On paper, 2013 might have been the greatest year in pop music history.
That’s on paper.
Because in reality, a lot of those albums were disappointments (Lady Gaga’s ArtPop and Jay’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, especially). In fact, when making our top albums of the year lists, we realized that nearly half of the albums came from artists who were releasing their major label debut.
So it’s either the younger acts are getting better, or the older acts are getting worse (sounds like a think piece!!!)
Continuing in our End of Year content, we present GlobalGrind’s list of the 13 Best Albums of 2013.
Check it out below.
13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
It was a pretty eventful year for Justin Timberlake. After taking seven years off to do other things (like act and golf) Timberlake came back to the pop music scene with two new albums, The 20/20 Experience and its sequel, The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2. That second JT album was a dud — although it sold a fair amount of records — but there was some real magic on the first album. For The 20/20 Experience, Justin hooked up with Timbaland again (they crafted the masterpiece FutureSex/LoveSounds together) to create 10 dense pop songs. Each song is epic; there is no track shorter than four minutes on the album and the songs are constantly moving, so one 20/20 Experience song really should count as three regular pop songs.
It’s only right, though: if you’re gonna be gone for nearly a decade, you better come back with something epic.
12. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Rock music had another not-so-great kinda year. At least they still have Arcade Fire, a group who just keeps on pushing themselves and their genre. The group’s fourth and possibly best album, Reflektor, is a beast — it’s nearly 80 minutes of arena-ready rock music. But what makes it stand out is the live quality of it: you don’t feel like you’re listening to an album, but like you’re watching a huge rock band just kill their stage show.
11. Haim – Days Are Gone
We guarantee, there’s no 2013-album more fun than Days Are Gone, the debut album from the trio of Haim sisters, Alana, Danielle and Este. The three created an album so fun and light, it could pass you by. You should all be pretty familiar with the singles, like “The Wire,” “Forever” and “Falling” — all incredibly catchy pop-soft rock songs. But, listen to the album and realize this: EVERY SONG IS CATCHY LIKE THOSE TRACKS. Haim’s people could have literally just played eeny, meeny, miny, mo when picking out singles. In fact, that’s probably what they did.
10. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly
Old is new again. Well, not when it comes to pop music. Most Z100-ready hit records are riding that electronic-wave, which is why someone like Ariana Grande is so refreshing. The ex-child star’s debut, Yours Truly, is a wonderful album, one that throws back to the soulful ’90s sound. It was a time where your voice had to carry the track and Ariana proves she has the chops. (If you need proof, just head to “Piano”).
Highlight: “Honeymoon Avenue”
9. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Lorde is the Grumpy Cat of pop music. In her debut album, Pure Heroine, the 17-year-old singer makes songs about her dislike of all the perks of pop culture stardom: the glitz and glamour. For Lorde it’s about the music, and making an album a bored, teenage outsider would make. There’s been comparison to Lana Del Rey, and you can kinda see it with the voice, but that’s it. Lana’s album, Born to Die, was an expensive-sounding, majestic project, while Pure Heroine sees Lorde keeping the music basic. And moody.
Highlight: “Tennis Court”
8. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Earlier in the year, Tyler, the Creator dropped his third album, Wolf. It’s very good, yet more or less forgotten because of Doris: the official debut album from Odd Future’s second-in-command Earl Sweatshirt. Doris might be the most personal rap album of the year: over 15-moody MF Doom-inspired tracks. Earl drops story after story about his various personal struggles, like growing up without a father, losing his grandmother and adjusting to his new stardom.
7. Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown became a hipster sensation after dropping his debut album XXX, a mostly fun, drugged up record dedicated to getting fellatio. So how did he become one of rap’s most promising gangsta rappers? He dropped Old, one of the hardest rap albums of 2013. The premise of Old is simple: it’s supposed to detail Danny’s transition from an East Coast-inspired underground favorite to the eccentric, shrieking rapper he would become on XXX. So half of the album features Brown rapping drug-dealing raps over hard boom bap, while during the second portion, Danny speeds his voice up and starts spitting over dark EDM beats. The first half is better than the second, but that doesn’t mean the whole album doesn’t deserve a listen.
Highlight: “Side A [Old]”
6. Miley Cyrus – Bangerz
Miley Cyrus was the biggest pop act of 2013. And when the story is told, it will be Miley’s various antics that will get probably get mentioned first. But let’s not forget that she dropped an impressive album, Bangerz, in 2013, one that shows off the various sides of Miley. The singer is one of the more complicated pop stars we have, and her music displays this. The strongest songs on the album are the ones that give you mixed emotions: “We Can’t Stop” is a party anthem, yet Miley sings the track like she doesn’t want to be there. “Adore You” is supposed to be a love ballad, but the music is so downbeat you wonder if it’s a breakup record. Don’t let the antics fool you, there’s some real depth to Miley.
Highlight: “Adore You”
5. Katy Perry – Prism
Honestly, Miley and Katy Perry’s albums are interchangeable here. But, we’re giving Katy the slight edge because — unlike Miley’s Bangerz — there’s no rough patches on her album, just dull ones.
Also, there’s “Roar:” one of the most perfect pop songs of the modern era. The song is exactly how we like to hear Katy: super sunny. The songs that work the best on Prism are the ones where she’s at her cheeriest and where the subject matter has the depth of cotton candy (songs like “Birthday” and “Walking on Air” come to mind). The dull songs occur when she touches on heavier themes, like God. But that doesn’t come until the end of the record. Just let those first nine records rock and have a good ol’ time.
4. Pusha T – My Name is My Name
You have to admire Pusha T’s dedication to gangsta rap: He’s been in the rap game for more than a decade and has never switched it up once. In My Name is My Name, his first official solo album, Pusha’s rhymes are as raw as they were on Clipse albums like Lord Willin‘ or Hell Hath No Fury. What’s different here is the music: Kanye West executive produced the album, so the influence of Graduation (“No Regrets”) and 808s and Heartbreaks (“Hold On”) are all over this record. My Name is My Name is so rough, yet so smooth.
Highlight: “Who I Am” Featuring 2 Chainz & Big Sean
3. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Drake has a rep for being a tender, emotional soul. And he was still getting hit with those labels even after he dropped Nothing Was The Same, which is strange because it’s his toughest album to date. If Drake is the modern day LL Cool J, then this album is his Mama Said Knock You Out moment. The rapper is talking tough on this one (“Worst Behavior” and “All Me”) while enjoying life (“The Language”). Special props need to be sent to Noah “40” Shebib, who crafted the Toronto-sound featured on this album: cold and bare.
Highlight: “Tuscan Leather”
The first song on Beyoncé, the singer’s self-titled fifth album, is “Pretty Hurts.” The song is fine, one about inner beauty. It sounds like a Beyonce record that would have been found on 4, her last album. Truthfully, if Bey would have given us 15 of those tracks, this new album would have been a disappointment. That’s why it’s exciting when, on the next song, “Haunted,” she proclaims “all the shit I do is boring” and she spends the next 13 songs making some of the sexiest, riskiest music of her career. The album is an instant classic, one that gets amplified by the fact that she dropped the album on a random Friday morning, without any promotion.
What a boss.
1. Kanye West – Yeezus
Before the Beyoncé bomb hit, Kanye West’s Yeezus was the clear pick for album of the year. The race tightened, but at the end of the day we had to give it to Yeezus, who held us down for six months.
Kanye blessed us with 2031 rap in 2013. The musical influences on Yeezus are vast — everything from EDM to reggae can be heard here — but this is very much a rap album. In fact, despite the futuristic sounds, it was built like an early ’90s classic Ice Cube album: it’s rude, loud, course, misogynist and political.
Highlight: “New Slaves”