The 20 best albums of 2019

13 December 2019, 13:06

Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, Lizzo
Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, Lizzo. Picture: Interscope / Interscope / Atlantic Records
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

Who will take the crown for the best album of 2019?

Do you like music? Do you enjoy lists about music? Do you like reading lists that place albums into an order of preference based on criteria such as ‘how hard did it slap?’ and ‘did it make my wig fly off my bald head?’ If your answer to those questions is yes, then you’ve come to the right place.

Yes, this is the PopBuzz best albums of 2019 list. Previous winners have included Carly Rae Jepson, Khalid, The 1975 and Cardi B, and as we sat down to discuss who should join this iconic line-up, a few things became clear.

Firstly, we’re still not 100% sure about the difference between an album and a mixtape, so both are included here. Secondly, people rarely release truly terrible albums nowadays but there’s a lot of ‘meh’ albums and that makes us sad and annoyed. And finally, where the fuck is that Lady Gaga record? Smh.

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Before we begin, we have some honourable mentions to get out of the way. Harry Styles, we would have loved to have included you in this list but unfortunately our advance copy of Fine Line must have gotten lost in the post, so we were unable to include you in the list. A tragedy for all involved. Lil Nas X, we don’t what yeehaw sorcery you conjured up get the Grammy Awards to allow an EP in the best album category but that doesn’t fly here at PopBuzz HQ, despite the fact we loved the 7 EP more than we care to admit (same to you, Yungblud and Miley).

Also, shout out to Marina, BROCKHAMPTON, Caroline Polachek, Tove Lo, Sigrid, Ari Lennox and Solange for making excellent records too. Also, Euphoria soundtrack, we see you.

And finally, to our ride or die, Ms Madonna Louise Ciccone. Madame X is a dancer, an assassin and a chronically late diva, but, alas, she is not one of our albums of the year. Perdóname. Ok, let’s get to it...

20) Megan Thee Stallion - Fever

There's no denying that 2019 was truly Megan Thee Stallion's year. Megan asserted her power in the male-dominated rap world with her liberating lyrics about sexual politics. Fever was much more than an mixtape, it was a whole movement. 

Megan Thee Stallion - Fever album artwork
Megan Thee Stallion - Fever album artwork. Picture: 300 Entertainment

19) Yung Baby Tate - GIRLS

Everybody might be talking about her collaboration with Ashnikko, 'Stupid', which went viral on TikTok but Yung Baby Tate truly showed off her versatility and artistic prowess on her debut, self-released mixtape GIRLS. A knock-out punch from start to finish.

Yung Baby Tate GIRLS album cover
Yung Baby Tate GIRLS album cover. Picture: Self-released

18) Taylor Swift - Lover

After her dark Reputation era, Taylor Swift triumphantly returned with the colourful Lover and honestly, what’s not to love? Sexy saxophones, dreamy romance, an Idris Elba vocal sample, Brendon Urie and Dixie Chicks features, another batch of iconic bridges and an assortment of lyrics that are up there with her very best.

Taylor Swift Lover Album Artwork
Taylor Swift Lover Album Artwork. Picture: Republic

17) Orville Peck - Pony

A gay country musician who hides his identity behind a fringed mask? I mean, what's not to like? But beyond media buzz words and theatrics, Pony is an incredible record full of heart and soul, that has as much in common with Lana Del Rey as it does with Johnny Cash. Lil Nas X better watch out, there's a new yeehaw king in town.

Orville Peck - Pony Album Artwork
Orville Peck - Pony Album Artwork. Picture: Sub Pup

16) Kevin Abstract - Arizona Baby

Abstract himself said he made this record “out of survival” and Arizona Baby does sound like somebody going through it. It's also low-key one of the best records he's ever made.

Kevin Abstract - Arizona Baby Album Artwork
Kevin Abstract - Arizona Baby Album Artwork. Picture: Question Everything/RCA

15) The Japanese House - Good At Falling

The 1975's label mate The Japanese House, aka Amber Bain, stepped out of the shadows and bared it all on her radiant debut album Good at Falling. And when we say baring it all, we mean including lines like: "We don't fuck anymore but we talk all the time so it's fine". Tell it like it is!

The Japanese House - Good at Falling album cover
The Japanese House - Good at Falling album cover. Picture: Dirty Hit

14) Bad Bunny & J Balvin - Oasis

On Oasis, Bad Bunny and J Balvin bring the heat and the absolute bangers. The pair are perfectly in sync on standouts like ‘YO LE LLEGO’, ‘COMO UN BEBÉ’ (ft. Mr Eazi), and the sultry ‘LA CANCIÓN’. It’s official. On Oasis, J Balvin and Bad Bunny prove that it’s their world and we’re all just living in it.

Bad Bunny & J Balvin - Oasis Artwork
Bad Bunny & J Balvin - Oasis Artwork. Picture: Universal Latin

13) Tinashe - Songs For You

Labels should give the artists tools to thrive but more often than not they squander people's talent. Songs for You is the first album Tinashe has released since going independent and it's the sound of a musician given free-reign to explore every part of themselves. 'Die a Little Bit' is experimental magic, 'Touch & Go' is heartbreaking honesty and 'Save Room for Us' is a bop for the ages. She may have debuted seven years ago but this is just the beginning. Tinashe can't be ignored.

Tinashe - Songs For Life
Tinashe - Songs For Life. Picture: Tinashe Music

12) Dorian Electra - Flamboyant

Flamboyant is exactly that, a flamboyant, over-the-top and magnificent pop masterpiece. Dorian Electra took the concept of gender-bending pop and ran with it to a new queer utopia. A must-listen for all pop heads out there.

Dorian Electra - Flamboyant
Dorian Electra - Flamboyant. Picture: Dorian Electra

11) Summer Walker - Over It

Summer Walker confirmed R&B is back and here to stay with her debut album Over It. Summer shows off her sultry vocals as she takes the listener on a journey from intense infatuation to heartbreak.

Summer Walker Over It Album Artwork
Summer Walker Over It Album Artwork. Picture: Love Renaissance/Interscope

10) Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift

Beyoncé is relentless. It may be almost four years since she's released an official solo album but since then she's dropped a joint record with JAY-Z, stopped the world with Homecoming and now she's curated a brilliant concept LP for the Lion King soundtrack. The Gift sees Beyoncé collaborate with stars including Shatta Wale, Yemi Alade and Oumou Sangaré and the songs slap. From the triumphant 'MOOD 4 EVA' to the anthemic 'MY POWER', The Gift lives up to its namesake.

Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift Album Cover
Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift Album Cover. Picture: Parkwood/Columbia

9) Bring Me The Horizon - amo

BMTH went 'pop' on their sixth studio album and brought Grimes and Dani Filth along for the ride. The result is an exhilarating and unpredictable record that sounds like a band reaching a new creative peak. We have to stan.

Bring Me The Horizon - amo Album Cover
Bring Me The Horizon - amo Album Cover. Picture: Sony/RCA

8) King Princess - Cheap Queen

It was hard to imagine how King Princess would live up to the hype created by '1950' and 'Pussy Is God' but Cheap Queen is a confident, cool and sexy debut with several stand out tracks including 'Watching My Phone' and bottoming anthem 'Hit The Back'. King Princess said GAY RIGHTS and honestly we love to see it.

King Princess - Cheap Queen Album Artwork
King Princess - Cheap Queen Album Artwork. Picture: Zelig Records/Columbia Records

7) FKA twigs - Magdalene

Twigs kept us waiting 5 years (!!) and the long wait still couldn't have prepared us for the majestic beauty of Magdalene. Leading the comeback with the arresting ballad 'Cellophane' (accompanied by some stunning visuals in the video too) was a masterstroke, an alluring teaser for this bolder and brighter era of Twigs.

FKA Twigs Magdalene Album Artwork
FKA Twigs Magdalene Album Artwork. Picture: Young Turks

6) Tyler, The Creator - Igor

Following the success of Flower Boy, Tyler further cemented his reputation as being an artist truly in his own lane on Igor. His wig game was also on point this era, which is obviously the most important thing here.

Tyler, The Creator - Igor Album Cover
Tyler, The Creator - Igor Album Cover. Picture: Columbia

5) Charli XCX - Charli

I go hard, I go fast / And I never look back” sings Charli XCX on the very first line of ’Next Level Charli’, the high octane opening track on Charli. For an artist who has spent the last three years styling herself as the future (and saviour) of pop music, the lyric doubles up as Charli’s personal mission statement and more broadly a ralling call against bland, playlist fodder pop of recent years. The pace rarely lets up from that point on.

After two critically-acclaimed mixtapes made with zeitgeisity producers A. G. Cook, SOPHIE, EasyFun, Charli takes a similar approach to those releases by pairing pop sensibilities with harsher production and sonic palettes, making something totally unique to her (it's hard to imagine any other pop star writing songs like ‘2099’ or ‘Thoughts’). Then there are her army of collaborators, each of whom bring their own flavour to the feast, with stand out performances coming from Christine and the Queens on ‘Gone’ and Big Freedia, CupCakKe, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar on the epic 'Shake It'.

Charli still remains an underdog in the pop world but this album further cements her status as one of its most creative and trend-setting talents. Long live Charli, baby!

Charli XCX - Charli Album Artwork
Charli XCX - Charli Album Artwork. Picture: Asylum/Atlantic

4) Ariana Grande - Thank U, Next

Not in the headspace to tour after she released Sweetener last August, Ariana Grande decided to return to the studio and do what she does best: make music.

She teamed up with her close friends and longterm collaborators and made honest music about her life and the trauma she was experiencing at the time (while she was in the studio, Ariana split up with her fiancé, Pete Davidson, and her ex, beloved rapper Mac Miller, tragically passed away). Within weeks, thank u, next was born.

And this is why the whole album thrives. It wasn't overthought in some label meeting. It all came straight from Ariana's heart. Every single track rings true to Ariana. 'needy' is a striking confessional in which Ariana opens up about her insecurities and flaws, 'fake smile' is a defiant anthem in which Ariana explains she can't hide her emotions, 'ghostin' is a moving ballad in which Ariana is more candid than she's ever been. It's the most devastating song she's ever created and the best.

Ariana made and released thank u, next on her own terms and the whole world listened to her. thank u, next is so important because it's not Ariana working to fit the paradigms of pop, it's Ariana changing the paradigms of pop to work for her. Like Beyoncé and Rihanna before her, Ariana is done playing by the rules... and the results are remarkable.

Ariana Grande Thank U, Next Album Artwork
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next Album Artwork. Picture: Republic Records

3) Lizzo - Cuz I Love You

Now we’ve enjoyed a solid 10 months of Lizzo fever, just try imagining a world without her. What a sad, joyless place that would be. That’s the power of the Lizzo brand and the infectious positivity found on Cuz I Love You. Now she’s here, we never want to let her go. I’m getting separation anxiety just thinking about it.

Did anyone - even the lady herself - expect Lizzo to be the breakout star of 2019? No. No one did. After years of slogging it out, somewhere between 2016-18 Lizzo released a string of banging singles which, at the time, sounded promising but seemed destined to go unheard by the vast majority of people. Yet against all odds, those singles are now mega hits (‘Truth Hurts’ and ‘Good As Hell’) in part thanks to a viral trend on TikTok.

But it would be a mistake to let those singles overshadow the album that followed. Cuz I Love You is stacked with catchy hits (‘Juice’, ‘Tempo’) and empowerment anthems (‘Like A Girl’, ‘Soulmate’). Lizzo is a rare talent indeed; a talented singer, songwriter and rapper that everyone wishes was their best mate. The world took a DNA test and it turns out we are all Lizzo’s bitch.

Lizzo - Cuz I Love You Album Artwork
Lizzo - Cuz I Love You Album Artwork. Picture: Atlantic Records

2) Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!

The enduring appeal of Lana Del Rey is quite baffling in some ways. Not that she’s undeserving - quite the opposite - but her music and approach to artistry just seem at odds with everything else around her. Lana is beyond passing trends and yet she is very of-the-moment. Her fifth album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, has all the hallmarks of a timeless classic, which is remarkable considering that it was released only three months ago. How the hell does she do that?!

There’s much to dissect with Lana and lord knows every music journalist has tried. There’s the seemingly impenetrable mystic of Lana’s “character”, one which she recently insisted is not a ‘persona’ at all. There's also the constant lyrical references to bygone eras and cultural touchstones of America, and America itself. Personally speaking, I spend most of my Lana thinking time remembering her Twitter altercation with Azealia Banks, in which she told Banks to “pull up anytime” and then, “I won’t not fuck you the fuck up. Period.” Just let that sink in for moment.

Getting back to the matter at hand, the secret to NFR!'s success seems to be just good old fashioned great song writing. Whether it’s the swirling, 9 minute epic ‘Venice Bitch’, the cinematic beauty of 'The Best Next American Record' (there she goes again!) or the title track's deadpan delivery and lyrical zingers, on Normal Fucking Rockwell!, Lana is at her most Lana and we loved every moment of it.

Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell Album Artwork
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell Album Artwork. Picture: Interscope

1) Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

What is left to write about the 17-year-old wonderkid from California that hasn’t already been written? It seems so obvious to say it but this was undoubtedly Billie’s year. She was inescapable. When future generations look back on 2019, the first image they will see will be Billie Eilish on a red carpet dressed as a high fashion beekeeper.

Part of the joy of the Billie Eilish phenomena which has captivated millions of fans, especially teenagers, is that she genuinely feels like a breath of fresh air. Billie is only interested in being Billie and she has no time for anything else. From her left field fashion choices, or her remarkable candour and general lack of fucks-to-give while doing press, and most importantly her music which, when at its best, feels like something we’ve never heard before; everything she does is uniquely Billie Eilish.

Take her two biggest songs to date. Every time ‘Bad Guy’ or ‘Bury A Friend’ comes on the radio, even now, it still sounds strange, as if the playlist team has made a mistake. Billie doesn’t write ‘chart hit’ music and yet she’s now got two of the biggest selling singles of the year.

Much is made of Billie’s young age because of the maturity of her work, but a record as versatile and compelling as When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? would be remarkable at any age. Most artists can go their whole lives and not write something as dreamy, understated and ultimately devastating as ‘i love you’. The album is full of moments like that.

Billie is a once-in-a-generation artist and a natural born star. And perhaps the most exciting thing about Billie is that despite the huge success of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it still feels like there’s even greater things to come. Long may she reign.

Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? Album Artwork
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? Album Artwork. Picture: Interscope

For the nerds out there, here's our best album lists from yesterday.