Believe it or not, 2020 is already halfway over. The year has been more than eventful, to say the least, and much of it has been spent indoors in quarantine. But thankfully, pop musicians served up some great releases to provide solace from the state of the world. Dua Lipa looked to the past with her ’80s-inspired sophomore record, The Weeknd issued a brooding, vibe-heavy contender, and Charli XCX did something unprecedented with her latest release.
With all the new music that’s debuted this year, it’s hard not to let some slip through the cracks. That’s where Uproxx comes in. We’ve rounded up some of the best pop albums 2020 has seen thus far, check it out.
20. Niia — II: La Bella Vita
Esteemed producer Robin Hannibal doesn’t work with just anybody, so the fact that he’s all over Niia’s second full-length album, II: La Bella Vita, should be a tip-off — this independent LA-based songwriter is the real deal. Tapping into her love for jazz and Mariah Carey, La Bella Vita expertly showcases Niia’s incredible voice and emotional storytelling.–Caitlin White
19. Camila Cabello — Romance
Camila Cabello’s second studio album, Romance, dropped late enough in 2019 that it’s getting counted in 2020 — right along with Harry Styles’ equally tardy Fine Line. Cabello’s collaboration with rising rapper DaBaby on “My Oh My” and her steamy duet with current boyfriend Shawn Mendes, “Senorita,” are the standouts on this sophomore effort.–C.W.
18. JoJo — Good To Know
JoJo came back like she never left and impresses with her Warner Records debut Good To Know. Though she was held captive by Blackground Records for years, JoJo proves why talent overrules all with each track that lives on the project. The nine-song release is a modern, intimate take on love with sensual tracks such as “So Bad” and “Lonely Hearts” rising to the next level. Further proving JoJo hasn’t missed a step since her long hiatus, her song “Comeback” featuring Tory Lanez is one of the most popular songs on TikTok. Good To Know is JoJo’s reintroduction to the world and she didn’t waste time making the most of it.–Cherise Johnson
17. Lady Gaga — Chromatica
There’s not much ground left to cover for Lady Gaga. She’s headlined the Super Bowl. She’s starred in a record-breaking movie. She’s scored No. 1 songs, sold-out world tours, and won an Oscar to go along with all those Grammys. So when Chromatica hit, fans weren’t totally sure where she would go. The answer, we should’ve known, is straight back to the dance floor. On one of her most cohesive and catchy records to date, Gaga feeds her core fanbase with banger after banger — and early single “Rain On Me” even hit No. 1, giving her yet another accolade to add to her ever-growing list.–C.W.
16. Boniface — Boniface
Boniface might be a relatively unknown band from Winnipeg, Canada, but that doesn’t stop their emotional, glittering debut from being one of the best pop albums of 2020. Not since the early days of Arcade Fire have sweeping, personal anthems about love, loss, and the space between the two felt so epic and important. The band’s frontperson, Micah Visser, is an unmissable presence live — definitely check them out the next time that tours and concerts are safe destinations for music fans.–C.W.
15. BTS — Map Of The Soul: 7
BTS’ fans (the “BTS Army,” if you will) have proven themselves more than deserving of world-class pop, and justly, that’s what BTS has provided and continues to offer on their latest. Map Of The Soul: 7 is a reflective album lyrically, and an adventurous one instrumentally, as the group brings disparate influences under their glossy pop umbrella.–Derrick Rossignol
14. Banoffee — Look At Us Now Dad
Excellent Banoffee singles have been floating around the indie-pop world for years now, and her early EPs built something of a cult following for the Australian songwriter. Well, 2020 was the year these diehards were finally rewarded. Look At Us Now Dad explores family trauma, fake friends, and the power of the people who love us unconditionally through a lens of glitchy, forward-thinking pop. Collaborators like Empress Of, Sophie, and CupcakKe round out one of the most compelling records in pop’s sometimes same-y genre.–C.W.
13. Lauv — How I’m Feeling
With his debut studio album How I’m Feeling, Lauv identifies the existential dread collectively felt by his peers and translates it into digestible yet pragmatic pop. Throughout the record, Lauv expertly critiques the dejection and anxieties of a generation that grew up online and reminds listeners that they aren’t alone. The record is also a showcase of up-and-coming singers that Lauv hand-picked to feature on a cluster of songs.–Carolyn Droke
12. Jessie Reyez — Before Love Came To Kill Us
Treading in the murky waters between chilly, Northern R&B and sultry nighttime pop, Before Love is highlighted by Reyez’ wicked sense of humor and lyrical sleight-of-hand. She casually references Casino, holds her own alongside seniors such as 6lack and Eminem, and shows both her vulnerability and strength through the back-half ballads that give her distinctive voice free reign to cut loose and prove that she’s got a different kind of range.–Aaron Williams
11. Halsey — Manic
A longtime advocate for mental health awareness, Halsey channels her experiences with toxic behavior in relationships on Manic. The record chronicles a wide range of emotions through lyrics, with Halsey at times revengeful while simultaneously finding empowerment through honesty. The record also sees a number of unexpected collaborators, with Halsey leaving space for musicians like BTS’ Suga and Alanis Morissette to work through their own rage.–C.D.
10. Kehlani — It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Plagued by a few album delays, Kehlani returned with her latest set of love stories on her sophomore album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. Across the record’s 15 songs, she showcased her maturity and self-awareness, while defending the heart she wore so boldly on her sleeve. With help from Masego, Lucky Daye, Jhene Aiko, and more, her sophomore effort stands as her strongest release to date.–W.O.
9. Empress Of — I’m Your Empress Of
Lorely Rodriguez told Uproxx the title of her latest is “an arrival point where I have this confidence on this record.” Indeed, I’m Your Empress Of is an undeniably self-assured effort, as Rodriguez expresses herself through varying means on songs as different as “Love Is A Drug” and “Give Me Another Chance.”–D.R.
8. Conan Gray — Kid Krow
After a tumultuous childhood, Conan Gray learned at an early age to channel his thoughts and feelings into art. His self-expression quickly led Gray to amass a devoted YouTube following, and when he eventually transitioned to songwriting and music videos, the writing was already on the wall — this kid is a star. Officially releasing his full-length debut, Kid Krow this spring, Gray has already had massive streaming hits many times over singing about the perils and pleasures of young love, the strength of friendship, and how the internet has forever changed the lives of Generation Z.–C.W.
7. Rina Sawayama — Sawayama
Another pop newcomer who is staking her claim in a big way, Rina Sawayama released her de facto self-titled debut, Sawayama in April, and if you’re a pop fan that hasn’t heard it yet, add it to your must-hear list immediately. Fearlessly combining elements of punk and glam rock with dance-floor beats and ‘90s pop, there’s something for everyone in the Japanese-British pop star’s eclectic sound. The cherry on top is her unstoppable smash, “Commes Des Garcon (Like The Boys),” which remains an early contender for my personal song of the year.–C.W.
6. Chloe X Halle — Ungodly Hour
The Bailey sisters have resided in the spotlight for the better part of the last couple years. Chloe x Halle played adolescent sisters on the hit TV show, Grown-ish, while blossoming as a promising R&B act. Two years removed from their Grammy-nominated debut album The Kids Are Alright, Chloe and Halle returned with the sophomore effort Ungodly Hour. The album’s thirteen songs not only showed the Baileys improved musically but it also proved that they were growing up, losing a bit of innocence and embracing their imperfections in the process.–W.O.
5. Selena Gomez — Rare
After finally getting free from the on-again/off-again relationship status with Justin Bieber that never ends, Selena Gomez made the kind of breakup album that is, well, rare. On her third solo album as an adult pop star, Gomez urges her exes (and her past self) to “Look At Her Now,” finds a way to “Dance Again,” and most of all, celebrates her newfound sense of self on her first No.1 hit, “Lose You To Love Me.” Bieber is married to someone else, and settled down, but Selena is just figuring out how to make the dance floor her own.–C.W.
4. Charli XCX — How I’m Feeling Now
Charli XCX broke the mold with How I’m Feeling Now. Written and recorded from quarantine using social media as her crowdsourcing tool for collaboration, the record boasts playful hooks, futuristic distortion, and all the emotions that arrive with experiencing a global pandemic alongside a longtime partner. Charli expertly melts together industrial grime, fluttering tones, and lively production that further cements her niche corner of pop with boundary-pushing music lovers.–C.D.
3. Harry Styles — Fine Line
Harry Styles is redefining what it means to be a rockstar with his sophomore album Fine Line. Styles previously admitted the album’s theme is “all about having sex and feeling sad.” But rather than being explicit, those themes are artfully woven throughout the record. Styles sheds the apathetic attitude so often attributed to rock stars and ushers in an era of emotional masculine maturity through soul-searching tracks like “Falling,” while still managing to hit cinematic high notes with “Adore You.”–C.D.
2. The Weeknd — After Hours
The Weeknd took pop in a bold new direction on his latest album… or rather, a bold, vintage direction. After Hours owes a lot to the synthwave music that came before it, but The Weeknd is too big a talent to simply turn in a genre-driven tribute: The style is a vessel for the superb songwriting and performance chops that have made him one of the biggest stars of recent years.–D.R.
1. Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
Future Nostalgia came out in March, which was really only a few short months ago, but given everything that’s happened since, it feels like this album came out years ago. The record’s earliest single, “Don’t Start Now,” did come out in 2019, so it’s not just quarantine that makes it seem like Dua’s next phase has been in the works for a while. But even if there’s a sense that Lipa’s pop sensibilities precluded our current darkest timeline, her timeless disco flair just keeps getting better with time.–C.W.
Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.