I’ve always have had a love-hate relationship with pop music. On one hand, I detest the repetitive formula and song structures that haven’t seen any sort of change since the 70s (not that rap music nowadays is any better). On the other hand, I’m a sucker for the addictive qualities and lyrical tricks that these artists weave into their music. What other genre makes it as easy to memorize the full lyrics of any song by its 5th listen?
Admittedly I’m still not the biggest pop fan but these 10 albums that really wowed me this year. They’ve been the most memorable projects I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in today’s rap dominated industry.
They’re arranged in no particular order.
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
Granted at the time of writing, I’ve haven’t had the longest time to sit with this album and absorb it (it literally came out less than a week ago). But the moment I pressed play on this project, I was instantly hooked by the abrasive production and the unflinching nihilism was seeping through every track here.
I was always given the impression that The 1975 were a pretty pretentious band (just look the length of the title of their previous album), but I’m glad that didn’t turn me away from them. What a shame that would’ve been.
Poppy – Am I a Girl?
Heavily influenced by electronic music alongside a tinge of nu-metal, Am I a Girl? perfectly encapsulates the detached persona that Poppy has created for herself in her music and online persona. The album is WEIRD.
It disguises itself within a bubblegum pop aesthetic but the lyrical content is the polar opposite of this. Themes of A.I. domination, sexual objectification and the horrors of war are spread across the album. Again, this album is WEIRD but I love it.
Troye Sivan – Bloom
Trust Troye Sivan to deliver the sleekest sounding pop album of 2018. Since his Blue Neighbourhood debut in 2015, Troye has only further polished the smooth, sultry sound that he crafted since then.
This time around, he tries his hand at more uptempo production, crooning over more bombastic beats on tracks such as “My! My! My!” and the Ariana Grande-assisted “Dance to This”. Embracing the well-explored themes of love and heartbreak, Troye has seen fit to update them for today’s modern progressive audience.
Camila Cabello – Camila
2018’s biggest breakout pop star is…Dua Lipa, but not far behind is ex-Fifth Harmony member – Camila Cabello. Achieving her first #1 hit atop the Hot 100 with “Havana” and also topping the Billboard 200 with Camila, things are only looking up for her.
Incorporating a nice blend of Latin-inspired pop and strong power ballads, Camila is a very solid, albeit slightly generic debut. Yet, the album struck a chord with me because her personality just seems to poke through the lavish production ever so slightly. Camila Cabello just happens to scratch that generic pop itch that I have.
Ryan Beatty – Boy in Jeans
Frequent Brockhampton collaborator Ryan Beatty has the complete package to become an indie darling. His soft vocals, carefree aesthetic, and unabashedly gay pride are the perfect recipe for underground success. And all three of these qualities are abundant on Boy in Jeans.
There’s a certain rough quality to his music. His vocals are bit muddy and the mixing a bit too all over the place, but at least to me, it enhances the delivery of his passionate yet eccentric vocal deliveries. It’s one of the hidden gems of 2018.
Shawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes
This has nothing to do with the music but I’m going to say it anyway – Shawn Mendes is one handsome man. Ok, now back on topic.
Shawn’s boyish vocals and chill-pop aesthetic make him an extremely safe marketing pick for the labels. These aren’t bad qualities though, cause they are what attracted me to this album in the first place. It’s breezy, calming listen all the way through, the perfect album for an early afternoon, cool weather drive.
Various Artists – The Greatest Showman OST
If you haven’t heard at least one song from this album this year, please introduce me to the rock you’re living under so I can actually study in peace. The Greatest Showman has been a cultural juggernaut, outselling nearly every album released this year and successful enough to warrant an actual tour for star Hugh Jackman.
Admittedly I was slightly bummed out when the songs turned out to be modern pop ones when the movie is set in the 19th century. Still, my disappointment was short lived when (unwilling) repeated listens made fall in love with it. Its simple message of empowerment and acceptance were able to strike a chord within me. It’s the best feel-good album I’ve heard this year.
Kimbra – Primal Heart
The second art-pop project on this list, Primal Heart is the least pop sounding album here. The tribal drums and glitchy instrumentals on tracks like “Top of the World” and “Black Sky” won’t be something you’d hear on the radio or your nearest Forever 21.
The abrasive production and spacey vocals remind me of the JPEGmafia’s work (despite their VERY different styles). It’s an unwelcoming album that is a bit all over the place but still catchy enough to get me to return to it every now and then.
Aquilo – ii
Easily my favourite pop record of the year, I was first introduced to the English duo on their debut album Silhouettes – another pop record I still hold dear to this day. Their buttery-smooth style and warm vocal delivery win me over on every track they’ve put out.
It’s almost criminal how overlooked they are by mainstream music, their sound is perfect for fans of slow-tempo pop music. I cannot recommend them enough so I implore everyone that reads this to at least give them a shot.
Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Ariana Grande has had a tough 2018. Much of the controversies and hardships surrounding her would have broken the average person, but she powered on and blessed us with easily the best album of her career thus far. Trap-influence be damned, this is still one of the best pop records I’ve heard in a long time.
The sass, the DGAF attitude and the overall level of polish just make this project a delight to listen to from front to back. It’s a spectacular product that will go down as one of the best albums of the year.