Like every year that ends in “9,” 2019 is a special time when critics everywhere get together and decide to evaluate an entire decade. For music critics, that means ranking the best albums of the 2010s.
You’re going to be seeing a lot of these lists in the months ahead. In order to prepare, I’ve made this list of 20 albums that I expect will be in the conversation. They are not my personal favorite albums, though I do like (and even love!) many of them. These are just the records that will (I think!) be put at the forefront of the critical discourse.
For each record, I’ve also included the odds of it actually topping most lists. I deduced these odds by revisiting old album reviews, surveying the aesthetic preferences of major publications, and then making wild guesses. Actually, I just did the guessing part.
1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar is arguably the greatest albums artist of the decade, in that he has at least three LPs — 2013’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and 2017’s Damn. — that you could reasonably declare his defining masterpiece. Plus, the dude won the Pulitzer Prize. Nobody else on this list has that kind of reputation as an artist. Out of all of his records, To Pimp A Butterfly feels the most “important,” a true magnum opus that future generations will feel required to hear. They might eventually decide that Good Kid is actually more entertaining, but that’s another issue.
2. Beyoncé, Lemonade
Beyoncé is the most respected and beloved artist of the 2010s. You can be put on notice by the Beyhive for simply showing disrespect to her at a Warriors game. Critically speaking, she inspires the sort of hyperbole that Bruce Springsteen garnered in the 1980s, or Nirvana did in the 1990s. You could make the case that Lemonade — which gets the edge over 2013’s similarly feted Beyoncé — will be declared the decade’s best simply as a testament to her lofty stature.