The 30 best albums of 2021
16 December 2021, 18:16 | Updated: 17 December 2021, 11:10
Our favourite projects from the last year, including the likes of Halsey, Adele and Arlo Parks.
With 2021 now drawing to a close, PopBuzz have selected the best albums of the year and ranked them in a definitive order. Only our list matters. Every other list is null and void. Sorry about it.
2021 has been a brilliant year for music. Over the course of the past 12 months, rising stars like Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X have dominated the charts with their debut albums, artists like Halsey and Billie Eilish have released career-best projects, and icons like Adele and Jazmine Sullivan have returned after extensive breaks.
When it comes to ranking albums, we have a couple of house rules. EPs and mixtapes are all allowed as long as they are at least 7 tracks long. However, Greatest Hits and re-recorded albums cannot be included. Rest assured that Little Mix and Taylor Swift would both rank very highly on this list if they were eligible.
With all of that explained, *Saweetie voice* let's go!
READ MORE: The 50 best songs of 2021
30) Girl in Red - if i could make it go quiet
Delivering on all the hype, Girl In Red’s debut album goes beyond what fans might have expected. After initially making bedroom-pop tracks with a DIY charm, Girl In Red 2.0 appeared kicking and screaming on if i could make it go quiet. Stadium-ready tracks like 'Serotonin' and 'You Stupid Bitch' are brimming with confidence and ambition. And you know what? We absolutely have to stan. - Woodrow Whyte
Standout Track: 'You Stupid Bitch'
29) Hayley Williams - FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
After surprising fans with her first solo album Petals for Armor in 2020, it turned out that Hayley Williams had even more surprises for us in 2021. Quietly announcing FLOWERS for VASES / descansos in February, Hayley switched things up and tried on a sparse folk sound that gives her storytelling and voice even more room to breath. Hayley wrote and performed all of the music on the album herself – a career first - making it her most personal record to date and it’s a beautiful listen from start to finish. - WW
Standout Track: 'My Limb'
28) Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Can you believe Lana Del Rey has released eight studio albums in just nine years? What’s more impressive is that the quality continues to be impressively high. Just take ‘White Dress’, the opening track on Chemtrails Over the Country Club (the first of two albums she released in 2021); it's a sprawling masterpiece that easily ranks as one of her best songs to date. Whilst there isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking or new on Chemtrails, it does prove that no can do it like Lana can. - WW
Standout Track: 'White Dress'
27) Gracie Abrams - This Is What It Feels Like
This Is What It Feels Like is an absolutely stellar follow up to Gracie Abrams’ 2020 debut EP minor. From the upbeat and infectious ‘The Bottom’, to the stunning Aaron Dessner-produced ‘Rockland’ (a track which Taylor Swift also fell in love with earlier this year), Gracie delivers a gorgeous 12-track project that I already know is gonna end up somewhere on my Spotify 2022 Wrapped most played. And if she’s not on yours, then you’re simply doing it wrong. - Katie Louise Smith
Standout Track: 'The Bottom'
26) Fred again.. - Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)
Fred Again’s solo music can be very earnest and sincere. So much so on first listen I found it a little bit uncomfortable. But perhaps that’s what you get with an artist who's not afraid of exploring very raw emotions. As the title suggests, Actual Life is a collection of tracks between April - December 2020 which act like photographs of the time and place that Fred found himself at the time, using sounds mostly recorded on his phone. The album is a beautiful and unique dance record which slowly reveals its secrets over repeated listens.
Standout Track: 'Julia (Deep Diving)'
25) Aminé - TWOPOINTFIVE
Aminé’s latest not-quite-an-album-not-quite-an-EP, is a jolt of sonic sunshine, with introspective lyrics slithering over playful beats and experimental production choices. Coupled with vocal cameos from hilarious social media icon Rickey Thompson, and his genre-pushing self-directed music video for lead single ‘Charmander’, TWOPOINTFIVE gives the impression that Aminé is having the most fun he’s had yet. - Emily Beard
Standout Track: 'YiPiYaY'
24) Madison Beer - Life Support
Madison Beer has long been one to watch and her debut album Life Support proves why. From strikingly raw ballads like 'Selfish' to 11/10 bops like 'Baby', it's impossible not to find something to love on Life Support. Not to mention, the project acts as the perfect vessel for Madison's emotional intelligence and dark sense of humour. Who else could release songs like 'Blue', 'Homesick' and 'Sour Times'? A remarkable talent who's only just scratched the surface of what she's capable of. - Sam Prance
Standout Track - 'Blue'
23) Selena Gomez - Revelacíon
Selena Gomez has one of the most hypnotic voices in pop and Revelacíon showcases it perfectly. The Spanish language EP opens with 'De Una Vez', a striking mid-tempo ballad about healing and finding strength after heartbreak. Selena then lets loose and flirts on songs like 'Baila Conmigo' and 'Dámelo To', before getting in over her head on 'Vicio' and bidding a lover goodbye on 'Adiós'. At just seven tracks long, Revelacíon is Selena's shortest project to date but not a single second of it is wasted. - SP
Standout Track - 'Vicio'
22) Lokoy - Badminton
Badminton is one of the most inventive and original pop albums of the year. Period. From Norway, the Sløtface bassist turned producer, Lasse Lokoy, brings together an eclectic mix of musicians and artists to create a vibrant, unpredictable and catchy collection of alt-pop songs. Badminton came out 11 months ago and I’ve not tired of listening to it since (yes I'm in the 0.05% of fans on Spotify and I have no shame about that!) - WW
Standout Track - 'Both Eyes (feat. Safario)'
21) chloe moriondo - Blood Bunny
I’m going to start with an admission: I slept on Chloe Moriondo for far too long. I am a fool. The important thing is that I’m here now and all aboard the Moriondo express. Having ditched the ukulele for a heavier rock sound for her second album, Blood Bunny, Chloe treads familiar ground musically - fans of Soccer Mommy, Avril Lavigne and Phoebe Bridgers will find a lot to love here - but Chloe stands out in a crowded field thanks to the depth and humour of her lyricism. Blood Bunny is a sign of great things to come. - WW
Standout Track: 'I Eat Boys'
20) serpentwithfeet - DEACON
Serpentwithfeet has an incredible knack for capturing how magical and transformative true love can be. DEACON is an ode to queer, Black love and every song is dripping with tenderness. 'Same Size Shoe' details the joy of finding a soulmate, 'Heart Storm' sees serpentwithfeet team up with NAO for a dose of magical realism and 'Fellowship' is potentially the best song about friendship ever. A real gem of an album. - SP
Standout Track: 'Heart Storm (feat. NAO'
19) Maggie Lindemann - PARANOIA
In a time where the pop-rock sound revival is often seen as a trend, Maggie Lindemann’s PARANOIA feels genuine and sincere. It gives us everything we loved about the 00s sound and movement, with her own fresh take and unique point of view. PARANOIA can have you deep in your feels (see ‘Loner’), screaming at the top of your lungs (see ‘Gaslight’) and hitting the loop song button on Spotify (see ‘Knife Under My Pillow’), all accompanied by catchy guitars and vocal hooks. - EB
Standout Track: 'Scissorhands'
18) Kacey Musgraves - star-crossed
A Romeo and Juliet-inspired “tragedy in three parts”, Kacey Musgraves pours her inner thoughts, feelings, emotions, vulnerabilities and grief about her real-life divorce into every aspect of star-crossed. Starting with a stunning prologue, the record guides us through the stages of the breakdown of her marriage and ends with a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. Star-crossed’s narrative is far from the dreamy heights of 2018’s Golden Hour, but it’s just as brilliant. It does exactly what it came to do, and it gets better with every listen. – KLS
Standout Track: 'breadwinner'
17) Ashnikko - DEMIDEVIL
The challenge for Ashnikko on their debut album (or “mixtape” if you must) was how to take the success of huge viral tracks like ‘Daisy’ and ‘Slumber Party’ and put them into a coherent and consistent full length. It’s a nice problem to have in a way - better to have multiple viral songs than none! - and thankfully DEMIDEVIL doesn’t disappoint. Catchy as hell, packed with attitude and banging production, this album hits hard when it needs to and has some pretty funny moments too (‘Clitoris! The Musical’ is truly an inspired piece of art). - WW
Stand out track: 'Deal With It (feat. Kelis)'
16) Summer Walker - Still Over It
If you've followed Summer Walker's relationship dramas with her ex London On Da Track, you'll know that her love life has been nothing but chaos. Luckily, Summer put her woes into her music and Still Over It is the perfect soundtrack to a breakup. From the incredibly raw 'Insane' that had the TikTok gals revealing the stupidest things they've ever done for a partner while dangerously in love, to 'Bitter' featuring some words of encouragement from none other Cardi B, Summer has blessed us with the perfect modern R&B album. Not to mention, we finally got to hear Ciara's highly-requested prayer. - Jazmin Duribe
Standout Track: '4th Baby Mama'
15) Laura Mvula - Pink Noise
Laura Mvula is finally back, baby! And better than ever. Pink Noise is, as Laura puts it, the album she "always wanted to make”, and it’s one I never want to stop listening to. From the flawless trio of singles (‘Safe Passage’, ‘Church Girl’, ‘Got Me’) to everything in between, the ‘80s vibes on this record are perfection, at times evoking the sounds of Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston, to name a few. The influences are clear but rest assured, this is all Laura Mvula – and I can’t wait to hear more. Get me on that Pink Noise dance floor now! – KLS
Standout Track: 'Got Me'
14) Tinashe - 333
How do you follow up a career-defining project like Songs for You? In Tinashe's case, you simply create another excellent album. Much like its predecessor, 333 demonstrates that Tinashe is best left outside of label constraints and free to explore her artistry on her own terms. Whether she's serving next-level bops like 'Bouncin'' or giving us experimental R&B moments like 'Angels', Tinashe's pen is unmatched and 333 is a testament to exactly how talented she is. - Sam Prance
Standout Track: 'X (feat. Jeremih)'
13) Jorja Smith - Be Right Back
Jorja described Be Right Back as a "waiting room" in preparation for her upcoming second studio album and if that’s the case then we’re in for a real treat next year. Stunning vocals, beautiful arrangements, and plain old great songwriting have made this our go-to ‘in our feelings whilst also having a main character moment’ record of 2021. - WW
Standout Track: 'Addicted'
12) Megan Thee Stallion - Something for Thee Hotties
Something for Thee Hotties sees Megan Thee Stallion return to her roots. It's not so much an album as it is a collection of iconic freestyles that we've wanted Megan to officially release forever. Plus there's also an extra couple of previously unreleased treats thrown in for good measure. Megan sticks to her fool-proof recipe of confident, sassy and sex-positive lyrics and it all goes off. This is truly a project for the day one hotties. – JD
Standout Track: 'Eat It'
11) WILLOW - lately I feel EVERYTHING
Pop punk is officially back and no one is doing it better than WILLOW. On 'Transparent Soul' she calls out fake people with drumming legend Travis Barker, on 'Grow' she gives us Disney Radio excellence with the original pop punk princess Avril Lavigne, and on 'Lipstick' she delivers a powerful, self-introspective exploration of depression. You can feel every word WILLOW sings on lately I feel EVERYTHING and that's what it makes it so brilliant. - SP
Standout Track: 'Lipstick'
10) Lil Nas X - MONTERO
When Lil Nas X wasn't making headlines for his "satanic" 'Montero (Call Me By Your Name)' video, recalled Nike trainers, or fake pregnancy, he was in his music bag. Following on from one of the most unique and carefully planned album rollouts in history, MONTERO arrived and it's a ride from start to finish. From 'SCOOP' to 'AM I DREAMING', Lil Nas X proves that he is a lot more than a one-hit wonder and his genre-bending talents demonstrate how he is one of the most exciting rappers of our time. - JD
Standout Track: 'SCOOP (feat. Doja Cat)'
9) Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams
Possessed with a poet’s mind, 21-year-old Arlo Parks can turn the minutiae of life into something devastating and profound. Her debut Collapsed in Sunbeams breezes along with a sense of flow and lightness but it’s lyrical content can cut deep, catching you off guard at unexpected moments. It’s the kind of album that can soundtrack a walk in the sun without a care in the world, or be your best friend during the worst moment of your life. Honestly, the power that that has! The intelligence that that has! - WW
Standout Track: 'Hope'
8) Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an album in which Little Simz explores in depth who Little Simz the artist is, who Simbi the person is and how the two of them intertwine. It's so self-reflective and personal that it catches you off guard with its specificity. Every lyric is perfectly crafted and songs like 'Woman' and 'Point and Kill' are relentlessly good. The skits, the structure and the richness of the production hark back to early Kanye West, but every moment of this album feels completely and undeniably Simz. - SP
Standout Track: 'I See You'
7) Jazmine Sullivan - Heaux Tales
It's hard to not get lost in Jazmine Sullivan's soulful voice especially when Heaux Tales comes with such an honest message. The EP is all about love and sex and the songs are connected by interludes from various women speaking frankly about their romantic relationships. 'On It (featuring Ari Lennox)' is a true work of art and 'Lost One' is one of the most moving songs she's ever written. Six years since Jazmine released her last project, it's so good to have her back. - JD.
Standout Track: 'On It (feat. Ari Lennox)'
6) Doja Cat - Planet Her
Honestly, who is doing it like Doja Cat? It's fair to say she's a triple threat. Not only can she rap, she can also sing and dance too. We get to see Doja's plethora of talents on Planet Her. It's rare for an album to have no skips at all but Doja manages to effortlessly transcend every genre, whether it's R&B ('You Right') or Pop ('Kiss Me More'), and the songs slap. It's hard to pick a standout track but 'Options (featuring JID)' is definitely a front runner. Planet Her is a ride you never want to end. - JD.
Standout Track: 'Options (feat. JID)'
5) Adele - 30
Adele is back and 30 is everything we wanted and more. The album is an intricate and raw depiction of Adele's journey over the past few years set to some of the singer's most interesting production to date. From her public divorce to her romantic escapades, nothing is left off of the table. 'My Little Love' even includes real voicenotes between Adele and her son and the results are both gutwrenching and sublime. From bops like 'Can I Get It' to ballads like 'To Be Loved', 30 is a remarkable body of work. - SP
Standout Track: 'Love Is a Game'
4) PinkPantheress - To Hell With It
We have TikTok to thank for the meteoric rise of PinkPantheress and her debut project hit us with a much-needed dose of nostalgia. This forward-thinking mixtape taps into the golden garage/dance era but PinkPantheress provides us with a 00s baby twist. To Hell With It takes you from letting loose on the dance floor ('Just for me') to crying in the club ('Break it off') and it leaves you rushing to hit repeat whenever you listen to it. – JD.
Standout Track: 'Break it off'
3) Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
Few albums express teenage heartbreak and angst as brilliantly as Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR. 'drivers license' expertly conveys the pain of still being in love with an ex, 'deja vu' is a petty alt-pop masterpiece and 'brutal' is an anthem for an entire generation. Not to mention, 'Good 4 U' is 2 minutes and 58 seconds of pop perfection. From the honest lyrics to the undeniable hooks, SOUR effortlessly demonstrates what an exciting artist Olivia is. In less than 12 months, she's become a household name. We can't wait to see what Olivia does next. - SP
Standout Track: 'traitor'
2) Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever
After breaking records with her debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, all eyes were on Billie Eilish and her second project. Thankfully, Happier Than Ever does not disappoint. In fact, it sees Billie hone her writing skills and give us the best work of her career to date. Whether she's having fun on songs like 'Billie Bossa Nova' or singing candidly about abuse on 'Your Power', Happier Than Ever is an artist at the peak of their powers. It's cohesive, it's moving and the production switch in the title track is the standout musical moment of the year. - SP
Standout Track: 'Oxytocin'
1) Halsey - If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power
Back in 2017, I wrote that hopeless fountain kingdom was Halsey’s best album yet. Last year, I wrote that Manic was Halsey’s best album yet. Readers, I am thrilled to announce that Halsey has done it yet again. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power really, really, really is Halsey’s best album yet. Truly.
Produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, IICHLIWP sees Halsey fully immerse themselves – and us – in another intricately-crafted concept album, this time about sexuality, and the "joys and horrors" of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s intense. It’s powerful. It’s cinematic. It’s daring. It’s different, but it still feels so quintessentially Halsey. And it slaps.
From the very first moment Halsey started teasing this project, it was clear that it was going to be bigger and better than anything she had done before. IICHLIWP is a masterclass in storytelling and world-building, something that Halsey never fails to excel at. It’s a project that they were destined to create, a sound that makes total sense, and it even comes complete with a stunning film that only the mind of Halsey could have given us.
IICHLIWP is an album that is best experienced from start to finish in one sitting. And then experienced again, immediately afterwards, for a second, third and fourth time, because it’s that fucking good. Now everybody say, “Thank you, Halsey!” - KLS
Standout Track: 'Honey'
🏆 Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour (2020)
🏆 Billie EIlish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019)
🏆 Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (2018)
🏆 Khalid - American Teen (2017)
🏆 The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (2016)
🏆 Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION (2015)