20 Best Pop Albums of 2016

Rihanna, Gaga, the 1975 and more of the year in hooks

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M.I.A., 'AIM'
20
18/20

18. M.I.A., 'AIM'

On her fifth album, Maya Arulpragasam's singsong flow is more playful and subtle than ever, splashing around in a stream of hooky electronic details that she crafted in tandem with collaborators such as Blaqstarr and Skrillex. With its rolling tablas and bhangra tumbi, the Sri Lankan expat's sound nods more toward south Asia than ever before, disregarding musical borders as blithely as her lyrics dismiss the real-life national kind. The calm good humor with which M.I.A. addresses the international refugee crisis is a touch jarring until you listen more closely. "Refugees learn about patience," she tells us, insisting that the jolted lives of the displaced teach them how to live in an age of increased instability – or, as she puts it on "Survivor," "Men are good, men are bad/And the war is never over." K.H.

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