2020 was an exceptional year for music. Despite the many challenges faced last year, artists were able to create some of the best work of their careers to get us through the tough times. Although music taste is subjective, these albums were great bodies of work and deserve further recognition for their genius. These 10 albums from 2020 deserve much more praise as we move into 2021.
On the night of the release of her highly anticipated album Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus took to Twitter to affirm that she was “born to make the record she’d just released.” After listening to the album in full, Cyrus’s excitement was warranted. Although the album was released in the later months of 2020, it was still a defining piece of work that year.
Stepping fully into her rock-and-roll era, Plastic Hearts is her most confident and consistent era yet. Her discography spans several different genres, including hip-hop, pop, and country, but rock is where Cyrus really shines. Further denouncing her child star status, Cyrus tackled themes such as deteriorating relationships, sexuality, and the dangers of fame with brutal honesty. She gives a giant middle finger to every harsh opinion presented to her over the years as a result of her child-stardom and hyper-visibility. From the first funky bass line in opener WTF Do I Know, it was obvious that Cyrus had found her niche. Her new style is indebted to the drug-induced, sex-heavy sound of the 1980s; the perfect complement to Cyrus’s distinctive raspy voice. Every song is passionate, provocative, and better than the last.
These songs were meant to be heard in large stadiums in front of hundreds of thousands of fans. With glamourous award performances and music videos to match, Plastic Hearts is an image of rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia.
Personal favorites: “WTF Do I Know”, “Plastic Hearts”, “Gimme What I Want”, “Night Crawling” (really the entire album if we’re being realistic)
Known for her unparalleled songwriting skills, Victoria Monet’s resume includes writing credits for artists such as Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, and Nas. However, Monet’s debut project Jaguar shows that she is a force in R&B music. A refined and dazzling piece of work, Jaguar presents a woman’s unapologetic sexuality complemented by songs filled with eroticism and a funky R&B sound. Lustful and lovely, Monet’s work is perfect for late-night bedroom playlists. The combination of groovy R&B, electro beats, and eccentric strings, all tied together by Monet’s velvety voice, creates a dazzling and incandescent musical experience.
Personal favorites: “Dive” and “Touch Me”
This talented sister duo has taken the world by storm. Protegees of Beyonce, this Atlanta-based duo have honed their skills from a very young age, making them the most dynamic R&B artists in the industry right now. Although their first album The Kids Are Alright is painfully underrated, Ungodly Hour makes it impossible for mainstream media to ignore their talents any longer.The two combined their excellent production skills and siren-like voices to produce nothing less than a classic piece of contemporary music. Stripping away their “good girl” images from their previous works, Chloe x Halle embrace maturity, both in sound and subject matter.
Personal favorites: “Forgive Me”, “Tipsy”, “Ungodly Hour”, “Lonely”, “Wonder What She Thinks Of Me”, “ROYL” (Again, the entire album could have made this list.)
Perhaps my favorite album of the year, SAWAYAMA is an electrifying genre-blending work championed by Japanese-British artist Rina Sawayama. It was extremely disappointing when SAWAYAMA was snubbed of its Grammy nominations. However, Rina Sawayama is a pop music visionary, and her talents cannot be ignored.
SAWAYAMA is an indescribable listening experience, with a few songs bound to raise eyebrows. Sawayama tackles a diverse range of issues, from capitalism, immigrant experiences, microaggressions, friendship, and family with mystifying finesse. Songs like STFU! and XS are jar-dropping, as softer, early 2000s pop sounds are interrupted by head-banging metal and rock. Songs like Dynasty and Who’s Gonna Save U Now? are powerful demonstrations of vocal ability. Very few can sing along to a complex guitar solo like Rina Sawayama can.
Personal Favorites: “Dynasty”, “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?”, “Love It If We Made It” (from the deluxe version).
Heavily disco-inspired, Jessie Ware’s album What’s Your Pleasure is an enchanting compilation of club anthems. It encompasses the lust, desire, and sex of the 1970s party scene with enchanting vocals and smooth production. The album is quite lengthy, perfect for dancing the night away. Ware is sultry, tantalizing, and flirtatious. Soul Control, a personal favorite, is a fast-moving, heavily-synthesized track perfect for a night of rollerskating under multi-colored disco lights.
Remember Where You Are, another personal favorite is a heartwrenching conclusion that perfectly captures the emptiness and loneliness one feels at the end of a great party. As the last notes of the song play, the sun rises over the horizon and you mourn the ending of the experience.
Personal favorites: “Spotlight”, “Soul Control”, “Adore You”
Perfect for a mid-summer stroll through sunny Los Angeles, Women in Music Pt. III is a lovely and intimate album created by sister-trio HAIM. Their songwriting skills have always been incredible, but the trio elevates their talents in their latest album, portraying their own personal experiences through painfully intimate lyrics to allow the listeners in on their own lives and creative process. Discussing themes of loneliness, grief, and depression the album itself is very freeing and comforting despite its heavy subject matter. Their captivating harmonies and melodies make the bright, charming, and cohesive.
Only sisters can have the chemistry that HAIM has, and the weaving of each sisters’ personal talents yields a textured and nuanced album perfect for a late evening drive or an early morning coffee. This album is meant to be listened to alone, through headphones. It’s wistful and breezy, intimate and cozy, and your heart will ache when it ends.
Personal favorites: “The Steps”, “Up From A Dream”, “Gasoline”, “3 AM”, “Don’t Wanna”
After garnering attention with her lead single Dilemme, Congolese-Belgian artist Lous and The Yakuza released her album, Gore. This album is a hypnotic blend of sounds and cultures. As a black woman of both Congolese and Belgian heritage, Lous and The Yakuza prides herself on being a global citizen and incorporating different languages and cultural styles into her music. Gore is an intense and memorable album that tackles the hardships and realities of being a black woman in Europe with brutal honesty.
Personal favorites: “Dilemme”, “Bon acteur”, “Telephone sonne”, “Dan la hess”
The highly anticipated sequel to his 2016 release Savage Mode, Savage Mode II is mercilessly entertaining. Very few people can say they’ve had Morgan Freeman narrate one of their albums. In collaboration with Metro Boomin, 21 Savage delivers a magnetizing record with testaments to true Southern rap. Raised in the coldhearted streets of Atlanta, he fully commits to his portrayal of steeled savage life. His lyricism and artistry cannot be overstated.
Personal favorites: “Runnin”
Another shocking Grammy snub, After Hours is the Weeknd’s magnum opus. The haunting album feels like an early 2000s party in New York City, equipped with the drug-induced sound, melancholy feel, and almost disorienting, psychedelic storyline. This album also yielded The Weeknd’s smash-hit Blinding Lights. The record is cold and full of despair as The Weeknd chronicles movement through heartbreak, fame, and self-hate. The blend of dreamy pop and R&B transports the listener to a place of emotional turmoil.
Personal favorites: “Blinding Lights”, “Hardest To Love”, “Alone Again”, “In Your Eyes”
Although Industry Games is an EP and not an album, this piece of work is a true testament to the overwhelming talent of Alabama-based rapper Chika. In her debut, Chika demonstrates her unmatched lyrical power and production. The song Industry Games is a fast-paced poem that Chika raps with breathless finesse. Her entire EP is packed with originality, passion, and confidence. Crown, the closing track, is a testament to southern black expression, filled with powerful choir voices and upbeat production. Chika is next up, and she knows it. She demonstrates it both in her persona and in her music.
Personal favorites: “Crown” and “Industry Games”
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