2020 started out as an uncertain year for new albums. When the Covid pandemic hit, many pop stars started to delay their releases, only to find out that this thing was not going to blow over anytime soon, so they might as well just go on and drop the records anyway. We saw a big disco revival which was great as we could definitely use some upbeat albums to dance in our living rooms too and of course there was a certain artist writing and releasing not one but two albums during lockdown. These are A Bit of Pop Music’s 20 favorite pop albums of 2020!
Let me start with honorable mentions for Troye Sivan and Maria Mena, who both released outstanding EPs this year which were ineligible for this list, but worth a listen.
20. Niall Horan – Heartbreak Weather
Niall Horan was the third member of One Direction to release his second album. Heartbreak Weather came out in March, just as the first Covid restrictions were put in place in The Netherlands. I remember streaming this record on repeat to distract myself from all things happening. There is a breezy and easy going quality to his brand of singer-songwriter pop. The title track and album opener is such an undeniable ear worm and so was the lead single ‘Nice To Meet Ya’, that just screams to be played in arenas. There is heaps of radio friendly choruses (‘Arms Of A Stranger’, ‘Black And White’, ‘Small Talk’, let’s just say all of them), warm vocals and some vulnerable moments (‘Bend The Rules’, ‘San Francisco’) to be found here. Niall Horan became a truly worthy solo artist!
19. Shawn Mendes – Wonder
After having one of the biggest hits of the year in 2019 with ‘Señorita’ (a duet with his girlfriend Camila Cabello), Shawn Mendes returned this year with his fourth album Wonder, follow up to 2018’s self-titled record. He introduced the era with the outstanding title track and Justin Bieber duet ‘Monster’ as the singles. The album offers potential hits like the swinging gospel inspired ‘Teach Me How To Love’ and the pop banger ‘Higher’. Much of the record is dedicated to his girlfriend Camila Cabello and while this might get too gooey for some, there is some tunes about feeling homesick and missing hometown friends. And if those lovey dovey moments are as strong as ‘Always Been You’ (which brings back the orchestral dramatics of the lead single), the sultry ‘Piece of You’ or the cute ‘Look Up At The Stars’, I ain’t complaining!
18. Conan Gray – Kid Krow
Conan Gray, who was A Bit of Pop Music’s most promising artist for 2020 thanks to the irresistible pop banger ‘Maniac’, finally released his debut record Kid Krow this year. The whole album fulfilled his promise as he shows himself to be an excellent songwriter and versatile pop star. Other than bops, he also excels at hiphop infused pop-rock (‘Checkmate’), heartbreaking singer-songwriter ballads (‘The Story’), contemporary pop anthems (‘Wish You Were Sober’) and understated anthems about unrequited love (‘Heather’). They are all exceptionally well written songs with as many deep lyrics as banging choruses. A truly impressive debut!
17. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
British-Japanese pop artist Rina Sawayama has been around a while now and already had some EPs to her name, but 2020 was the year that she treated the world to her debut LP Sawayama. The record, just like the artist, defies every label or categorization. She goes from club banger ‘Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)’ to noughties R&B and metal hybrid ‘XS’ and ‘STFU!’, which mixes an early 2000’s Britney Spears hook with rocking guitars. Her productions are always out of the box, but hooks like the ones in ‘Paradisin” and ‘Who’s Gonna Save You Now?’ are as bright and poppy as they come. She doesn’t fail to make us feel the feels either with the honest and relatable ‘Bad Friend’. Sawayama is the result of a brilliant pop mind with a perfect pop voice.
16. The Weeknd – After Hours
In many ways, 2020 was the year of The Weeknd. The Canadian R&B star ruled radio and streaming with his 2019 single ‘Blinding Lights’, which actually became the biggest hit of 2020. He followed up with another slick and radio friendly banger titled ‘In Your Eyes’. The hit success never took the dark R&B out of The Weeknd though. The album After Hours is filled with moody productions full of sex, drugs and the dark side of Hollywood. No lack of Grammy nominations can take away from the fact that this will go down in history as one of the absolute biggest albums of 2020.
15. YUNGBLUD – weird!
It feels like YUNGBLUD was everywhere all the time in 2020. The British punk pop rocker dropped a long string of singles before finally launching the album weird! in December. From the larger than life opener ‘Teresa’ on, the record is one wild ride of clever pop hooks, loud guitars and highly personal, almost confessional lyrics. The lead single ‘God Save Me, But Don’t Drown Me Out’ is a big moment, while he shows his pop sensibility on ‘Cotton Candy’ and the exceptional bond with his fans on a track like ‘Mars’. weird! is a testament of what YUNGBLUD is capable off and it will sure catapult him to the next level of pop stardom.
14. HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III
The sisters of HAIM finally dropped their third record, appropriately titled Women In Music Pt. III, the follow up to 2017’s Something To Tell You. It quickly became their most critically lauded work of their career so far and it is not hard to hear why. Danielle, Este and Alana have talent and musicality in bucket loads and they are not afraid to show it. From the punchy drums and in your face chorus of ‘The Steps’ to the breezy vulnerability of ‘I Know Alone’, they delivered an all killer no filler affair. Whether they are leaning towards rock, contemporary pop or try on a more electronic or country inspired approach, their melodies and productions are always tight.
13. Ariana Grande – positions
Ariana Grande surprised fans when she dropped new single ‘positions’ in October and announced that her new album with the same name would follow a week later. positions was not as instant on first listen as her previous effort Thank U, Next (2019), as the whole record breathes the same vibe and the songs blend in one another. With repeated listens however, the individual tracks start uncovering and you start discovering the little gems in the exquisite production. She serves attitude (‘Shut Up’), sex (’34+35′), sensuality (‘My Hair’), bops (‘Motive’) and ‘pov’ is a gorgeous, soulful closer. Grande dares to sound more seductive and at times vulnerable, whether she whispers or belts in high notes. positions as a record shows that Ariana does what she wants and does best without necessarily going for a big radio single.
12. Janet Devlin – Confessional
Irish singer-songwriter Janet Devlin released one of the most special and personal records of the year. She wrote the songs as part of her life story and then actually added a full auto biography of which each chapter is based on a song. Needless to say the lyrics are incredibly honest, sometimes heartbreaking, powerful and simply moving. There’s haunting songs like ‘Speak’ and ‘Honest Men’ that deal with the darkest days, but also upbeat ‘Holy Water’, that, like more tracks on the record do, incorporates influences from Irish folk music. ‘So Cold’ shows she can do radio friendly pop with a big chorus too and still keep it personal and original. Everything about this album is impressive and commendable.
11. Ellie Goulding – Brightest Blue
The road to Ellie Goulding’s Brightest Blue, her first album since 2015’s Delirium, was messy to say the least, but the final record made it all worth it. All the trap and hiphop inspired singles were banned to an accompanying EP of B sides, while the main album brings back parts of the Ellie Goulding I fell in love with on Lights and Halcyon. With ‘Start’ she shows her will to experiment, ‘How Deep Is Too Deep’ and ‘Love I’m Given’ is proof she can still write big pop tunes with her own personal stamp on it, while ‘Flux’ is one of the best ballads of her career. Goulding might have had her most commercial success when she follows trends, but she makes by far more interesting music when she follows her instincts.
10. Adam Lambert – Velvet
It is a shame that Adam Lambert’s fourth album Velvet flew mostly under the radar, as it is easily his best and most cohesive work to date. It sounds like he finally found his sound and wasn’t held back by a label wanting him to chase trends or create radio hits. The album offers funky disco pop (‘Roses’), glam pop-rock (‘Superpower’), sultry bedroom anthems (‘Over The Moon’) and some straightforward pop anthems too (‘Stranger You Are’). He uses his voice to its full capacity and shows its off with all its qualities, whether its seductive and understated or big and bold. Please never confine Adam Lambert again because he makes his best music when he is free.
09. Ava Max – Heaven & Hell
After the massive success of ‘Sweet But Psycho’ last year, Ava Max had another huge hit this year with ‘Kings & Queens’. The American pop star released her debut record Heaven & Hell off the back of this success and the album is exactly what you would expect: an unapologetic, pure pop record. It is fun, tongue in cheek, playful, campy, but most importantly serves the hooks on almost every single song. This whole album is so damn catchy. After a spin, tunes like ‘Take You To Hell’, ‘OMG What’s Happening’ and ‘Born To The Night’ will be battling each other to be the one that plays around in your head for the rest of the day. She is even hinting at a re-release early next year as she released another complete bop titled ‘My Head & My Heart’ (interpolating ATC’s ‘Around The World’).
08. Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts
Miley Cyrus was planning to release an album consisting of three seperate EP’s of which last year’s She Is Coming was the first, but then decided to scrap the project. With lead single ‘Midnight Sky’, one of the absolute best pop songs released this year, she kicked off the era for Plastic Hearts. In this whirlwind of eighties synth pop, punk and rock, she reinvented herself as an artist once more, with possibly her most convincing pop persona yet. Opener ‘WTF Do I Know’ is an explosive pop-rock banger, the title track swings with a banging chorus, ‘Angels Like You’ might be the best ballad of her career and ‘Gimme What I Want’ is a sleazy, seductive piece of synth rock. The first two thirds of the record are stronger than the last, but overall Plastic Hearts is one of the best and most outspoken pop records of the year.
07. Duncan Laurence – Small Town Boy
Duncan Laurence won the Eurovision Song Contest of 2019 and then took his sweet time to cook up his debut album Small Town Boy. He proved he made the right decision to not hurry and perfect his craft, as he delivered a truly impressive debut record on which his victory song ‘Arcade’ is just one of the many gems. The album mixes big piano ballads like ‘Between Good And Goodbye’, with more upbeat pop anthems like ‘Someone Else’ and atmospheric mid-tempos with big build ups like ‘Sleeping On The Phone’ and ‘Umbrella’. Laurence is the type of songwriter that could move you with every single word and wants to push boundaries in terms of production. He is a songwriter with a passion for modern pop and his album shows.
06. Kylie Minogue – DISCO
In a year of disappointments and lack of parties, the world really needed a disco album by Kylie Minogue and our favorite Australian pop icon delivered. Her ode to the disco era is uplifting and unadulterated fun with hooks for days. The soaring chorus of the title track, the warm message of lead single ‘Say Something’, the funky production to ‘Real Groove’ and the banger of a chorus on ‘Last Chance’ all make you want to get up and dance and forget about everything that is going on in the world these days. Kylie gave us a carefree party album and although a proper party feels really far away in most parts in the world, she made us forget about that for a while and that is exactly what we needed.
05. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure
Ever since Jessie Ware released the single ‘Imagine It Was Us’ back in 2013, I wanted her to do a disco inspired album. With What’s Your Pleasure she did even more. It is a classy, sophisticated bopfest that could best be decribed as an ode to disco and club music, but in a warm, understated and simply gorgeous manner. The songs on here, of which ‘Spotlight’, the title track and ‘Save A Kiss’ are clear highlights, invoke feelings of nostalgia, but at the same time add a fresh 2020 sparkle to it. Album closer ‘Remember Who You Are’ is the soulful finale this album deserves. The whole thing is immaculately produced. Jessie Ware truly outdid herself with this one and made times of lockdown a bit more bearable with his stunner of a record.
04. Taylor Swift – evermore
Miss Taylor Swift did not play around this year. She released not one, but two surprise albums, of which the second, evermore, came out in december. Only a couple of months after the release of folklore, one would expect a collection of B-sides, but she actually dropped another fully fledged album without any significant drop in quality. evermore is another testament of her exceptional songwriting talent. ‘willow’ is like a warm bath every time it flows through the speakers, ‘gold rush’ is like a ray of sunlight coming through when the chorus kicks in, while ‘Tolerate It’ is the kind of breathtaking ballad that makes you drop everything you are doing just to listen. There is not a single dud in this 15 tracks long album. Taylor Swift is one of a kind.
03. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Lady Gaga created her album Chromatica to dance through her own pain. Little did she know how appropriate this album would be for us all in 2020. The album takes us through different era’s of dance, club and house music, but always with a thick layer of electronic pop. There is not a single ballad to be found on this record and the production is balls to the walls in most places, which makes Chromatica the collection of bangers quite a few fans craved after the more understated work on Joanne and A Star Is Born. She serves 90s house on ‘Alice’ (probably the best song on the whole record), quirky electro pop on ‘911’ (which had the best music video of the year) and big dance breaks on ‘Rain On Me’ and ‘Free Woman’. Chromatica might be her most cohesive work to date and it is good to see her back on top of the charts with upbeat pop too!
02. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
The sophomore album is often seen as an important test in an artist’s career and not many have passed it as convincingly as Dua Lipa did this year. The British pop star ruled 2020 with her brand of futuristic, yet nostalgic disco infused upbeat pop. Future Nostalgia is a swinging collection on which every single song could have been a hit single. With the middle-eight to ‘Physical’ and the post-chorus on ‘Levitating’, she delivered some of the most satisfying melodic moments of the year. The album could not have come at a better time: when the world went into lockdown for the first time, Dua made us dance through our living rooms. The whole Future Nostalgia era was a joy to watch: from the music videos, the TV performances, her looks, her dance moves, the Studio 2054 streaming concert, Dua Lipa slayed all year.
01. Taylor Swift – folklore
With two such outstanding records, Taylor Swift thoroughly deserved the top spot this year. She managed to use the unusual circumstances in her favor by subtly reinventing herself in a fresh, folky way, giving her a new audience. Her songwriting on folklore is fresh, inventive and sees her use the perspective of others. Through this, she created a beautiful dream world we could escape to when the actual world wasn’t always the best place to be in. The epic teenage love story told through some of her best melodies on ‘august’, ‘betty’ and ‘cardigan’, the icy conversational duet ‘exile’ with Bon Iver and the child like innocence of ‘seven’ make me feel all the feels. folklore is one of those albums on which the writing is incredibly strong from start to finish and which just doesn’t seem to get old. I think folklore will be remembered as a masterpiece and a defining moment in Swift’s career for years to come.