In case you need a reminder of how long ago 2010 was, when the decade kicked off, the set on top the Billboard 200 albums chart was Britain’s Got Talent alum Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream — in the fourth frame of its six-week run at pole position. Other No. 1 albums that year included B.o.B.’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray, Godsmack’s The Oracle and not one, not two, but three separate Glee Cast soundtrack albums.
Needless to say, the 2010s have come a long and winding way since then. Over the past 10 years, the decade has come to be defined by too-big-to-fail pop blockbusters and surprise indie rock breakthroughs, by sprawling hip-hop masterworks and personal R&B statements, by throwback classic country records and genre-less, shape-shifting hybrid LPs, by endless rollouts for long-anticipated comeback albums, and by surprise game-changing sets that dropped out of the sky on a Thursday night.
At the beginning of the 2010s, many predicted the slow death of the album — but at the decade’s end, the format still seems absolutely vital, if forever changed. Here are the 100 favorite albums from the decade that was.
100. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born Soundtrack (2018)
A Star Is Born, the soundtrack, is many things — a meta-take on how an artist evolves in their career when thrown into the pop machine, a reflection on one’s unwillingness to change, a coherent story that tells the rise of one popular performer (Lady Gaga’s Ally) alongside the fall of another (Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine), and a great pop-rock album that will stand the test of time. From Jackson’s opening riffing on “Black Eyes,” to the closing of Ally’s Whitney-inspired “I’ll Never Love Again” — with the indelible “Shallow” in the middle, of course — Gaga and Cooper designed a fully realized work that transcends the film itself, allowing it to exist on its own as a piece of art. And sure, Jack couldn’t appreciate the pop-brilliance of “Why Did You Do That?” but hey, we wish he would have taken another look at it. — DENISE WARNER
99. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now (2010)
Lady Antebellum cemented their stardom with the release of sophomore album Need You Now in 2010. Propelled by the title track, a global smash which has been certified 9x Platinum by the RIAA, the project garnered five trophies at the 2011 Grammys. Need You Now produced three additional singles — the nostalgic “American Honey” and feel-good “Our Kind of Love” (both Country Airplay No. 1 hits), and the poignant ballad “Hello World” — and established the group as a household name, while opening the doors for the trio to tour overseas, helping to expand country music globally. — ANNIE REUTER
98. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (2012)
Celebration Rock is a sprint, not a marathon. Its 35-minute runtime flies by at breakneck speed, its only breathers bookending the album in the form of literal fireworks that both herald its start and revel in its conclusion. No rock album this decade could keep pace with its crackling guitar riffs, thrashing drums and go-for-broke lyricism – though oh, did they try. Japandroids’ sophomore album is the definition of dogged, the sound of a band that laid all its tricks out on the table as though every note could be their last. Spoiler: It wasn’t, thank god. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
97. Porter Robinson, Worlds (2014)
As progressive house was starting to sound anything but, over the increasingly homogenized course of the EDM boom, Porter Robinson was one of the few DJs whose music and imagination remained as open as a festival field. Debut full-length LP Worlds was like Daft Punk’s Discovery for millennials raised on anime and ProTools — lush and lo-fi, robotic and sentimental, vividly 16-bit. “Sea of Voices” is bedroom pop for the dancefloor, “Flicker” is a banger for ravers who prefer fireworks to glow sticks, “Sad Machine” would probably be too on the nose if it wasn’t such a punch to the heart. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
96. Ed Sheeran, x (2014)
Ed Sheeran kicked off his x (pronounced “multiply”) era with a pair of frisky acoustic jams, “Sing” (which he co-wrote with Pharrell Williams) and “Don’t.” The album’s next two hits, big ballads “Thinking Out Loud” and “Photograph,” melted hearts worldwide. When an artist can both make you move and make you sigh, he’s the real deal. “Thinking Out Loud,” with its grace and easy elegance, brought Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge a Grammy for song of the year. “When the crowds don’t remember my name”? Doesn’t need to worry about that anytime soon. — PAUL GREIN
95. Chris Stapleton, Traveller (2015)
Country and rock fans don’t always find themselves flipping through the same record bins, but Chris Stapleton’s 14-track debut album seemed to bridge the gap with a sound that tapped into southern rock, Americana and outlaw country. Featuring vocals from his wife Morgane Stapleton on tracks like the rousing opener “Traveller” and the swaying single “Fire Away,” the album is both familiar and romantically potent, with drinking songs like “Tennessee Whiskey” masked as love songs and love songs like “Nobody To Blame” masked as cries for help. Comfortingly relatable even for fans who don’t dig country, there’s something about Stapleton’s voice and witty lyrics on Traveller that just make it easy to burn through. — DAVE BROOKS
94. Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap (2018)
With Hussle’s untimely death in 2019, his Grammy-nominated debut album will forever be known as the rapper’s first and only studio LP. More important, the powerful set brought to the national forefront what had already enticed a legion of hometown fans in Los Angeles since 2005: a soulful drawl wrapped around sharp production and incisive lyrics extolling faith, overcoming societal hurdles and paying it forward. A testament to Nipsey’s authentic talent, perseverance and passionate support of black excellence, Victory Lap also doubles as a timeless blueprint for winning. — GAIL MITCHELL
93. P!nk, The Truth About Love (2012)
There aren’t many chart-topping pop records inspired by the first few years of child-rearing and marriage and growing into your 30s, but if more are made, let them all strive for the brilliantly weird ride that is P!nk’s The Truth About Love. Over the course of the 13-track set, Pink flits from piano rock with Fun.’s Nate Ruess on “Just Give Me A Reason” and indie-pop with Lily Allen on “True Love,” to a gale-force gallop on solo rock bangers “Walk of Shame” and “Slut Like You.” This is a portrait of P!nk figuring out how the foreign experiences of a family-woman fit into the repertoire of pop’s patron of the misunderstood. In the pursuit of unknotting her contradictions — heartache and devotion, sexuality and rage — P!nk created a ramshackle masterpiece that reminds us of what it’s really like to be human. — SARAH GRANT
92. Ozuna, Odisea (2017)
Puerto Rico, known for its hard-hitting reggaetón, welcomed a hybrid in Ozuna, a singer with a crystalline voice whose songs could be as romantic and melodic as they were danceable. His debut album, Odisea, is a storyteller’s set from the opening title track, which tells the story of Ozuna himself, whose father was shot dead when he was only three years old. Full of poignancy and instinctual insight into the human condition, Odisea struck a nerve that went far deeper than the club floor, becoming the top-selling Latin album of 2017. — LEILA COBO
91. Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (2013)
Following party anthem lead single “We Can’t Stop” and her infamous VMAs performance with Robin Thicke, you might have been surprised at the depth of emotion that actually fills Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz set. The romantic opening track “Adore You” made it clear Cyrus’ artistry was going to embark on a powerful journey over the course of 16 tracks, and the career-reinventing set’s biggest hit, “Wrecking Ball,” earned Cyrus her first and only Hot 100 No. 1 hit to date with a heartbreaking testament to a shattered relationship. With this pivotal album release, Cyrus took control of her public persona, surprising less with her provocative antics than with her constant artistic evolution. — BECKY KAMINSKY
90. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
Following a two-album sojourn on Sire Records, the Florida-bred punk band’s sixth LP was self-produced by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and self-released on her own imprint, Total Treble. But returning to the group’s teenage anarchist roots was far from the focus; across Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Grace recounted her recent gender transition, the massive choruses and blustery shout-alongs retaining — and often surpassing — Against Me!’s familiar urgency. “There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me,” Grace sings on “F–kmylife666,” summing up all that’s at stake and all of what’s to come for one of the 21st century’s most indispensable rock bands. — CHRIS PAYNE
89. Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)
For the first half of the ’10s, Childish Gambino was mainly known as the nerdy guy from Community who also dabbled in spacey, occasionally overshare-y rap. But it wasn’t until 2016 that he revealed how far his creativity could reach. “Awaken, My Love!” — Gambino’s third LP — took us on the trippiest journey imaginable. From the psychedelic funk of “Boogieman,” the kooky jazziness of “California” and the beautifully haunting (thanks to Get Out) soul-pop of breakout hit “Redbone,” the record began Gambino’s rep as one of the biggest multi-platform innovators of our time. — BIANCA GRACIE
88. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time (2013)
If the title to Sky Ferreira’s 2013 debut album (and its not-ready-for-Wal-Mart cover image) served as a sort of tacit admission that she was done playing nice with the mainstream, the actual album feels blessedly unburdened with any kind of memory of commercial expectation. Night Time, My Time is the sound of an grunge-pop singer-songwriter unconcerned with the Top 40 folks she’s running laps around, the sheer confidence of the songcraft belying the occasionally crippling insecurity and frustration of the lyrics. Even the Suicide-y hissfest about Japanese Jesus kinda sounds like a smash on some level. — A.U.
87. Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You (2018)
It’s been a long, well-traveled road for folk singer Brandi Carlile, and it feels like all of it led to her 2018 masterpiece By The Way, I Forgive You. Gone were the singer’s traditional anthemic singles, replaced by more vulnerable, more artistic and more queer songs that showed the possibility and importance of seeing myriad voices reflected in the country music space. That needed voice finally got to come to the light this decade, and Carlile is one of the trailblazers carving out a path for success regardless of identity. — STEPHEN DAW
86. Jonas Brothers, Happiness Begins (2019)
In June 2019, the Jonas Brothers made an unforgettable return with their first studio album in a decade. They put their wives, happiness, and tumultuous, yet fulfilling journey as a family band at the forefront of Happiness Begins, creating a pop comeback full of feel-good songs and an overall mature vibe that has a little something for longtime fans and new listeners alike. The lead single, “Sucker,” became their first Hot 100 No. 1, and the LP topped the Billboard 200 and scored the third biggest week for an album in 2019. The JoBros are back, and they’re both bigger and better than ever. — ALEXA BIANCHI
85. J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
After two uneven albums of undeniable singles and questionable reaches, J. Cole brought it all back home and officially became his own brand with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Unlike the big radio swings taken on past efforts, you might not even remember this time around the lead single was the unassuming “Apparently,” a meditative song about Cole feeling guilty for living lavish while his mother’s home got repossessed. It was representative of an album in which the rapper doubled down on his sometimes awkwardly close connection with his audience, stopped acting like an A-lister, and in the process actually became one. It’s no surprise the 14-minute thank-you track is among its most essential. — A.U.
84. Rihanna, Loud (2010)
By 2010, Rihanna had already solidified her place as one of pop’s most consistent hitmakers, and she continued that in a major way with her fifth studio album, Loud. Its first three singles, “Only Girl (In the World),” the Drake-featuring “What’s My Name?” and “S&M,” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the latter marking her tenth No. 1 song in the U.S. in record-setting fashion: Rihanna logged the shortest span for solo artists between first and 10th No. 1 hits (four years, 11 months and two weeks, to be exact), besting Mariah Carey. Industry players loved it too, as the album’s accolades — and not to mention its hit-filled track list — made it the first and only Rihanna LP to earn an album of the year Grammy nomination. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
83. Travis Scott, Astroworld (2018)
Travis Scott graduated to superstardom when he unleashed his third studio album Astroworld in 2018. Filled with unexpected twists and turns, Astroworld was an action-packed ride from start to finish. The nimble hyphenate never struggled to shift gears either, as he played the dual-threat of rapper/producer throughout the album, most notably on “Sicko Mode” and “Carousel,” where he reeled in Drake and Frank Ocean for their respective appearances — not that you’d know from the guest-free, surprise-packed tracklisting, of course. — CARL LAMARRE
82. The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016)
Can’t say the title didn’t warn you: The 1975’s second album was as sprawling, unwieldy, open-hearted and yes, occasoinally embarrassing as its name would imply. But the Manchester quartet and their extremely assuming frontman wouldn’t have had it any other way — at a moment where many rock bands’ ambitions seemed to shrink to either getting to the bottom lines of a festival poster or populating a couple Spotify playlists, The 1975 went as big as their character limits would allow. The result was a 74-minute opus that encompassed fame-whoring electro-funk, starry-eyed new wave, and bedroom pop that begged you to come back to bed — a love ’em or hate ’em masterwork that asked you to do the former, but preferred the latter to nothing at all. — A.U.
81. Mumford & Songs, Sigh No More (2010)
If you were renaming Mumford & Sons’ first album in 2019, Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince would make an apt title. In the creation of Sigh No More (which made its U.K. debut in 2009, but hit the States in 2010), the rockers were responsible for the banjo-picking, foot-stomping folk revival that swept the early decade. From the melancholic anger of “White Blank Page” to the overpowering “Little Lion Man” and the quieter hopefulness of “Awake My Soul,” Mumford crafted an entire album infused with the sounds of yester-year — the best of which is “The Cave,” which swells to an incredible heart-pounding chorus. With all the imitators that followed — from Phillip Phillips, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men to even One Direction — it’s easy to forget that not only did Mumford do it first, but they did it best. — D.W.
80. Camila Cabello, Camila (2017)
Following her heart and penning all of her feels, Camila Cabello’s solo debut album Camila was released in January 2018, just a couple weeks before its lead single “Havana” topped the Hot 100. Cabello also became the first woman in three years to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with her debut full-length, and personal songs such as “Never Be the Same,” “Real Friends,” and “Consequences,” not only shed light on Cabello’s musical evolution but also marked important life lessons for pop listeners. — JESSICA ROIZ
79. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)
Singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s debut studio album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit cemented the artist as one of the best lyricists of the decade with her hyper-specific stories of life in Australia. Covering themes ranging from depression and anxiety to longing for a loved one while on tour to simply buying organic vegetables at a market, Barnett’s endearingly self-deprecating breakthrough release brought a fiercely individual perspective to a mid-’10s indie rock scene that needed a breath of fresh air — or in the case of Barnett’s asthma, an inhaler. — TAYLOR MIMS
78. Adele, 25 (2015)
How do you top your magnum opus and the greatest-performing Billboard 200 album of all time? A pretty tall order, but by no means did Adele disappoint on her third studio album. The set contains the perfect melancholy soul hits to put her unbeatable vocals on full display, from “Water Under The Bridge” to “When We Were Young” to “Hello” — all of which are the type of crossover smashes that made us fall in love with the British powerhouse in the first place. 25 didn’t quite achieve the cultural impact of 21, but it was still an industry phenomenon, scoring the largest sales week in SoundScan history with over 3 million copies sold in its first week — an unfathomable figure in any era, let alone where sales totals have long been shrinking. — XANDER ZELLNER
77. Arctic Monkeys, AM (2013)
Five albums in and Sheffield alt-rockers Arctic Monkeys had perfected the more nocturnal, adult version of their earlier formula: a steadying drumbeat, fuzzed out guitars and a smoldering look from frontman Alex Turner to seal the deal. All the while, on AM, Turner ponders the eternal woes of dating — from the “what are we” conversation (“R U Mine?”) to leaving late-night “come over” calls (“Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”) — proving that, for better or worse, even the best of us still strike out on occasion. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
76. Lil Uzi Vert, Luv Is Rage 2 (2017)
Luv Is Rage 2 represents the most indispensable project by one of hip-hop’s most unique personalities of the 2010s: after bursting into the mainstream thanks to a guest spot on Migos’ No. 1 hit “Bad & Boujee,” enigmatic Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert delivered a full-length stuffed with helium-voiced insights and essential hooks. Epochal streaming hit “XO Tour Llif3” is Luv Is Rage 2’s gnarled heart, but the yearning “The Way Life Goes” is the sound of its creator’s unending curiosity. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
75. Charli XCX, True Romance (2013)
The official LP debut of Charlotte Aitchison was a veritable greatest hits’ worth of cloud-pop gems, dramatic and ecstatic and very rarely less than gorgeous. Few pop albums of the early ’10s felt anywhere near this hot-blooded, pulsing with all kinds of palpable feeling, whether the head-rush giddiness of “Take My Hand,” the woozy longing of “So Far Away” or the near-uncomfortable intimacy of “Grins.” Charli would later express regret over some of the indie leanings of True Romance, worrying that she’d worked too hard to make it “cool.” Later albums would make even clearer what was already obvious from this one — it came much more naturally to her than she probably realized. — A.U.
74. Twenty One Pilots, Blurryface (2015)
By 2015, a certain Columbus, Ohio rap/rock/everything else duo was primed for a breakthrough. While their major label debut — 2013’s Vessel — developed a strong cult following, it was the followup, Blurryface, that smashed the commercial barrier and became the act’s first No. 1 album. The LP produced two monster hits, both irresistible when it came to sing-shouting the choruses — “Stressed Out,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, and “Ride” (No. 5) — and centers narratively on the titular character, created in order to represent society’s insecurities. “My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think,” Tyler Joseph admits on “Stressed.” No need to worry — The Skeleton Clique thinks pretty highly of it all. — GAB GINSBERG
73. Kesha, Rainbow (2017)
After finding her musical past, present and future tied up in litigation against longtime producer Lukasz Gottwald, a.k.a. Dr. Luke, Kesha and her fans were left worried about what would become of the star’s career. With Rainbow, Kesha took the reins of her career back and steered it in the direction that she wanted, which turned out to be a rock-infused, vocal-focused sound that the world wasn’t used to hearing from the former dance-pop hedonist. Rainbow topped the Billboard 200 and earned a Grammy nomination, closing the book on the star’s early hip-hop-infused sound, and opening the door to her still impossibly bright and colorful future. — S.D.
72. Jenni Rivera, Joyas Prestadas (2011)
While Jenni Rivera would always be a banda singer at heart, she was capable of much more. With Joyas Prestadas, she set out to demonstrate how big her range of action could be, recording covers of beloved songs in two genres: pop and banda. Bigger than life, Rivera delivered in both, a rare feat. The double-duty LP, released a month before her death at age 43, showed that regional Mexican music could live outside its niche, and cemented Rivera’s stature as the most important female regional Mexican singer of her generation. — L.C.
71. Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life (2019)
Forget about “Alaska” — everyone has heard the story of how Pharrell freaked when he heard her sing it in an NYU masterclass years ago. It’s still a great song, but after listening to Maggie Rogers’ alt-pop debut again and again (and again), the resilience of “Overnight,” the affirmation of “Back In My Body” and the insistent groove of “The Knife” shine brighter, while “Fallingwater” is one of those songs that artists spend their whole careers wishing they could write. And what to say about perhaps her biggest single, “Light On”? If there’s a more powerful lyric than the double-edged, almost bitterly ironic, “With everyone around me saying ‘You should be so happy now…’” in the past few years, we haven’t heard it. — DAN RYS
70. Mac Miller, Swimming (2018)
In his final album before his 2018 death at 26, the meditative Pittsburgh rapper spools threads that are either on the verge of, or beginning to, unravel. Miller’s star always shined the brightest when at his most vulnerable, and be it on the coming-of-age “2009” or the coming-of-day “Ladders,” the LP showcases many of the rawest — and strongest — moments of his career, lyrically, vocally and sonically. Swimming isn’t without its flaws, but Miller never was, either: As he croons on “Perfecto,” “Well, it ain’t perfect, but I don’t mind/ Because it’s worth it.” — JOSH GLICKSMAN
69. Bruno Mars, 24K Magic (2016)
Mars’ fusions of pop, soul, funk and disco on early-decade hits such as “Treasure” and “Grenade” coalesced into this homage to the ‘80s and ‘90s R&B that inspired him growing up. It’s also a reminder of R&B’s still impactful appeal: Scoring seven Grammys, including album of the year, Mars’ third album spun off a string of crossover hits, including the title track, the Hot 100-topping “That’s What I Like,” and the remixed Cardi B collab “Finesse.” “When you say ‘black music,’ … you’re talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop and Motown,” a respectful Mars told Latina in 2017. “Black people created it all. It’s what gives America its swag.” — G.M.
68. HAIM, Days Are Gone (2013)
Haim’s debut single “Forever,” released in late 2012, featured immaculate pop-rock melodies and an instantly arresting hook; so did the sister trio’s next single, and the next single, and the single after that, too. When Danielle, Este and Alana released their first album roughly one year later, the immediacy of Days Are Gone wasn’t surprising to anyone who had been paying attention — and over a half-decade since its release, tracks like the slick guitar romp “The Wire” and graceful “Honey & I” haven’t lost an ounce of what made them irresistible. — J. Lipshutz
67. Rae Sremmurd, Sremmlife (2015)
After conquering the pop world with Miley Cyrus, what was a peak-of-his-powers Mike WiLL Made-It to do? Connect with a pair of charismatic up-and-comers and reassert his rap game dominance. Spitting and sing-songing cartwheels through Mike WiLL’s sonic playground, Atlanta-via-Tupelo brothers Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee followed the hype of breakout singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” with this hook-filled house party of a debut LP. Constantly quotable and utterly filler-less, Sremmlife remains the duo’s definitive full length. But the producer’s livewire chemistry with the Brothers Sremm paid dividends throughout the decade — most notably on the immaculate “Black Beatles,” arguably the defining song of 2016. — C.P.
66. Perfume Genius, No Shape (2017)
Throughout the 2010s, Perfume Genius was experimenting in the studio and on stage, finding new ways to exorcise his demons on the way to self-love. Ultimately, this led to 2017’s breathtaking No Shape, his self-actualized fourth LP that broke him free of any limitations, musical or personal. “Slip Away” and “Wreath” are the bounciest, most pop moments of his career, while “Choir” and “Die 4 You” skirt genre entirely. It’s tempting to say it’s as if he combined the powers of Kate Bush, Björk, and Fiona Apple to transform himself into the queer wicked witch of indie rock that he’s so gracefully become. But Perfume Genius is a singular artist, and on No Shape, he genuinely exists outside of influence or context. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
65. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You (2019)
Lizzo was the genre-bending, flute-wielding, twerking hero we all needed in 2019. Cuz I Love You is a hip-hop, R&B and pop delight in equal parts, from the afflicted first notes of the title track to the self-affirming love of lead single “Juice” to the meme-spawning piano romp of “Truth Hurts.” The latter was tacked on the album’s back end at the last second after it proved too viral to leave off, eventually going on to tie Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” for the longest Hot 100 reign ever for a rap song by a female artist. — T.M.
64. Maren Morris, HERO (2016)
One year after the infamous Tomato-gate controversy — in which a radio consultant compared females on country playlists to tomatoes in salads — Maren Morris answered with a dynamic breakout LP that won over the country mainstream and beyond. The 11-song set spawned four Country Airplay top 15 hits, including the anthemic lead single “My Church” and lovelorn ballad “I Could Use a Love Song”; the latter earned Morris her first No. 1 on the chart. Her witty rhymes and creative use of metaphor on the LP introduced Morris’ outspokenness, and HERO’s pop-leaning melodies opened the singer up to opportunities collaborating with Niall Horan and Zedd — all of which made Morris one of country’s newest household names. — T.W.
63. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob (2013)
Tegan and Sara’s seventh studio album was the alt duo’s first marked foray into pure pop music, and the Quins were rewarded with their highest album chart position to date (No. 3), and a slot opening for Katy Perry on an arena tour. “It’s still confessional and personal, [but] we wanted to make [the new music] as broad as possible, so people from all walks of life could connect to it,” Sara told Billboard of the album at the time. With superproducer Greg Kurstin behind the boards, together they co-wrote “Closer,” Tegan and Sara’s first Hot 100 entry. The perfect marriage of confessional lyrics and euphoric, radio-friendly choruses, Heartthrob was always destined to inspire swooning from old and new fans alike. — G.G.
62. Kanye West, Yeezus (2013)
“Soon as they like you, make ’em unlike you,” West barks on the lurching “I Am a God,” the third track off his fittingly-titled album Yeezus. For better or for worse, disruption has always been Ye’s calling card, but in this case, an appetite for the extreme led to one of the best works of his career. Over 10 abrasive, industrial tracks, West raps with razor-sharp precision about everything from the prison industrial complex to his inner demons, his marriage to Kim Kardashian, and, memorably, croissants. The result brims with urgency, which makes sense: West made several last-minute alterations to the project, and just days from its release, enlisted the help of Rick Rubin to trim it down to exactly 40 minutes. Yeezus is as loud, hard and fast as a gunshot. Before you can realize what hit you, it’s already over. — TATIANA CIRISANO
61. Sam Hunt, Montevallo (2014)
Sam Hunt established himself as an undeniable hitmaker on his 2014 debut Montevallo. With singles including the infectious “Leave the Night On,” the alluring “Take Your Time” and the exhilarating “House Party,” he became the first solo male artist to score four No. 1 singles from one album on Billboard’s Country Airplay listing. Hunt’s rhythmic singing style, coupled with hints of urban and pop production, made his singles sound particularly fresh on mid-’10s country airwaves, and with countless male acts attempting to follow in his footsteps, Montevallo undeniably set the stage for a new era. — A.R.
60. Florence + the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015)
Florence Welch spits out a series of questions on “Ship To Wreck,” the album’s stirring opening track: “Did I drink too much?/Am I losing touch?”; “What’s with the long face, do you want more?”; and the titular question of, “Did I build this ship to wreck?” The lattermost is perhaps the most pressing, as on the majestic How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Welch leans into the notion that she very well could conjure a storm — and, for the first time, entertains the fact that she just might, if only to be inspired by watching everything around her come crashing down. — L.H.
59. Pusha T, Daytona (2018)
Coming in at a runtime that rivals your TV sitcom of choice, King Push introduced G.O.O.D. Music’s five-headed monster of a 2018 Q2 release schedule as a force to be reckoned with. Daytona’s excellence comes from the jump: With its timely boasts, witty one-liners and stunning Kanye West-fueled production, “If You Know You Know” delivers a knockout blow in the first round, and the punches don’t stop coming until after the biggest star in ’10s hip-hop takes a couple on the chin in closer “Infrared.” Speaking of blow, does Pusha T spend another album rapping about cocaine? Indeed he does. And why shouldn’t he? He’s really f–king good at it. — J.G.
58. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell (2015)
With soft vocals laid over string beds, Stevens immaculately explores the gut-wrenching details surrounding the death of his mother — providing an in-depth account of his extremely tumultuous relationship with her — and his subsequent coping methods on this hushed 2015 masterpiece. Through deeply personal tales of longing, heartbreak, reflection and self-destruction, Carrie and Lowell thrives in its hardship. It’s beautifully haunting in each turn it takes, with each painstaking detail resonating more heavily than the last — an unobstructed view of some of the darkest twists and turns the human mind experiences during the grieving process. — J.G.
57. Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017)
Who knew the guy who electrified Rihanna with the EDM sledgehammers “This Is What You Came For” and “We Found Love” could do, well, this? While other DJs have prided themselves on putting unlikely artists together to forge hits in a lab, none did it more effectively, or with more unexpected pizzazz, than Harris on this star-studded collection. The standout smooth hit of summer 2017 was Frank Ocean and Migos’ “Slide,” but just as randomly impressive were the pairing of the grit of Future with the pristine vocals of Khalid on “Rollin’” or the combo of Ariana Grande, Pharrell and Young Thug on “Heatstroke.” Bonus points for the Jessie Reyez closer, which gave individual shine to a promising rising talent. — D.R.
56. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)
Bon Iver is geography. It’s an array of places — physical, emotional, spiritual — with their own dreamlike topology, and their own coordinate mythos. From the craggy, mountainous “Perth” to the flatlands of “Hinnom, TX,” Justin Vernon and his collaborators wind their way through an imagined landscape of poetry and pedal steel. Forget about the log cabin, Bon Iver seems to suggest. In itinerant revelry, Vernon established himself as one of the most singular artists of the decade. — WILLIAM GOTTSEGEN
55. The Black Keys, Brothers (2010)
In 2009, blues-rock duo The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney) were personally at odds with each other, and with both launching side projects, it looked like a sixth album was maybe never going to happen. Fortunately, they set their personal differences aside for the sake of the band, and set out to record the career-making Brothers at Alabama’s famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which had been defunct for 30 years. “Our relationship was tested in many ways,” Carney admitted in 2010. “But at the end of the day, we’re brothers, and I think these songs reflect that.” It all paid off — led by the extremely sync-able and persistently timeless singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You,” the undeniable Brothers peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and won three Grammys. — G.G.
54. Tyler, the Creator, IGOR (2019)
If Frank Ocean is Odd Future’s biggest breakout star and Earl Sweatshirt its most consistent, Tyler, the Creator is certainly the most fascinating, challenging artist to emerge from the outsider hip-hop collective. Eleven years after we first met Tyler, the Teen Troll, we witness the completion of his messy maturation into Tyler, the Auteur with IGOR. Serving up a simmering stew of vulnerability, audacity, desire and fear over a bed of satiating synths and hearty, clipped beats, Tyler continues to buck the top 40 trap trends while charting a path into a more idiosyncratic (odd, even) future for hip-hop. — JOE LYNCH
53. Jay-Z, 4:44 (2017)
What does it mean to take responsibility for your actions, really? Is an apology ever enough? In Jay-Z’s case, it required something more radical — a laying bare of the artistic spirit, with an eye toward forgiveness and understanding. 4:44 is more than just a response to the accusations of his superstar wife from her blockbuster album the year before. It’s a complete statement, fully-formed, with adventurous production and some of Jay’s sharpest bars since American Gangster. As a mea culpa, 4:44 is as real as they come. And as a decades-in career reinvention, it’s almost unthinkably total. — W.G.
52. Anderson .Paak, Malibu (2016)
Oxnard crooner Anderson .Paak created a major splash in 2015, with a six-song seal of approval courtesy of Dr. Dre’s long-awaited third LP Compton. But he officially made landfall in 2016, beginning with the genre-blending (and Grammy-nominated) declaration Malibu. Arriving at the top of the year, Malibu laid the foundation for Paak’s reputation as a versatile showman with his charismatic rasp, delivering soulful pleas just as easily as punchy rap hooks, all the while proving that there’s really nothing more thrilling than an MC behind a drum kit. — BRYAN KRESS
51. Taylor Swift, Speak Now (2010)
The 2008 sophomore set Fearless was the Taylor Swift album that made her a country phenom and won the album of the year Grammy; 2012’s Red was the Taylor Swift album in which she began transitioning to full-blown pop, dubstep drops and all. Which Taylor Swift album is 2010’s Speak Now? It’s a victory lap with sonic hints of what was to come, but Swift’s third full-length is also a songwriting masterclass — the first and only Taylor album to date with no co-writes on its tracklist — in which time-lapsed romance (“Mine”), a wrenching breakup (“Dear John”), bullies (“Mean”) and Kanye West (“Innocent”) are all addressed in riveting fashion. Speak Now doesn’t have a tidy place in Swift’s career narrative, but that never diminished its country-pop shine. — J. Lipshutz
50. Carly Rae Jepsen, EMOTION (2015)
She may never reach the ubiquitous virality of “Call Me Maybe” again, but with EMOTION, Carly Rae Jepsen gave us something better – a filler-free dance-pop classic in a decade woefully short on them. From the wide-eyed saxophone riff of “Run Away With Me” to the thumping, haunting beats on “Warm Blood” to the jumpy bass of “Boy Problems,” every note is meticulously plotted – but with CRJ’s eternally optimistic ebullience on the mic, there’s a looseness to this ’80s synth sundae that keeps you dipping the spoon back in for one more taste… and okay, maybe just one more after that. — J. Lynch
49. David Bowie, Blackstar (2016)
Released on his 69th birthday, just two days before cancer claimed his life, David Bowie knew full well Blackstar would be his swan song. Even if the music — which gently veers from warm synths to skittering percussion to avant-jazz cacophony — is as chameleonic as ever, Bowie isn’t role-playing on the mic: There’s a tender joy in the latter half of epic opener “Blackstar” and an unusually sweet candor on closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Even so, there’s nothing maudlin or nostalgic about this reflective, measured goodbye from one of the genre’s greats. And somehow, that makes it even more heartbreaking. — J. Lynch
48. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (2017)
By 2017, Kendrick Lamar had essentially become the industry’s mouthpiece for struggling black artists. After being exalted on previous albums for his fearlessness and social conscience, Lamar dressed his fourth album, DAMN, as the project where his conflicting thoughts about success and spirituality took center stage. On “Feel,” Kendrick is a wounded soul looking for reassurance from his loved ones, while “Fear” showcases the Compton lyricist’s biggest worries from ages 7, 17, and 27. As Lamar’s paintbrush casts countless different emotional hues over DAMN.’s canvas, he articulates his wins and losses thrillingly. — C.L.
47. J. Balvin, Vibras (2017)
With his fifth album, J Balvin made good on his promise to make Latin music universal, regardless of language. Vibras is truly about vibes; a journey of global beats that defies description beyond “cool.” Balvin pushes the boundaries here, performing mostly solo — and when he does collaborate, he does it mostly with unexpected players, from Mexican alt-chanteuse Carla Morrison, to a then-unknown Rosalia. Things culminate with Balvin’s ultimate global anthem — “Mi Gente” — which sets the tone for an album that manages to be Latin, universal and completely different. — L.C.
46. Disclosure, Settle (2013)
In 2013, electronic music was bigger than ever in the United States, but the house genre — foundational to the DNA of the scene — was largely forgotten amidst the big room, confetti blast madness. Then two babyfaced brothers from Surrey dropped their debut LP, Settle, and with it elevated dance world consciousness, with 16 effervescent tracks that were at once an homage to the roots of electronic music and the furthest, freshest iteration of the sound. Settle made the Lawrence brothers, just 19 and 22 when the album was released, stars — and with the mega-hit “Latch” (which hit No. 7 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 2014), sent guest vocalist Sam Smith into the pop stratosphere as well. — KATIE BAIN
45. Drake, Nothing Was the Same (2013)
The title to Drake’s third official LP describes its creator’s career in pretty much any year of the past ten — his style and musical core shifted as consistently as his narrative, with the only constant being undeniable, world-beating stardom. Still, you could do much worse than Nothing Was the Same for one flashbulb moment to remember Young Aubrey’s decade by: a sonically rich, melodically lush set of personal transmissions that feels like it’s being shared in confidence, despite being beamed to untold millions of fans worldwide. Origin story “Started From the Bottom” comfortably shares space with family-business airing “Too Much,” pillow talk whisper “Wu Tang Forever” and crowd-pleasing crossover smash “Hold On We’re Going Home,” all seemingly coming from the same late-night whims of the 2010s’ most prolific “U up?” texter. — A.U.
44. Various Artists, Hamilton Original Cast Album (2015)
Yes, this Broadway hip-hop redux is the story of America’s founding fathers, but the decade-dominating Hamilton is really an obsession with death and pain. Life in colonial America was often short and brutal — Hamilton’s mother dies of illness in the first few bars of the famous opening song, while Leslie Odom Jr.’s character introduces himself on the track “Aaron Burr, Sir” by warning “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead.” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and arrangements are both stunning and devastating: “It’s Quiet Uptown” is a heartbreaking take on grief, and the failure of men to rise to their historical moment. While the male characters have heroic moments, the long-suffering women of Hamilton are the true heroes of this double-album — and as the two-and-a-half-hour epic ends, it’s clear they paid a steep price for their places in history. — D.B.
43. One Direction, Four (2014)
One Direction’s third album, 2013’s Midnight Memories, marks the moment the group fully committed to its brand of guitar-led power-pop; its follow-up, 2014’s Four, is where they perfected it. The final project with all five of the 1D lads is an enduring testament to the richness of their song craft and shared vocals: “Steal My Girl” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” are singalongs that rightly filled stadiums, while “Fireproof” and “18” remain potent, downright touching love songs with just the right dose of sentimentality. Scoff at the artistic merit of a boy band album all you want; you won’t be able to find many pop albums as consistent and rewarding as Four this decade. — J. Lipshutz
42. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour (2014)
The debut album for the London singer-songwriter spawned three big hits, all ballads of uncommon poignancy. The gospel-infused “Stay With Me” hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won Grammys for record and song of the year, but “I’m Not the Only One” and the deeply soulful “Lay Me Down” were just as good. In the Lonely Hour, which won a Grammy for best pop vocal album, is one of the best mainstream explorations of late-night loneliness since Frank Sinatra’s 1955 classic In the Wee Small Hours. – P.G.
41. Grimes, Art Angels (2015)
Pop’s always had oddballs on the fringe, but the 2010s made it chic, and Art Angels had a big hand in that. These are catchy songs, natch, but they’re filled out by Grimes’ constantly transforming vocal presentation – something most evident in “Kill v. Maim,” where she runs the gamut from sweet and saccharine to rough and guttural in a matter of seconds. The music itself changes, too, encompassing ‘90s-esque bubblegum pop, gothic alternative, and myriad dance/electronic influences. Somehow it all meshes – perhaps only as Claire Boucher could allow. — K.R.
40. Future, DS2 (2015)
Future didn’t reinvent himself for his third studio album of bleak excess — he just leaned in. “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you/ You know I ain’t scared to lose you/ They don’t like it when you’re telling the truth,” he rapped on opener “Thought It Was a Drought,” with no signs of remorse. His dark thoughts were amplified by dramatic production from Metro Boomin and Southside, and the resulting full-length, which included a Drake feature, found the notoriously prolific rapper with his stickiest, most crowd-pleasing songs yet. Gucci flip-flops have never been the same. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
39. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (2010)
Electronic dance-punk collective LCD Soundsystem — led by Brooklyn stalwart James Murphy — heralded their third album This Is Happening as their last, and yet it fittingly doubles as the closing dispatch from the once-burgeoning indie scene in New York. The band goes out swinging with Murphy’s reliably electrifying outbursts and jaded diatribes cutting through intricate, irresistible dance-pop grooves, but he leaves his most enduring sentiment for album closer “Home,” where his reminder for connectedness at the start of a new decade only grows more prescient: “Look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better.” — B. Kress
38. Ariana Grande, Sweetener (2018)
Three studio albums into her career, Ariana Grande had yet to hone a personal sound aside from her trademark showbiz-flavored soprano. She found herself — and graduated to a new level of pop superstardom — with Sweetener, her first album since the 2017 bombing at her Manchester concert and, at the time, her most honest, cohesive, and commercial successful work yet. Here, Grande processes tragedy while finding moments of hope in new love, producing glowing shows of affection (“R.E.M.,” “goodnight n go”), charging anthems (“breathin,” “no tears left to cry”), and even a blissed-out, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it love note to her now ex-fiancée, Pete Davidson. As subtly joyful as its title implies, Sweetener is a radiant, pure snapshot of what stumbling upon happiness sounds like. — T.C.
37. Paramore, Paramore (2013)
For their first half-decade of stardom, Paramore were often dismissed as bratty rock for the Warped Tour set, despite frontwoman Hayley Williams quickly showing herself one of her generation’s most evocative songwriters and commanding performers. But the group’s ambitious, self-titled third set — after some intra-band drama and ensuing lineup changes — made it obvious that everyone needed to pay attention to Paramore. The power-punk mash note of “Still Into You” and synth-soul finger wag of “Ain’t It Fun” gave the now-trio their two biggest crossover hits, but just as undeniable were the tender goodbye “Hate to See Your Heart Break,” the Blondie-quoting escapism plea “Daydreaming,” the near-apocalyptic headbanging closer “Future” — even the ukulele interludes, really. — A.U.
36. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah (2014)
Nu-soul icon D’Angelo hadn’t released an album in 14 years, so when he and new backing band The Vanguard dropped the stunning Black Messiah onto an unsuspecting world in December 2014, it felt like the second coming. The dozen deliciously funky and soulful songs flaunted the R&B genius’ multi-instrumental vision, while reflecting on the African American experience in the U.S.: “All we wanted was a chance to talk/ ’Stead we only got outlined in chalk.” In a year when the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. was not indicted, his music could not have hit harder. — C.W.
35. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap (2013)
Rarely has an artist exploded on the scene as fully formed as Chance The Rapper did with Acid Rap in the spring of 2013. With his trademark ad-lib, hybrid rap-sung delivery and a truly psychedelic worldview, Chance painted a whirlwind of colors across a landscape as diverse as the poverty and crime riddling his native Chicago, the ups and downs of love and his adventures and misadventures with a variety of drugs across a dozen infectious tracks. Along the way, he helped introduce the world to a new wave of Chicago talent like Noname, Vic Mensa, Saba and the musicians and producers that would form his Social Experiment band. Acid Rap was one of those projects that became a defining touchstone for a generation of hip-hop fans, blowing the doors open for experimentation in hip-hop in a way that few have done before. — D.R.
34. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)
It had been seven years since Fiona Apple released an album when she returned with another singular set, her fourth full-length effort, which suggested a resurgence from rumination into a mature ground of awareness — in a moment the world needed more awakening and less conflict. Apple’s songs had followed a pattern of in-depth analysis accompanied by efficient musical grandeur, before the singer-songwriter opted for stillness. In came The Idler Wheel… in 2012, armed with a peculiar candor and openness, a theatrical examination of reality with an eloquence that also served as a statement of personal freedom. — PAMELA BUSTIOS
33. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (2018)
“I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream.” R&B iconoclast Janelle Monáe’s statement off of “Crazy, Classic, Life” may as well serve as Dirty Computer’s tagline. From an artist who flew largely under the mainstream’s radar for the last decade, who watched others own their truth and find pop success, this message of defiant free expression permeates her stunning third studio album — one which saw her finally break free from the ties that bound her, and announce in no uncertain terms her sexual, political, social and musical revolution. — S.D.
32. Tame Impala, Currents (2015)
For all its pretensions to psychedelia, Currents is remarkably lucid. It’s a meticulous album, with arrangements that soar and production that feels at once grandiose and defined. Working with everything from mutant disco to R&B, bandleader Kevin Parker rendered personal revelations in blazing Technicolor—each pixel in the service of the greater image. Freed from the stifling haze of their first two albums, Tame Impala found new life in the sublime clarity of their third. — W.G.
31. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (2012)
Seven years ago, Lana Del Rey made her polarizing full-length debut with the seminal Born to Die, and we haven’t stopped talking about her since. Lead single “Video Games,” as well as stunning follow-ups “Born to Die,” “Blue Jeans,” “Summertime Sadness” and “National Anthem,” were more purposeful than perhaps met the public eye at the time, together painting a picture of the complicated American dream (and the complicated woman singing about it). Born made Del Rey a household name, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and it remains one of the elite group of albums to have spent more than 300 weeks on the chart. Most importantly, after BTD, Del Rey would continue flipping that controversial narrative, ensuring that as soon as the media and lookers-on created a box for her, she’d no longer fit in it. — G.G.
30. Justin Bieber, Purpose (2015)
Justin Bieber followed up his hugely successful first two albums with a digital-only compilation album titled Journals in 2013. But between the project’s lack of hooks and Bieber’s ensuing bad-boy antics over the next year (including a DUI in early 2014), the former teen sensation’s longevity was in question — that is, until he released Purpose. As Bieber hinted prior to the album’s November 2015 release, he had a spiritual awakening that resulted in important revelations, which had a massively positive impact on the music: three Purpose singles, the bouncy “What Do You Mean?,” the dancehall-inflected “Sorry” and the acoustic “Love Yourself,” became his first three No. 1s on the Hot 100. The vulnerable lyrics on album cuts like the introspective “Mark My Words” and passionate “Life Is Worth Living” proved that not only was Bieber a changed person, but that his reputation couldn’t erase his place as one of the 2010’s biggest pop superstars. — T.W.
29. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (2012)
An amalgamation of funk, psychedelic rock, pop, and soul, Kaleidoscope Dream expanded the perceived boundaries around 21st-century R&B — alongside Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, released three months prior — into what we see today. The rare highly sexualized album from a male artist that doesn’t solely indulge in braggadocio, Miguel routinely embraces vulnerability (“Use Me”, “The Thrill”) with ease, peaking with the hit single “Adorn”, an overpowering love song that will be prevalent at every good wedding well into the next decade. — MICAH SINGLETON
28. Frank Ocean, Blonde (2016)
So much of Blonde’s magic is in its subtlest expressions—the angular surfaces and the casually cosmic turns of phrase. It’s in the warm glow of an LA sunset, the gleam of an immaculate Ferrari. Joy, summer; rain, glitter; pink-gold lemonades. The feeling of going wherever, being whatever. If you still skip “Facebook Story,” you’re doing it wrong. — W.G.
27. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019)
Across the second half the 2010s, teenager Billie Eilish expanded her sphere of influence from the SoundCloud charts to Billboard’s Alternative charts, and by the time she released her massively-hyped debut, pop culture at large. Part trap without the rap, part ASMR-core whisper-pop, the sound Eilish’s early releases hinted at arrived fully realized on her debut LP, and then some. The “some” could refer to the shocking 312,000 units it moved in its debut week, “Bad Guy” unseating the longest-reigning No. 1 in Hot 100 history, or the resurgence of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi”-era fashion aesthetic. It’s hard to imagine any album of the 2010s shaping the sound of pop entering the 2020s more than this one. — C.P.
26. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)
By 2010, Arcade Fire had emerged as the torchbearers of indie rock, with two acclaimed albums and a growing following. But it was The Suburbs that shot the Montreal-bred band into the mainstream, becoming Arcade Fire’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and winning top prize at the 2011 Grammys. The album is a fully-formed body of work filled with such a strong narrative that more than one song requires a part two. The bruise left by the opening line of “Ready to Start” (“The businessmen are drinking my blood/ Like the kids in art school said they would”) remains, while the electro-pop production of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” offers an early hint at where the band would go in the decade to come. — L.H.
25. Rosalía, El Mal Querer (2018)
At a time when female Latin stars are in scant supply, Rosalía became a sensation-fusing high-concept artist with hip-hop beats and visual imagery to create a compelling album that was also a radical departure, for any language or genre. El Mal Querer is first and foremost flamenco; a collection of songs based on “Flamenca,” a 14th century gypsy novel. Writing and producing with El Guincho, Rosalía transformed the story of a woman held captive by her jealous partner into a contemporary musical tour de force. El Mal Querer underscores how niche genres can garner mass appeal when excellence and distinctiveness come together. — L.C.
24. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (2011)
Despite the messy breakups within the Roc-A-Fella organization in the 2000s, in 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West proved that diamonds were indeed forever with their masterful performance on full-length collab Watch the Throne. An ode to black excellence, WTT was lathered with decadence. From Jay’s boastful brags about the Nets bailing on the 2010-2011 regular-season (“N—-z in Paris”) to Ye’s love for “sophisticated ignorance” (“Otis”), to see two all-time great MCs team up while still in their prime made LeBron and D-Wade’s time together in Miami look like child’s play. — C.L.
23. Lorde, Pure Heroine (2013)
Yes, “Royals” is still a killer debut single, one that deserved to top the Hot 100 and turn Lorde into a household name. One listen to her first album, however, made it clear that the teenage singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand was not just influencing American pop music for a little over three minutes. Pure Heroine married the dark, spacious dream-pop of The xx and School of Seven Bells with the sleek alt-pop vocals and incisive songwriting of Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX. Credit to producer Joel Little for Pure Heroine’s entrancing sound, but Lorde’s vision conjured a striking meditation on young love, alienation and the social norms in between, creating one of the most impressive debut LPs in pop history. — J. Lipshutz
22. SZA, Ctrl (2017)
If you’d made an album as good as Ctrl, you might be a little anxious to get it out the door too. SZA presumably was when she tweeted at her label president that she was quitting music and he could release her album “if he ever feels like it,” in October 2016. It was out by June 2017, allowing listeners to hear how that brashness translated to the music on the low-lit, high-vibe R&B record Ctrl, whose words were bold, blunt, always honest and never coy. “I’m writing this letter to let you know/ I’m really leaving/ And, no, I’m not keeping your s–t,” she sang in her warm, supple voice on the first lines of “Supermodel.” Beneath the chest-puffing confidence though rested a deep vulnerability over relationships, loneliness and the never-ending desire to just fit in: “Normal girl/ I wish I was a normal girl, oh my/ How do I be a lady?” — C.W.
21. Lady Gaga, Born This Way (2011)
Mother Monster dug her pointy claws deep into her inspirations and pulled out the weirdest, most nostalgic and erotic elements from basically every genre she could muster with third album Born This Way. The singer created an inclusive anthem on the title track, then got downright nasty on “Government Hooker,” transformed into a glam metal goddess on “Electric Chapel,” called upon E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons for “Edge of Glory” and went full power ballad on “You And I.” Born This Way was a brilliant display of pop excess that only Gaga could get away with — let alone sell over a million copies first week with. — B.G.
20. The Weeknd, House of Balloons (2011)
“You wanna be high for this,” the artist born Abel Tesfaye promises in the opener to his debut mixtape. Maybe, but the primary feeling of listening to House of Balloons is already one of dizzying vertigo, the exciting but heavily unsettling sensation of having gone too far and ending up somewhere you know in your stomach you probably shouldn’t be. It was a new response for an R&B album to generate in 2011 — though by mid-decade, The Weeknd’s sound was integrated enough into pop for him to score No. 1 hits playing the slasher in a hook-up horror flick. But there’s something still visceral and head-swimming about the beat switch in “House of Ballons”/”Glass Table Girls,” the heaving outro to “The Party & The Afterparty,” the disembodied falsetto of “Loft Music,” that no amount of Beach House samples in hip-hop can ever normalize. — A.U.
19. Taylor Swift, 1989 (2014)
With 1989, Taylor Swift succumbed completely to pop — and it was big, bright and fun, even in her more lovelorn moments. Swift flirted with a non-country sound on her previous album Red, but in 1989 her roots were finally nowhere to be found: Gone were the guitars and twang of old, here are the synths and sing-speaking of the new Taylor. Her experiment proved fruitful, as shedding her younger skin and going for broke with a new identity would lead not only to her best opening sales and biggest pop hits to date, but her second Grammy for album of the year. Swift also learned to embrace her detractors with tunes like “Shake It Off” — something she’d use to great effect in follow-up Reputation — but it was never better than “Blank Space,” where she took criticisms of her public persona and turned them on their head, constructing a delightfully psychotic version of herself in one of her best songs ever. After 1989, Swift would declare “the old Taylor” dead; arguable, but dead or alive, though, we won’t forget this Taylor anytime soon. — D.W.
18. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
Vampire Weekend had already proven far craftier than the precocious punching bags their late 2000s naysayers made them out to be; on their third album — the last under the Rostam-Ezra Koenig creative braintrust — the one-time buzzy blog band delivered a certified classic behind Rostam’s kaleidoscopic indie pop arrangements and Koenig’s winking existentialism. Lyrics about dying young went incognito as the giddy single “Diane Young” and a daydreamy deep cut called “Ya Hey” turned out not to be a riff on one of the century’s most ubiquitous pop songs, but the Hebrew God. The mortals responded strongly as ever: the album sold more first-week copies than either of its predecessors (one of them a fellow Billboard 200 No. 1) — a striking achievement for any artist in the 2010s. — C.P.
17. Solange, A Seat at the Table (2016)
For decades, mainstream society has perceived black women as being too angry, too loud or too aggressive — all while attempting to co-opt our culture. These stereotypes overshadowed our multi-faceted personalities and in turn, silenced our voices. Our community pent up so much frustration that flowed from the soles of our feet to the tips of our coifed afros. We couldn’t hold it in any longer, and Solange encapsulated that release on her 2016 opus. Interwoven with commentary from Master P and her parents about their experiences, the singer created a safe haven where we could vent, cry and heal. “Cranes in the Sky” carries the weight of self-doubt, “Mad” channels our rage (and has one of Lil Wayne’s all-time strongest guest verses) and “Don’t Touch My Hair” teaches a lesson in micro-aggressions. The album may be called A Seat at the Table, yet we never really needed one — we always had the power to build our own. — B.G.
16. Drake, Take Care (2011)
After a modest debut in 2010 with first full-length Thank Me Later, Drake paddled his way into superstar territory with sophomore effort Take Care in 2011. Not only did he introduce a bloodthirsty MC in Kendrick Lamar to the mainstream audience (“Buried Alive Interlude”), he also showed how badly the world needed an OVOXO album when he and The Weeknd collided on two of the set’s most essential tracks (“Crew Love” and “The Ride”). Even when Drake took the mic solo on his 19-track expedition, the Toronto polymath had dozens of stories to tell, dishing heart-aching love tales (bonus track “Hate Sleeping Alone”) or dropkicking rap foes for questioning his hip-hop merits (“Lord Knows”). With Take Care, The Boy stomped his way to the top of rap with his most complete body of work. — C.L.
15. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
It’s no accident that Lamar subtitles his Grammy-nominated sophomore album “a short film by Kendrick Lamar.” Major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city is a masterclass in storytelling, where the two main characters are the Compton rapper and his hometown. Lamar weaves together a nuanced take on his upbringing in a gang-riddled neighborhood, interspersing soulful, meandering beats and introspective rhymes with evocative skits and scratchy voicemail recordings. Add in the album cover — a polaroid of baby Lamar and his family — and it’s all so richly autobiographical that listening feels more like eavesdropping. The project was successful both critically and commercially — the rare concept album that also manages to serve as a jackpot of successful chart singles, and one that you can listen to again and again, unearthing new patterns, callbacks and hidden secrets each time, each track as alive as the artist himself. — T.C.
14. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream (2010)
After making quite a provocative statement with her Hot 100-topping hit “I Kissed a Girl” and breakout parent album One of the Boys — her first LP after a brief career in Christian rock as Katy Hudson — the rebranded Katy Perry took her fearless pop prowess to the next level on 2010’s Teenage Dream. The stacked 12-track sophomore LP featured equally suggestive songs (the otherworldly innuendo-filled “E.T.” and the metaphorical bedroom tune “Hummingbird Heartbeat”), but more importantly, tracks that resonated in a major way: The first five singles reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, making Perry the first artist since Michael Jackson to send five songs from one album to the summit. Its deluxe version produced another No. 1 hit with “Part of Me” and the No. 2 peaking “Wide Awake,” further proving that Perry was a pop force to be reckoned with — which she has continued to be nearly a decade later. — T.W.
13. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy (2018)
When “Bodak Yellow” broke loose in 2017, Cardi B’s Louboutin was lodged on the neck of popular music — and her uncommonly excellent debut album Invasion of Privacy kept it there. The Bronx MC lays out her rags-to-riches origin story in “Get Up 10,” then follows with 12 furious tracks that showcase a vivid musical lexicon: Southern Rap (“Bickenhead”) to trap (“She Bad” feat. YG) to vintage salsa (“I Like It” with J Balvin and Bad Bunny). A triptych of unapologetically feminine anthems revolve around Cardi’s favorite symbol for infidelity: her phone. Cardi spits the facts in between cooing alongside Kehlani (“Ring”) and an uncredited Ali Tamposi (“Thru Your Phone”) On “Be Careful,” the melody weaves in Lauryn Hill via “Ex-Factor,” so when Cardi is singing to herself in the mirror, mired in self-delusion and spite (“It’s gonna hurt me to hate you, but lovin’ you’s worse,”) she may be down — but she’s hardly alone. — S.G.
12. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)
By 2013, at the height of the EDM boom in the United States, Daft Punk’s long-awaited fourth studio album arrived as a needed salve on the heavily compressed wall of sound that electronic music had devolved to under the new crop of festival-filling DJs. Shunning computer assistance for vintage vocoders, drum machines and a custom-built Modcan synth, the French duo’s 13-track, sci-fi-infused Random Access Memories was part protest album, part homage to the genre’s more analog days. And who can forget Nile Rodgers’ and Pharrell Williams timelessly groovy disco work on “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance,” along with a 9-minute ode of hero worship to synth-dance pioneer Giorgio Moroder? — ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
11. Beyoncé, Beyoncé (2013)
On December 13, 2013, Beyoncé surprise-dropped her eponymous fifth LP, simultaneously setting the internet on fire, setting new metrics of success for the out-of-nowhere album release model and, with the 14 tracks, setting the mold for a more politically aware, sexually confident and altogether provocative iteration of Queen Bey. Dipping more heavily into hip-hop production, the songs themselves — “Partition,” “Drunk In Love” and “Flawless” among them — were similarly evolved, with the album spending a whopping 185 weeks on the Billboard 200. “Changed the game with that digital drop, Know where you was when that digital popped, I stopped the world!” Beyoncé exclaimed of the accomplishment on Nicki Minaj’s 2014 track “Feeling Myself.” We remember. — K.B.
10. Adele, 21 (2011)
Blockbuster. Monumental. History-making. Adele’s sophomore album, named for her age when she wrote the songs, was all those things: It remains the top album of all-time on the Billboard 200, where it spent 24 nonconsecutive weeks at the helm, earning Adele six Grammy Awards, including the ultimate trifecta of record, album and song of the year. But you don’t need more numbers to understand the album’s potency — you only need to listen. The album marked Adele’s first time working with star producers Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth, and the result is a rootsy departure from her tender debut, 19, everything steeped in rich Southern blues.
“There’s a fire, startin’ in my heart,” Adele begins on roaring album opener “Rolling In The Deep,” and she continues to fuel the flame with ballad after tear-soaked ballad, from vocal powerhouse “Set Fire to the Rain” to the bare, goosebump-inducing “Someone Like You.” By the way, all three of those songs reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, signifying the return of the ballad to the charts. While it’s tempting to caricature 21 as a sad album, Adele’s endless cascade of emotions on 21 isn’t marked by sorrow, but by fearlessness. The closing “Someone Like You,” may be one of the most insightful, powerful love songs ever written: Here is a broken-hearted soul still cherishing memories and soldiering through the pain. Adele’s voice breaks during the chorus near the end, and it’s one of the best moments on the album. No guts, no glory. — T.C.
9. Robyn, Body Talk (2010)
God may have created the world in seven days, but it took most of 2010 for Robyn to deliver Body Talk, the three-part opus we now know as the genesis of modern electro-pop. The 61-minute, 15-song LP established the Swedish songstress as a dancehall queen, a cyborg fembot, and friend-turned-therapist to her lovers, friends, and fans. From start to finish, the album trades in contrasts: heartbreak vs. triumph, calm and empathetic vs. intense and insular, pop vs. experimentation. And therein lies Body Talk’s greatest legacy: While late-’00s pop veered toward a cooler aesthetic, Robyn swung the door open, connecting the glossy mainstream to the heart of indie.
The album wasn’t a best-seller, but received instant critical acclaim and built Robyn into one of the decade’s most beloved live acts. And as she broke down the walls of poptimism, part-time chart-toppers like Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX met somewhere near the middle with Blood Orange and Grimes, with a pool of influences wide enough to simultaneously confuse radio programmers and bloggers. But Body Talk wasn’t a calculated risk to raise Robyn’s profile; it achieved its slow-burning ubiquity and influence because every single song is either a hypnotizing club-thumper or a stab to the heart, and in some cases, both at once. — E.F.
8. Ariana Grande, Thank U Next (2019)
It’s virtually impossible to consider the career-capping triumph of Ariana Grande’s blockbuster set Thank U Next without leading with the fact that it came just six months after the previous career-capping triumph of her blockbuster set Sweetener. That album was the type of achievement most pop stars in history would have spent the next two years milking for all its worth — deluxe editions, world tours, endless parades of videos and remixes — but Grande understood that the Top 40 landscape of 2018 was no time or place to be resting on her laurels. So following a period of almost unheard-of studio productivity and creativity, she decided to use the success of Sweetener to pole vault to what would end up the best (and best-performing) pop album of 2019 in Thank U Next.
The entire album packs the confidence of an artist shrugging at her biggest album to date, figuring she can do one better. The swagger of a title like “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” is only multiplied by the unimpressed delivery of its hook and the casual NSYNC fist-bump of its bridge — not to mention it showing up at the end of the album, right after the record’s other two biggest singles, like, “Eh, you probably know these already.” But for all its sureness, the LP is even more powerful in its moments of unnerving vulnerability — like opener “Imagine,” where Grande treats her romantic bliss like a fantasy that can’t possibly last, or centerpiece “Ghostin,” where she tries in vain to convince her new love (herself?) that she can get past being haunted by a past love. And lest we get too hung up on what’s next after Next, Ari’s already released another one-off top 10 hit single and executive produced an entire major film soundtrack, ho hum. — A.U.
7. Rihanna, Anti (2016)
Ask any devoted fan within the Rihanna Navy about ANTI, and they’ll likely release a hefty sigh as they recall the confusing and tedious road that led to the star’s most masterful record to date. From two years of one-off singles that didn’t make the cut, endless Instagram teasers, and a messy marketing rollout, there came a point where many thought the finish line was a mere fantasy. But as she professed in CBS’s 2016 promo, she is worth the wait. After being branded a “singles artist” for the majority of her career, Rihanna took ANTI’s title at face value. At its surface, the album chronicles a relationship’s endless twists and turns. But it also mirrors her musical journey: after building herself up to become The Pop Star, a post-Def Jam Rihanna deserved to shatter all expectations that crown comes with and stripped herself down to the rawest form.
Similar to what Aaliyah did on her final album, Rihanna explores her womanhood while wrestling with heartache, protecting her creativity and learning how to be vulnerable. She grips her career’s steering wheel on “Consideration” (“I got to do things my own way darling/ Will you ever let me? Will you ever respect me? No”), embraces her Caribbean heritage on the sweltering “Work,” oozes seduction on ‘80s power ballad “Kiss It Better,” unexpectedly tackles doo-wop for her best vocal performance yet (“Love on the Brain”), navigates loss on the despondent “Never Ending,” and even tosses in a Tame Impala cover just because she can (“Same Ol’ Mistakes”). The album is Rihanna at her most confident, revealing her musical elasticity — her artistry now knows no bounds. “It might not be some automatic record that will be Top 40,” she told Vogue of ANTI in 2016. “But I felt like I earned the right to do that now.” — B.G.
6. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (2018)
After becoming arguably the decade’s most acclaimed country singer-songwriter over the course of her first two LPs, Kacey Musgraves transcended genre on her career highlight Golden Hour. Blending in elements of pop, rock and even disco, Musgraves’ timeless album shares stories of love, heartache and life in vivid detail and sweeping musical landscapes. The dreamy “Oh, What a World” features ethereal vocals from the singer while the sentimental “Butterflies” and reflective “Love Is a Wild Thing” has Musgraves singing about being in love for the first time. With little radio support, Golden Hour still broke down barriers for women in country music, while practically sweeping award season — including the Grammy for album of the year, the first country release to take top honors since Taylor Swift’s Fearless nearly a decade earlier — making Musgraves one of the 2010s’ leading examples of succeeding by doing things her own way. — A.R.
5. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2016)
“What do you want your legacy to be at the end of the day?” Kendrick Lamar asks in his 2015 Billboard cover story. It’s a complicated question for any artist, any person, for that matter. Then, consider that the Compton native asks it just two months before the release of his first album as a bonafide superstar — any direction Lamar took on To Pimp a Butterfly would go through the ringer of public scrutiny. So, rather than taking just one, he decided to hit every angle on the compass. In September 2014, he dropped the album’s rollicking lead single, “i,” which samples The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” and douses itself in self-love and funky joy. Five months later, he doubled back, deeming himself “the biggest hypocrite of 2015” in the vicious, rugged “The Blacker the Berry,” in which he rattles off one racial stereotype after the next, grappling instead with self-hatred this time.
Across To Pimp a Butterfly’s other 14 tracks, Lamar elegantly bounces across the corners of the human psyche at will — “u” wails into its boundless depths, rasping “loving you is complicated” repeatedly, with each additional utterance more bleak and hopeless than the one before it; “How Much a Dollar Cost” delves into humanity and compassion, or lack thereof; “Mortal Man” dissects the concept of loyalty, asking his fans “Do you really believe in me to do this?” He seemingly asks 2Pac the same in the album’s final moments, taking audio from a 1994 interview with the late hip-hop legend and reframing it as his own conversation. Following the reading of one final spoken-word verse that succinctly summarizes the album, Lamar asks, “What’s your perspective on that?” Blaring horns and backing vocals reach a peak all at once, then vanish as the conversation goes one-sided. The third empty, desperate “Pac?!” rings out, disappearing into the void a moment later, leaving the listener scrambling to press the replay button to dig deeper for clues. — J.G.
4. Taylor Swift, Red (2012)
By the time Taylor Swift got to her fourth album, the big question was, would she go full pop or stay country? Instead of choosing one or the other, she said yes to both on Red, collaborating with Max Martin and Shellback to concoct giant electronic-forward pop sounds on songs like “I Knew You Were Trouble.” while still including country elements like the banjo on the bombastic title track and steel guitar on the sighing closer “Begin Again.” No matter which way she was leaning sonically, all of the songs captured the then 22-year-old Swift during a growth spurt that saw her go from lamenting bad decisions to owning them.
“This slope is treacherous / And I, I, I like it,” she admits on “Treacherous,” while nonchalantly dismissing defeat on the Jeff Bhasker-produced “Holy Ground,” singing, “And I guess we fell apart in the usual way / And the story’s got dust on every page.” But, as Swift always does so expertly, she never played it too cool with her hurt, leaving space for the forever-crescendoing big ballad “All Too Well,” which recapped a relationship from the sweet beginning to the bitter end in one of Swift’s best songs to date. Red was the last record of Swift’s to show up on the country album charts, with 1989 going full tilt into pop — but if she ever wanted to find her way back to country, the peerless Red remains her breadcrumb trail. — C.W.
3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (2012)
The night Frank Ocean released Channel Orange, he made his first late night TV appearance, on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Such was the length of the album, which came out just before midnight, and the timing of his appearance on the show, that fans could listen to it all the way through almost exactly one full time before he took the stage backed by The Roots and a small string section. But even that couldn’t prepare for the simple, raw power of “Bad Religion,” beginning with his plaintive voice over extended organ chords, begging his taxi driver to outrun the demons, if he could. The song is a microcosm of the self-examination, doubt, pain and catharsis that underscores the entire album, a masterpiece of soul, pop, electronic music and hip-hop that could only have been made by the type of singer-songwriter that could credibly lay claim to being the most creative new artist of the decade.
There’s a balance to Channel Orange that combines both excess (“Super Rich Kids,” “Pyramids,” “Crack Rock”) and restraint (the truncated “Fertilizer,” the John Mayer-assisted interlude “White”) in ways that both keep you guessing and wishing for more — but that intertwine perfectly, as if Ocean were providing the blueprint to his own DNA. Songs like “Forrest Gump” and “Sweet Life” have a simplicity that gets across his subtly powerful lyrics — along with a winking, lighter side that relieves the tension — while a song like “Pink Matter,” which contains the best Andre 3000 verse of the decade, is almost confounding in its delicate introspection. There is a sense throughout Channel Orange of an artist who has found that special something that sets him apart, a cool confidence lying just underneath the surface that propels the narratives and the music into something else, and provides the platform for vulnerability on a scale that music rarely reaches. It is Frank Ocean’s first masterpiece, and one that set him apart from any other music-maker this decade. — D.R.
2. Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
Following the unrest of the civil rights movement a half-century ago, James Brown and Nina Simone delivered powerful declarations about pride with 1968’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud” and 1970’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” respectively. Then in 2016, at the apex of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, Beyoncé resolutely raised the ante on that manifesto for the next generation — particularly black females — with her sixth No. 1 album. Using her own marital issues as a catalyst, she explored myriad personal and political themes on the studio/visual album, ranging from heartbreak, revenge, forgiveness and redemption to self-love, racism, classism and black culture and feminism.
From accusatory opener “Pray You Catch Me” to the rallying call of “Formation,” a fearless Beyoncé revealed her mastery of weaving together multiple genres and insightful lyrics. Intertwining her R&B/pop roots with blues, rock, rap/trap, Americana, gospel and electronic, she predated the Lil Nas X phenomenon of 2019 with the country-vibed “Daddy Lessons,” featuring the Dixie Chicks. A verse from the unapologetic “Sorry” — one of the album’s five singles, though like few albums this decade, Lemonade had to be experienced in full — has since become a universal catchphrase: “He better call Becky with the good hair.” No less a fan than Adele explained on the Grammys stage why the bar-raising Lemonade deserved to win album of the year, even over her own 25: “Lemonade is just so monumental, well thought-out, beautiful and soul-baring. The way that you make me and my friends feel… is empowering.” — G.M.
1. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
After three albums of radio-embraced, critically acclaimed rap, one deeply introspective detour and a VMAs mic grab seen ’round the Internet, no one knew what to expect when Kanye West dropped his fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in late 2010. As it turns out, the mercurial West had matured (in sound, at least) from innovative hitmaker to expansive, Kubrickian sonic auteur. From the self-loathing minimalist odyssey of “Runaway” to the martial call-to-arms of “All of the Lights” (stuffed with guest stars ranging from Rihanna to Elton John) to the intoxicating, stomping menace of “Monster” (complete with a ferocious star-making verse from Nicki Minaj) to the breath-stopping bleakness of “Lost In the World,” MBDTF is the sound of an artist — using the studio as a palette — grappling with his contradictions, unhappiness and the carnal diversions he turns to as an all-too-brief balm for the uncertain soul.
And while ‘Ye’s MAGA love might make some erstwhile Yeezus freaks loath to preach its dark gospel moving forward, the truth is, MBDTF’s spiraling hopelessness feels more relatable now than when it dropped in the bright-eyed Obama era. These days, Kanye is both the prophet and the victim of that oppressive worldview, with this album serving as his Book of Revelation. As we enter the 2020s, it’s hard to say where Kanye is headed, but one thing is for sure: At the outset of this decade, he set the bar by which all 2010s albums – rap, pop, alternative, you name it – would be measured. — J. Launch
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