In pop music, the single is king, and albums tell the story, but it’s the tour that really creates an artist’s narrative. In the streaming era, the live show is not only the main way artists earn an income, but it’s also what solidifies their musical legacy. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the pop arena, where massive crowds gather to worship at the altar of their favorite artists. Tours can make or break a year for a pop star, either illustrating how effective they are at communicating their message to audiences, or failing to live up to the magic that they might be able to achieve in the studio.
10. Paul McCartney — Freshen Up Tour
It’s astonishing that even in the year 2019, a real-life Beatle is still getting up on stages around the world and giving audiences the closest thing they’ll get to Beatlemania. Paul McCartney has become one of the most important stars of our era, simply by continuing to release music at his own pace, and by never failing to incorporate all the hits he knows his crowds most want to hear. A song like “Blackbird” will never get old, and while his new stuff is always welcome, it’s moments like reuniting with Ringo Starr — as he did at the Dodger Stadium date of his Freshen Up tour this year — that make him an utterly savvy live performer, even at 77.
9. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go Tour
Billie Eilish is having a moment. Her hit single “Bad Guy” is up for a Grammy, her album is up for several Grammys, and she herself is up for some record-breaking awards as well. And even though her tour was a powerful one, the sequencing of the night was a little lackluster and didn’t live up to my expectations for an artist who is so thoughtful with literally everything else she does. It’s an important tour in the scheme of this year, and I absolutely loved the aesthetic, but the show itself left room for her to deliver even better live shows in the future.
8. Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Tour
As a mid-tier pop star with a cult following, Carly Rae Jepsen knows how to play to her audience. That includes acknowledging that her biggest hit, “Call Me Maybe,” isn’t why the crowds are there, at all. At her tour opener in Anaheim for her new album Dedicated, Jepsen relegated the track to middle of the show, focusing on her newer material and cuts off Emotion. The choice paid off, and her decision to culminate in the one-off movie soundtrack hit “Cut To The Feeling” showed that CRJ is well aware of what her audience actually wants — more emotion.
7. Troye Sivan — Bloom Tour
If you haven’t seen Troye Sivan live yet, what are you doing? This young queer star is such an enigmatic presence on stage, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t graduated to the biggest stages in the world by now. Bloom is Sivan’s first real break out album in the states, and will likely be followed up by more brilliant pop songs in the years to come. But, whatever else he builds to, Sivan is already a fascinating live performer who commands the audience’s attention with a casual ease, even on his slowest, most heartbreaking songs. I caught him late last year at the Greek Theater before he headed off to Europe and beyond in 2019, and the volume of the crowd screaming his lyrics back that night still remains imprinted in my mind. Put him on your must-see list for 2020 and beyond.
6. Florence & The Machine — High As Hope Tour
While I technically saw Florence & The Machine twice in 2018, not the tour’s continuation into this year, it was still a complete force well into 2019 and very much worth noting. There are few performers on earth who can fill a stage the way Florence Welch does, and while career fans might miss the days when she still played her own harp — shout to the Lungs tour at Troubadour show in 2009 — Welch’s new habit of running up and down the venue in a custom couture gown is equally compelling. Come for the bangers, but stay for the ballads, both are beautiful and wild, and so was this live show.
5. Robyn — Honey Tour
I think a lot of Robyn fans wondered if they would ever get the chance to see her live, let alone performing brand new music. After several release in 2010, the Swedish auteur took a lengthy hiatus to deal with some personal issues and mental health. There was a brief project with Röyksopp in 2014, but for years, nothing. So when she came storming back with Honey last year, and this year’s career-spanning tour, the tickets went fast and expectations were high. Of course, Robyn delivered, and I got to witness it firsthand at a stunning underplay at the Hollywood Palladium. It was one of my favorite live shows of the year, by far, and re-established her as a pop legend ready to enact her influence on yet another decade.
4. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You Tour
In case you haven’t heard, Lizzo had a big year. While plenty of people didn’t even know who she was at the beginning of 2019, Cuz I Love You, her full-length major label debut for Atlantic Records, turned her into a star. Witnessing her rise firsthand, I saw Lizzo perform at tiny venues in LA like Gold-Diggers and even a strip club while promoting the soon-to-be hit album. Now that she’s up on the biggest stages in the world, and performing on SNL, everyone who saw her during this tour is going to have bragging rights forever.
3. Post Malone — Beerbongs & Bentleys / Runaway Tour
When you get as big as Post Malone has gotten, plenty of haters are willing to come out of the woodwork to tear you down — at least online. In reality, Posty still reigns supreme as one of the biggest artists in the world, drawing in massive, adoring crowds for sold-out arena shows all over the world. I saw him at a pair of shows this year — headlining Bonnaroo, and then again, later in the year at The Forum — and both times he was a compelling performer who packed his setlist with hits. At the latter show, which was the last night of his tour, Malone brought out everyone from Ozzy Osbourne (!) to Ty Dolla Sign, Meek Mill, Tyga and Swae Lee. This is an artist who spans rock, hip-hop, and pop, was prolific enough to drop two albums this year, and is still only getting bigger.
2. Maren Morris — Girl Tour
I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Maren Morris three times on her Girl tour, and every time she was a completely stunning live performer. Yes, her voice is really that velvety rich IRL, and yes, despite her beginnings in the realm of country, she has become a bona fide pop star with this second full-length album. From the stages of Bonnaroo, to two sold-out nights at The Wiltern, and even a special return show at the Greek Theatre, she kept each live set unique — like a brief Beyonce cover of “Halo” at the Greek — and never missed a beat with empowering, loved up anthems and anecdotes about sexist DJs who got put in their place by the power of her songs. Though she’ll probably take some time off next year because she’s having her first child with husband Ryan Hurd, I’m already anticipating the songs she’ll write as a new mother. Pop stars better look out in the ’20s, because Morris is coming for the crown — and girl, she’s gonna get it.
1. Ariana Grande — Sweetener Tour
On the heels of one of the most iconic pop tours in the last decade, Ariana Grande went ahead and honored her work by releasing a live album commemorating the Sweetener and Thank U, Next eras for good. It’s impossible to name any other tour as the most influential of the year, because Ariana’s show was talked about night after night — whether it was her NSYNC reunion early in the year at Coachella, the constant demand to add more dates, or bringing out other artists for new collaborations, like “Boyfriend” with Social House, Grande kept things fresh all year long. Including tracks from her 2015 EP Christmas & Chill as it got closer to the holidays, and tying it all together by giving her fans the gift of a new live album, Ariana proved her chops as the best performer in pop music in 2019. Who knows what she’ll do to top it next year?
Some of the artists mentioned are Warner Music Group artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.