The 10 Best Pop Albums Of 2022

The 10 Best Pop Albums Of 2022

As a music writer, I don’t actually sit around much comparing current years to previous years — I don’t even do that very much in life. I’m more interested in looking ahead to whatever is coming next. So when I do look back, it’s mostly just to savor standout songs and/or albums that came out X number of years ago, and there are always plenty of those, regardless of whether they came out last year or 30 years ago. This is just my long-winded way of saying that I love every year’s music output equally. That said: 2022 unleashed some damn good pop albums.

In whittling this list down to just 10 pop records, I tried to stay as honest with myself as possible. Yes, Taylor Swift’s Midnights might be the pop titan’s biggest success to date, but I think those record-breaking numbers more signify a cumulative effect — 15+ years of extreme fame, social-media marketing prowess, a long-awaited return to the touring stage, etc — rather than a truly quality album. In short, I thought Midnights was neither great nor bad; it’s just fine. Great TikTok fodder, though.

I felt similarly about Lizzo’s Special, so I opted not to include it. Instead, I’ve listed out some pop albums that I thought were exceptionally groundbreaking around the performer’s artistic growth, risks taken, and overall quality of hooks. Below, I present to you my top 10 pop albums of 2022 (followed by my monthly roundup of noteworthy new pop tracks).


Charli XCX - Crash (Atlantic / Asylum Records)

I’ve been a Charli XCX fan since she was covering Backstreet Boys songs in Chicago dance-music stores, and it’s been fascinating — and at times frustrating — to watch someone so obviously gifted at writing monster hooks struggle to find the industry respect she so badly deserves. On that note, Crash marked a triumph on multiple levels for Charli. As the final album in a five-record, 13-year deal with her label, Atlantic, Crash is likely the best work she’s ever produced, stuffed with unforgettable power-pop bops, talented guests (Christine And The Queens, Caroline Polachek, and Rina Sawayama), and equally accomplished producers (P.C. Music’s ​​A.G. Cook and Ariel Rechtshaid, just to name a couple). Meanwhile, after years spent figuring out how best to express her pop personality, Charli uses Crash as a vehicle to deconstruct the very notion of being in her profession. Often torn between edge and gloss, on Crash Charli figures, why not both?


Avril Lavigne - Love Sux (DTA Records)

I’m old enough to remember how, if you liked “legit” punk such as Minor Threat, Operation Ivy, NoFX, Green Day, and the Clash, also liking Avril Lavigne in 2002 was deemed downright sacrilegious. As a die-hard pop-punk kid, I had no companions in my underground I Like Avril Lavigne bunker, so I listened to Let Go more or less entirely in secret. Twenty years later, I’m thrilled that we can all come right out and say that Avril Lavigne rules (today and in 2002), and her ostensible return-to-pop-punk album, Love Sux, does as well. After leaning harder into balladry, particularly on 2019’s Head Above Water, the 12-song Love Sux ironically goes way harder than any of Lavigne’s Y2K work, which was primarily a collection of angst-heavy ballads. It also loops in a handful of pop-minded collaborators (Machine Gun Kelly, blackbear, Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker) to create a nonstop collection of tracks brimming with shit-kicking attitude, aching vulnerability (non-single “Dare To Love Me” remains wildly underrated and one of the best Lavigne songs ever), and instant classic lyrical gems (“Should’ve known better-better to fuck with someone like me/ Forever and ever you’re gonna wish I was your wifey”).


Harry Styles - Harry's House (Columbia)

For Harry Styles, one of the most famous people in the world, a lot is not, er, as it was when he released Harry’s House in May. The Don’t Worry Darling gossip machine sent him through PR hell and back, and the central relationship on Harry’s House with one Olivia Wilde has gone kaput. However, none of the aforementioned hullabaloo should distract from the fact that Harry’s House was built to last. Channeling lush indie-folk, Prince, and early ’80s yacht rock figures like Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Roxy Music, Styles’ third album is a textural pop wonderland packed with decadent and hedonistic scenarios, whether they be sexual or culinary or both.


MUNA - MUNA (Saddest Factory Records)

MUNA were already on the road to stardom pre-MUNA, but ironically signing to an indie — Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records — is what got Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson across the pop-fame finish line. Like its predecessors, MUNA is a hook-heavy joyride, with tracks about self-acceptance (“Handle Me”), setting intentions (“What I Want”), and same-sex first kisses (“Silk Chiffon”). On MUNA, the SoCal trio have never sounded more liberated or joyful, and I hope they’ll ride that wave for as long as possible.


The Weeknd - Dawn FM (XO/Republic)

I admit, I’d barely gotten “Blinding Lights” out of my head and off my TikTok feed by the time Dawn FM dropped. Even though it dropped less than two years after After Hours, Dawn FM is yet another reminder of why the Weekend is deservedly prolific. Abel Tesfaye has artistic vision for days, and he absolutely justifies Dawn FM‘s existence by turning it framing it as a purgatorial next chapter. Where After Hours found its home in dark corners, overindulgence, self-loathing, and piercing regret, here Tesfaye imagines himself dead, in a holding pattern but heading toward the light. This liminal state is narrated by a radio DJ (voiced by Jim Carrey) and soundtracked by synth-filled darkwave and ’80s pop in the vein of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and Thriller-era Michael Jackson. It’s not only one of the catchiest Weeknd albums to date, but it’s one of the catchiest pop albums I’ve ever heard, period.


Anitta - Versions Of Me (Warner)

Anitta has been rolling out albums for almost a decade, but the Brazilian pop powerhouse broke new cultural barriers on her ambitious fifth record, Versions Of Me. The trilingual collection achieved this in a few ways: nabbing OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder to executive produce; gathering up guest spots from Saweetie, Ty Dolla $ign, Cardi B, and Khalid; and diving headlong into multiple interpretations of pop, from reggaetón (“Envolver,” “Ur Baby,” “Gata”) to Panic! At The Disco-minded power pop (“Boys Don’t Cry”) and beyond. The versions of Anitta are many, and we’re beyond fortunate to have each and every one of them.


Tove Lo - Dirt Femme (Pretty Swede Records)

Like MUNA, Swedish pop expert Tove Lo was well served by going indie this year. After fulfilling her contract at longtime home of Island/Polydor, Tove unleashed Dirt Femme independently, and you can practically hear the major-label chains snapping off. Not only is Dirt Femme brimming with dark-pop and club-ready gems, it allows a longtime feminist thinker like Tove to thematically stretch out, with observations on marriage and monogamy and questions about suburbia and childbearing. With guest spots from First Aid Kit, SG Lewis, and Channel Tres, Dirt Femme is the best Tove Lo album since her 2014 smash debut, Queen Of The Clouds, and portends exciting things for the singer now that she’s the one in control.


Rosalía - MOTOMAMI (Columbia)

Rosalía was already a wildly successful global star well before MOTOMAMI hit, but the Spanish pop titan practically went supernova on the strength of her volcanic third album. Ostensibly about growth and contradiction — “Moto” implies strength and divinity, while “Mami” has to do with vulnerability — MOTOMAMI finds Rosalía singing of transformation (“SAOKO”), fame and many its downsides, inner strength and all-consuming love/lust. Meanwhile, MOTOMAMI spills over with Rosalía’s many stylistic influences, from her flamenco roots to reggaeton to hip-hop, art pop, and electronic. People tend to chafe against change, but MOTOMAMI makes the strongest possible case for evolution.


Bad Bunny - Un Verano Sin Ti (RIMAS ENTERTAINMENT)

In the just-wrapped season 2 of White Lotus, a wealthily ignorant (and white) couple attempt to knowingly comment on Puerto Rico when their traveling companion (played by Aubrey Plaza) says she has family there. All they can really come up with is that the island has “never really been on our radar” in terms of travel and leisure. I’m betting Mike White’s characters have not heard of Bad Bunny either, and all I can say is: their loss. Bad Bunny had the biggest hit of his considerable career with Un Verano Sin Ti, which revels in Puerto Rican pride and comments on its colonial status. Un Verano Sin Ti also knows no borders, having been partially recorded in the Dominican Republic and sonically drawing from reggaeton, reggae, cumbia, Caribbean (bomba, mambo, bachata), dancehall, dance-pop, and techno. On its face, Un Verano Sin Ti is a sun-baked beach album, but because it’s Bad Bunny, it’s also so much more.


Beyoncé - Renaissance (Parkwood Entertainment)

For decades, Beyoncé has built a bulletproof career out of masterful, instant-classic hooks, genre-fluid pop artistry, and a pitch-perfect delivery. To imply that someone or something is “Beyoncé” basically means that they — or it — is without fault. A more underrated quality of Beyoncé’s, though, is her ability to read the room, and hoo boy did she do just that on Renaissance. It doesn’t just belong in the club, it is the club. Beyoncé saw a society’s collective exhaustion around the pandemic, work that pays too little and requires too much, and said, here, we’re gonna shake this out. The resulting catharsis is pure dancefloor nirvana.

POP 10

Metro Boomin – “Creepin'” (Feat. The Weeknd & 21 Savage)
A Weeknd feature is what every pop performer wants for Christmas, all year round. This one sure doesn’t disappoint — I love the way “Creepin'” goes from sensitive and smokey to tough and rhythmic, particularly once 21’s verse comes in.

PinkPanthress – “Boy’s a liar”
Equal parts thudding and playful, “Boy’s a liar” has PinkPanthress calling someone out for being untrustworthy amid cascading beeps and boops. It actually reminds me of something the PC Music machine would’ve produced in 2014, Hannah Diamond’s “Every Night” in particular.

Ava Max – “Weapons”
OK, technically this dropped a couple of days before November’s pop column ran, but I somehow missed it and here we are. Anyway, “Weapons” warrants a better-late-than-never mention in part due to its fist-pumping chant of “Stop! …Using your words as weapons” and darkpop ’80s synths.

Roddy Ricch – “Twin” (Feat. Lil Durk)
Any song called “Twin” that references Tia and Tamera Mowry right out of the gate is worth a spot on this list, IMO.

Ellise – “Did It Hurt?”
“Did It Hurt” owes a major debt to Billie Eilish circa “You Should See Me In A Crown” (or really any other single from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?), but I like what Ellise does with it. Unlike 2019-era Eillish, whose songs leaned more into the mental-health space, “Did It Hurt” is more overtly sexual, but in the toxic, so-bad-that-it’s-good sense. “Did It Hurt” sounds ready to soundtrack an episode of Euphoria.

Katie Gregson-MacLeod – “white lies”
Don’t sleep on Katie Gregson-MacLeod, the melancholic singer/songwriter from Inverness, aka the Scottish Highlands. “White lies” is a stunning piano ballad delivered with complete vulnerability and heavenly vocals.

PNAU & Troye Sivan – “You Know What I Need”
It’s a tall order, following up a collaboration with Dua Lipa and Elton John, but the Australian synth-pop trio PNAU are up for the challenge. The sparkling club jam “You Know What I Need” sounds warm, exciting, and inviting with Troye Sivan on vocals, and their collective disco acid trip is only intensified by the song’s accompanying AI-fueled video.

Reneé Rapp – “Too Well”
If any of you are watching the wholly underrated HBO Max comedy Sex Lives Of College Girls, you’ll recognize Reneé Rapp, who plays a preppy one-percenter coming to terms with identifying as gay. Coming from a fiscally conservative family, Rapp’s character is generally pretty uptight and initially struggles to accept her sexuality, so it’s fun to see the actor — who is also a pop singer — pivoting to a more carefree, openly emotional place. “Too Well” is also a total bop.

J. Maya – “Three Specters”
I’m excited to see what the next year brings for J. Maya — an Indian-American pop singer who is also a self-proclaimed poetry nerd and is really, really active on #BookTok. Maya’s latest song “Three Specters” is a stripped-down acoustic ballad that is giving Elliott Smith and Madison Beer.

Saucy Santana – “bop bop”
“It’s just me! Bop bop!” I don’t know what it means, but I trust Saucy Santana to make this a top-10 TikTok sound before Christmas.


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