Pop is a formless thing in 2022, an ever-evolving collection of cults of personality. The sound of pop, the music itself, is eclipsed by the spirit of the individual who makes it, and their ability to catapult themselves into the public consciousness. Yes, the music still matters, but the traditional bright, crispy, and expertly produced sounds of mainstream pop have been overhauled. That’s a great thing. Check out our picks for some of the biggest personalities in the genre below.
Avril Lavigne, Love Sux
Releasing music for the first time in three years, Avril Lavigne’s seventh album Love Sux marks a return to her emo roots. With fresh artists pioneering a pop-punk revival, it is only right that Avril finds her place in the genre she helped forge a path for years ago. The album’s title perfectly captures the overall theme that love sucks — people lie, cheat, and use you in romantic affairs of the heart. Despite the heavy topic, Lavigne conveys these messages in an upbeat, fun, and guitar-driven burst of pop-punk perfection. – Lindsey Burton
Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti
Very few artists are able to pull off the surprise release technique, but in the case of Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, this album came at just the right time. Across 23 tracks, Bad Bunny tells a story of heartbreak, longing, and healing. The album feels like an hour-and-a-half-long movie, ending with the Tainy-produced “Callaita,” which, even three years after its release, still sounds so fresh in the context of the full album. – Alex Gonzalez
The Chainsmokers, So Far So Good
Whatever the preconceptions or misgivings might be about this EDM duo, they should be dropped for the pair’s fourth album. With a tongue-in-cheek promo campaign that acknowledged the eye-roll attitude some listeners have toward them, Alexander Pall and Andrew Taggart then doubled down by delivering one of the most introspective albums of their career thus far. “High” laments the impact drugs and alcohol can have on intimacy, and “iPad” delves into the sad power of old memories. Plenty of the songs here deal with unrequited love and breakups, but from a more adult perspective than in the past. And the synths and beats are as addictive as ever. —Caitlin White
Charli XCX, Crash
Charli XCX has always maneuvered in and out of the mainstream, creating iconic hits over the years while remaining outside the typical pop star image. Not anymore. Charli XCX’s fifth studio album CRASH is literally crashing the mainstream party. The poptastic dance record is saturated with ’80s and ’90s influences, conveying femme fatale themes through dark, synth, electro-funk, and techno-pop sounds. The high-energy, destructive album reminisces on the past while looking forward to the future. – L.B.
Ethel Cain, Preacher’s Daughter
Debut albums can be tricky in the streaming era, especially for artists like Ethel Cain who have already created a robust social media presence. But as good as the missives that flow off-the-cuff from the @mothercain Twitter handle might be, her debut album Preacher’s Daughter is even better. Between the oh-so-breezy synth-pop diatribe of “American Teenager” and what just might be Cain’s opus, the sprawling “A House In Nebraska,” she’s made it clear that being cute online isn’t the end game here — full-blown pop star is. Preacher’s Daughter proves she’s got the chops to pull it off, no svengalis needed. – C.W.
FKA Twigs, Caprisongs
FKA twigs’ latest mixtape is all over the place, in the best way possible. The entire tape is mostly devoid of catchy hooks or a singular narrative, but it works for the artist whose sound is genre-bending by nature. Thinking back to projects like Magdalene, where we see Twigs pair up with Future (of all people), collaboration is rare for her. But with Caprisons, we get Twigs and The Weeknd on a track straight out of Abel’s universe, “Careless” with Daniel Caesar, and “Jealousy,” an afrobeats single featuring Benin City’s Rema. Although different from her dark, alt-pop past, each track on Caprisongs features at least one element of Twigs that we love, whether her soprano vocals, honest lyrics, or electro-acoustic stylings. – Ellice D. Ellis
Harry Styles, Harry’s House
Emerging from the pandemic lockdown — a time marked by deep self-reflection and reacquaintance with the concept of “home,” Harry Styles brings us his third solo album Harry’s House, an intimate pop record with folk, disco, and funk infusions. From the chart-topping single ”As It Was” to the lowkey acoustics of “Boyfriends,” the album invites listeners into “Harry’s House,” welcoming them home. Describing it as his biggest, most fun, but also most intimate album yet, Styles explores his space both physically and mentally without confining himself to the pressures of commercial success (though it’s already outperforming his first two albums!). – L.B.
Hatchie, Stop Giving The World Away
Veering out of the indie world and farther and farther into mainstream pop, there’s absolutely nothing like Hatchie’s blown-out, ’80s pop melodies. Fans of Tamaryn and deep-cut ’80s synths and harmonies will find lots to love on Stop Giving The World Away — and even the album’s title conveys the beatific dramatism of the ’80s. But even when she’s going full-on throwback, Hatchie finds a way to put her own golden twist on things, delivering a record full of longing and potential that marks her as one of the brightest young voices in pop. She’s on her way to the top, world safely in her pocket. – C.W.
Kim Petras, Slut Pop
No matter what she does, Kim Petras turns heads — she’s just turning a few more than usual with her latest explicitly explicit record, Slut Pop. Though Kim may be casually detailing sex acts that most people keep behind closed doors, there is something freeing and empowering about hearing her voice needs and desires that plenty of people share. For something slightly more veiled, check out “Superpower Bitch,” a Marvel-esque anthem about her special skills in the bedroom, and for a song as sexually straightforward as it gets, “Throat Goat” moves quickly from the bleating of its animalistic title into a litany of Kim’s thoughts about fellatio. Needless to say, this album is best heard on headphones — or only around those who have happily consented to get into the Slut Pop headspace. – C.W.
Lizzy McAlpine, Five Seconds Flat
The first rule of Lizzy McAlpine is we don’t talk about TikTok. This twenty-something singer-songwriter dropped out of music school at Berklee when one of her off-the-cuff clips blew up on the social media platform, but the adoration of millions only convinced McAlpine she could do better. After a debut album, Give Me A Minute, came out peak pandemic in 2020, McAlpine quickly followed it up with Five Seconds Flat this spring. The record is full of soft and tender story-songs that evoke easy comparisons to masterful lyricists like Phoebe Bridgers and Laura Stevenson, and through it all, Lizzy has never lost focus on her own singular vision of who she is as an artist. – C.W.
Lykke Li, Eyeye
Across eight gut-wrenching songs that offer an intimate look at love and loss, Lykke Li attempts to excavate her interior, emptying out all the feelings of romantic grief and wiping the slate clean. But this Swedish purveyor of heartache should know that a memory isn’t something that can be swept clean, and fragments of her past lovers linger across each of these lo-fi tunes. Upon a deeper look, Eyeye is more about the persistence of loss than any real ability to move past it. Perhaps “Highway To Your Heart” and “Over” illustrate this best, exploring the dark night of the soul — and daydream of a way back — that sudden loneliness can bring. – C.W.
Maren Morris, Humble Quest
Maren Morris has really hit every mark on the bingo card: Successful career, great marriage, new baby, and beloved by her peers aka The Highwaywomen. So what did the woman who has everything do for her next act? Eat a slice of humble pie, and hunker back down in the nitty-gritty of life. Turns out, even when things look perfect, there are still some heavy emotions going on behind the scenes, and Humble Quest distills Maren’s search for more. Come for her powerhouse vocals and brilliant lyricism across every track, stay for the song-within-a-song concept contained in “Circles Around This Town.” – C.W.
Known for her bedroom-pop comfort tunes, singer/songwriter Mxmtoon made smooth transition to more electronic-influenced sounds on her sophomore album, Rising. Largely influence by the solitude Mxmtoon felt during COVID, Rising features Mxmtoon throwing a dance party for herself as the world is in disarray. Songs like “Sad Disco” showcase her ability to create endearing bops amid feelings of loneliness and insecurity, while “Dance (End Of The World)” feature her living her best life, as the world around her is on fire. At the young age of 21, Mxmtoon is wise beyond her years, yet still encompasses the feelings of uncertainty of being a young person in the time of COVID, climate change, and mental health crises. – A.G.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
On his full-length debut album, Ivory, Omar Apollo proves to be one of the songbirds of his generation. Unabashedly queer, the fluidity of his sexuality is represented by way of his fusion of pop, rock, and Latin-influenced sounds, soundtracking the happy moments, the heartbreaks, and the regret of a young LGBTQ person’s life. From the flashy, Neptunes-produced “Tamagotchi,” his music sounds like what being a queer Gen-Z-er feels like. – A.G.
On her most ambitious project to date, Spanish singer Rosalia conquers a writer’s block she felt early on in the pandemic and documents a spiritual transformation. Motomami sees Rosalia experiment with an alternative form of reggaeton, utilizing synths and distorted pianos. Songs like “Chicken Teriyaki” feature Rosalia showing off her rapping chops, while the brazen “Hentai” puts Rosalia in the driver’s seat, as she owns her sexuality, unabashedly sharing her desires for — well, it’s pretty self-explanatory here. – A.G.
Sasha Alex Sloan, I Blame The World
On her debut album, Only Child, Sasha Alex Sloan was getting her sea legs as a solo artist, and not just as a songwriter for others. On its follow-up, I Blame The World, she pulls the curtain back much further, letting the world see how her battle with depression during a global pandemic unfolded. These sometimes “unhopeful” songs, as she calls them, are at turns wry, funny, and sad, and offer the kind of solidarity that toxic positivity can never achieve. Check out “Adult” for a twenty-something’s lament on growing up, and “Global Warming” for a paean to the force of one good person in your life, even in the face of an unrelenting universe. – C.W.
Sigrid, How To Let Go
After her stunning 2019 debut, Sucker Punch, Sigrid is a Norwegian pop star is who more than ready to take her sound international. Between an early collaboration with Griff for “Head On Fire,” and the majestic rush of “It Gets Dark,” her next album’s lead single, her re-entry into the spotlight in early 2022 was a feat to behold. The rest of How To Let Go doesn’t disappoint, and fans of Scandinavian pop, deeply felt lyrics, and huge vocal soars will be adding this record to their personal top ten lists. – C.W.
Tate McRae, I Used To Think I Could Fly
Tate McRae is as real as it gets. Breakups and broken hearts are a dime a dozen for teenage pop stars, but Tate’s take on the pain and loss she’s experienced in her short life remains entirely her own. Against a backdrop of synth production and trap beats, she crafts mesmerizing, personal missives that still get your body moving. And don’t be surprised to catch her turning things up on a notch on highlight tracks of her debut album I Used To Think I Could Fly, as pop-punk creeps into bangers like “She’s All I Wanna Be” and “What Would You Do?” – C.W.
Winona Oak, Island Of The Sun
There’s a certain excitement that surrounds the debut album from an artist like Winona Oak. Just on the cusp of breaking out into mainstream American pop, Winona has been slowly but surely releasing a string of strangely sad, unbelievably sweet Swedish pop songs that prove her worth. She’s been working through her past experiences for some time now, mining the jewels from her childhood, past lovers, and time in the industry. Now, she’s ready to share just how bright her lyrics and melodies are. Island Of The Sun is one of the best pop debuts of 2022, and will likely quickly become one of the year’s best albums, too. – C.W.
Yeule, Glitch Princess
Self-proclaimed “fourth generation goth” Yeule has one thing right – she’s building on a whole cohort of artists who made vocal manipulation, glitchy production, and downright weirdo status their whole MO. The good news for Yeule? This Singaporean songwriter also brings an entirely new set of ideas into the studio, mixing and remixing her baby-soft vocals with industrial sounds, echoes and samples, and her own razor-sharp wit. All of this makes Glitch Princess one of the funniest, sweetest, and most surprising gifts of 2022 pop so far. – C.W.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.