Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. So, despite the rap-specific list — where ranking is still next to godliness — we’ve opted to leave the albums that appeared on the overall best list off the genre-specific lists. But even for rap, some albums made the cut for their impact on the that sphere without cracking the best of list. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it is meant to highlight the best work in this genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.
In a world where poptimism is the reigning force, and superstars like Kesha, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus are all staging their respective comebacks, pop music is nothing to shake a stick at. In fact, I would almost argue that this was one of the best years for pop in recent memory, it’s just that the music came to us from weird places and with unexpected twists. In that spirit, here is a mix of albums that topped charts and turned heads, and records that you may have not read about anywhere else yet.
20. Miley Cyrus, Younger Now
When Miley Cyrus decided to emerge from her self-imposed exile and follow up the wild, wacky Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (which, to be honest, I still deeply ride for) with a grown-up album that isn’t quite as strident as 2013’s Bangerz was, I was totally excited. After a couple of tumultuous years exploring her sexuality and gender identity, it felt like Miley was going to put her powerhouse vocals and country-pop pedigree to good use. And frankly, on Younger Now she absolutely did.
Unfortunately, as a fan of hip-hop, and a person who routinely defended Miley for dabbling in it, insisting she really cared about the culture, this new album is marred by the fact that she felt the need to throw rap under the bus in the press cycle leading up to its release. Utilizing the trappings of hip-hop as an outsider, and casting them aside when they no longer appeal is not the work of an artist, but a cavalier, selfish person without a proper understanding of their privilege.
If or when I’m able to put that disgust out of my mind, Younger Now is a great little album; her duet with her godmother Dolly Parton on “Rainbowland” is technicolor sweetness, lead single “Malibu” is a glittering power ballad, and both of them represent her new aesthetic, leaning into the country roots her Nashville upbringing and country star father provide. But, what I most want to hear from Miley right now isn’t another shimmering country pop song — it’s an apology.–Caitlin White
19. Taylor Swift, Reputation
Leave it to Taylor Swift to slide in at the tail end of 2017 and create more of a stir than any other pop star the rest of the year. Between a couple direct subs to Kanye West, a whole host of tiny, stinging shots at no one in particular, and several doe-eyed love songs, Reputation is full of the vivid emotional highs and lows that Swift has built her pop empire upon. This album is so bombastic that if you try going back and listening to 1989 directly after, that shiny pop masterpiece actually sounds a bit slow.
Say what you will about how overstuffed and underwritten this album is (seriously, for how poetic she’s been in the past, a lot of lines here ring hollow), it’s still an event album that threw the world for a loop on the short-lived No. 1 lead single “Look What You Made Me Do,” and then boomeranged right back across the fourteen other tracks. Sonically, most of Reputation reminds me of what you would find if you looked up the word “electro-pop” in some sort of musical dictionary. Like, the fact that this record sounds derivative of her 50 Shades Of Gray duet with Zayn is the worst news I could deliver to my past self. Truly, we all hoped that was going to be a fluke, and instead Taylor used it as a blueprint.
But, because it’s Taylor, there’s still a couple songs that escaped the Bangerz treatment, and both “Call It What You Want” and “New Year’s Day” have made it onto my constant-rotation playlist. Also, I might be the only one that finds Future and Ed Sheeran on a song together fascinating, and actually pretty good. Who else on the face of the planet would come up with that odd couple? Meanwhile, despite the autotune saturation, “King Of My Heart” is also growing on me. Cut out the fluff, and you’ll still find that same sly little songwriting genius whose self-obsession (almost) always works in her best interest when it comes to crafting a killer pop song.–C.W.
18. Faith Healer, Try ;-)
Because of pop’s fickle nature, it tends to be an all or nothing game. Either, you’re in the upper echelon of the most famous segment in the entire world, or your album flies by, under the radar and largely undiscovered. Such is life, but I simply couldn’t rest without at least attempting to spread the music of Faith Healer as far and wide as I can. Dream pop spiked with jangly guitar solos, Faith Healer’s second album Try ;-) is presented as the work of Jessica Jalbert and Reny Wilson working in tandem, whereas Jalbert’s debut album as Faith Healer, Cosmic Troubles, was primarily her with Wilson producing.
Cemented as a duo, the two worked together to construct psychedelic pop songs that are informed by the aesthetics of classic rock, growling, theatrical guitar solos, and Jalbert’s voice, split and harmonizing with itself out into the infinite wide open. Despite these complex musical elements, the songs on Try ;-) are more reflective of its playful name, and even venture into the realm of silly, making the album a blessed relief from the self-serious, dreary, and dark tones that have infiltrated some of the biggest releases of the year.–C.W.
17. Marika Hackman, I’m Not Your Man
On her first album for Sub Pop, 25-year-old British musician Markia Hackman has proven herself, even if we’re only talking about the beyond bizarre video for “My Lover Cindy” (which I won’t spoil here). Past the absurd visuals and indie slacker rock vibes, though, are serious themes of relationships and homosexuality that she handles with grace.
“If I was a liar, I would call you my friend / Let’s hope the feeling’s mutual in the end / Symbiosis, can we keep it how it was? / Now the levy is broken / I want more,” she sings on “My Lover Cindy” to address the complications that come early on in a relationship, especially a queer one. The vessel for these meaningful words makes you forget how serious it all is, given the garage rock meets sugar-sweet pop aesthetic that combines indie instrumentation with catchy earworm melodies. The album is a complex and profound work, even if it doesn’t seem to be presented that way at all.–Derrick Rossignol
16. Charli XCX, Number 1 Angel
The infectiously simple, video game-influenced pop of “Boys” may have been the defining male-centric moment of 2017 for Charli XCX, but the studio album that song comes from is still on the horizon, much to her frustration as issues with her label keep the record’s release at bay.
What we did get this year, though, is the Number 1 Angel mixtape, which she made behind Atlantic’s back. It proves that Charli XCX doesn’t need to comforts of the traditional album format to create some sweet pop: “3AM (Pull Up)” recruits MØ for an electropop banger, while album opener “Dreamer” is more of a slow building pop-rap anthem. It’s an impressive collection, especially as an in-between project that Charli XCX says she wrote in two weeks.–D.R.