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MusicNewsRumor’s 25 Best Albums of 2020

After the year we’ve gone through, it was nice to have some good music to fall back on. This list is by no means a full representation of everything released this year. It’s a hard thing to rank albums, and I really do enjoy listening to all kinds of music. So just because an album isn’t in the top five or top ten doesn’t mean I think it’s an awful album. I just didn’t want to have a list with 100+ albums. Enjoy this list and have fun reading what I took away from each different album. I have also included a few of my MNR Must Listens, which are some of the key tracks from each album I think you just have to hear.

  1. folklore + evermore by Taylor Swift

With this ranking I’m doing something I’ve never thought about doing: I’m putting two albums tied for #1, and they’re from the same artist. If this were any other album double-punch, I probably wouldn’t lump them together on a year-end list. However, Taylor Swift presents the two projects as sister albums, and they are tied together sonically and thematically in such a way that they complement one another as a cohesive whole. I already had folklore at the top of the list even before we knew about evermore, so pairing them together just made sense.

What makes these albums so special is that there is no way you could uncover all of the subtle nuances with just a few listens. Every time you come back to these albums, you are sure to walk away noticing something about them in an entirely different light. A new lyric will stand out. You’ll notice a new instrument tucked away in the background. You’ll catch a characteristic Easter egg linking the song to something else.

We’ve always known that she was one of the greatest songwriters of this generation, but her songwriting has never been more profound or so much at the forefront than on folklore and evermore. She has always had an uncanny talent for surprising the world time and time again, but nobody had a surprise Taylor Swift album on their 2020 bingo card, much less TWO surprise albums and a secret self-directed Disney+ concert film. // MNR Must Listens: “exile” ft. Bon Iver, “mirrorball,” “betty,” “invisible string” (on folklore), “gold rush,” “no body, no crime” ft. HAIM, “‘tis the damn season” (on evermore)

  1. After Hours by The Weeknd

The Weeknd has always had a knack for disguising R&B songs as huge pop records, but he went in an even different direction on After Hours than his past work. He took on an entirely new persona on this album with the Red Suit Man and bruised face performing the songs across all the major award shows and late night TV. This character added to the experience because each performance from this era has felt like it was seamlessly connected to next. Everyone is still reasonably upset that this album walked away with zero nominations at the Grammys, but accolades aren’t everything when the music is this good. The album didn’t have any features, and he carried the project all on his own. // MNR Must Listens: “Scared To Live,” “Save Your Tears,” “In Your Eyes”

  1. Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa has been leading the way combining the retro, 80s, disco-inspired vibes of Future Nostalgia with modern sounds and futuristic production. Undoubtedly drawing inspiration from Kylie Minogue and Madonna, this combination worked flawlessly. Almost every song on this project is single-worthy, and she is well on her way to getting multiple pop hits off of this album. Each track has its own flavor, and it never gets old hearing these songs. The modern classic, “Don’t Start Now,” was released as the lead single in October 2019, but it still sounds fresh every time she performs it or I hear it on the radio. I bet we’ll be saying the same thing about “Levitating” and “Physical” a year from now. Her Studio 2054 livestream concert gave her the opportunity to showcase the live aspect that this album so deserves. We couldn’t go to the dancefloor, so she brought it to us, literally. // MNR Must Listens: “Love Again,” “Cool,” “Pretty Please”

  1. Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle

Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour seamlessly goes back-and-forth between classic R&B and pop in a way that only this talented sister duo is capable of achieving. The media loves to label them as Beyoncé’s pet project protégées, which they certainly are, but let me assure you they are a force to be reckoned with in their very own right. They have the voices of an angel, but their talent extends well beyond that into A+ songwriting and production. The Bailey sisters’ harmonies glide over these slinky, elegant, and sophisticated songs, and their live performances have been by far some of the best this year. They took some creative risks with the production and writing on this album, and it more than paid off. // MNR Must Listens: “Ungodly Hour,” “Tipsy,” “Busy Boy”

  1. Positions by Ariana Grande

It’s hard to believe that 2020 was supposed to be Ariana Grande’s off-year, but she still managed to release an entire new album, in addition to some of the year’s biggest collabs. This album really feels like the final chapter in a trilogy joining Sweetener, thank u, next, and Positions. Her vocals just seem to level up each and every time adding more acrobatics and whistle notes than the last. I honestly think some of the best work of her career in terms of writing and vocals are featured on this album. The features —The Weeknd, Doja Cat, and Ty Dolla $ign — just make so much sense on this album, and they really add to the overall theme of the album rather than feeling like just another label set up. There are some light moments on this record that let Ariana show off her fun side, but there are equal parts serious and sensual. // MNR Must Listens: “pov,” “off the table” with The Weeknd, “motive” with Doja Cat

  1. Plastic Hearts by Miley Cyrus

This just feels like the album that Miley Cyrus was destined to make. It may sound cheesy, but this feels so authentically Miley. She is known for totally and entirely morphing into a new persona with each of her albums, but this one doesn’t seem like she is acting at all. She assembled a lineup of all-stars to collaborate with on this album with Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, and Dua Lipa. She perfectly bridges the gap between classic rock, pop smashes, and even some subtle blends of country. “Prisoner” or “Night Crawling” could just as easily play on pop radio as it could on rock radio, and that is saying something. // MNR Must Listens: “Prisoner” ft. Dua Lipa, “Angels Like You,” “High”

  1. Chromatica by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga returned to dancefloor electro-pop with Chromatica, and the results were unsurprisingly great. During a time when we couldn’t go out and party to her music, she brought the disco inside to us. I think that this album has suffered due to its untimely release in the middle of a pandemic because it really would excel with the right live performance and interactive experience it deserves. Gaga did the best she could given the circumstances, bringing in a diverse array of talent to collaborate with Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK, and Elton John. This return to her roots was highly anticipated by her fans, and she more than delivered. // MNR Must Listens: “Rain On Me” with Ariana Grande, “Fun Tonight,” “Alice”

  1. SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama is an artist that might not have been on most people’s radar this time last year, but the Japanese-British artist definitely should be by now. Her eclectic debut album blew us out of the water with its flashbacks to the early 2000s. It is similar enough to classic Britney Spears but still relevant and poignant enough to fit into the current landscape of music today. Aptly titled SAWAYAMA, it’s a name to remember. Her voice can do so many interesting things going from heavy and gravely to high and sweet. // MNR Must Listens: “XS,” “Bad Friend,” “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)”

  1. Gaslighter by The Chicks

This might have been The Chicks’ first album in 14 years, but they definitely did not hold anything back by any means. Natalie Maines gets more personal on this record than I have heard most people get in their lifetime. It had to be difficult to bare so much of her soul, but she is not alone in her feelings. Working with Jack Antonoff, they adopted an entirely new sound, and it works so well on them. Powerful, truthful, unapologetic, polished, raw, and emotional are just a few words to describe this sometimes indescribable set of songs. Rihanna fans feel like they’ve been waiting a long time for her new album, but being a fan of The Chicks will teach you that patience is key. // MNR Must Listens: “Sleep At Night,” “Tights On My Boat,” Best Friend’s Weddings”

  1. kelsea + ballerini by Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini has blossomed into quite the superstar over these last few years. I never like to play the “she’s gonna be the next *insert artist name here*” game, but she is definitely shaping up to be this generation’s Shania Twain or Taylor Swift making her country music accessible enough to people who think they don’t like the genre. I don’t know anybody else who could have Halsey and Kenny Chesney featured on the same album. I had to cheat here and add ballerini as well because it shows the other side of the songs on kelsea. They are the same songs and same tracklist, but she switched up the melodies and stripped back certain songs to emote an entirely different feeling. The pairing of these two records makes for such a unique experience to hear two entirely different takes on the same song by the same artist. // MNR Must Listens: “the other girl” with Halsey, “love me like a girl,” “the way i used to”

  1. Women In Music Pt. III by HAIM

HAIM manage to lay just below the radar of the mainstream, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t have some of the best selling work out there. These songs are moody and genre-bending all the while being provocative and confident at the same time. The vocal production and instrumentation play such a major role in this album that you can just easily get lost in it. Some people were surprised when this album from the three HAIM sisters got nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys, but they shouldn’t be. These songs make you want to sway and dance through the streets of LA. The songwriting is so vivid and clear, and you feel like you’re having a conversation with somebody you know. // MNR Must Listens: “Los Angeles,” “Don’t Wanna,” “I Know Alone,” “The Steps”

  1. Changes by Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber set out to make an R&B album with Changes, and that is exactly what he did. Harkening back to his Journals days, this album shows us a side that we haven’t seen from Bieber in a while. This album could only come from an adult, married Justin Bieber as he celebrates his marriage and love for wife Hailey. Justin’s diverse style of music mirrors this album’s tracklist featuring Quavo, Post Malone, Lil Dicky, Kehlani, Travis Scott, Summer Walker, and Clever, all of whom bring an entirely different flare to the project. // MNR Must Listens: “Changes,” “Intentions” ft. Quavo, “Second Emotion” ft. Travis Scott

  1. Good News by Megan Thee Stallion

It might be hard to believe that this is Megan Thee Stallion’s official debut album because she feels so on her game, but all of her previous projects have been billed as mixtapes. In a year filled with bad news, it was a breath of fresh air to see that some Good News was coming in the form of this album. Megan commands your attention and your respect across these songs, and you better know it’s about to go down when you hear, “real hot girl shit,” at the top of a song or performance. Across these 17 songs, she glides over rap classics, calls out injustice (against herself and against Breonna Taylor), and exudes confidence and sex appeal. Her pen is sharp, and her execution and energy is just flat out fun. // MNR Must Listens: “Savage Remix” with Beyoncé, “Shots Fired,” “Sugar Baby,” “Body”

  1. Rare by Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez has made such a leap since her last full-length album, and it is evident on this sophisticatedly written and cleverly produced collection of songs. These tracks are intricate and sways between ballads to dance tracks to Latin-pop-inflected, and they all work really well. It’s empowering and makes you feel good without being too bloated and too delicate. This album was released just prior to quarantine, but it hits different now than it did even just a few months ago. We feel like we have grown up with Selena, and to hear her mature into the woman she is on this album is a great thing to hear. // MNR Must Listens: “Lose You To Love Me,” “A Sweeter Place” ft. Kid Cudi, “Rare”

  1. Manic by Halsey

Halsey manages to touch on an entire range of emotions and lets listeners in on her most complex and intimate thoughts on Manic. It can get intense, especially on songs like “I HATE EVERYBODY,” but there are also really beautiful and heartfelt moments on “Finally // beautiful stranger.” She gets personal singing about love and loss, but she also lets her talent as a storyteller excel when she imagines intricate stories into songs. // MNR Must Listens: “You should be sad,” “3am,” “Finally // beautiful stranger”

  1. Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers is the rising star in the indie-alt world, and rightfully so with her immense and unique talent. I’ve never heard an album like Punisher, and I know Bridgers is the only artist who could ever bring this album to life in the way she did. The alt-folk sentiments never get lost with her crystal clear voice and sonically smart songs. The whole album feels like an intimate conversation. // MNR Must Listens: “Kyoto,” “Garden Song,” “DVD Menu”

  1. Wonder by Shawn Mendes

The overarching theme of this album is Camila Cabello and Shawn’s relationship with her. He is madly in love with her, as is evident across this set of songs. He stretches his vocals as he takes some new risks stretching genres and his voice to new heights. It leans more R&B than his past work, and the production adds layers to the music similar to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. He duets with his childhood inspiration and fellow Canadian megastar, Justin Bieber, on “Monster,” which had to be a career highlight for Mendes. Sometimes you might wish that the contents of the album would cover more than his love, but it is also nice to hear him break free of toxic masculinity norms and express his emotions and feelings in such a real way. He went from posting covers online to selling out stadiums, and I’m sure that after this album he is destined to reach even higher heights. // MNR Must Listens: “Dream,” “Teach Me How To Love,” “Monster” with Justin Bieber

  1. Heartbreak Weather by Niall Horan

Niall Horan experiments with new sounds on this album resulting in a nostalgic but still modern hybrid of alt-rock and sweet pop. I really try not to compare the 1D boys’ solo work to their past with One Direction, but listening to this album always reminds me of their albums FOUR and Made in the AM. The overall feeling throughout this album is warm and sweet with the piano and guitar leading the way on ballads and acoustic pop songs. // MNR Must Listens: “Black and White,” “Bend The Rules,” “Dear Patience”

  1. Never Will by Ashley McBryde

Ashley McBryde is an absolutely incredible storyteller on this album. The songs are dramatic, heartbreaking, emotional, humorous, and raw all at once. Since her debut album was released, she has been a favorite at award shows and has made a fan of the critics, and she is more than deserving of all the praise. What’s ironic, though, is that she has never asked for the praise. She could really care less if anyone liked her music because she is just going to keep being herself, and that’s why we love her. // MNR Must Listens: “Hang In There Girl,” “Martha Divine,” “One Night Standards”

  1. Lady Like by Ingrid Andress

Ingrid Andress has had one of the biggest breakouts of the last year, and she has managed to bridge a gap between country and pop that seems to appeal to just about everybody. Her songwriting is so clever and unique (she actually got her start writing for other artists like Charli XCX and Bebe Rexha). There is such a nuance to her voice, and the emotion just pours out with each note. She flips the classic love song on its head in ways we’ve never quite heard. She covers heartbreak, dating, and everything in between on this record with great results. With the standard edition having only eight songs, you’ll be left wanting more because it’s just that good. // MNR Must Listens: “More Hearts Than Mine,” “Life of the Party,” “Both”

  1. SOUTHSIDE by Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt fans had to wait quite a while between his debut and sophomore albums. His second project has been a long time coming being released gradually over the last six years. Some people differ from me, but I enjoy the fact that every song on this album is unique and has its own specific flair. He successfully combines elements of country, trap, and pop to make some catchy songs. Some songs like intro “2016” are stripped back to the bare minimum, allowing his heartfelt lyrics to shine. Other songs like “Let It Down” and “Kinfolks” rely on their kicked up production. It all results in a playlist of songs that could all be hits on their own. // MNR Must Listens: “2016,” “Sinning with You,” “Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90’s”

  1. Smile by Katy Perry

Katy Perry has had a big year both personally (having her first child, daughter Daisy) and professionally (a new album). Catchy hooks and thumping basslines take center stage on this album. She is joyous and happy finding the positive in life across this collection of songs. The instrumentals can feel redundant at times, but Katy always finds a way to put her own original spin on each track. She manages to mesh bubblegum and dark pop into a cohesive combo that works for the most part with all of the dubstep, EDM, and disco-inspired elements. // MNR Must Listens: “Champagne Problems,” “Daisies,” “Tucked,” “Teary Eyes”

  1. mama’s boy by LANY

LANY are totally transforming what you thought you knew about the classic boyband. Synth-pop takes over on mama’s boy, and the sentimental song lyrics make the album feel overwhelmingly passionate as a whole. Compared to their past albums, this one is much more uplifting, which was a nice change of pace. Having said that, though, “if this is the last time” is one of the most devastating songs I have ever heard (i cry almost every time i hear it), and I think it deserves so much more recognition. // MNR Must Listens: “if this is the last time,” “cowboy in la,” “sad”

  1. Kid Krow by Conan Gray

Conan Gray is another artist who has had such an incredible breakout year in 2020. His music rides that fine line between being emo Tik Tok anthems and catchy radio hits, and I mean that as a compliment because it can be hard to pull off both. The lyrics take you back to high school, and they put you right in the shoes of that person’s relationship to feel it from their perspective. You can hear the inspiration from Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran peeking through with the lyrics and with the stripped back production, but Conan Gray is very much his own artist. // MNR Must Listens: “Wish You Were Sober,” “Heather,” “Maniac”

  1. Tickets To My Downfall by Machine Gun Kelly

Machine Gun Kelly is the prime example of a career pivot. A few years ago he had a rising rap career, but recently he has changed gears leading him to the bursting pop-punk genre. Working with one of his heroes, Travis Barker, he has crafted an original sound that harkens back to early 2000’s Avril Lavigne and blink-182. He assembled a team of collaborators on a similar path as him to revive the pop-punk genre in Halsey, blackbear, Trippie Redd, and ian diorr. I can’t wait to see what Machine Gun Kelly does next because he seems to have found a formula with Travis Barker that really works. Combining nostalgia but sounding fresh at the same time, this album is special. // MNR Must Listens: “forget me too” ft. Halsey, “my ex’s best friend” ft. blackbear, “bloody valentine”

Honorable Mentions:
Bigger Love by John Legend
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
MAP OF THE SOUL : 7 by BTS
YHLQMDLG by Bad Bunny
Eternal Atake by Lil Uzi Vert
My Turn by Lil Baby
DISCO by Kylie Minogue
Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon by Pop Smoke
RTJ4 by Run The Jewels
ALICIA by Alicia Keys
Goldmine by Gabby Barrett
Circles by Mac Miller

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