I don't know about you, but I love making an Album of the Year list. It's a fun way to reflect on our past year in music and make observations about our own listening habits, plus it's so fun talking about why an album stuck out to you. It was a super busy year for releases, many albums finally landing after pandemic delays. Some of the biggest artists in the world had some pretty notable releases, so let's check out my faves.
10. Midnights - Taylor Swift
She shattered streaming records, broke Spotify and Ticketmaster, and the only way to get a ticket to her 2023 tour is to sell your soul for those resale prices or to enter to win them on our site...Taylor Swift is undeniable.
I'm with most fans who like this album but don't see it as her best. Regardless, Midnights is a fun listen where Taylor returns to pop but in a slightly-more-experimental way. I like the way she plays with a darker sound and interesting production elements, and I like when her songwriting gets weird (e.g. "Anti-Hero" and that sexy baby line). Not to mention, "Karma" is one of my favorite songs she's ever written. She's still Taylor though, so there's plenty of likeability even in her sad girl hours.
I like projects like 1989 significantly more, but I also can't deny that Midnights is one I've been reaching for as the months get colder.
9. Twelve Carat Toothache - Post Malone
I've personally found Post Malone's last couple of albums to be a little dry in some spots, but Twelve Carat Toothache had my ears perking pretty regularly. It's more concise and loaded with big-hitter features like Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Kid Laroi, and it feels more intimate than his last releases (save for the debut). I like this album because it gets really weird sometimes ("Lemon Tree" and "Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol") while balancing obvious single-quality songs.
The first single, "One Right Now" featuring The Weeknd is another one of my top songs this year, and it's undeniably a strong Post Malone hit; same with "I Like You" with Doja Cat. Between the singles, Posty gets intimate and digs deep, but in a way that's more concise than on Hollywood's Bleeding or Beerbongs and Bentleys. Albeit a bit dark at times, I think this is a pretty solid album where we see Post Malone leaning into his strengths.
8. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers - Kendrick Lamar
I'm very obviously a huge Kendrick Lamar fan, and knowing this album would be his last on his label, TDE, before venturing out on his own, I knew it would be a big one.
But Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers doesn't give us huge radio singles, and there's not any songs off of it that I would blast in the car. Instead, MM&BS pulls you through an hour and eighteen minutes of reflection, criticism, questioning, trauma-dumping and confrontation above all. I actually find it hard to listen to this album, because there's so much to grapple with. It's still on my top ten though, because Kendrick doesn't forget to show off his rapping precision or musical decision-making while navigating huge topics.
Kendrick Lamar lays everything out there. He fulfills his promise to make us think in a way that mainstream music sometimes skirts around, and this album is his heaviest yet.
7. Dance Fever - Florence + The Machine
Florence is an artist who has so much fun with her music; she's so expressive in her song, and Dance Fever feels like a perfect title for an artist who creates with the freedom and movement she does. Dance Fever stands as the soundtrack for the (kind of) end to a pandemic--it's hopeful and joyous and confident.
I love the little bit of hubris in this album, from songs like "King" to "Girls Against God" to "Dream Girl Evil." There's also so much theatre and experimentation with Florence that spans to her visuals, production and vocal flair (i.e. "Restraint"). I don't think Florence is an artist for everyone, but her music is so cinematic that it's hard not to stop in your tracks hearing her.
6. Smithereens - Joji
Joji's had a decent following that carried his debut, but it's only in the latter part of the year where he's become a well-known artist with the Tik-Tok viral, "Glimpse of Us." It's interesting to hear Joji's heartbreaking songwriting and then see videos of him on stage: the former web star rarely takes himself seriously.
But on Smithereens, Joji pulls out the tear-jerkers, leading us through the layers of heartbreak. Joji's pretty vocals only endure for twenty-four minutes on this album, but it keeps things succinct. "Die For You" is a stand-out song that easily sits next to "Glimpse of Us" both in melody and lyric. The production of the entire album is captivating, with lush layers of synth and drum and piano forming depth around each song, most of them crescendo-ing to a large finale. Whether you're freshly heartbroken or happily in a partnership, Joji will easily crack open some wounds in Smithereens.
5. The Loneliest Time - Carly Rae Jepsen
Dubbed as the princess of pop, Carly Rae Jepsen is back in a huge way. The Loneliest Time is a masterclass in pop at its purest form--she doesn't try and go for obvious radio singles or to meet the melodies of her peers. She keeps things true to form and wins for it.
When I first listened to this, I kept having moments where I was saying "wow" to myself, because there's so many well-executed bops. I love "Joshua Tree" which has this thick bassline underneath CRJ's high-pitched vocals. "Sideways" is a perfect love-struck anthem that would fit perfectly into a romcom. "Beach House" is a slightly weird but funny look into the world of online dating that never takes itself too seriously. The Loneliest Time sounds just as good as it feels.
4. Renaissance - Beyoncé
I've never not liked a Beyoncé album, but Renaissance is so unlike anything she's ever done. With a sky-high budget, Beyonce takes on every sample she wants, keeping things playful, clubby and campy. It's still Beyoncé of course, so we have deep raspy vocals and impossible vocal riffs, but the writing and production that surrounds her is what makes this album so addicting.
Renaissance is an hour of pure fun. There's so much celebration and energy jam-packed into each song, and there's really no skips for me. It's another joyous album coming out of the pandemic, and I find it impossible not to love.
3. Motomami - Rosalia
I know not everyone can connect with Spanish music, but hear me out: Rosalia is insanely compelling. Not only does she have gorgeous vocals, but Motomami has some of the most forward-thinking production that you just won't find in most American pop songs. This is another album where I can tell the artist is really having fun with their songwriting.
Rosalia brings in elements of flamenco, reggaeton and hip-hop and fuses them into these compelling songs that don't even need lyrics to be earworms. Every song has plenty of interest and flair, and she knows how to keep things brief. Even if you don't know Spanish, give Motomami and Rosalia a try--she just might grab your ear.
2. Traumazine - Megan Thee Stallion
This is without a doubt Megan Thee Stallion's best piece of work. I love Meg, but I can tell she's still figuring things out in her earlier two studio albums. Traumazine, on the other hand, is a solid rap project where Megan digs into what the past couple of years in the industry have looked like for her. As it turns out, she's as hungry as ever.
The first half of the album is pretty much flawless--we start aggressive, then confident, then hype, and from the intro of "NDA" to "Gift & A Curse," we have a clean rap album that shows Megan deserves her spot on the hip hop charts. Later on, she lets us see more of her in songs like "Anxiety" before returning to more hits.
She ends the album (besides "Sweetest Pie" which seems to be tossed onto the end) with an ode to her hometown, Houston: "Southside Royalty Freestyle" features four well-known Houston rappers. Like so much of this album, this finale serves as a reminder that Megan deserves her seat at the table. She's not only giving the boys a run for their money, but she's doing it with grace and bite.
1. Harry's House - Harry Styles
No surprise here: the girl with a Harry Styles cardboard cutout and tattoo picks the Harry Styles album as her favorite of the year.
Sorry but it was a good album! Seriously though, I think Harry's House is such a nice listening experience, and it's been my go-to when I don't know what to listen to. We start with high energy and then mellow out into the lowkey but pretty sound that keeps the thirteen songs cohesive. I also loved watching Harry this year--from enjoying the album release with other fans to watching for his outfits during Love On Tour to investigating #spitgate.
But even more, he's a popstar that cares deeply for his fans and wants to create experiences for them to thrive. Harry's House adapts that same loving energy that he keeps in his shows, creating songs that not only feel good for himself but also are aware of his audience. Harry has hinted to "Matilda" being about someone specific in his life, but I hear it as a message to the kids who've grown up with him and had to navigate their own family relationships. "As It Was" feels like a melancholy ode to coming out of a pandemic, and "Boyfriends" is like a collective 'sorry' for crappy exes. It's an album that feels like it belongs to him as much as it belongs to us. It's to say--being a Harry Styles fan is as easy as daydreaming.