10. "Lover" by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift may have gotten snubbed at the Grammys this year, and she may have attracted controversy for her portrayal of the BGLTQ community, and she may still be fighting over who owns her catalogue — but despite it all, “Lover” represents a towering return to Swift’s previous form. After “Reputation”’s edgier ambience, “Lover” gave Swift’s listeners something bubbly, sugar-sweet, and — reassuringly — thoughtful. Highlights include the thrumming baseline in “Cruel Summer” and the pure goofiness of “London Boy.” Whether you love “Lover” or you hate it, Swift had us all following along once again in 2019. —Iris M. Lewis
We reviewed “Lover” and gave it 3 stars. Read more here.
Maggie Rogers’ debut album “Heard It In A Past Life” is slow-burning, hopeful, and wise beyond its years. Its rich, mesmerizing sound blends powerful drums with airy background vocals, abstract synths with ballad-like piano, and painful vulnerability with genuine hope. Rogers’ resilience rings throughout the album, and with an optimism that’s rare among her peers, she crafts an ode to overcoming that only gets better with each replay. Whether you loved Rogers’ breakout single “Alaska” or have never heard of her, this self-described “witchy feminist rockstar” is not one to miss. —Joy C. Ashford
We gave “Heard It In A Past Life” 5 stars. Read more here.
8. "When I Get Home" by Solange
At 19 songs in 39 minutes, Solange’s “When I Get Home” makes her audience sit with contradiction. The album is concise and expansive; it is meandering and severe; it is enigmatic and comprehensive. The “home” in question is Houston, literally, but the album offers a broader look at roots and returns. “Almeda,” for example, is both a reference to a Houston locale and a multi-artist collaborative ode to Texas ’90s hip-hop. “I saw things I imagined / I saw things I imagined,” Solange writes — and her fourth album reimagines what a song by Solange can look like. —Iris M. Lewis
We reviewed “When I Get Home” and gave it 4.5 stars. Read more here.
7. “MAGDALENE” by FKA Twigs
Five years have elapsed since FKA Twigs’ last full-length release, and as expected, she did not disappoint. At a tight nine tracks and 38 minutes long, “MAGDALENE” is a clear-eyed lament of a lost relationship, universalized beyond the tabloid fodder that has trailed Twigs since she was first linked to a certain strong-jawed vampire. The album is at turns intimate and thumping, plaintive and ornate, tuned seamlessly into the lush, enchanting cadence of Twigs’ vocals. “Would you make a, make a, make a wish on my love?” Twigs asks on standout track “sad day.” Who wouldn’t? —Amelia F. Roth-Dishy
College-aged phenom King Princess gained a new royal title this fall with “Cheap Queen” — and the album has only cemented her claim to the throne. The silky, occasionally aloof debut maintains all of King Princess’s preexisting poise: She drawls about competing with men. Her voice cracks, breathless, as she sings about waiting for a text. And the album is exactly as queer as its cover, which features King Princess in drag makeup, suggests. “I can be good sometimes / I’m a cheap queen / I can be what you like,” King Princess sings. If her debut is any indication, she’s probably right. —Iris M. Lewis
We reviewed “Cheap Queen” and gave it 4 stars. Read more here.
5. "thank u, next" by Ariana Grande
Released just six months after her Grammy-winning “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande’s fifth studio album “thank u, next” is marked by an intense vulnerability and further solidified her reputation as this generation’s pop queen. The singer faced tragic, emotionally challenging circumstances the past two years, yet “thank [you][U], next” makes a strong statement of resilience and strength in the face of grief, all while featuring some of the most iconic singles of the year. Ditching duets and guest artists, Grande’s silky, gentle voice feels more intimate and conversational than ever, proving that Grande’s career continues to move on an upward trajectory. —Samantha J. O’Connell
Read our review of “thank u, next" here.
4. "IGOR" by Tyler, the Creator
If “Flower Boy” marked Tyler, the Creator’s metamorphosis from controversial up-and-comer to prodigious artiste, “IGOR” solidifies his status as an undeniable artist at the peak of his powers. The rapper whose early work dabbled in casual misogyny and homophobia proved his impressive growth by producing a masterful concept album, almost devoid of traditional rapping, about unrequited love. Collaborations from peers like Playboi Carti and Kanye West blend seamlessly into the broader vision of the album without stealing Tyler’s spotlight, underscoring the fact that, against all odds, Tyler, the Creator has become a bona fide pop star. —Connor S. Dowd ‘22
We reviewed Tyler, the Creator’s set at this year's Governors Ball here.
3. “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” by Lana del Rey
“L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone,” Lana del Rey laments in the eleventh track of “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” Del Rey’s fifth studio album, released in August, marked an apocalyptic elegy for lost American dreams in the wake of postmodern nightmares. “NFR!” draws on del Rey’s southern-California folk rock nostalgia, mythologizing ‘60s and ‘70s Americana — Laurel Canyon ladies “[wear] black to their house parties,” while songwriters party and play the Eagles in Malibu. California summers feel endless, but in 14 tracks, del Rey rode out the last heat wave with a bang. —Caroline A. Tsai
We wrote a think piece on Lana Del Rey’s Twitter feud with NPR music critic Ann Powers. Read it here.
Lizzo inhabits a unique space today: People can’t quite decide whether to describe her as “underrated” or “overrated.” This ambiguity is due in part to a phenomenon in which her older songs are slowly going viral, while some of her best work — like the songs featured on “Cuz I Love You” — remain overlooked. From the powerfully cutting vocals of “Jerome” to the feelgood funk of “Juice,” the album has something for everyone. Given Lizzo’s current trajectory of delayed recognition, we’ll just have to wait a couple years for these songs to be appreciated for the masterpieces that they are. —Hunter T. Baldwin
We’re not unanimous in our love of Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You" — our editor gave it 2 stars. Read more here.
1. “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?” by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is one smart 17 year old. Her latest album perfects her meticulous, idiosyncratic sound — part vulnerable, part genuinely upsetting. Ranging from unforgettable, shock-factor hits to breathy, minimalist piano ballads, the album shows off her range, genius, and terrifying imagination in due turn. Her songs push every boundary, bringing horror-nightmare fantasies to life with her biting vocals and eerie instrumentals. Is “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?” the best album of 2019, or just the most difficult to look away from? Either way, her smarter, scarier strain of sad-girl pop isn’t going anywhere. —Joy C. Ashford
We reviewed “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?" and gave it 4.5 stars. Read more here.