Popology Now’s Top Albums Of 2016
It’s no secret around here. We sort of gave up half way through the year when it came to new releases (more on that later..). Things started out on a high note, then trickled down once we hit June.
Don’t get us wrong, a lot of great artists released some pretty monumental records this year. Frank Ocean, Solange, Kanye West, JoJo – to name a few – but for us, the drive and desire to dive into some of these record’s was just nonexistent.
A large part of that is due to the tone of pop music, and music in general, this year. A lot of artists decided to veer left and deliver introspective, thought-provoking albums. That’s great and all, but we feel that the whole point of pop music is to get lost in this fantasy land where somewhat meaningless and mindless music reigns supreme and you can escape the real world. That feeling was primarily absent in a lot of music this year. At least from our perspective.
So what does our annual list of albums of the year contain? To be frank, a lot of predictable choices. Chalk to up to reliability, comfort, or laziness; but this year’s list plays more into the albums that we had on constant rotation vs. the ones that made a huge splash on the charts and in the media.
So enjoy, feel free to suggest any album we may have missed due to ignorance, and cheers to a more exciting 2017 for pop music.
6. Foxes – ‘All I Need’
The amount of underrated pop stars out there is endless. None, this year, proved to be as underrated as Foxes.
After a series of push backs, the UK singer-songwriter finally released her sophomore set ‘All I Need’ at the top of the year…aka a place where labels tend to release records that have been set aside numerous times as a ploy to just get them out.
We’ve said numerous times over the past year that Foxes was done dirty with this album cycle and, ten months later, that statement is just as true. Mixing straight up pop with soulful ballads, Foxes managed to craft a sophomore album that was anything but a slump. ‘All I Need’ is as great as modern pop gets in 2016 – killer melodies, relatable lyrics, vocals that soar to the high heavens, the perfect amount of organic and synthetic production.
Finding the perfect balance between thunderous pop (‘Better Love’) and heart-aching subject matter (‘If You Leave Me Now’), Foxes proved that she was more than just the singer on a famous DJ’s biggest song. She’s an underdog, fighting her way to be heard, and one that should be on everyone’s radar when she’s ready to release new music.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Better Love’, ‘Body Talk’, ‘Cruel’, ‘If You Leave Me Now’, ‘Devil Side’, ‘Wicked Love’, ‘Money’
5. Beyoncé – ‘Lemonade’
There used to be a time when albums were bodies of work instead of a place where a collection of radio-friendly singles lived.
Despite everyone chasing a tropical wave all year (and the fact that we’re not the biggest Beyoncé fan), ‘Lemonade’ proved to be one of 2016’s only albums that contained a consistent narrative.
For the first time in her career, Beyoncé let us in more than ever, pulled back the curtain on her personal life, and told the tale of a woman scorned, a marriage in trouble, and the work it took to overcome strife.
Was it a marketing ploy that was inspired by those rumors during the On The Run Tour? Is it all true? Only The Carters know. What we can say is that through a variety of different genres, Beyoncé was able to channel her story and emotions into one of her most artistic records to date.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Pray You Catch Me’, ‘Hold Up’, ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, ‘Sorry’
4. dumblonde – ‘remix album’
Aubrey O’Day & Shannon Bex formed dumblonde in 2015 and spent most the year pushing their alternative-pop group. Cut to 2016, the girls retreated to work on their sophomore album.
While their sophomore album looks to be on deck for 2017, their remix album that dropped during the summer kept the dumblonde train chugging along.
Now, remixes are not our thing. We much prefer the original vs. a lazy re-up with some shitty club beat. However, to call this a “remix album” is a grave disservice to what the girls and the team released.
What this record actually is, is a refresh and revamp of some of their best songs to appear on their self-titled debut. Each song is completely different from how it appears on ‘dumblonde’. ‘remember me’ has transformed into a 70’s surfer anthem complete with a Michael Jackson sample. ‘tender green life’ brilliantly shape shifts into Janet Jackson’s ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’. ‘love blind’ becomes a stripped down hazy, 3 AM plea.
The girls have proved once again that they’re the most exciting thing to happen in pop in the last few years. If history repeats itself, their sophomore album in 2017 should be another ear-catching moment for Aubrey & Shannon.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘tender green life’, ‘remember me’, ‘love blind’
3. Rihanna – ‘ANTI’
When ‘ANTI’ dropped, we were ruthless. We ripped it to shreds…but over time, Rihanna’s experimental eighth record grew on us. So much so that our opinion changed to one of the freshest albums of the year. In a sea of basic pop stars and predictable new singles, Rihanna managed to breathe new life into her career and the genre.
Let’s call a spade a spade here; Rihanna was one of the most reliable pop stars of the new millennium. You knew every lead single was going to be a banger, you knew the album would a series of club joints that would be the soundtrack to your weekend for the entire year, you knew she’d dominate the radio.
And you know what? She still managed to accomplish that with her most abrasive, left-leaning effort to date. ‘Work’ became her longest running number one. ‘Needed Me’ was one of the biggest club tracks of the year. Despite the sonic shift, Rihanna still managed to have radio bend and adapt to her rules.
She may be completely different from the island girl who washed ashore over a decade ago, and her music may not be for everyone now. But you can’t deny that Rihanna has officially transitioned to become the Madonna of her generation…and it’s all thanks to ‘ANTI’.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Consideration’, ‘James Joint’, ‘Kiss It Better’, ‘Work’, ‘Desperado’, ‘Needed Me’, ‘Yeah, I Said It’, ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’
2. Britney Spears – ‘Glory’
The last time we heard from Britney Spears, she was non-existent throughout “her record”.
She ditched will.i.am (and Myah Marie), took her time to craft her sound with her wonderful A&R Karen, and came back with her strongest effort in years.
Named by her son, Britney Spears is truly in one of the most glorious times of her career. “It’s a new era”, she proclaims and it couldn’t be truer.
Albeit, ‘Glory’ does follow many trends that were popular in pop during 2016 – but there’s no one like the princess of pop to show everyone else how it’s done. Whether she’s cooing on a urban-pop ballad, injecting tropical influences in a series of mid-tempos and EDM joints, Britney proved not only does she still have that spark 20 years into her career…that she’s more alive than she has been in nearly a decade.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Invitation’, ‘Make Me…’, ‘Man On The Moon’, ‘Just Luv Me’, ‘Do You Wanna Come Over?’, ‘Slumber Party’, ‘Love Me Down’, ‘Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)’
1. Ariana Grande – ‘Dangerous Woman’
In all honesty, Ariana Grande was a wannabe pop star up until the release of ‘Dangerous Woman’. She had the voice and the songs, but did she have the full package?
It’s always great to watch a budding pop star have their full-fledged moment and this era was nothing short of that for Grande. From the soulful lead singles to the pop monster single ‘Into You’, every musical moment was just as exciting as the last.
Beyond the successful and smart single choices, ‘Dangerous Woman’ is not only Ari’s best album to date, but also her most cohesive. Leaning into a more hip-hop influenced sound, she teamed up with Lil’ Wayne, Future, and more to explore her sexuality as a young woman and live up to the album’s title.
She had her breakout moment in 2015, but 2016 proved to be the year Ariana cemented herself as a true pop artist.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Moonlight’, ‘Be Alright’, ‘Into You’, ‘Let Me Love You’, ‘Greedy’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Bad Decisions’, ‘Touch It’
Drake – ‘VIEWS’
Not his strongest, by far – but Drake’s love for his city and its lifestyle provided to be one of the biggest blockbuster albums of the year and a contrast to the material he released back in 2015.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Feel No Ways’, ‘Hype’, ‘Faithful’, ‘Controlla’
Azealia Banks – ‘Slay-Z’
She’s rap’s most dysfunctional personality, but when she steps up to the plate and lets her music doing the talking you almost forget how unruly and unpredictable this ticking time bomb can be.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Can’t Do It Like Me’, ‘Queen Of Clubs’, ‘The Big Big Beat’, ‘Used To Being Alone’
Meghan Trainor – ‘Thank You’
Say and think what you want, but there’s no denying that Meghan Trainor knows how to write a good pop tune or two (…or several).
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Me Too’, ‘Better’, ‘Kindly Calm Me Down’, ‘I Won’t Let You Down’
ZAYN – ‘Mind Of Mine’
This former One Direction’s post-boy band debut had a lot riding on it. It came, it went…it was most likely forgotten nearly after its release. At least the first half of the disc shows promise for where he can head for his sophomore record, if he chooses to do so.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘iT’s YoU’, ‘BeFoUr’, ‘sHe’, ‘dRuNk’, ‘TiO’, ‘LIKE I WOULD’
The Weeknd – ‘Starboy’
A cohesive evolution from one of 2015’s biggest breakout stars. It’s a shame we had to wait until the end of the year in order to hear it.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Party Monster’, ‘False Alarm’, ‘Rockin’, ‘Secrets’, ‘I Feel It Coming’
Little Mix – ‘Glory Days’
Again, it’s a shame we had to wait until the final weeks of 2016 to hear the next chapter in Little Mix’s story. Then again, it’ll be great to see them rise even higher in 2017.
HIGHLIGHTS: ‘Touch’, ‘F.U.’, Oops’, ‘Down & Dirty’, ‘Private Show’