We all lead different lives, especially now, when the modern world is increasingly able to cater to our niche interests and allow us to get absorbed in our own cultural bubbles. Shared experiences aren’t as common as they used to be, but a giant one has rocked every aspect of the world this year. It can be easy to dwell on the situation and spiral down into a bad place, but there’s also much joy to be found by focusing on the good.
Artists have used 2020 to deliver some of the best and most impactful music in recent memory. This feels especially important now, since music can be a valuable tool for helping people both escape from their troubles and better understand what’s going on in the world. Artists like Taylor Swift and Adrianne Lenker used their newly free time to make introspective albums, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd got us dancing when we most needed to, and rising figures established themselves as leaders in this new world.
2020 hasn’t been an ideal year, but it still produced exemplary new albums, so check out our ranking of the year’s best below.
50. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
When it was announced that The Strokes were working with Rick Rubin, it was natural to assume that The New Abnormal would be a deliberate evocation of Is This It. But The New Abnormal, thankfully, is not that. It sounds, in fact, like an amalgam of the ’80s synth-pop and stoner-experimental chicanery of the previous two Strokes albums, but with stronger songs, like “The Adults Are Talking” and “At The Door.”–Steven Hyden
49. Don Toliver – Heaven Or Hell
From top to bottom, Don Toliver’s debut album Heaven Or Hell is an entire draped-up and dripped-out vibe. The chop not slop version helmed by DJ Candlestick and the legendary OG Ron C offers another level of audio experience supercharged-up with Houston culture, where the phenomenal melodic rapper is from. All 2020, H-Town folklore invaded TikTok with his Sonny Digital-produced track “After Party” in both versions of the song — regular and slowed up, thanks to Donny. Tracks such as “Cardigan” and “No Idea” also found a loving home on the TikTok platform as well. The way Toliver inflects his voice, giving a variety of emotions and sounds to immerse in, it’s hard not to fall deep into his world and want to stay there for the album’s entirety.–Cherise Johnson
48. Dorian Electra – My Agenda
Cementing their spot among pop boundary-pushers, Dorian Electra’s My Agenda is a wild ride through the darkest corners of the internet. The hyperpop artist is known for subverting normalized aspects of our culture, and that’s exactly what they do on their sophomore effort. The record explores problematic internet communities through tongue-in-cheek lyrics, disruptive beats, jarring synths, and distorted vocals.–Carolyn Droke
47. Beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
The debut effort from Beabadoobee sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a teen movie, and that’s exactly what 20-year-old Bea Kristi was going for. Taking equal inspiration from the biggest grunge acts and lo-fi indie staples, Fake It Flowers is an epic film score for growing up, with moments ripe for a party, and others that beg for introspection.–Zac Gelfand
46. Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
In 2020, the sheer abundance of surprising news desensitized us to surprising news. Still, the release of A Written Testimony is a shocker. Jay promised it several times over the 2010s, and finally delivered — with Jay-Z. Fans could anticipate moments like “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and “The Neverending Story,” but the invigorating “Flux Capacitor” and “The Blinding” indicated that he had the versatility to be a one of a kind presence all along — if he wanted to be.–Andre Gee
45. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Although it might feel like decades at this point, the latest effort from Kevin Parker was released only a few months ago. Awash in blissful soundscapes and dissonant reverb-soaked guitars, The Slow Rush boasts Parker’s refined and increasingly undeniable pop hooks that make Tame Impala one of the most revered acts in modern indie.–Z.G.
44. Burna Boy – Twice As Tall
The biggest moment of Burna Boy’s career came with his 2019 album, African Giant. The project launched the afro-fusion singer into a higher level of mainstream acclaim. However, this success failed to bring in the accolade Burna truly desired: a Grammy. He lost in the World Music category and a year removed from that career-boosting album, he shared his fifth album Twice As Tall to emphatically prove that his defeat simply made him stronger than ever.–Wongo Okon
43. Mulatto – Queen Of Da Souf
This year, Mulatto came through with much assertion and confidence on her debut project Queen Of Da Souf. It’s expected, though. Big Latto has been rapping since she was Little Latto and it’s evident in her Southern-charged delivery on tracks such as “Youngest N Richest” and “Muwop” with Gucci Mane. On “Pull Up,” Latto shows how she can switch up her flow, keeping her debut fresh, while songs like “In-N-Out” featuring City Girls and “On God” offer something for all the strip club trappers of the world. There are a lot of women in rap on the come up, Latto however, has been doing this for a long time and it’s clear as day this young lady is here to stay. “From the jump, I was like, ‘I know I’m here to say,’” she told Uproxx in an exclusive interview. “‘Nobody can convince me otherwise.”–C.J.
42. Deante’ Hitchcock – Better
Atlanta’s Deante Hitchcock gained some acclaim with his invitation to the 2019 Dreamville recording sessions in his hometown and paid off that promise in full on Better — with interest. He smoothly runs the gamut of rap mainstays — the club banger (“Gimmie Yo Money” with Yung Baby Tate), the relationship drama song (“How TF” with 6lack), the triumphant celebration of his move from ashy to classy (“I Got Money Now“) — but he does so with a poise and panache few rappers can carry off for a full project.–Aaron Williams
41. Blackpink – The Album
Blackpink in your area. Even when global quarantines rendered this infamous tagline necessarily false, Blackpink still encroached on new territory all year. With their boisterous debut, unceremoniously dubbed The Album, this Korean girl group became the highest-charting act of their kind with a Selena Gomez assist on “Ice Cream” and seven other tracks that wield aggression like it’s a necessary accessory for rising pop stars. Why should they be sweet when hostile sounds this inviting?–Caitlin White
40. Westside Gunn – Pray For Paris
When Jay-Z “said goodbye” to rap in 2005, he made a farewell album. Westside Gunn has made three and counting. Pray For Paris made our list because it’s his best reflection of Westside at his best: danger and designer over stick-to-your-ribs soul samples. From top-to-bottom, Pray For Paris’ soundscape makes his buoyant boasts all the more captivating, showing that he’ll still be an impactful presence in rap as an A&R.–A.G.
39. Adrianne Lenker – Songs and Instrumentals
It’s no secret that Big Thief vocalist Adrianne Lenker is an incredibly prolific artist but the past year has confirmed the notion. After the lockdown put the band’s two-album tour plans on hold, Lenker retreated to an isolated cabin in western Massachusetts. Her time in quarantine resulted in the tender album Songs, which showcases Lenker’s poetic songwriting while bringing her wooded surroundings to life through samples of babbling creeks and chirping birds.–C.D.
38. The Killers – Imploding The Mirage
The Killers have never been a band to be recognized by critics in the moment, with their albums gaining more esteem with each passing year. But the fans have always seen through that, with the Vegas rockers now showing more of a cultural footprint and influence than many of their “cooler” peers. So it’s nice to see their return to anthemic form, Imploding The Mirage, getting its deserved due from both sides of the aisle, as the band smartly looked to both collaborators and their own history to craft one of the most delightful and sturdy efforts of 2020.–Philip Cosores
37. Kehlani – It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t is a phenomenal body of work in the sense that it eloquently shows how normal of a lover she is. Songs like “Serial Lover” and “Hate The Club” highlight the pretty and ugly sides of her relationships, but they’re all situations many of us have dealt with at some point. Unfortunately, due to her fame, her love life gets much more attention than necessary, but this album proves that at the end of the day, Kehlani loves with a heart just like ours.–W.O.
36. Khruangbin – Mordechai
Khruangbin tried something different this year by linking up with Leon Bridges for the collaborative Texas Sun EP, but they had another project that was more in their traditional wheelhouse. Their wheelhouse isn’t exactly traditional, though, as they continued to develop their increasingly successful incorporation of disparate rock influences.–Derrick Rossignol
35. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
If you don’t know the name, you will soon. Rina Sawayama was born in Japan but grew up in London, bringing the best of both worlds into her global pop sound. This year’s self-titled debut Sawayama manages to include a nod to practically every sonic era of pop, with standouts like “Commes Des Garcon” leaning heavy into house. Incorporating commentary on everything from sexism to friendship to chosen family, Rina is on her way up. You can come along or watch her rise, up to you.–C.W.
34. Gunna – Wunna
The marketing rollout for Wunna reflected Gunna’s newfound appreciation for astrology. But he didn’t pivot into experimental, soul-searching Neo Soul or anything, he stuck to his script of slinky harmonies over murky, 808-based production. Astrology, more than anything, is all about knowing who you are. And Gunna was firmly in tune with his greatness on tracks like “Nasty Girl / On Camera,” “Skybox,” and “Dollaz On My Head” with Young Thug.–A.G.
33. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
Nothing can stop Megan Thee Stallion’s reign. Not a pandemic, not a bullet. Her debut album Good News is proof of her triumph, which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Hot Girl Meg offered her fans an assortment of sounds to dig into on this project including TikTok’s favorite “Body” and the pop-leaning track “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep.” Megan is showing everyone that she can make more than music to make that ass shake. She can make feel-good songs made for sunny trips to the beach, too. “Freaky Girls” featuring SZA, which samples Adina Howard’s ’90s hit “Freak Like Me,” is one of the Good News standouts produced by Juicy J and is one of many tracks on the album that samples music from the nostalgic ’90s and ’00s eras. Good News is Megan Thee Stallion’s victorious collection of songs that offer a variety of positive vibes, despite the tragedy she went through this year.–C.J.
32. Kota The Friend – Everything
After making a splash with 2019’s Foto and proving his lyrical skills with his Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1 EP, Brooklyn rapper Kota The Friend wanted to make a, well, friendlier album. He accomplishes that goal deftly on Everything, which sees him contemplating the question, “What means everything to you?” Family, friends, financial freedom, and legacy are Kota’s answers, on feel-good songs like “BQE,” “Morocco,” and the title track.–A.W.
31. Blimes And Gab – Talk About It
The next time someone says women in hip-hop “don’t rap about anything” or “can’t rap,” pull this album up on the streaming service of your choice and immediately smack them across the head with the screen (I’ll cover the damages). Blimes Brixton and Gifted Gab dispel all that crap from the first song with a devastating lyrical “Baptism” that gives way to show that even this backpacking-ass rap duo can tackle a variety of sounds and moods. From the dance-pop, ’80-inspired “Shellys (It’s Chill)” and the house party vibes of “Feelin It” to the smoothly sensual “Hungover With You,” these two are more than capable of setting a mood, but when it’s time to drop fire and flames on a misogynist rap hater, B&G can fricassee any doubter with blazing bars on “Hot Damn” or countdown doubters’ demises with “Un Deux Trois.” Do. Not. Sleep.–A.W.
30. Selena Gomez – Rare
In the months before the world fell apart, Selena sang to us about her rebirth. Rare is a declaration of independence from an artist who has been entangled in codependence and dealing with the pressures of fame since she was a young girl. Coming into her adulthood necessarily meant facing down those two demons, and she does it with idiosyncratic lyrics, outstanding vocal performances, and earworm hooks. It’s the closest step to an absolute classic album that Selena has ever taken.–C.W.
29. Polo G – The Goat
Polo G is the leading figure in the new generation of Chicago drill. He’s showed off why throughout The Goat, his thrilling, affirmative sophomore album. He’s right in line with his predecessors throughout the gritty, melodic project. But he’s transcendent through his avid curiosity for the “why” on songs like, “Trials And Tribulations” and “Wishing For A Hero.” Again, the environment Polo explores here shouldn’t exist — but he’s damn good at reflecting it.–A.G.
28. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG
It hasn’t taken long for Bad Bunny to become an international superstar. While his ascent has been aided by collaborations with established English-language stars (Cardi B and Drake), he stuck to his roots this time around by working with Spanish-language artists. It paid off, too: YHLQMDLG debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard and was therefore the highest-charting all-Spanish album ever.–D.R.
27. Aminé – Limbo
From the opening strains of “Woodlawn Park” to the semi-social-consciousness of “Becky,” Adam Amine Daniel offers up one of the genre’s most fully-imagined and emotionally-resonant works. He’s a bar-smith of the highest order on songs like “Shimmy Ya,” where he channels the spirit of the dearly departed ODB with a wicked, Biggie-Esque lyrical bent. Then he bares his heart on “Compensating” and “Riri,” fully embracing hip-hop’s turn toward romanticism and the heartbreak endemic to it. It’s on songs like “Becky,” “Mama,” and “Fetus” that Amine offers the most trenchant reveals, as he wrassles with the anxieties inherent to being a minority in America, leaving a legacy through offspring and paying homage to the ancestors before they’re gone. Limbo sets the bar as high as it’s ever been.–A.W.
26. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
As the album title vividly suggests, Mike Hadreas’ latest Perfume Genius album is dramatic in an in-your-face way. That is territory he has navigated successfully throughout his career, but he chases it here perhaps more strongly than he ever has. He previously told Uproxx of the title, “It’s almost like a greediness for fuller feelings.”–D.R.
25. Bartees Strange – Live Forever
The debut album from Bartees Strange is also one of the most innovative and exciting LPs of 2020. Taking cues from alternative rock, hip-hop, jazz, and everything in between, the eleven-track effort is what Steven Hyden calls “a showcase for an artist who seems equally capable of sounding like The National, Frank Ocean, James Blake, or the dozens of artists that fit in the wide-open space between those reference points.”–Z.G.
24. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
Following the massive success of Soccer Mommy’s debut album Clean, the pressure was on for the 23-year-old to pen a compelling follow-up. Color Theory took on the challenge and then some by honing Soccer Mommy’s moody sound with layered production while using colors as lyrical and sonic inspiration. The album touches on themes of blue depression, yellow illness, and gray mourning through the lens of a 20-something still learning to find herself.–C.D.
23. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
At the onset of the pandemic, Charli XCX set out to do something unheard of — writing, recording, and producing an entire album in just two months. To make her vision into a reality, the singer leaned on social media as a crowdsourcing tool for collaboration. Fans were able to help Charli select beats, lyrics, and even single art for her music. The result, How I’m Feeling Now, offers a unique snapshot of how we were all truly feeling in quarantine, coated with Charli’s signature beat drops and mechanical samples.–C.D.
22. Yaeji – What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던
“I’ve got waking up down,” Yaeji deadpans on her frenetic lead-off single, setting the tone for how muted her 2020 mixtape, What We Drew, will be. Singing and rapping in both Korean and English over foggy house production and jittering beats, she establishes herself as one of the year’s underrated pop stars, potentially a blueprint for how restrained voices might infiltrate the genre from the inside out. Leaning more into the producer role, but never backing off fantastic vocals and a flair for the dramatic, Yaeji is only just beginning to peel back her layers.–C.W.
21. D Smoke – Black Habits
One of my early personal picks for top albums of the year, this one remained a favorite throughout a year packed with stellar releases mainly because of its dedication to an institution that doesn’t get nearly enough love in hip-hop: The Black family unit. That’s what Black Habits primarily deals with: D Smoke’s upbringing and how his family has helped shape him into the man and artist he is today. As a highly biographical work, it’s still expansive and inclusive enough to encompass a broad array of experiences, while from a technical standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find better lyrical displays than “Bullies” or “Like My Daddy” or “Lights On.” With this album, D Smoke proved that he’s got the scope for a career far beyond Netflix.–A.W.
20. Ariana Grande – Positions
Perhaps “Positions” felt like a curveball when it arrived out of nowhere in late October, but contextualized within the glowy, loved-up feel of the rest of the album, it’s a hell of a lead single. Horny, giggly, and still slightly terrified, Ariana is back with a whole new set of slow jams and casual bops that build on each other until her thesis becomes crystal clear on the massive final track “POV.” All relationships work best when they bolster self-love, and if she’s finally gotten there, bring on the romance.–C.W.
19. Harry Styles – Fine Line
Swooping in during the final weeks of 2019 to deliver a gut-wrenching, beautifully rendered pop classic, Harry Styles is sitting pretty on his Fine Line momentum even a whole calendar year later. Without a much-anticipated world tour, the songs from this era have still resonated all year, from the glorious smack of “Watermelon Sugar” to the shimmering title track and gentler love songs. Whenever he gets back on the road, Harry will properly flesh out his brilliant second record, building in golden moments where we haven’t even anticipated them yet.–C.W.
18. Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass — Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions)
As Sturgill Simpson made clear speaking with Uproxx, his 2019 record Sound & Fury took that title to heart, with maybe an emphasis on the latter. But 2020 saw a Covid diagnosis and a canceled tour, with Simpson somewhat surprisingly sounding more at peace than ever on Cuttin’ Grass — Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions). The songs may not be new — they are bluegrass renditions of past favorites — but the spirit of them is something fresh, as Simpson finds a perfect marriage for his classic country croon. The resulting record was a beacon during a particularly rough year for his audience, with Simpson playing the role of steadfast captain with particular grace.–P.C.
17. Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Yves Tumor spent the past few years establishing himself as a compelling enough creative force to join the esteemed ranks of Warp Records artists. 2020 brought the experimental artist’s second album for the label, Heaven To A Tortured Mind, and it saw him present his adventurous tendencies in more accessible ways. As Uproxx’s Philip Cosores previously noted, though, “As much as this is the most accessible album in Tumor’s career, it’s by no means easy.”–D.R.
16. Flo Milli – Ho, Why Is You Here?
The dope thing about Flo Milli is that everything she raps clearly comes from a place of experience. Ho, Why Is You Here? sees the Alabama native spitting hyper bars over bouncy beats aided by catchy hooks. Her breakout single, “In The Party,” was a viral sensation in 2019 and though she didn’t have a project out at the time, the anticipation for a full-length collection of songs was high and Flo did not disappoint. Keeping the same energy that previously caught the attention of millions, Flo Milli spits rhymes that boast of confidence and braggadocio. Out the gate, between “Beef FloMix” setting the tone as the album enters into the essence of the rest of the project, Milli’s storytelling capability jumps out accompanied by affirmations of self-love. Ho, Why Is You Here? is an incredible debut from Flo Milli as a woman in rap who is fresh on the scene.–C.J.
15. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
After the debut album Stranger In The Alps catapulted her into the mainstream, fans were curious to see where Phoebe Bridgers would take her eloquent indie music next. Proving her knack for stirring lyricism, Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher is a collection of contemporary ballads for those coping with heartsick nostalgia, expertly striking a balance between soulful musings and refreshingly up-tempo tunes.–C.D.
14. Lil Baby – My Turn
After taking the melodic rap formula first popularized by Future and innovated by Young Thug then putting his own, confessional spin on it, Lil Baby straight up entered the flow state on his sophomore project. When he broke out in 2018 with the Harder Than Ever and Drip Harder mixtapes, it’s fair to say that some tweaks were needed. He had a strong sense of his identity and the things he wanted to do with his flow and lyrics, but he was still solidifying all those components, requiring timely assists from the likes of Drake and Gunna to up the “wow” factor while he tinkered. But on My Turn, he’s the star of the show no matter which guest is rhyming alongside him. He spends the entire album in the zone, from vulnerable revelations like “Emotionally Scarred” to boastful declarations like “Sum 2 Prove.” He even improved on the formula with the deluxe edition, adding “The Bigger Picture” and becoming an inadvertent focal point of the summer’s uprisings against police brutality.–A.W.
13. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
There was a point during this summer where everything aligned to make it feel like the latest dystopian (or maybe post-apocalyptic) effort from El-P and Killer Mike wasn’t just paranoid fantasy or pessimistic speculation but instead the soundtrack of a movie we were all trapped in like The Final Girls. The police had killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people took to the streets in droves to protest the injustice amid a deadly global pandemic, and a demagogic wannabe dictator was making nihilistic pronouncements from his golf course in Florida. RTJ4 is damn near a history book in audio form, from the defiant “A Few Words For The Firing Squad” to the capitalism burning video for “Ooh La La.” We aren’t out of the woods yet, but shout-out to the Jewels for keeping our spirits high as we fought against what felt like the end of the world.–A.W.
12. Fleet Foxes – Shore
Though the album opens with a never-before-heard vocalist, Uwade Akhere, the surprise guest only makes the return of Robin Pecknold’s signature tenor all the more sweet a song later. On “Sunblind,” the strongest song of Fleet Foxes’ storied career, he celebrates and mourns, yearns and rejoices, replete with the harmonies and meticulously constructed melodies that have carried this Seattle band from warm, bedroom folk to songwriting legacies. Shore is a gigantic step forward for Pecknold and his mates, and more proof that the best bands only get better, and more believable, with time.–C.W.
11. Roddy Ricch – Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
Compton native Roddy has had one hell of a year, riding the success of his single “The Box” (which spent no less than 38 weeks on the Hot 100, 11 of which were at the No. 1 position) and popping up on fan-favorite singles from the likes of DaBaby and Lil Baby (their names get stuck together a lot, don’t they?). All of that, though, was launched from the impressive late 2019 debut album that saw him go from burgeoning hometown hero to a legit superstar as he wrestled with the results of trauma (“War Baby“), bragged on his newfound success (“Boom Boom Room“), and warned haters away from making any moves that might be hazardous to their health (“Start With Me” featuring Gunna).–A.W.
10. The Weeknd – After Hours
The road to After Hours began with “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights,” which were released within days of each other in late November 2019. The latter became the biggest hit of The Weeknd’s career; it’s still hovering around the top of the Hot 100 a year after its release. The singles accurately foreshadowed the quality of their parent album, a nighttime pop journey that brings synthwave to the modern age.–D.R.
9. Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour
Chloe x Halle really outdid themselves with their debut album Ungodly Hour. Breaking out of their perceived innocence, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,” is how Chloe and Halle Bailey decided to open up their album before diving into fan-favorite “Forgive Me.” The Bailey sisters certainly needed zero permission to give fans and listeners life with their angelic trill. It’s “Do It” that instantly hits a chord of relatability, though. “I beat my face / Moving fast ’cause the Uber on the way,” Chloe pipes. “Taking pictures, make sure you can’t see no lace / That wig secure like the money in a safe / I look like bae.” Accompanied by an easy-to-do TikTok dance, “Do It” was one of the girls’ largest records this year. There’s also “Tipsy” and the title track “Ungodly Hour” that make up the essence of these two incredible musicians. Chloe and Halle bring listeners into their fold while baring their souls throughout Ungodly Hour, showing promise as they continue to enhance their unstoppable and undeniable talent, through proper artists development thanks to Beyonce’s ingenious Parkwood Entertainment.–C.J.
8. Haim – Women In Music Pt. III
With a debut that put them firmly on the indie-pop map and a sophomore album that found some of that acclaim recede, the Los Angeles Haim sisters rolled into their third album with milder expectations from both fans and critics. And maybe that’s part of the reason why Women In Music Pt. III feels so titanic, as it not only eclipses the trio’s previous highs, it shows that we never really knew their potential at all. Some of the classic rock and ’90s pop touchstones that they’ve always cited are still there, but so is a firm identity that exists beyond the scope of their influences. Haim have truly arrived.–P.C.
7. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
A full-180 from the alt-rock revivalism of Waxhatchee’s 2017 LP Out In The Storm, Saint Cloud evokes the lived-in, earthy Americana of Katie Crutchfield’s hero, Lucinda Williams, whose 1998 classic LP Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is an obvious thematic and sonic touchstone. Sparking acoustic guitars and soulful keyboard tones echo through every track, with Crutchfield’s high, lonesome vocals positioned squarely at the heart of an understated country-rock mix. Her best album.–S.H.
6. Mac Miller – Circles
Circles, which was completed by Jon Brion after Mac’s tragic death, showed the Pittsburgh artist scrutinizing his discontent over a soundscape that fused rap, funk, and emo. The raw despair of thematic predecessor Swimming had lessened with songs like ”Blue World” and “Complicated,” where he eerily vocalizes “Some people say they want to live forever / That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today.” Through Circles, he lives forever.–A.G.
5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
With astonishing grace, Dua Lipa makes becoming a top-tier pop star look easy. Some artists fret over a second record, whether it will be well-received, whether it will be as good as their debut, Dua simply buckles down and produces more flawless, disco-flecked pop without worrying about the details. Future Nostalgia is a classic, sleek pop record with bubbly emotion that never overflows, making her a buttoned-up star in a messy era. As if that wasn’t enough, she came floating back in the fall with a reimagined, remixed alternative record that hails the heritage of all the disco and house she called on before. She’s already learned the most important lesson — no one can properly herald the future of pop without nostalgia for the past.–C.W.
4. Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake
Lil Uzi Vert had the rap world waiting on Eternal Atake for years. When he finally dropped it at the top of 2020, he delivered. The 18-track project is a quintessential exhibition of why people love Uzi, with earworm melodies over vibrant, often-quaking thumping production. Maybe there’s a universe where the genre-bending stargazer isn’t one of the most fun listens in music — but it ain’t this one.–A.G.
3. Spillage Village – Spilligion
Imagine if Bob Dylan somehow joined the Dungeon Family in their late-90s heyday, but with all of the technical advancements and foreknowledge of the trash fire 2020 would turn out to be. They might make something similar to Spilligion, the first album from Atlanta-based super crew Spillage Village since 2016’s Bears Like This Too Much. Borrowing folk tradition, marrying it to Southern Baptist gospel, and slathering the whole thing in trap rap secret sauce, 6lack, Earthgang, JID, and the gang (Benjj, Jurdan, and Mereba — you thought I wasn’t gonna shout everybody out??) untangle their complicated feelings — and, by and large, ours as well — about the gnarly happenings of the last 12 months on songs like “End Of Daze.” The answers they tease out aren’t for everybody, but the musical process they use to do so sure is.–A.W.
2. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
What makes Fetch The Bolt Cutters feel like a new high-water mark for Fiona Apple — is it possible to rank all five of her albums as tied for her best? — is how she has pared her music down to the barest essentials, while also deepening and broadening her lyrics, finding fresh nuances that eschew easy answers or reductions. This is her rawest record, but also her funniest, distinguished by sparse yet eccentrically detailed soundscapes that provide a backdrop for Apple to fully explore every aspect of her (and perhaps your) highly contradictory inner life. She’s furious and forgiving, full of love and hate, and capable of both eviscerating and soothing her subjects.–S.H.
1. Taylor Swift – Folkore
There are many reasons why Folklore deserves to be Album Of The Year, the most basic of which is that it’s a towering collection of songs by one of the generation’s most important voices, that sits comfortably among the best work she’s ever created. “The Last Great American Dynasty” proves she’s as adept at storytelling as ever, “Exile” offers up Taylor Swift as the ultimate collaborator (both vocally with Bon Iver and in the songwriting sense with Vernon and not-so-secret guest writer Joe Alwyn), and “Betty” reminds that genre walls are made to be burned down, with Swift still able to find as much success in the country world as she does on the Hot 100.
But Folklore also represents something particular about this year. Conceived entirely in quarantine, Swift was experiencing something that many were, with more time to create, learn, and grow. But she didn’t just get really into banana bread like the rest of us, she reached out to some of her favorite musicians and found the acceptance and grace to get firmly out of her comfort zone in unprecedented circumstances, creating something that couldn’t happen in any other time. Folklore isn’t a concession that her more overt pop gestures were somehow flawed, it’s just further example of Swift’s range, as she sounds as much at home working with Aaron Dessner of The National as she has in the past with Max Martin. But the lasting effect, how for a moment in the summer all the pain and anguish and anxiety of the world dissipated briefly and music fans took to social media to share in this glorious surprise — it can’t really be measured how much this album meant, and how it altered the cultural landscape. When we look back at this year’s 50 best albums, and the many more that aren’t on the list, that’s probably what matters most — how they helped us all survive.–P.C.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.