re entering an alternate universe that’s otherworldly. The LP is an eclectic excursion through being scared of our feelings but facing them anyway.
13. Robyn, ‘Honey’
Robyn made us re-enter a nightclub dance floor over and over again in 2018. Eight years since her last album, we hoped to indulge ourselves in a heavenly experience that involved nothing but ‘Dancing On My Own’ remixes. ‘Honey’ is a rediscovery of what pop music should sound like—synthetic beats, and hopeful words about love and longing. Listening to ‘Honey’ is like a blast from the past where Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are still distant rivals but pop princess pals. Robyn manages to launch us into the early 90s but also into the future where pop music will flourish.
12. Chelsea Jade, ‘Personal Best’
It’s a synth-pop glory album. ‘Personal Best’ is Chelsea Jade‘s exemplary debut that signifies a major turn in where pop music could potentially be heading. With support from big-name stars like Lorde, Chelsea Jade exceeds the expectations with an LP that’s chockfull of nothing but solid beats and smooth lyrics. ‘Personal Best’ is a never-ending 80s dance party and ultimately one of the most feel-good albums of the year. Pop music comes in all shapes and forms but Chelsea Jade takes it to an insurmountable level. It’s a venture we’re excited to journey down—endlessly overflowing with smart, fresh, and idiosyncratic tracks that revolutionize the shape of pop.
11. Alessia Cara, ‘The Pains of Growing’
‘The Pains of Growing’ is everything Alessia Cara‘s ‘Know-It-All’ was and more. Cara delivers endless tracks jam-packed with self-love that makes our hearts burst. ‘Scars to Your Beautiful’ was certainly a song that taught us to admire our flaws despite society’s negative opinion. Cara commands her passion for confidence further in ‘The Pains of Growing,’ training her listeners to shoo the toxic thoughts away. It’s invigorating to realize our worth—we’re not defined by our weight, looks, or failures—and Cara reminds us of that in her powerful sophomore album.
10. Troye Sivan, ‘Bloom’
Troye Sivan‘s sophomore album ‘Bloom’ is one that doesn’t play around. Queer media is a heavily debated topic even though it shouldn’t be. Despite all that, Sivan is able to make it a normality. It’s self-assured and strong-willed, almost like Sivan has unveiled a piece of himself that he never knew existed. Digging further into his innermost thoughts, ‘Bloom’ is a work that seems to resonate with the artist. The lyrics are soft-spoken and deeply grounded in who Sivan is as a songwriter. Unlike his first album ‘Blue Neighborhood,’ ‘Bloom’ is slower but rightfully so—he’s graciously stepping out onto a precipice that shifts his entire artistry.
9. Janelle Monáe, ‘Dirty Computer’
Full of innovation and diversity, Janelle Monáe delivered a spectacular album with ‘Dirty Computer.’ She delves into living as a queer black woman in the U.S.—not especially accepted in a country that’s taken on a considerable amount of issues involving racism, homophobia, and sexism. Monáe wants us to listen to her and it doesn’t matter if we don’t like it, she’s making a statement: she knows who she is and she’s proud of it. Aspects of ‘Dirty Computer’ are strong reminders of legends like Prince but also very Monáe, a culmination of groovy R&B mixed with self-revelation.
8. Miya Folick, ‘Premonitions’
‘Premonitions’ is a revolutionary debut from LA-based musician Miya Folick. Exploding with diverse and profound songwriting, Folick manifests the embodiment of indie-pop music. She claims responsibility for her actions but at the same time regrets her apologies. It’s probably the most sincere any artist has been this year and overall, the most refreshing especially in an industry that thrives off the idea of being inauthentic. Folick’s first album is a breath of fresh air, it addresses the realness of finicky friendships and failed outcomes—issues we all need to discuss no matter how unpleasant they might be.
7. Shawn Mendes, ‘Shawn Mendes’
Shawn Mendes has all eyes on him, a stressful environment for an insanely famous 20-year-old popstar. In his self-titled third album, Mendes succeeded in discovering his ideal sound. Setting him apart from other heartthrob musicians, Mendes slides right into a genre that’s a perfect fit. It takes artists years to find their niche—what kind of music will they make, what kind of lyrics do they want to put forth, or what image do they want the world to see? Mendes seems like he has it all figured out even though he may not. It’s an album that’s suitably titled after the musician himself; it’s his 14-track anthem all about his creative identity.
6. Mitski, ‘Be the Cowboy’
Mitski perfectly captures what it means to be lonely. ‘Be the Cowboy’ is an epic journey into the singer’s realization of her vulnerability. She explores her dealings with fame, lost love, and romance in a way that’s cathartic. We almost feel emotionally and mentally healed after listening all the way through. Mitski’s songwriting has solidified her as one of the most promising musicians of this generation—a feat that’s difficult to surpass but she’s easily established a breakthrough beginning for a long and bountiful career.
5. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, ‘boygenius’
2018 was a trying time for women. While there was so much gained, there was so much lost as well. That’s why when Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus decided to come together to form a supergroup aptly called boygenius, we couldn’t resist the ideality of it. When you put together three signature sad songstresses and have them record an EP, what do you end up with? A beautifully cultivated selection of songs that leave you wistful for a lost lover or reminiscing about happier, childlike times. Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus allowed us to see the world through their eyes—it’s dreary but hopeful in a way. ‘boygenius’ is an ethereally alluring product and a true testament to what women are capable of creating when they support one another.
4. Kacey Musgraves, ‘Golden Hour’
Somehow making us remember our fondest childhood memories, Kacey Musgraves delves into a nostalgic story of her personal struggles with just simply living in ‘Golden Hour.’ It’s not often we hear an artist croon so candidly about everyday life; it’s so mundane we can almost relate to it without feeling guilty. She’s cultivated a combination of pop and country, something many other country artists have attempted but couldn’t succeed as gracefully. Musgraves easily glides through each track that travels from soft country-folk to high-energy disco. Either way, ‘Golden Hour’ has taught us to give country music an everlasting chance.
3. Ariana Grande, ‘Sweetener’
Ariana Grande quite literally ruled pop music this year. Everywhere you turned, the popstar was blasting from every possible speaker. 2018 was the year where Grande overtook the charts and left everyone else in the dust—all well-deserved with an album like ‘Sweetener’ heating up the airwaves. The singer’s fourth album explored a different kind of pop music; full of self-discovery and compassion, Grande made room for her well-being this time around. Working alongside mega-producers like Pharrell Williams and Max Martin, Grande managed to find her voice in a catastrophic sea of sound-a-likes. It’s bold, unique, and satisfyingly fresh—when it comes down to it, Grande has made one of the most dynamic pop albums of the year.
2. The 1975, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’
The world has endured plenty this past year—there was good, bad but overall it was thoroughly exhausting. ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is a millennial-centered album that focuses on the social and political economy of today’s world. Trekking through the ups and downs of society’s climate, The 1975 intelligently approach topics that some musicians wouldn’t dare touch. The band’s third album is daringly divergent than their previous releases. They explore with instrumentals, bold lyrics, and take on the modern ideas of fame. Frontman Matty Healy exudes the charisma of a popstar but challenges that idea—he doesn’t want that burden but at least he’s using it to spearhead a movement. ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is one of the most ambitious moves made by an artist this year and perhaps in this generation of pop music.
1. Florence + the Machine, ‘High as Hope’
Healing and self-love is the overpowering theme of this year. Florence + the Machine’s fourth album ‘High as Hope’ is an ode to all the dreamers, lost souls, and emotionally innate beings searching for a purpose in life. Florence Welch used to be known for her hard partying and wild nights full of excessive behaviors but now she’s cleaned up. ‘High as Hope’ revealed a softer side to the musician—she’s more reserved but bursting with creativity. She expresses deep regrets about her tortuous past but seals a new fate for herself; it’s full of promise and hopefully happiness. Welch has the ability to personify what it means to be lonely while also knowing that it’s not overwhelming. ‘High as Hope’ is elegant, self-aware, and brimming with joy–significantly different from anything else the musician has produced and that’s deeply encouraging. Welch allowed us to view the world in a more realistic perspective and sometimes that’s the most authentic approach an artist can take.