2020 may have been a terrible year for humanity as a whole — but it surely did not lack good music. Even during a pandemic, the world’s most gifted artists were able to display talent and innovation through excellent bodies of work, constantly raising the bar in the industry. Before moving on to the sounds and lyrics that 2021 will bring, Affinity Magazine’s staff was polled to find out which albums the team enjoyed the most.
Without further ado, here are the 15 albums that the team at Affinity picked as their favorites of the past year, in no order in particular — along with reviews from some of the writers who hold them closest to their hearts.
Taylor Swift – Folklore (July 24)
Folklore by Taylor Swift is the album that fulfills all of our cottagecore dreams. The sound is unlike any of her other seven studio albums, with soft acoustic sounds that make you want to escape to a cabin in the woods. With themes of first love and nostalgia, as well as the narrative of a fictitious love triangle, Swift proves once again that there is nothing she can’t do.
Read the full review by Shivani Dubey.
Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour (June 12)
The Bailey sisters did not come to play with their sophomore album Ungodly Hour. From dishing the tea on unsolicited dick pics, situationships, being the other woman and everything in between —this album truly showcased their talent and range. This pop-R&B mixture of a project is very different from their debut. Ungodly Hour is sexy and grown, and makes you feel like the baddest b*tch when you walk into any room with hits like “Do It”. Several tracks carry a sexy striking aplomb that instantly makes you feel like a 10. Chloe x Halle definitely did not disappoint with this amazing album and served us sultry, empowered realness.
Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher (June 18)
In what can only be described as a spectral symphony, Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher is a masterclass in emotion. The second studio album by the singer-songwriter transcends all expectations of what an album should be: it’s a masterpiece, clad in specificity and relatability. Bridgers’ voice, like a siren’s, calls to the listener with every track. She sings an ode to those quiet moments, the feeling of life falling apart, and the meaning to be derived from it. “Either way, we’re not alone/I’ll find a new place to be from” she sings in “I Know the End,” the album’s closing track. In it, she nails the feeling of abandoning places and periods in life, broadening by the end of the track—and the album—to endings in the abstract. Punisher lives in the elusiveness of life; the universal patterns we fall into, our habits and desperateness, and sometimes, hope.
Bridgers’ honesty and intimacy with the human condition are why she’s garnered so much acclaim, and Punisher utilizes that momentum deftly. Ultimately, it is Bridgers’ autobiographical lyrics and precise storytelling, delivered with phantom-light vocals, that truly make Punisher an album worth listening to, again and again.
The Weeknd – After Hours (March 20)
I have two words for you – Blinding Lights. I mean, do I need to say more? I have three more words for you – He. Was. Snubbed. The Grammys did this album dirty when it was easily some of The Weeknd’s best work till date. This album is Abel returning to his old era of music that is a favorite among fans — it has the formula of the old, mixed with the magic of the new, and boy does it make a beautiful compilation of songs for the world to listen to.
This artist has consistently delivered hit after hit, and with After Hours, he took it to a whole new level. Low-lit warehouse tunes, that swaying R&B he is known to have mastered, those lyrics that hit you right where they’re supposed to, and his commitment to a character and storyline just to make it all come alive. Abel truly outdid himself with this album, and it is truly disheartening to see it not get the accolades it deserves. But hey, it’s gonna make lots of year-end lists this year, so that’s a win on its own.
Read the full review by Nadia Z.
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia (March 27)
I think we can all agree that the women of the music industry were serving both visuals and talent with their releases in 2020. The year started out amazing with the pop perfection that is
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa, which was met with critical acclaim, social media buzz, and streaming success. The album is heavily disco-pop inspired, which made it stand out very early on in the year. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her album really set the bar for good music this year, and that the five Grammys that it is nominated for are well-deserved.
Future Nostalgia carried themes of obsessive love, girl power and freedom while maintaining a fun and upbeat sound with incredible production and lovely vocals. Like the visuals that accompanied the album’s release, Future Nostalgia was glitzy, sexy and well, nostalgic. It came at a time where fun and effortless music was needed. While at home, it was easy to just close my eyes and picture myself strutting down a runway, or reminisce about a night out with my friends. It did not only combine the music of our parents with the sounds of today to create an innovative album, but it also reminded us of the good times while looking towards the future. From the 80’s-inspired groovy title track to the sentimental and inspiring song that is “Boys Will Be Boys”, Future Nostalgia is a timeless and cohesive album that has cemented itself as one of the best albums released in 2020.
Read the full review by Dafny Flores.
Halsey — Manic (January 17)
Halsey falls nothing short of vivid, brilliant and painfully vulnerable with her third studio album, Manic. The alt-pop princess turned Renaissance woman takes listeners on a journey through her own personal, unpredictable manic phases, describing both the highs and lows she finds herself falling into. From tumultuous relationships to wholesome love; from utter hatred to blind infatuation; from hopes for fertility to playfully deviant tracks — Manic captures the full scope of the chaotic phase. Halsey’s emotions are raw as she presents her trauma from past relationships to the world on “You Should Be Sad,” shocking many with her candor, but even more so on “929,” as she describes her unsteady, ever-changing relationship with herself and others. Beyond lyricism, its sound is unique and undeniably catchy, with outstanding production from Benny Blanco and FINNEAS, among many other talents. Manic is one of her most personal works, and ultimately, it secured its spot as one of the top albums of 2020.
Tame Impala — The Slow Rush (February 14)
Kevin Parker’s latest release had fans and new listeners transported into a world of psychedelic funk. The groove on this album is unreal, with synths, percussion and effects straight from a disco floor. Songs like “Is It True” and “Glimmer” have everyone bopping along time and time again. Parker also uses the same musical techniques combined with his airy and distorted vocals to create songs that take the listener floating in the clouds. Nothing beats the mellow vibes of “Posthumous Forgiveness” or “Instant Destiny”! The Slow Rush is full of eclectic energy and reflective lyrics, making all 12 songs a musical journey. It’s perfecting for escaping lockdown boredom, making it one of Affinity’s top albums.
Conan Gray — Kid Krow (March 20)
Conan Gray became one of the biggest breakout stars of 2020, taking over airwaves and TikTok. The catalyst for this success was his hit album Kid Krow, which is full of popular tracks and Taylor Swift approved singles. The debut album is a combination of synth and indie pop, full of sentimental moments and more danceable hits. Its production is more polished than in Conan’s EP and self-released music while the songwriting is not as emotionally heavy as in some of his previous works, though songwriting is a key part of his identity. Kid Krow is the work of a maturing artist who has already accomplished great things with their craft.
Read the full review by Helen Ehrlich.
Megan Thee Stallion — Good News (November 20)
Megan Thee Stallion’s debut album was highly-expected by everyone. A lot was discussed about who the guests would be, how much sonic diversity there would be, and if it would meet the expectations of one of the most populars rappers of the industry — even so, the result was brilliant. Good News is arguably Megan’s best work since her mixtape Tina Snow. The mix of rawness, addictive hooks, tons of personality and collaborations that work perfectly in a concept of optimism true to Megan’s character along and all the hardships and success she has experienced in the past few years make this album one of the best of 2020. It is, ultimately, an ode to her talent and the ‘it’ factor that makes her stand out.
Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts (November 27)
In the year of revived disco and oldies, Miley Cyrus found a renewed persona through rock ‘n’ roll. Cyrus’ seventh studio album, Plastic Hearts, reimagined 70’s glam rock in the modern age. Her heavy vocals against guitar riffs in “WTF Do I Know” are a match made in heaven. Lead single “Midnight Sky” and the title track resurface synth pop of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Nostalgic to her roots, “Angels Like You” and “High” rely on the strings of an acoustic guitar and her vocals to deliver a ballad-like melody. Plastics Hearts is Miley Cyrus’ best work to date — she shows growth as an artist and person in a versatile way.
BLACKPINK — The Album (October 2)
Four years post-debut, one year after cementing their breakthrough into the U.S. market and who-knows-how-long after fans began to flood their Instagram comments with “we want the album”, BLACKPINK finally gave Blinks what they’d been waiting for in October. The Album is short but packs a punch, with title track “Lovesick Girls” sounding like something out of an idyllic indie film. Each song has its own personality – especially the ones featuring Selena Gomez and Cardi B – but remains distinctly BLACKPINK, radiating the kind of confidence that the group is known for. From bold pre-release “How You Like That” to English track “Love to Hate Me”, the girls are making it clear that they’re here to stay, and we’re ready to see what 2021 has in store for them.
The 1975 — Notes on a Conditional Form (May 22)
Aminé is one of the largest names in rap at the moment, since soaring into the spotlight with his 2017 debut album. Limbo, the third album from the artist, takes on a darker sound and the presence of more emotional tracks while maintaining the playfulness that makes Aminé’s music what it is. Including major features and hit singles, Aminé continues to innovate production while maintaining his witty lyrics and easily identifiable flow.
Lady Gaga — Chromatica (May 29)
7 years had passed since the last fully-pop album presented by Lady Gaga, one of the leading voices in the history of the genre. In this context came Chromatica, her most personal project to date. This album, in words of the artist herself, is a reclaiming of the dance floor that she set up to revolutionize music back in 2008. However, while the production of this album is exultant from beginning to end, the lyrical content is cathartic and more humane than ever. While it’s true that this is due to the protagonist’s personal experiences, it works as a remedy for the public during the baffling reality we’re living in: a message of optimism that doesn’t reject the adversity behind it. It’s the introspection with a theatrical and outlandish twist through a sonic atmosphere that only Lady Gaga can pull off that make this one of the best albums of 2020.
Featured Image Credits: Republic/1501/300/Parkwood/Columbia/Dead Oceans/Warner