2018 has been an eventful year for pop music, with several highly anticipated sophomore albums (like Troye Sivan, Alessia Cara, and Jess Glynne) and ambitious debuts (like Camila Cabello, MNEK, and Bebe Rexha). The world of music grows bigger and bigger by the minute which makes it harder and harder for artists and their albums to stand out, but these 10 albums stood out for us and were among our favorites from this year. Ranging from emotional ballads to unique and catchy bops, as well as being strong and refreshing in the busy streaming era, these artists are the ones who accomplished it all.
Camila Cabello, Camila
Camila proved to be the gift that just kept on giving this year—ever since her messy exit from girl group Fifth Harmony at the end of 2016, Cabello’s direction as a solo artist appeared at first a confusing one, but by the time Camila would arrive, her impeccable talent and versatility as an artist was very much clear. From the high and low notes on “Never Be the Same,” to the unique and catchy Latin vibes on “She Loves Control,” “Havana,” and “Inside Out,” not to mention showcasing her incredible songwriting ability on the ballads “Real Friends,” “Consequences,” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” Cabello has more than proven she has an artistic vision far wiser than her 21 years, solidifying her place in the contemporary pop music landscape for the foreseeable future. There may still be some bad blood with a few Fifth Harmony fans over how her split from the group went down, but no one can ignore the fact that “Havana” and Camila both hit number one on the Billboard charts, something Fifth Harmony never achieved—with or without Cabello.
Best songs: “Never Be the Same,” “She Loves Control,” “Havana,” “Inside Out,” “Consequences,” “Real Friends,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “In the Dark,” and “Into It”
Kylie Minogue, Golden
It may not be Kylie’s most exciting album, but our Australian pop queen kicked on her cowgirl boots and hat and headed on down to Nashville to make some country pop—but don’t worry, she hasn’t left behind her disco or dance-pop roots, which makes the album just as fun, refreshing, and gay as any of her other albums. After all, this is Minogue’s fourteenth studio effort, which means she has more than earned the right to try something new on for size and have some fun with it. Not to mention that she reminds us continuously on Golden that she is skilled at both ballads and bops. Full review here.
Best songs: “Dancing,” “Stop Me From Falling,” “Raining Glitter,” “Lost Without You,” “Every Little Part of Me,” and “Rollin’”
Christina Aguilera, Liberation
Six years since her last studio effort, and having the pressure of the critical and commercial failures that were her last two albums, Aguilera returns to her R&B-influenced roots, conjuring a vibe that is simultaneously reminiscent of the R&B that Rihanna has popularized in recent years while also bringing to mind, on a lesser scale, the hip hop sound that catapulted Fergie to mainstream success as a solo artist. But what really stands out on Liberation are the ballad tracks—“Deserve,” “Maria,” “Twice,” and “Masochist” are songs that really bring the listener back to the originally liberated Xtina on Stripped (2002), which means all the fan predictions were true: Aguilera took her time yet again and returned to her roots on her latest album, and is the closet she has ever been to zeroing in on the right path for her immense talent. Full review here.
Best songs: “Maria,” “Fall In Line,” “Deserve,” “Twice,” “Masochist,” and “Unless It’s With You”
Bebe Rexha, Expectations
Expectations has proven itself to be one of my personal favorites from this year. Bebe Rexha had been struggling to establish her own unique presence in pop music for the last few years, releasing a series of EPs that failed to make any sort of large impact. Not to mention the fact that Rexha continues to receive criticism from pop music listeners on social media for being “generic” or unoriginal. Following the significant commercial success of her country crossover single “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line, 2018 brought us Rexha’s full-length debut studio album, led by the single “I’m a Mess,” which also happens to rank among my personal favorites this year. Not only does she manage to deliver catchy pop song after the next, Rexha proves on Expectations that she has the depth and songwriting ability to back up the voice behind her Top 40 hits—the album’s opening song, “Ferrari,” is by far one of the most personal and best written songs I’ve heard in the last few years (too bad the Grammys are always too busy gushing over artists like Lorde to notice songs like these ones), as well as poignantly exploring depression on “Sad.” The album may have received mixed reviews and barely reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200, but Bebe Rexha has my attention.
Best songs: “Ferrari,” “I’m a Mess,” “2 Souls on Fire,” “I Got You,” “Self Control,” “Sad,” “Grace,” and “Meant to Be”
Troye Sivan, Bloom
Both a unique album filled with catchy dance and synth-pop as well as an empowering queer coming-of-age story, Australian singer Troye Sivan—who first rose to fame as an actor and YouTube personality—delivered one of the best pop albums in recent memory, so any year-end list would be incomplete without it. Bloom may only be 10 songs (12 with the international bonus tracks), but that just means Sivan eschews any and all filler—every song on the album is memorable and distinct, a steep accomplishment to achieve, not to mention showing immense artistic growth from his 2015 debut album, Blue Neighbourhood. From the brave storytelling of a loss of innocence and coming into his own on “Seventeen” and “Bloom,” to the unique and contagious bops “My My My!,” “Plum,” and “Dance to This” (a standout collaboration with Ariana Grande), and his heartfelt and emotional ballads “The Good Side,” “Postcard,” and “Animal,” Sivan has made himself a name to watch—not only in pop music, but as someone who has forged the path for other openly gay pop artists.
Best songs: “Seventeen,” “My My My!,” “The Good Side,” “Bloom,” “Dance to This,” “Plum,” “Lucky Strike,” “Animal,” and “This This”
British singer and producer MNEK has produced glitzy pop jams for Little Mix and Zara Larsson as well as having songwriting credits with Madonna and Beyoncé but took his time before revealing his own solo work since, as he sings early in his full-length debut album Language, that he “had to come correct.” The album, which was preceded by an extremely catchy and underrated collaboration with Hailee Steinfeld called “Colour,” is one of the most unique and interesting R&B albums in easily the last five years—containing throwback vibes to the R&B of both the ‘90s and ‘00s as well as pop and disco themes of dancing your troubles away, Language also puts the experiences of black gay men at the forefront. The album also makes great use of interludes (which I tend to largely dislike), even poking fun at how people think his stage name is pronounced (it’s M-N-E-K, not em-neck). In an era of pop and R&B that demands club friendly tracks to top charts, Language is a rare gem that demands to be listened to from start to finish.
Best songs: “Correct,” “Tongue,” “Colour,” “Honeymoon Phaze,” “Free,” and “Touched By You”
Cher, Dancing Queen
It seems like everyone but the gays groaned when Cher announced that she had recorded an entire album of ABBA covers, inspired by her recent appearance in Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. It isn’t anything groundbreaking or incredibly special, but it’s quite clear that Dancing Queen was made purely for fun (and maybe to give Cher an excuse to launch another farewell tour), and you can very easily tell that she had fun recording this album and making the songs her own. Making overplayed and overused ABBA songs unique, catchy, and fun again is challenging in itself, and Cher quickly achieves it. As someone who listened to almost nothing but ABBA from the ages of 5 to 10, I like a fair amount of Cher’s versions better than the originals. All this to say…she did THAT.
Best songs: “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” “SOS,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Fernando”
Jess Glynne, Always In Between
With the success of “I’ll Be There,” the lead single from Jess Glynne’s second studio album Always In Between, she became the first British female solo artist to have seven number one singles on the UK Singles Chart, more than any other artist in history. Some artists find success and growth by switching gears for their second albums, but Glynne knows what works for her and she’s stuck to it—her own distinct pop sound, with influences of soul music, bubblegum pop, and house music, all at the same time—which somehow manages to win me over every time just by its catchy uniqueness and Glynne’s incredible vocal ability. There isn’t much progression in sound or lyrics from her 2015 debut I Cry When I Laugh, which has led some critics to call Always In Between uninteresting and immature, but no other pop artist on the scene right now has Glynne’s sound or her voice, which is what makes her memorable. Managing to be both catchy and unique is becoming harder and harder in contemporary pop music, and with her second studio effort, Jess Glynne very much achieves it. Just listen to “I’ll Be There” or “All I Am” and try to tell me I’m wrong.
Best songs: “I’ll Be There,” “Thursday,” “All I Am,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Broken,” “Won’t Say No,” and “Insecurities”
Allie X, Super Sunset
We love our Canadian indie pop queen! Alexandra Hughes, a.k.a. Allie X, started out on the indie pop scene in Toronto in the mid-2000s before making the move to Los Angeles in 2013, where she would later release her first two albums, CollXtion I and CollXtion II. Managing to embody a funky and refreshing synth-pop vibe reminiscent of both Tegan and Sara and Marina and the Diamonds, Allie X delivers both jams with glossy synths layered with depth and meaning—all in only 8 songs (as if that wasn’t enough, she also has several songwriting credits on Troye Sivan’s Bloom). She calls out the hypocrisy of youth-obsessed Los Angeles on “Not So Bad in LA,” introduces imagery of Old Hollywood into her music on “Girl of the Year” (somewhat reminiscent of early Lana Del Rey), and ponders the direction of her future on “Can’t Stop Now” and “Focus.” Super Sunset may be short and very indie, but oh so sweet at the same time.
Best songs: “Not So Bad in LA,” “Little Things,” “Science,” “Girl of the Year,” “Can’t Stop Now,” and “Focus”
Alessia Cara, The Pains of Growing
On her highly anticipated second studio effort, Alessia Cara shows us that while it may have been painful, she has grown a lot since we last heard from her—both personally and musically. Singles we heard from the album ahead of its release, including “Growing Pains,” “Trust My Lonely,” and “Not Today,” set the tone for The Pains of Growing, and act as a sequel to the rebellious but tame songs about adolescence we heard on her 2015 debut Know-It-All. Now in post-adolescent blues and pondering the direction one is supposed to take from there, Cara introduces some very mature acoustic guitar tunes that quickly replace the unique but still glitzy production from Know-It-All. She also assumed a much larger role in production on her second album, producing at least three tracks by herself and wrote every track herself. Cara never fails to showcase how much she’s grown up on The Pains of Growing, from her lyrics and her sound, to her voice and her guitar. Full review here.
Best songs: “Growing Pains,” “Not Today,” “I Don’t Want To,” “Trust My Lonely,” “Wherever I Live,” “All We Know,” “A Little More,” “Out of Love,” “Girl Next Door,” “My Kind,” and “Easier Said”