After I shared A Bit of Pop Music’s Best Videos of 2018, next up are the very best pop albums released this year. Now I will admit that this year was tougher affair than usual. While Beyoncé easily took the crown in 2016, last year was a two horse race between Lorde and Lana Del Rey, but this year I did not have one or two records that stood out as much. That is not to say that 2018 did not bring us great albums, because it sure did. Here are 20 of them!
20. First Aid Kit – Ruins
Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit released their fourth album Ruins at the start of the year. With heartbreaking ballads like ‘Fireworks’ and the mighty opening track ‘Rebel Heart’, the band shows off a mature and rich branch of folk pop. The sound of the new album was not so much a break from what they used to do before, but more as if they went more in depth with what they already knew. And they simply excel at what they do!
19. James Bay – Electric Light
James Bay started the year with a different sound and a different image. Commercially it simply was not as successful as his debut, but he deserves credit for not taking the easy route. He experimented, mixed up genres that his fans might not have expected from him in the first place and learned to use his voice in more than one manner. Not every experiment might have worked, but James Bay sure proved he got more than one trick up his sleeve. This album delivered us ‘Pink Lemonade’ which is hands down one of the best pop tunes of the year!
18. Tove Styrke – Sway
Tove Styrke released a mini-album this year, but by the time Sway finally came out, there was not much left to surprise us with. Out of the eight tracks, she already released five before the album dropped. That however does not take away from the fact that it is a flawless collection of insanely catchy pop tunes. The Swedish pop star has a distinct sound of minimal but effective productions where the hooks do all the work. ‘Mistakes’, ‘Say My Name’ and ‘On The Low’ are all irresistible!
17. Kylie Minogue – Golden
On paper, Kylie Minogue doing country sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in reality she pulled it off. Sure, Golden is more of a pop/dance album with a big country twist, but still! It is a fresh new sound for Kylie that delivered enough bops to keep the fans satisfied, as well as drawing in a new audience with heartfelt ballads. It will not go down in history as Kyie’s best or most iconic album, but she once again reinvented herself successfully!
16. Lucie Silvas – E.G.O.
Lucie Silvas came back swinging this year with her best album to date. The British singer-songwriter who lives in Nashville these days, brought us the eclectic E.G.O. (Everybody Gets Off) on which she simply excels at every genre she attempts. From rock to soul to funk and back! ‘Black Jeans’ is a smooth pop song with a sweeping chorus, while she brings back the 60s on ‘Girls From California’. Things get soulful and romantic on ballads like ‘I Want You All To Myself’. Lyrically she manages to translate the personal to the universal. This album deserves a bigger audience!
15. Nina June – Bon Voyage
Dutch singer-songwriter Nina June had been steadily dropping singles until her album Bon Voyage was finally released at the start of the year. The result is a gorgeous collection of delicate productions and spine-tingling vocals. June effortlessly mixes piano with synths to create a sound that is completely her own. Lyrically, the album is all about a search for purpose, meaning, true freedom and true love. Singles ‘Out To Sea’ and ‘Till Dawn’ are the absolute highlights, but every single track offers something new and exciting.
14. MNEK – Language
MNEK unfortunately found out that a great debut album will not always translate to big sales. On social media the producer, songwriter and pop star was open about the disappointing sales figures, but we hope he realizes it does not take away from the fact that Language is an impressive debut record! It is well thought out from start to finish with a playful structure, humorous interludes, early noughties R&B throwbacks (‘Girlfriend’), proper bops (‘Tongue’) and outspoken hiphop infused tunes (‘Correct’). A bold and neatly executed debut!
13. Mariah Carey – Caution
Never underestimate Mariah Carey! When you least expect it, she drops her best work in at least 10 years. Caution is a short, but sweet and oh so cohesive R&B record with a contemporary vibe and zero filler material. Whether she is sassy af on tracks like ‘GTFO’ or ‘A No No’ or romantic and sultry on tunes like ‘With You’ and ‘The Distance’, she absolutely nails the vocal work. MiMi found a sound that is both completely on trend and stays true to what Mariah does best. Caution is exactly what we wanted Mariah to sound like in 2018.
12. Lily Allen – No Shame
Lily Allen made her long awaited return with the record No Shame and it wasn’t as much a return to form, but she simply outdid her self. Her lyrics are more personal and poetic than ever, both unapologetic and fragile. One can also still count on Allen to bring the catchiest pop hooks even when production wise things are often stripped back here, maximizing the emotional impact. Opening track ‘Come On Then’ is one of the best pop songs that did not get the single treatment this year. This whole album is a testament of Lily’s musical and personal growth.
11. Saara Aalto – Wild Wild Wonderland
Saara Aalto has never made a secret out of her love for theatrical, big pop tunes so no surprise that this is exactly what she serves on her record Wild Wild Wonderland. The Finnish Eurovision and X Factor UK star drops bop after bop on us with larger than life choruses. This album delivers hooks in all the right places and Aalto belts her heart out on every single one of them. It had been a while since I heard such a delicious straightforward pop record!
10. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
If Ariana Grande’s Sweetener would have been as strong as the three singles, it would have easily been number 1 on this list. Unfortunately anything that contains a tuneless mess like ‘The Light Is Coming’ does not deserve to be number 1 of anything. A few duds aside however, the majority of Sweetener is undeniably strong, cohesive, personal and serves the hooks on a platter. If Ariana can make sure that she leaves out the filler material for her next record Thank U, Next, it might end up even higher on this list for 2019!
09. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born is easily one of the best movies of the year, but the soundtrack album is up there too! Cooper sounds surprisingly convincing as a deep voiced country and rock ‘n roll star, but of course it is Gaga who steals the show. From the all consuming chorus of worldwide hit ‘Shallow’, to the irresistible romance of ‘Always Remember Us This Way’ and the slick electro pop of ‘Heal Me’ and ‘Hair Body Face’, the leading lady slays the house down!
08. Troye Sivan – Bloom
Troye Sivan was hailed as the queer critics darling this year and although some said his sophomore album Bloom received too much praise for what it is, I can’t help but thoroughly enjoy it. It surely could have done with a bit more body (read: a couple more tracks), but it is an undeniably strong collection of bops and ballads without a single filler. As he worked with a more diverse group of producers, he gave himself room to experiment which makes Bloom into a more versatile body of work than its predecessor. He dared to push his image further, is more outspoken in his lyrics and his more sexy sound brought us brilliant pop moments like ‘My My My!’ and ‘Lucky Strike’.
07. Lykke Li – So Sad, So Sexy
Lykke Li returned with her first solo material in more than four years. The very appropirately titled album So Sad, So Sexy saw the Swedish artist reinventing her own sound with trap beats and more general hiphop influences. One thing never changed though. Lykke is a hell of a songwriter who never fails to convey emotions in both her lyrics and vocal performance. ‘Last Piece’ is a stunning, quiet little tune while first single ‘Deep End’ has easily one of the best pop choruses of the year. Lykke Li returned triumphant!
06. Aurora – Infections of a Different Kind – Step 1
On her sophomore record, Norwegian pop arist AURORA takes on big themes, does not shy away from poetically taking a stand and expands her sound into something broader and more experimental. Infections of a Different Kind sounds like it was created by someone way beyond her young years. It is rare for an artist to be this articulate lyrically within a soundscape they made completely their own so early on in their career. Easily one of the most original and intriguing pop albums of the year!
05. Robyn – Honey
You need a whole lot of nerve to make fans wait eight years for an album with just nine tracks. Robyn did that! Listening to Honey is an experience though! Robyn expanded her sonic universe even further, mixing pop with house, disco, electro and everything in between. The Swedish queen of impeccable hooks treated us to rich melodies, out of the box productions and raw lyrical content. Those who just came for the bops might be left underwhelmed, but those who open up to her new sound probably feel just as mesmerized as I do, listening to Honey.
04. Florence + the Machine – High As Hope
Florence + the Machine takes time to step back, reflect, heal and move on fourth record High As Hope. There is an understated quality about this record that takes us back to her basics. We hear lush strings, delicate vocal work and subtly soaring choruses. We still get vocal firework when needed and the productions build up like there is no tomorrow if the melodic progression asks for it, but everything here serves a purpose to get Florence’s personal story across. And that story is one we want to keep hearing over and over again until the next chapter comes along!
03. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and rightfully so. The way she comments on a political movement while incorporating her own personal experiences, is impressive to say the least. She should be applauded for having the courage to speak out about all this and on top of that, also deliver outstanding compositions that range from soulful slow tempos, to uptempo funk, to fiery raps over hiphop beats. Janelle Monáe has got it all!
02. Rae Morris – Someone Out There
Rae Morris took three years to release her sophomore album and it was more than worth the wait. The British singer-songwriter surprised us with a bold mix of proper electro pop uptempos and atmospheric ballads. Her warm vocals are still very much at the centre of it all, but she does not shy away from experimenting with synths and beats these days. Everything that makes Someone Out There such an exciting record, comes together on the swinging synth banger ‘Lower The Tone’. What a build up, what a climax! Rae Morris delivered an album that comes dangerously close to pop perfection!
01. Years & Years – Palo Santo
The campaign for Years & Years’ sophomore album Palo Santo was off to a rocky start when the first single underperformed and the second one did not represent the sound of the album at all. Palo Santo being the best pop album of the year, sure made up for that though! Frontman Olly Alexander seems to have taken the sounds that inspired him throughout his life, blended them into the style of Years & Years 2.0, while also convincingly telling his personal story. The guys take us to synth pop heaven and back with a bop heavy (‘All For You’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Don’t Panic’, ‘Up In Flames’ as highlights), no filler record that also hits us right in the feels with absolutely gorgeous ballads (‘Lucky Escape, Hypnotized’). The most full-fledged pop album that ticks all the boxes!