There were just so many incredible pop releases this year. Thus, I had to make a second part just to cover more of them!
As we usher in the new year with utmost hope and optimism, let’s start the celebration with a thematic highlight reel of the 20 best pop projects of 2020.
Here are the last 10:
Rock n’ Roll shifts
Miley Cyrus: Plastic Hearts
Out of all the skins that Miley Cyrus has morphed herself into, clearly rock has fit her best. She sounds her absolute finest on Plastic Hearts. Her gravelly vocals balance out the weight that is the electric guitars and thumping basslines. Joined by rock heavyweights Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks and pop star Dua Lipa, she never seemed more at ease and assured of herself than ever. Hannah Montana was right, she might even be a rockstar.
The Vamps: Cherry Blossom
Kitschy teenage boy band they are no more, The Vamps have blossomed into full-fledged rock stars. Brad Simpson, Tristan Evans, Connor Ball and James McVey have successfully rebirthed themselves with jubilant experimentation on Cherry Blossom. The album is nothing short of hard-hitting standouts (“Better”, “Chemicals”, “Would You”), which are guaranteed to give you a good shot of dopamine. “These are our glory days,” Simpson belts out on the first track. And they certainly are indeed.
The Weeknd: After Hours
After Hours is an effective culmination of all the work that The Weeknd has released leading up to this project. This 14-track album draws recollections to the cinematic soundscapes of Beauty Behind the Madness and the bombastic gloominess of Starboy. Tesfaye’s vision achieves greater heights of clarity here. For example, the sounds of new wave R&B and dream pop are fused effortlessly with lyrics of the cycles of hedonism and the subsequent self-loathing. Likewise, from a visual aspect: he paints himself as pop’s brooding anti-hero in a classic red suit, tied together with a melodramatic Vegas glam aesthetic. Spectacular.
Ariana Grande: Positions
Ariana Grande is horny and she isn’t afraid to let the world know. Positions lays out saucy explicit lyrics paired with beautiful orchestrations and harmonies over gleaming R&B tracks. Each songs mirroring the desire and flirtation that Grande frequents in her discography. Even so, it’s a project that’s full of heart that lays down her defenses with her lover. “I’d love to see my point of view”, she whispers on “POV”. It’s moments of sheer vulnerability like this that carries her sincerity throughout the album, which is something that Grande has never failed in conveying through her music.
Sam Smith: Love Goes
We see Sam Smith embracing their true self more than ever on Love Goes (Smith uses they/them pronouns). It’s an album of glittery pop anthems (“Diamonds”, “Dance”), where we can see them at their queer self-acceptance best. Smith doesn’t alienate their day-one fans as well, as they make sure that their heartbreak ballads pack enough punches to make you cry over non-existent past lovers (see: “For The Lover That I Lost”). Love Goes is rather safe for Smith’s career progression, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album by any means.
LANY: Mama’s Boy
Mama’s Boy is relatable and full of heart, touching on topics such as parental relationships (“If This Is The Last Time”) and religious struggles (“I Still Talk to Jesus”). At its core, this LANY album is one that documents a hopeful beginning of a new relationship, a refreshing departure from the heartbreak-centered Malibu Nights. It’s a collection of synthy, emotional and nostalgic bedroom pop songs, which is sure to appeal to anyone who needs a warm blanket over their sadness. Rest assured, you don’t have to pine over your emotions alone anymore.
Chloe x Halle: Ungodly Hour
On Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle prove that they are a duo to be reckoned with. Their squeaky-clean teen image is gone, replaced by a fruition of two grown women with confidence and desires. As Beyoncé’s protégés, her influence is obvious throughout the album. The sisters seamlessly alternate between rapping and singing, and their harmonies are impeccable and mesmerizing as they sing over pulsating instrumentals. Nothing about this album is predictable, and I suppose that is what makes Ungodly Hour so hauntingly memorable.
BLACKPINK: The Album
After a handful of EPs and singles, BLACKPINK debuts their first bilingual full-length album to much global anticipation. The Album unleashes a bevy of arena-ready girl power hits: from the cutesy saccharine “Ice Cream” with Selena Gomez, the confident and seductive “Pretty Savage”, the cheeky yet family-friendly “Bet You Wanna” with Cardi B, to the heartbreak kiss-off anthem “Lovesick Girls”. It’s a well-produced and show-stopping effort, and if they aren’t before, they’re definitely now in your area.
Omar Apollo: Apolonio
A 25-minute slow burn of sensual, slick and sexy tunes, Apolonio pays homage to a range of funk, indie R&B and Omar Apollo’s own Mexican roots. The striking lilac-tinged album cover is also a tribute itself, to Apollo’s biggest influence: Prince. There’s also a certain undeniable charisma that hooks listeners, built into the comfort of him singing about his bisexuality as well as hints of humor. While this project shows reverence to the legends that came before, Apollo does a tremendous job of letting the audience gain a better understanding of him.
Bruno Major: To Let A Good Thing Die
British indie-soul singer-songwriter Bruno Major interweaves beautiful romantic ideations with stories of love and loss on his second album To Let A Good Thing Die. The lyrics are remarkably visceral: “the taste of a cigarette in Paris in spring, conversation with herders and the wisdom they bring.” It’s a subtle yet elegant reminder to appreciate the beauty in all aspects of life. Even in a pandemic, Major shows that it’s possible to allow ourselves to take a lovely stroll in the figment of our own minds.
Here are some honorable mentions of more amazing releases this year:
- Ruel: Bright Lights, Red Eyes
- Keiynan Lonsdale: Rainbow Boy
- mxmtoon: Dawn & Dusk
- Dominic Fike: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B
- Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor
- Bad Bunny: YHLQMDLG
- BTS: Map of the Soul: 7
- Katy Perry: Smile
- 5 Seconds of Summer: C A L M
Don’t forget to read Part One!
Here’s a playlist of some of the standout tracks from the albums aforementioned:
To more great music in 2021!
Written by Brendan Chew Yiun Cherk