The Best Pop Albums Of 2016

Editorial Director, Music
12.20.16 8 Comments

Bella Union

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.

20. How To Dress Well, Care

Domino Records

For a long time How To Dress Well has fallen into the liminal space called “alt R&B” but listening to Care it strikes me as a very tender-hearted pop album. Perhaps the stretch to view it through an R&B lens is part of why this record hasn’t gotten its due shine in 2016. Sometimes Care is sad and defiant, like on aptly named “The Ruins,” other times it is pregnant with potential and love, like the jazz-infused “Made In A Lifetime.” Despite moments of deep sadness and cutting introspection, Care is a lush and gentle exploration of the way emotion can wall us off, but how empathy brings us back in, every time. Care is deliciously kind pop with plenty of sultry vibes.

19. Sia, This Is Acting

Monkey Puzzle/RCA

After a triumphant, fierce solo breakout in 2014 as a pop artist going by her own name — instead of behind-the-scenes penning hits for others — Sia followed up 1000 Forms Of Fear with the sweeping, dramatic This Is Acting. Even the name suggests the continued lack of comfort the singer has with assuming a mantle of fame, or the mantle of lived self that we demand from our female pop stars in particular. Instead, she shirked the whole gig by employing mini-me Maddie Ziegler at every possible turn. And well, it just didn’t really work. 1000 Forms Of Fear was effective because it felt like a pop star who was concerned about the effects of fame taking steps to protect herself while still delivering harrowing and personal anthems — This Is Acting felt like, well, acting. That didn’t stop a few of these huge songs from jamming though, like the undeniable “Cheap Thrills” (particularly the Sean Paul-featuring version), her Kendrick Lamar collab “The Greatest,” and my personal favorite, the soaring reclamation of self “Bird Set Free.” Let’s hope Sia reappears in two years with that mentality in full swing, and far less wigs. But this album will continue to sound good for years, even if it does end up being her last solo outing

18. Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman

Republic Records/UMG

Well, we had a lot of hope for Dangerous Woman, didn’t we Arianators? There was the gorgeous, early single “Moonlight,” which seemed to continue Ari’s perfect marriage of old school elegance and new world pop, there was the fact that Ariana had broken up with Big Sean, and maybe had some ferocious lost love material in the works, and there was plenty of rumors that Nicki Minaj would be involved again. Well, at least the Nicki track came true, and “Side To Side” is one of the only songs on here that made the record worthwhile. Even so, I’m not really a fan of the recycled island-pop throwback with a slow tempo, no matter how raunchy the lyrics are. But that track sound magnificent compared to the rest of the banger-adjacent material on Dangerous Woman, which is mostly, and sadly, too top heavy or hookless to connect. We’ll always have “Moonlight,” oh and the unstoppable cute-thirst banger “Into You.” But hey, she’s still young. How about next album those cat ears are gone for good and there’s more piano ballads?

17. Terror Jr. Bop City

Atlantic

The internet rumor mill is convinced that Terror Jr. is fronted by none other than Kylie Jenner, but the teenage queen of Snapchat has since denied that she’s affiliated with the mysterious pop group. Either way, the confirmed members Felix Snow and David “Campa” Benjamin Singer-Vine (phew!) are excellent at crafting the kind of echoing, sultry gloom-pop that just needs a slinky female vocal to seal the deal, and whoever “Lisa” is, she provides that dark, clear pop vocal without a trace of effort. Bop City may only be eight tracks long, but it lives up to its name by the end of the first one, “Little White Bars.” I’ll let you extrapolate the subject matter from there, but really, this is the kind of fluttering, bird-chirp, chopped vocal pop that PC Music and Justin Bieber perfected, and is the ideal soundtrack to fill the void dark hours when you really need to bop.

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