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The 15 Best Pop Albums of 2020 | PopMatters
The 15 best pop albums radiate with unstoppable playlist power and much-needed sweet escapism.
Pop music can make you sweat. Pop music can sometimes make you shed tears. Pop music can change lexicons, unite fandoms, and even be a vehicle for change and progress. It endures ridicule, embraces camp, and — at its very best moments — changes the way we think about music in general. In 2020, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, pop music did all of those things and more, punching well above its weight as the world dealt with societal, systemic, and economic challenges. We can’t go clubbing anymore, but that’s not stopping us from popping earbuds in and having a dance party on our own terms.
As the world adjusted to a new way of life amid the coronavirus pandemic, pop stars themselves had to think outside of the box, canceling tours of elaborate album cycle plans to go instead virtual — or delaying releases outright. Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande dropped massive records with short notice. HAIM collected two years of one-off singles into what may be their finest work yet. Beyoncé paired a trimmed-down Lion King soundtrack with a new album-length film to create something genuinely dynamic, now streaming for your family on Disney+, one of the many new media services that grew as millions now found themselves staying at home.
Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion broke through to the pop mainstream without compromising their styles. Charli XCX made an electronic quarantine album that captures the intangible moodiness of what the first few months of quarantine felt like. Harry Styles finally shed his boy band past to score a psychedelic chart-topper. The biggest Western K-pop crossover in history transpired when BTS put out their first English language single, breaking down cultural barriers in the process. Pop idols made huge inroads in getting their fanbases to vote in the 2020 presidential election, and drive-in theaters turned into the hottest new concert venues. Bandcamp generously waived its fees on certain Fridays to give back to musicians whose expected touring incomes had vanished, and artists of every genre made it known that Black Lives Matter and always will.
For many of us, pop music has always been an escape, and in 2020, alone with our loved ones and connected by Ethernet cables, that escape has never been more vital. 2020 was the year that pop music had to do a lot of emotional heavy lifting for us, and as these 15 records show, the best of it proved to be nothing short of transcendent. Let’s celebrate those records that moved us, grooved us, and gave us glimmers of hope in what ended up being the most bizarre years in modern history.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B [School Boy/Interscope]
Before the release of 2019’s excellent Dedicated, Carly Rae Jepsen claimed to have written over 200 songs prior to creating her generational pop masterpiece Emotion. Such claims bore some truth when a year after Emotion‘s release, she dropped the lovely EP Emotion: Side B, which contained some of her weirder creations. Now, following the warm reception to Dedicated, she decided to reward her fans with yet another batch of unreleased material in the form of Dedicated Side B.
The key difference this time around is that while Emotion‘s bonus serving had eight songs, Dedicated‘s newest expansion pack is a full dozen unheard compositions, including two tracks she worked on with uber-producer Jack Antonoff. Across the board, it’s fully-considered, maximalist pop music crafted the way only Jepsen’s knows how. From the could-have-been-single that is opener “This Love Isn’t Crazy” to the boppy guitar pop of “Let’s Sort the Whole Thing Out” to “Heartbeat”, the closest she’s come to a ballad in some time, all Dedicated Side B does is show how even Jepsen’s throwaways are better than most artists greatest hits compilations. Carly: any idea when we’re going to hear the rest of that 200 song batch?