The 20 best albums of 2020

10 December 2020, 16:34

PopBuzz Albums of 2020 List
PopBuzz Albums of 2020 List. Picture: Warner/Columbia/Atlantic
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

The best albums that got us through 2020 including Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Chloe x Halle and Bad Bunny.

The time has come to reveal our albums of 2020 list. It's a cliché to say it but music has never been so vital, as we isolated from each other and sought comfort from whatever we could. More often than not, it was music that saved the day. Musicians and artists are the essential workers of the soul, and we would have been truly lost without them.

Before we start getting teary-eyed, let's jump straight into our notable mentions section. Firstly, Victoria Monét blew our socks off this year with Jaguar and we had initially included it in our top 5 before realising it was, in fact, an EP. So, we apologise Ms Victoria but please know that in this house we are your humbly devoted stans.

Talking of which, we also loved the Troye Sivan, Chika, Christine and the Queens and The Japanese House EPs. If the albums that follow are anything like these EPs, then we are very excited about what's to come from them in 2021.

And the albums that didn't quite make the cut: The 1975, Selena Gomez, Rico Nasty, Jessie Ware, Mac Miller, Thundercat, Flo Milli, Roisin Murphy and Kehlani all made incredible records that are well worth the love they've been receiving. If we were a top 30 kinda girl then they would undoubtedly have featured.

So, without any further ado, here are the PopBuzz top 20 albums of 2020...

20) Ariana Grande - positions

For the third year in a row, Ariana Grande has blessed us with a top tier album. While Positions doesn't have the obvious singles of Sweetener and thank u, next, it sees Ariana hone in on what makes her such a special artist. Whether she's showing off her sense of humour on sex bops like '34+35' or getting heartbreakingly candid on intimate ballads like 'pov', every single song feels quintessentially Ariana. It may be too lowkey for some but it's Ariana's most cohesive record to date and it gets better with every listen. - Sam Prance

Ariana Grande - positions
Ariana Grande - positions. Picture: Republic

19) Poppy - I Disagree

If you only know Poppy from her YouTube days of speaking her name deadpan into a camera, where have you been?! Having long since shed her ‘YouTuber’ label, Poppy dropped her third album I Disagree and made it known she was not here to play. I Disagree is a record where, when you look beyond the thrashing metal guitars and delightfully chaotic production, you’ll find important themes of female empowerment and breaking free of the restrictions society puts on women. A message we can all get behind. - Emily Beard

Poppy - I Disagree
Poppy - I Disagree. Picture: Sumerian Records

18) The Weeknd - After Hours

The Weeknd may have been snubbed by the Grammys but it's impossible to ignore the sheer impact that After Hours has had. 'Blinding Lights' might be the song that everyone knows and loves but the whole record stands up. 'Snowchild' is one of The Weeknd's most personal songs to date, 'Save Your Tears' has the instant familiarity of an '80s classic and 'In Your Eyes' is 3 minutes and 58 seconds of pop perfection. A brilliant body of work from one of the industry's most consistent hitmakers. - SP

The Weeknd - After Hours
The Weeknd - After Hours. Picture: Republic

17) 5SOS - CALM

If 5SOS’s previous album Youngblood was the dark, emotional eye of the cyclone, 2020’s CALM is the metaphorical ~calm~ after the storm. Their fourth studio album sees Ashton, Michael, Calum and Luke weave between genres and influences for their most confident release yet, with a quiet assuredness that proves we all need to be paying more attention to the Australian quartet. - EB

5SOS - CALM. Picture: Interscope

16) Megan Thee Stallion - Good News

After releasing a slew of mixtapes and top-tier collaborations, Megan Thee Stallion finally blessed us with her debut album. It was well worth the wait too. From made-for-TikTok bops ('Body', 'Do It on the Tip') to more defiant tracks ('Shots Fired'), Good News is a must listen. - Jazmin Duribe

Megan Thee Stallion - Good News
Megan Thee Stallion - Good News. Picture: 1501 Certified/300

15) Bad Bunny - YHLQMDLG

Building on the promise of his debut album, YHLQMDLG sees Bad Bunny show-off the full range of his artistry. As the record moves from bossa nova bops ('Si Veo a Tu Mamá') to heartbreak bangers ('Ignorantes'), one thing remains consistent: Bad Bunny's charisma. This couldn't be clearer than on 'Yo Perreo Sola', a hypnotic anti-sexual harassment anthem in which Bad Bunny makes his feminist values loud and clear. Bad Bunny is arguably the biggest star in the world right now and YHLQMDLG proves why. - Sam Prance

Bad Bunny - YHLQMDLG
Bad Bunny - YHLQMDLG. Picture: Rimas

14) Charli XCX - how i’m feeling now

Charli XCX took her reputation for forward-thinking, experimental pop to the next level on how i'm feeling now, a record she hastily made in lockdown one in just six weeks. The result deliver some career highs for Charli XCX ('claws', 'i finally understand') and a much needed shot in the arm of club bangers for the rest of us who were having withdrawals from sweaty dance floors and wild nights. - WW

Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now
Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now. Picture: Atlantic

13) Conan Gray - Kid Krow

At 22, Conan Gray still has his whole career ahead of him and what a bright future that might be if Kid Krow is anything to go by. Conan has clearly been taking notes from the Taylor Swift school of song craft, with songs like 'The Story' and sleeper hit 'Heather' showcasing Conan's ability to pair narrative storytelling with rich melodic sensibilities, creating a debut album that will have staying power with his many, many fans. - WW

Conan Gray - Kid Krow
Conan Gray - Kid Krow. Picture: Republic

12) Grimes - Miss Anthropocene

She might have made more headlines this year because of her choice of baby name but Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, made a great record too. If you ignored the album’s loose and at times perplexing concept of a “anthropomorphic goddess of climate change”, with each song representing a “different embodiment of human extinction”, what you were left with was a deft and at times thrilling electronica-pop record, with songs like ‘Violence’ and ‘4 ÆM’ easily becoming some of her best work to date. - WW

Grimes - Miss Anthropocene
Grimes - Miss Anthropocene. Picture: 4AD

11) HAIM - Women in Music III

Before Women in Music III, I liked HAIM the same way I liked watching sports. Sure, I might enjoy it if someone else puts it on but I’m not going do that myself. After Women In Music III, I’m just about ready to get a tattoo of Este, Alana and Danielle on my fucking face. That is to say, this whole record slaps from start to finish. Don’t watch sports, listen to HAIM. - WW

HAIM - Women In Music III
HAIM - Women In Music III. Picture: Columbia Records

10) City Girls - City On Lock

If there's anybody that could provide a little comedic relief in 2020, it's the City Girls. Yung Miami and JT inject their signature humour into their album filled with rebellious and explicit party anthems. - JD

City Girls - City On Lock
City Girls - City On Lock. Picture: Capitol

9) Halsey - Manic

Halsey took a break from her carefully crafted concept albums in 2020 and gave us a taste of the real Ashley Frangipane – and it paid off. This album has everything: Wistful ballads, stunningly vulnerable lyrics, scathing country bops that make you wanna put on your cowboy boots, head to a hoedown and never leave… Manic is her best yet. Can’t wait to see what Ashley does next. - Katie Louise Smith

Halsey - Manic
Halsey - Manic. Picture: Capitol

8) Lady Gaga - Chromatica

From the moment Lady Gaga announced that she was pregnant with LG6, we knew a Star of intergalactic proportions was about to be well and truly BORN. Coronavirus may have robbed us of the Chromatica summer tour we deserved but at least we’ve got 3 top tier Gaga videos, dance-floor collab bangers from Elton John, BLACKPINK and Ariana Grande (all stand outs on the album) and the ‘Chromatica II to 911 transition’ meme to tide us over until 2021. - KLS

Lady Gaga - Chromatica
Lady Gaga - Chromatica. Picture: Interscope

7) Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

I liked this record because it made me very, very sad. Yes, I know that’s a dumb and overly simplistic take on what is an emotionally and musically rich piece of art, made by a critically-adored, Grammy nominated artisté BUT…it’s also true, so deal with it. Treat yourself to an ugly cry and enjoy this very sad and very good record if you haven't already. - WW

Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher. Picture: Dead Oceans

6) Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor

There was once a time where you couldn’t pay Hayley Williams to make a solo album, such was her commitment to being in a band. But personal circumstances (a severe bout of depression following her divorce) was the trigger that launched the creation of 15 songs, tracking her recovery and bringing a greater vulnerability, intimacy and musical experimentation than we’ve seen with Paramore (though Taylor York and Zac Farro were involved in the solo project too). It wasn’t the solo album anyone expected, but it was the one Hayley needed. - WW

Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor
Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor. Picture: Atlantic Records

5) Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA

2020 was undoubtedly a breakout year for Rina Sawayama. On her second album, Sawayama, Rina ripped up the rule book and created a truly original pop album and gave us the closest glimpse yet of what a Britney Spears nu metal song might sound like (‘XS’), and for that we will be forever grateful. - WW

Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA
Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA. Picture: Dirty Hit

4) Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts

Miley Cyrus' talent has always been evident but, until now, none of her albums have managed to capture quite what makes her so brilliant. Plastic Hearts takes Miley's voice and runs with it. 'Gimme What I Want' is a sex-positive masterpiece, 'Never Be Me' is so frank that it marks you instantly and 'Midnight Sky' is the song Miley was born to make. Plastic Hearts may hark back to the rock legends of yesteryear (it even features three of them) but it feels fresh and new and Miley's artistic identity has never been so clear. - SP

Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts
Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts. Picture: RCA

3) Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

When the world went into lockdown, Dua Lipa gave us a reason to dance. Future Nostalgia is wall to wall bops. The songs are perfectly crafted and there’s a sense of fun to the entire album that’s infectious. It’s impossible to listen to tracks like ‘Don’t Start Now’, ‘Physical’ and ‘Levitating’ without smiling. It’s a testament to how great the album is that a song as brilliant as ‘Cool’ hasn’t been released as a single. With a deluxe edition still to come, Future Nostalgia is the gift that keeps on giving. Long reign our newest princess of pop. - SP

Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia. Picture: Warner Records

2) Taylor Swift - Folklore

There is so much that could be said of Folklore; Taylor suddenly ditching pop and making her ‘cabin in the woods’ album, the surprise drop, the teenage love triangle (‘Betty’, ‘Cardigan’ & ‘August), the secret Joe Alwyn co-writes as “William Bowery”, the Bon Iver duet (‘Exile’), the easter eggs in the 'Cardigan' video. Her acerbic take down of Scooter Braun on 'Mad Woman'...we could go on. But the reason this record has resonated with such a large cross-section of music fans is that in its DNA it’s just a beautiful, romanic, spell-binding creation. Listening to it felt like escaping through the wardrobe into Narnia - and lord knows did we need escapism in 2020. Not that it was ever in doubt but Folklore lays bare the phenomenal talent of Taylor Swift, arguably one of the most gifted and prolific songwriters of our times. - WW

Taylor Swift - Folklore
Taylor Swift - Folklore. Picture: Republic

1) Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour

Chloe x Halle are so talented that simply hearing them harmonise together is an honour. On Ungodly Hour, the sister duo harness their talents and create the standout record of 2020. Each track tells a different story that showcases their personalities. On ‘Baby Girl’ they’re uplifting young women, on 'Tipsy’ they’re threatening potential fuck boys with murder, and on ‘Wonder What She Thinks of Me’ they’re singing from the perspective of the other woman. Not to mention, the title track deserves to be played at weddings, graduations and funerals. From the inspired production (helmed by Chloe herself) to the infectious melodies (try getting ‘Do It’ out of your head), not a moment on the album is wasted. Ungodly Hour transports you to another, better realm of existence and, in 2020, there was nowhere else we'd rather be. - SP

Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour
Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour. Picture: Columbia

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QUIZ: Only a music expert knows which songs hit Number 1 in 2020