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20 Best Pop Albums of 2017

Kesha, Harry, Taylor and more of the year in hooks

This year, pop’s best albums came from strong women who had a lot to say: Lorde’s searing look at loneliness, Kesha’s raucous statement of liberation, Taylor Swift’s reckoning between her self and the version presented in the press. But pop’s wider world also offered a lot of pleasures from artists all over the spectrum – 20th century legends like Blondie and Tori Amos asserted their place in the new millennium, upstarts like Dua Lipa and Girl Ray established new rules, and One Direction refugees Harry Styles and Niall Horan set out on their own, building on the promise they’d shown in their X Factor days.

top 20 pop albums of 2017
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Kesha, ‘Rainbow’

After her legal travails, anything Kesha released would have a veneer of triumph. But this comeback set, seven years since her debut, was an artistic warrior cry more potent than any might’ve expected. It began gently with “Bastards,” an acoustic guitar-led anthem and instant lighters-up classic, pivoting into punk-pop (with Eagles of Death Metal) on the badass “Let ‘Em Talk,” in which she caps the line, “I’ve decided all the haters everywhere can suck my dick,” with a cheek-pop. The gem-like moments keep coming, but the best is the sound of her cracking up mid-verse on the fist-pumping, Dap-Kings rocking “Woman” – it’s the sound of someone who’s survived a journey through hell knowing unquestionably she’s stronger for it. W.H.

top 20 pop albums of 2017
1

Lorde, ‘Melodrama’

At age 20, the teen prodigy of “Royals” raised the bar, marrying the massive vistas of electronic music alongside the human-scaled and handmade on her second LP, with help from co-producer Jack Antonoff. The invulnerable high-school snark broadened into a wider emotional palette – musical too, with guitars and brass lacing through synthetic beats and dub effects. At its most ambitious, it could recall art-rock godmother Kate Bush (see the single “Green Light”). But its greatest achievement was making 21st century pop feel as genuinely intimate as as it did huge. A record that should stand as a touchstone for young pop hopefuls for years to come. W.H.

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