2019 treated us to some outstanding pop albums. It sure was hard to choose between number 1 and 2, but the rest of these 20 albums are worth a spin if you haven’t yet. And if you have, just do it again!
20. Mabel – High Expectations
Mabel has been throwing tunes at us from 2016 on, but she kept us waiting for her debut album. The title High Expectations could not be more accurate. The great thing about this album is that it actually lives up to these expectations. The deluxe edition collected her earlier hits like ‘Fine Line’ and ‘Finders Keepers’ and of course the bop ‘Don’t Call Me Up’, which changed her career for the better and was number 1 in numerous countries. Follow ups ‘Mad Love’ and ‘Bad Behaviour’ are in the same style and go off too. The same goes for potential future hits ‘Selfish Love’ and ‘Put Your Name On It’.
For those who think that Mabel only delivers the bangers, she proves she is more than that! She shares her struggle with anxiety on ‘OK (Anxiety Song)’. She tells herself and her fans at the same time that it is okay not to be okay, but that there will be a brighter tomorrow. Mabel excels at bops about not wanting to pick up the phone during a night out, but she just as easily moves us with some open and honest lyrics. Her debut album was completely on trend and I can’t wait to hear what is next for her.
19. Jonas Brothers – Happiness Begins
Who would have thought the Jonas Brothers would end up in this list in the year 2019? Their comeback record is inoffensive feel good pop made for the masses. When you execute it as well as the Jonas Brothers do here, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The brothers deliver some of the best tunes of their careers ten years after their most successful days as a band, which is impressive to begin with. They sound more free and confident than before. Happiness Begins is the most appropriate name they could have chosen for this record as it sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. I am pretty sure their concerts for this record are going to be a party from start to finish!
18. Freya Ridings – Freya Ridings
Freya Ridings took the UK by storm last year when the gorgeous ballad ‘Lost Without You’ finally became the hit it deserved to be. It earned her the title of Most Promising Artist for 2019 on A Bit of Pop Music and she did not let us down with her self-titled debut studio album. She delivers more stunning piano ballads like ‘You Mean The World To Me’ and album closer ‘Wishbone’, but you are mistaken if you think she can’t pull of something a bit more uptempo.
The most recent single ‘Castles’ is a proper pop anthem with a big singalong chorus and the Florence + the Machine-esque ‘Holy Water’ is a thrilling, bombastic ride. ‘Poison’ is a hypnotizing midtempo album opener and ‘Ultraviolet’ serves exactly the type of dark singer-songwriter pop that suits her deep vocals like a glove. There is not really a dud to be found on this record. She really is one of the most exciting musical discoveries of the past few years!
17. Madonna – Madame X
Madonna had a controversial year (when does she not though), but did deliver one of her most interesting albums of all time. She incorporated numerous different styles, including latin pop, Portugese Fado and disco, which is a happy coincidence as Madame X is her best record since the disco heaven of Confessions on a Dancefloor. Madame X dares to experiment with material that radio would never ever touch, Madame X speaks her mind without holding back and above all, Madame X shows that Madonna’s creativity is still thriving.
16. Harry Styles – Fine Line
It is easy to forget that only a couple of years ago, Harry Styles was still part of boyband One Direction. Over the years he has proven he is his own artist and his second album Fine Line is the cherry on top that shows he stands on his own two feet musically. The singles ‘Lights Up’, ‘Watermelon Sugar’ and ‘Adore You’ showed his great ear for timeless pop melodies and the rest of the album follows suit. Styles sounds like a true artist, without being pretentious about it and he shows himself to be an excellent songwriter. A classy pop record that we will keep on repeat going into 2020.
15. LÉON – LÉON
Swedish songstress LÉON delivered a debut record that takes us from pop banger to ballad and from retro to contemporary. She carved out a sound that works for her voice and what she stands for as an artist. She brings different eras of pop music together with her powerhouse vocals, catchy compositions and universal lyrics about love and heartbreak. This album is an undeniably strong collection of tunes that should have been heard by way more people throughout the year!
14. Sigrid – Sucker Punch
Those who think that Norwegian pop star Sigrid is a one-trick-pony who only masters the art of the synth bop, are mistaken. Sure, she masters that art exceptionally well, but the ballads on her debut record are heartbreakingly beautiful too. Sigrid worked with a handful of writers and producers for this record, but did most of the work with Martin Sjølie, with whom she collaborated from the start of her career. Sigrid delivers a debut album that completely fits her as an artist. It is cohesive and exactly what one would expect from her, but at the same time she managed to add more depth and personality. An excellent debut!
13. Marina – Love + Fear
On Love + Fear, Marina shows herself to be more mature and carefree than ever before, which causes her tunes to be generally slightly more basic and at the same time contemporary sounding. Although this might not be the best work of her career, the melodies are still very much on point on most of the songs and the productions are lush! While she delivers the bops in the first half, the more mature and deep lyrics follow in the second. A well balanced record that sure was worth the wait!
12. Melanie Martinez – K-12
The Voice alumni Melanie Martinez took four years to follow up her debut album Cry Baby with sophomore effort K-12. This second installment continues the story of Melanie’s character Crybaby. The album kicks off with ‘Wheels On The Bus’, an insanely catchy tune that incorporates the melody of the children’s song, while describing all the things that go on in the school bus. ‘Class Talk’ sees her fight the most popular girl in school over a boy, while ‘Teacher’s Pet’ describes an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student.
On electro pop anthem ‘Strawberry Shortcake’, Martinez discusses unrealistic beauty standards imposed on young girls, as well as the fact that girls get blame for the way they dress, sometimes even insinuating they are asking for sexual assault. “It’s my fault, cause I put icing on top”, she sings, while concluding in the middle-eight: “Instead of making me feel bad for the body I got, just tell him to keep it in his pants.” While every single track on the record tells a compelling story and has insanely catchy hooks, the absolute highlight is ‘High School Sweethearts’, a track on which Crybaby states her conditions for a relationship: “And damn it, if you fuck me over, I will rip your fucking face apart”, she warns. To top this stunning project off, she even recorded a 90 minute movie based around the songs of the album. This multi-talented lady made sure K-12 is worth the wait.
11. AURORA – A Different Kind of Human – Step 2
AURORA delivered one of the most impressive pop albums of 2018 with Infections of a Different Kind. The ‘step 1’ part in the title suggested a second step was coming and this one she graced us with in 2019. Through the years, AURORA has became more outspoken in her lyrics with more refined poetry, her voice has grown into a force of nature and the fact that she co-writes and co-produces all of her music, makes this third body of work even more impressive. She is an exceptional talent who really has the potential to become a defining pop star of her generation.
10. Shura – Forevher
Shura returned this year with the super romantic single ‘BKLYNLDN’ and it was the first sign that she took her brand of shimmering synth pop to the next level. Second single ‘Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me)’ is one of her absolute best tunes yet and so are the warm, romantic and incredibly catchy tunes like ‘Side Effects’ and ‘Forever’. There is a reason this album received universal praise. Now the rest of the world needs to stop sleeping on Shura, because synth pop hardly ever gets better than this!
Full review of Shura’s concert in Amsterdam here!
09. Kim Petras – Clarity
Kim Petras is a productive pop star. Although she grew up in Germany, she operates from Los Angeles and has been steadily supplying big pop tunes. A big string of singles was released in 2017 and 2018, referred to as ‘Era 1’. Petras kept spoon-feeding us the new songs until the record finally dropped and she sure did not disappoint. Clarity is 2019’s bubblegum pop by the numbers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The album serves slick electro pop like the outstanding ‘Icy’ and full on banger ‘Personal Hell’, as well as some sexy R&B and hip-hop induced tunes like ‘Do Me’ and ‘Got My Number’. She channels her inner Kylie Minogue with the elegant bop ‘Sweet Spot’ and shows she can do ballads and midtempos too with the beautiful choruses of ‘Broken‘, ‘All I Do Is Cry’ and the rebellious ‘Blow It All’. Petras comes dangerously close to pop perfection on her first LP.
08. Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
Maggie Rogers impressed the world when the worlds of folk and electronic pop collided on her tune ‘Alaska’. The rest of her debut album follows suit, be it in a more polished way with bigger chorus and slicker productions (she worked with hit producer Greg Kurstin on half of the tracks). Of course Rogers is not the inventor of this genre, like Pharrell Williams almost made it out to be during a workshop, but she sure fills a gap with her own take on it, now that Ellie Goulding lost the folk in her pop and Lykke Li recently started to experiment with hiphop and trap. Her melodies are exquisite and her lyrics give us a beautiful insight in her poetic mind. A debut straight from heaven!
07. Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next
If you thought 2018 was as big as it could get for Ariana Grande, she proved you wrong. Thank U, Next is easily Grande’s best album to date. It is a clear step up from Sweetener. There is next to no filler material to be found, the album is a perfectly cohesive body of work and literally every tune could have been a hit single. Ariana dared to be personal and think out of the box both in sound and releasing strategy and it paid off!
Full track by track review here!
06. Taylor Swift – Lover
With Lover, Taylor Swift delivers another big pop album on which at least half of the songs are potential hits. The album does miss the absolute heights that both 1989 and Reputation reached, but it is easily more consistent and cohesive than the latter. Lover might take a little longer with its melodies to reach your subconsciousness, but once you get there, there is no denying that miss Swift did it again. She is not letting go of her dominating pop star status anytime soon. Moreover, she sounds like she is in a much better place than on her previous record, which shines through on this new collection of premium pop tunes.
05. Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings
Mark Ronson had the brilliant idea to turn the heartbreak he felt over his divorce into a an album full of female fronted pop anthems. The producer kicked off the era with the nothing short of brilliant country inspired tune ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’, a collaboration with Miley Cyrus. Next up was Swedish electro pop artist Lykke Li, who worked on two tracks on the album, including the magnificent title track. Yebba comes in for a trilogy and her ‘Don’t Leave Me Lonely’ is one of the best recent attemps to incorporate disco in a modern pop sound.
Camila Cabello delivers the goods on the larger than life chorus of ‘Find U Again’ which deserved to be a global number one. Alicia Keys, King Princess and especially Angel Olsen deliver outstanding tunes that bring out the best in Ronson. There is not a single dud to be found on Late Night Feelings. The idea of having female pop stars sing your heartbreak is exactly as good as it sounds on paper!
04. BANKS – III
BANKS is one of those pop stars who does not need to chase hits to have the career she deserves. She does what she loves and excels at it and her sound is completely singular. She certainly made progress on her third record, pushing her sound with experiments and new twists within her existing sonic universe. It is enough to keep us on our toes, while not alienating us. I can hardly think of any other contemporary pop artist who delivered such cohesive and deep body of works for their first three albums.
03. FKA twigs – Magdalene
A lot of us pop fans pressure our favourite artists in releasing new material as soon as possible, but I will try to never do that again as FKA twigs took five years, but released an absolute masterpiece. Magdalene is a massive step up from the already strong LP1. The whole concept here is well thought out, the lyrics tell a story from track 1 to 9 and the productions are simply out of this world. Whether it is an intense banger like ‘Sad Day’ or the stripped back gut punch ‘Cellophane’, FKA twigs makes you feel things not a lot of artists can. Incredibly personal and wildly creative.
Full review of her Magdalene tour here!
02. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go
It has been said before and will be said many more times looking back at this incredible debut record, but it is hard to believe that Billie Eilish was able to create this when just 17 years old. Her sound is completely her own, which is rare for an artist on her debut album. Together with her brother Finneas, she does not necessarily colour outside the lines; she created a whole new canvas on which they work within their own soundscapes without worrying about hit singles or radiofriendly choruses. Eilish does not have to adapt to fit trends; she is the trend. 2019 was completely her year!
01. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
Lana Del Rey never disappoints with any of her albums, but is is clear Norman Fucking Rockwell! is something truly special. It wowed critics worldwide and ended up on number 1 in a lot of those lists. I totally get why people say it is her best one. Lyrically, she stepped things up and together with Jack Antonoff she found exactly the right tone of voice within her music. While all of her records so far had their charm, Norman Fucking Rockwell! does come across as the most accomplished, balanced and well thought out. An absolute triumph of a pop album that lasts for an hour and seven minutes: Lana Del Rey did that.
Full track by track review here!