In the song “For Her,” which Apple wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, she cries, “You raped me in the same bed / Your daughter was born in.” And on other tracks, like “Drumset,” she nails the desperate beauty of longing to be loved, and being rejected. “Why did you not want to try? / Why did you take it all away?” she repeats, again and again. “Why did you take it all away?” —Jenny Singer, staff writer
Women in Music Pt. III, Haim
Women in Music Pt. III provided all I could ever ask for in a Haim album (cracking guitar! slapping bass! Los Angeles references I pretend to understand!), shining a ray of light through an otherwise dreary summer. “Gasoline” is a personal favorite and “I Know Alone” holds particular resonance after spending nine months in isolation, but I could go on and on about why I love each and every track. A lot changed in 2020, but one thing remained the same—I’m still out here desperately wishing I was the fourth Haim. —Melissa Haney, analytics manager
Club Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa
It’s Saturday night. You’re getting ready in your best going-out top and glitter eye shadow. You turn on your favorite FM station, and it’s broadcasting live from the city’s hottest nightclub. The DJ takes a pop song you’ve heard on the radio a few times and mixes into something so joyously alive. Life is good. While this exact scenario is lost to another era, you can come pretty damn close with Dua Lipa’s superb Club Future Nostalgia remix. —Anna Moeslein, senior editor
Sawayama, Rina Sawayama
Sawayama is nothing short of pop genius, infusing ’90s and ’00s sounds with underground production to create something animated and alive. How Rina Sawayama managed to make the metal-inspired “STFU” and the dance-pop decadent “XS” work on the same album astounds me, but it does. And both will get stuck in your head. —C.R.
Folklore, Taylor Swift
Listen, you were either on the (very cozy!) Folklore train or not this year. I don’t need to sell you on it. But even if Taylor Swift’s not your thing, you have to respect what she achieved. It’s a creative triumph for the singer-songwriter—her most mature, bold, and poetic album to date. This era fit Swift so well, she’s made the unprecedented move to lean in even deeper with the follow-up Evermore. —A.M.
Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle
Chloe and Halle have kept their foots on our neck since they released “Do It” on May 14. The production value they were giving from their tennis court is better than some productions I’ve seen from before the pandemic. The album, its roll-out, and all of their performances have been amazing. I can’t wait to eventually see them in concert. —Khaliha Hawkins, web producer
Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers’s divine second album, Punisher, is so intimate and personal that it feels a bit strange to even discuss it. It transports you to your most inward self—when I listened, I felt like I could live alone 1,000 years just lost in my thoughts and a cozy cup of tea. —A.M.
Rare, Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez is at her best when she’s honest. We saw this when she released the arresting ballad “Lose You to Love Me” in late 2019 and earned her first number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She continues her story on Rare, which shows a young icon in her 20s shedding the plastic artifice of Hollywood and embracing who she is. No bells. No whistles. Just unbridled, unfiltered transparency. The production on Rare is purposefully no-fuss and muted to keep listeners focused on Gomez’s message—on her musings about reclaiming happiness, questioning new love, and battling self-doubt. It’s confessional pop done right. —C.R.
Gaslighter, The Chicks
This album is just confetti and Champagne and cheerful revenge. Gaslighter is the Chicks’ first album in 14 years and their first album having dropped Dixie from their name, due to its connection to the Confederacy. Somehow it’s as good as their very best stuff. We’ll be hearing it at weddings and in movie trailers and on road trips for years to come. —J.S.
Positions, Ariana Grande
Positions sees Ariana Grande building on the R&B-pop sound she’s perfected with a refreshing twist: sex. Unapologetic horniness is pervasive on this record, with songs like “34+35” and “Nasty” leading the charge. The internet, of course, lived for Grande’s sex-positive manifesto, as did I. As did the country, for that matter: Positions debuted atop the Billboard 200 album charts and is still pulling rank in the top five. —C.R.
Evermore, Taylor Swift
On December 10, Swift threw fans for the biggest loop by announcing her ninth studio album, Evermore. The record would drop that next day, just five months after Folklore…her first surprise album of 2020. Billed as Folklore’s “sister record,” Evermore doubles down on Swift’s confessional, stream-of-consciousness songwriting and indie-rock production crafted by Jack Antonoff and The National. Those elements combined make the ultimate quarantine listening experience: emotional, introspective, and intimate. If Folklore is a cardigan, Evermore is a crackling fire on the coldest of December nights. You can’t have one without the other. —C.R.
Disco, Kylie Minogue
On Disco, Kylie Minogue delivers exactly what’s advertised: an odyssey of shimmery, foot-on-the-gas disco-pop that would make even Madonna break a sweat. The inspirations here are numerous; Minogue recalls the sounds of everyone from Daft Punk to Donna Summer to create her own version of Saturday Night Fever. It’s 12 tracks of nonstop fun, and sometimes that’s all you need. —C.R.
Good News, Megan Thee Stallion
If there was one breakout music star this year, it’s Megan Thee Stallion. Everything she touched turned to gold, from “WAP” to “Savage” to “Body” and, most importantly, her first album, Good News. The record debuted at an impressive number two on the Billboard 200 album chart and scored an even more impressive 85 on Metacritic. Translation? Critical acclaim. I’d expect nothing less. —C.R.
Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus
Rock and roll welcomed a new member into its fold this year: Miley Cyrus, whose November album, Plastic Hearts, sounds almost nothing like its title. The sun-drenched aesthetic of her 2017 record, Younger Now, has been swapped for studs and leather—the kind you’d find on the sticky, beer-soaked floor of a Joan Jett show. It’s a sound that perfectly suits Cyrus’s husky vocals—and a vibe that perfectly suits Cyrus. Why she’s just now leaning into her inner Stevie Knicks is a mystery, but we’re glad she’s here. —C.R.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor
The blend of rock and roll, pop, and synth make for a sinisterly beautiful soundtrack. Artist and producer Yves Tumor knows how to take feelings of longing, love, and disappointment and turn them into songs that feel like an audio echo of the soul. The features—Diana Gordon, Julia Cumming—are perfectly placed, with each songstress intuitively knowing just when to howl, croon or whisper softly to get the message across. —Michella Ore, editorial assistant
Slow Rush, Tame Impala
I’ve gone to a lot of concerts, but there’s no better live show than Tame Impala. So it was bittersweet for me when the Australian psychedelic pop-rock group released its latest, Slow Rush, in February. The album’s moody, intimate lyrics and disco-adjacent beat create a swirling collage of sound that perfectly fit my quarantine vibe—like a hazy, hungover Sunday afternoon, when time is at its blurriest. I can’t fucking wait to see it performed live one day. —A.M.
What We Drew, Yaeji
The first full-length album from DJ and producer Yaeji, What We Drew is filled with bass-thumping tracks that put you in a trance while simultaneously making you want to get up and start breaking out in shoulder shuffles—that’s to say, it’s as playful and full of joy as it is meticulously crafted house music. —M.O.
KiCk i, Arca
It’s industrial carnage and the hauntingly ethereal proclamation of identity wrapped into one album. Arca didn’t hold back: visuals that weren’t afraid to get gruesome, beautifully chaotic features like La Chíqui, and a production boost from fellow DJ SOPHIE. They created an album that feels like a shock to the nervous system. —M.O.
The Album, Blackpink
Blackpink’s debut Korean-language album may be only eight tracks, but it packs a powerful punch—expanding on the stomp-and-scream mega-pop sound fans have come to love. With features from heavy-hitters like Selena Gomez and Cardi B, The Album is easily one of 2020’s biggest music events. The lovesick girls are here to stay—in your area and around the world. —C.R.
La vita nuova, Christine and the Queens
If there are two things Chris has mastered, it’s flawless dance sequences and putting together a series of sentimental dance tracks charged by a rich mezzo-soprano voice that makes you want to twirl, cry, and shout all at once. —M.O.
Chilombo, Jhené Aiko
Jhené Aiko struck critical gold with her third studio album, Chilombo, scoring 2021 Grammy noms for album of the year and best progressive R&B album, not to mention a best R&B performance nomination for “Lighting & Thunder.” It’s a record that warrants repeat listening, and one best heard from start to finish. No shuffling! —C.R.
Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee
Admittedly, I was nowhere near cool enough to know much about Waxahatchee before Saint Cloud, but I think my nonstop spins of this album more than made up for lost time. Reflecting on 2020, I think this album will be the one I most associate with the year and all that came with it—I’ll always remember the burst of joy that came from belting out “Lilacs” while driving to pick up restaurant takeout and the instant catharsis that came from crying along to “Arkadelphia” once I got to the parking lot. I’m so happy I found this music, and I cannot wait to hear it in a crowed bar someday soon. —M.H.
What’s Your Pleasure?, Jessie Ware
If Future Nostalgia is the It girl of 2020, What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware is its cool sister, the one who won’t stop talking about how you should really be listening to more Robyn (and Kylie Minogue too, while we’re at it). I love Ware’s older stuff (Tough Love is a true stalwart of my early-20s melodrama), but this is something different, an unexpected take on the much-needed 2020 pop-disco revival that kept me dancing during quite nights alone. —M.H.
YHLQMDLG, Bad Bunny
It’s been a banner year for Bad Bunny, who released two full albums: El Último Tour Del Mundo and YHLQMDLG. The former made history as the first all-Spanish-language album to reach number one on the Billboard 200. The latter, which hit number two, stunned critics and fans alike with its party-ready, reggaetón sound. —C.R.
Christopher Rosa is the entertainment editor at Glamour.