In a year where the major stars of hip-hop were relatively quiet, and pop stars easily snagged the top two spots on our best albums list, the roster for excellent pop releases was still bench-deep with remarkable talent. From offbeat, shimmering indie records to delicious R&B, there was a plethora of releases that stood out from the rest of the pop field in 2019. Below are our picks for the best of these, giving a little extra shine to the backbone of the pop world.
For more of our year-end coverage, check it out here.
35. Tamaryn — Dreaming The Dark
On her fourth studio album, Tamaryn has once again worked with producer Jorge Elbrecht to create a synthy, industrial-pop world devoted to mysticism. Between standout tracks “Fits Of Rage” and “Angels Of Sweat,” Tamaryn is illuminating the underrated world of ‘80s synthpop as a source of inspiration for noir-pop artists. Dreaming The Dark is what the future sounds like — witchy, gritty, and melodramatic.—Caitlin White
34. Marina — Love + Fear
Welsh popstar Marina, formerly Marina And The Diamonds, took a long break after her 2015 album, Froot, only to return four years later with an ambitious double album, Love + Fear. This fourth studio record explores the two primary human emotions via sparkling synthpop, unexpected collaborations with Luis Fonsi and Clean Bandit, and Marina’s effervescent vocals.—C.W.
33. Ciara — Beauty Marks
A wide range of styles melts together on Ciara’s seventh full-length release. Beginning with empowering musings about self-love and raising daughters, Beauty Marks has something for everyone. Whether it’s the revved-up anthem “Level Up,” reminiscent of her break-out hit “1, 2 Step,” or the radio-ready “Thinkin Bout You,” Ciara reminds listeners that there’s a reason she’s made a place for herself in musical history.—C.W.
32. Kehlani — While We Wait
Kehlani is just 24, but she’s already on her fourth major project, While We Wait. The album shows off both her singing and songwriting skills, as she approaches relationships from multiple insightful angles, and does so with confident vocals that show why she’s already among the finest in her field.–Derrick Rossignol
31. Ashley Tisdale — Symptoms
As a Disney child star, Ashley Tisdale rode the success of High School Music to release two early albums in 2007 and 2009, but hadn’t released any new music in about a decade before Symptoms. Now grown up, reflective, and outspoken, Tisdale’s album tackles tough issues like mental health and self-esteem via muted pop melodies.—C.W.
30. Bazzi — Soul Searching
Drawing on influences from contemporary emo-rap, Bazzi’s Soul Searching is a dignified sophomore release. While the majority of his music clocks in at under three minutes, layered production and buoyant synths color each track’s snappy beat to craft indelible tunes. His unique style led to the slow-burning instant hit “Paradise.” The record showcases Bazzi’s boost of confidence between releases and his refreshing lyricism proves he’s not afraid of vulnerability.—Carolyn Droke
29. Sabrina Claudio — Truth Is
Nobody does sultry like Sabrina Claudio. At a recent sold-out show — one of two — at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, dozens of couples softly sang along to deep cuts, and when they didn’t know the words to brand new tracks, they simply opted to make out instead. Dealer’s choice for your own listening through Claudio’s second full-length release, Truth Is, a romantic album so smooth and sensual it’s suitable for listening, kissing, or a little of both.—C.W.
28. Broods — Don’t Feed The Pop Monster
Siblings duo Georgia and Caleb Nott have been making waves as one of the best pop acts out of New Zealand for several years now, partially due to sharing a producer with the country’s other recent superstar, Lorde. On their third album, Don’t Feed The Pop Monster Broods are at their best yet, using catchy synthpop to address heady themes like toxic relationships.—C.W.
27. Blackpink — Kill This Love
Kill This Love was released in tandem with Blackpink’s Coachella set. The event positioned Blackpink as the first K-Pop group to ever perform at the festival and garnered even more screaming fans. Much of the 5-track EP is sprinkled with early 2010s electro-pop influences. But the heavy-handed production, frequent tempo shifts, high-energy beat drops, and bilingual lyrics show the group’s progressive execution. Kill This Love boasts both monumental moments and softer acoustic numbers in just a few tracks.—C.D.
26. Toro Y Moi — Outer Peace
Toro Y Moi has built a diverse library of music over the past decade, a collection of albums that touch on everything from psychedelic rock to chillwave to synth-pop. He hits on those beats and them some on Outer Peace, an album so packed with ear-grabbing moments that you could find a new favorite one with each listen.–D.R.
25. Jamila Woods — Legacy! Legacy!
Chicago singer-songwriter Jamila Woods has come a long way since her early-career Chance The Rapper collaborations. She dropped her second album, Legacy! Legacy!, this year, and it’s the sound of an artist realizing her potential. The drawback to this record is that it gives Woods the unenviable task of trying to top one of the year’s finest neo-soul albums.–D.R.
24. Tegan And Sara — Hey I’m Just Like You
Thought their last two albums embraced their pop leanings more, Tegan And Sara’s latest pulls more from the duo’s entire history. It makes sense, since the record is supporting their memoir, High School, and is made up of songs that were originally conceived when they first began writing songs. Still, the collection never feels too rooted in the past. Tegan And Sara’s music is timeless, and their latest underscores this.—Philip Cosores
23. The Jonas Brothers — Happiness Begins
A joyful return to pop music, Happiness Begins is a nostalgic celebration of the Jonas Brothers’ career. While the record blends familiar hooks and retro synths, it also shows a concerted evolution of the brothers as musicians. Textured production celebrates developed vocal ranges while carefree lyricism exhibits the band’s divergent solo paths. Overall, the record marks a skillful and well-received return for the infamous boyband.—C.D.
22. Sigrid — Sucker Punch
2019 saw a plethora of impressive debut albums, and the maiden effort from Norwegian singer-songwriter Sigrid is easily among that group. Making pop music is one thing, but making good pop is something else, and at 23, Sigrid already sounds like a seasoned synth-pop veteran.–D.R.
21. Khalid — Free Spirit
Very little time passed between the beginning of Khalid’s career and him becoming a global superstar. American Teen was a phenomenally strong start, but this year’s Free Spirit was his first No. 1 album. Khalid is truly an idiosyncratic talent, so much so that his genre-crossing new album is no surprise to anybody who has tracked his short journey to the top.–D.R.
20. Maren Morris — Girl
While Girl still has one foot firmly in the world of country, it’d be remiss not to mention this album’s impact on the pop world this year. After singing her heart out on the huge pop hit “The Middle,” Maren Morris can’t help dip her toes into the pop world on her second full-length album, not just on the massive title track, but on other loved-up hits like “RSVP” and “The Feels.” The resulting album is soulful and sweet, a little bit country, a little bit R&B, and wildly popular.—C.W.
19. Caroline Polachek — Pang
Technically, Pang is Caroline Polachek’s third solo album, but the other two were released under her other moniker, Ramona Lisa, so this record still has the feeling of a debut, especially considering it’s her first release since the peaceful dissolution of her old band, Chairlift. Full of breathy vocals and wonder-filled production, Polachek spits out glitchy, off-kilter pop about failing relationships and flailing crushes with the precision of a mainstream star, even if she can never quite ditch her indie roots.—C.W.
18. Electric Guest — Kin
Kin was the left-field, late-blooming hit record of the year, sweeping listeners off their feet with golden-era pop, velvety R&B and an unflagging positivity that both acknowledged the current darkness of the world around us and fought it off with positive brilliance. Between vocalist and frontman Asa Taccone’s pitch-perfect vocals and Matthew “Cornbread” Compton’s multi-instrumentalist genius, Kin might be their third album together, but it’s also just the beginning of what these two can do.—C.W.
17. Kim Petras — Clarity
Not one to be bound by the confines of what’s come before, Kim Petras opted for a nontraditional release for one of her first full-length projects, Clarity. Yes, last year she put out a Halloween mixtape — and followed that up with another this year — but Clarity stood out because Kim released nine of the album’s songs as singles before it dropped, building up momentum and earning the attention her sweetly sardonic synthpop has deserved for a long time.—C.W.
16. Tayla Parx — We Need To Talk
As one of the go-to collaborators on Ariana Grande’s smash hit album Thank U, Next — and for a host of other pop stars — Tayla Parx has the luxury of staying behind the scenes as a songwriter, waiting to release her own solo debut until she was good and ready. Subsequently, We Need To Talk is worth the wait, a cotton candy cloud of R&B, pop, and hip-hop that isn’t afraid to dig deep, but does so gently and playfully, showcasing Parx’s impeccable skill as a songwriter and a vocalist who is slowly but surely building the kind of career that will last forever.—C.W.
15. Yuna — Rouge
Now almost a decade into her career, Malaysian pop star — and Los Angeles fixture — Yuna is more confident than ever on her fourth full-length album, Rouge. Enlisting the likes of Tyler The Creator, G-Eazy, Little Simz, Kyle, and Masego for a playful, rap-centric update of her sensual R&B sound, Rouge catapults Yuna even farther into the spotlight.—C.W.
14. Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated
Carly Rae Jepsen proved she’s come a long way since her breakout single, “Call Me Maybe” with Dedicated. Jepsen leaves her lovelorn reputation behind in exchange for confident bops and dance-ready hits like “Want You In My Room”. The disco-tinged sound of Dedicated calls back to an early era of ‘80s pop while adding a modern twist with layered production and punchy deliveries, firmly establishing herself in her own pop lane.–C.D.
13. Ed Sheeran — No. 6 Collaborations Project
Most of Ed Sheeran’s success has come through solo means: He never had a big single with a featured artist on it… until this year, that is. He recruited a bunch of his peers for an album filled exclusively with collaborations (a sequel to his pre-superstar release, the No. 5 Collaborations Project EP) that proved Sheeran can gel with everybody from Justin Bieber to Travis Scott to Skrillex.–D.R.
11. Post Malone — Hollywood’s Bleeding
A year after Beerbongs & Bentleys, Post Malone doubled back with Hollywood’s Bleeding. One of the few rivaling Drake’s streaming numbers, Malone does everything not to box himself in the hip-hop genre. Malone says not to listen to hip-hop if you want to feel something, but Malone’s vision of hip-hop makes you feel regardless. Leaving his “White Iverson” gimmick behind, Malone successfully blends all of his musical interests together on Hollywood’s Bleeding tracks such as “Take What You Want” and “Circles.” Yes, this is Malone’s hip-hop, and the music world is evolving because of it.–Joshua Kellem
11. FKA Twigs — Magdalene
On a fascinating, bittersweet second album, Magdalene, FKA Twigs muses on loves both alive and dead, weaving a tale of twisted hearts and miscommunication through her strangely mesmerizing trip-hop. Melodramatic and inflected with strange, subtle religious allusions, Twigs proves that she is an enigma who extends far beyond just her incredible skill as a dancer.—C.W.
10. Charli XCX — Charli
Icona Pop’s “I Love It” established Charli XCX as a pre-eminent pop songwriter, and since then, she has set out to prove herself as a bona fide pop star. On her self-titled new album, Charli shows off her versatility and her ability get the best out of her many collaborators while also firmly showcasing herself.–D.R.
9. King Princess — Cheap Queen
In a world full of genderfluid, queer stars who are just coming of age, Mikaela Straus reigns supreme. Bursting onto the scene with the dreamy reverie of “1950” and following it up with boundary-pushing cult hits like “Pussy Is God” and her album’s title track, “Cheap Queen,” King Princess pays homage to the elegant and campy queer icons of the past all while stepping firmly towards the future.–C.W.
8. Clairo — Immunity
Clairo’s cloudy grey melodies and stark percussion reclaim the vulnerable, airy space between indie songwriter and pop production that has all but disappeared in a world of blockbuster pop stars who are leaning all the way into the realm of hip-hop. Without a single feature or trap beat in tow, Immunity is a straightforward, starlit telling of one girl’s universe that’s resonant enough to make its way into the bedrooms, headphones, and record players of hundreds more.—C.W.
7. Taylor Swift — Lover
Taylor Swift’s Lover arrived after much speculation and a very public disagreement with her former record label, Big Machine Records. The 18-track album shed her edgy Reputation era to opt for sunny themes, bright synths, and uplifting ballads. Peppered with snapping beats and tastefully-arranged acoustic numbers, Lover calls back to Taylor’s early days as a musician with subtle country twang while adding a stylistic shift thanks to collaborator/producer Jack Antonoff. Swift pulls listeners in with revved-up pop anthems like “I Think He Knows” while tender and intimate narratives like “The Archer” reveal genuine emotion. Overall, Lover is a celebration of Taylor’s success as the centerpiece of modern pop.–C.D.
6. Maggie Rogers — Heard It In A Past Life
Maggie Rogers soared to fame with a viral video of Pharell’s reaction to a demo of “Alaska” but Heard It In A Past Life proves she’s a mainstay. With her folk background, Rogers fuses traditional influences with the energy of modern dance music. A strong bassline opens the album, entrancing listeners with her unwavering vocals. Much of the record opts for subtle, palpitating beats which propels Rogers’ therapeutic voice to the center of each track.–C.D.
5. Mark Ronson — Late Night Feelings
Whether as a writer, producer, or collaborator, the pop world is strewn with great songs from Mark Ronson. But few expected him to drop an all-timer of an album this year, taking his own heartbreak and presenting it through the voices of Angel Olsen, Lykke Li, Miley Cyrus, and many others. The resulting record didn’t set the charts on fire, but gave the world an artistic high point from a musician known for bringing out the best in others.–P.C.
4. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
First an artist is ignored, running on empty and vying for a break. Then, they become loved, ubiquitous, and triumphant. And finally, they’re hated — deemed too popular or the wrong person to occupy the lofty realm of superstar. So, it’s a testament to Lizzo’s unstoppable force that the back half of this year saw her fighting off greedy former collaborators and mean-spirited snipes from critics, peers, and foes alike. Cuz I Love You rises above all this, telling the heartfelt story of a star-in-the-making, a fat, Black diva with a voice that won’t quit and enough self-love for the fans, the fakes, and yes, even the haters. Never before has a DNA test had such an impact on the pop charts.—C.W.
3. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The 2020 Grammy nominations proved that young artists are the future, except the future is now. Leading that charge is 17-year-old Billie Eilish, who at her young age has become both one of the most vital and alternative voices in pop, largely thanks to “Bad Guy,” perhaps the year’s biggest non-“Old Town Road” single.–D.R.
2. Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next
Even though it’s only been out for the span of a few months, it’s already hard to imagine modern pop music without Thank U, Next. Born out of tempestuous personal circumstances and spiked with a heady dose of hip-hop, this succinct, emotional song cycle bounces between lust, grief, self-love, and female friendship with equal grace. Cementing Ariana as one of the foremost divas of our time, Thank U, Next is a distillation of feminine desire, heartache, and rap swagger that’s nearly perfect and universally appealing.—C.W.
1. Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell
Unamused but never fully disengaged, Lana Del Rey stormed into the middle of 2019 with a softly raging album that took the world by surprise. While plenty of fans have insisted since “Video Games” that Lana had a masterpiece in her, subsequent releases have been good, and even great, but never had the year-defining force that Norman F*cking Rockwell does. A self-assured, introverted beach philosopher with a heart of gold, and the go-to crooner for soundtracking marquee movies, Lana has so often been fascinated by singing stories of the past. On Rockwell though, she belts and sighs about the state of union, Kanye West, and the ever-present ache of falling for a man child. While we all live in a world ruled by those, Lana’s sharp observations offer a welcome balm. “F*ck It, I Love You” is the most worthy antidote for despair, and happiness has delicate wings, but no matter how strange and slippery hope is, with Lana, we have it.—C.W.
Some artists mentioned are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.