50 Best Albums of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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The 50 Best Albums of 2019

From ‘Lover’ to ‘Cuz I Love You,’ ‘Death Race to Love,’ and beyond, here are the records that defined the year

We count down the best albums of 2019, from Lana Del Rey's 'Norman Fucking Rockwell!' to DaBaby's 'Baby on Baby.'

As the culture continued to sag in 2019, music soared. This was the year Billie Eilish rewrote the rules of from-nowhere pop mega-success; Ariana Grande exulted in the spacey, self-loving emo grandeur of Thank U, Next; Taylor, Lana, Miranda Lambert, Vampire Weekend, and Sharon Van Etten capped off great decades with big reinventions; and Lizzo was as Lizzo as ever. Meanwhile, avant-pop what-the-fucks 100 Gecs and hard-rocking heroes Sheer Mag kept noise alive, and rising stars Megan the Stallion and DaBaby, both masterful mouths of the South, led a class of newcomers setting the table for the 2020s.

 

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Taylor Swift, ‘Lover’

Nobody ever accused Swift of holding back emotionally, but on Lover, she really lets it all loose: It’s her overdramatic-and-true masterpiece. Lover is the album where she proves she can do it all: the country slow-dance swoon of “Lover,” the synth-pop regret of “Cruel Summer,” the obsessive electro-goth of “The Archer.” These are the deepest love songs she’s ever written, chronicling adult romance and the turning-30 blues with all her usual eye for detail. Hell, she even busts out her country accent again. Lover sums up all the highlights of her twenties — but it also points to all the highlights of her next decade.

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Lana Del Rey, ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’

Los Angeles is a town crawling with B-listers, C-listers, and beyond — actors and musicians who might spend their whole lives working the checkout at Trader Joe’s, forced to pack up their hazy fantasies of the town before moving to their next rented bungalow. It’s this limbo that Lana Del Rey draws from on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, a lush soft-rock album in the style of 1970s Laurel Canyon, filled with characters whose dreams have long gone up in wildfire smoke and who are just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. “I’m always going to be right here/No one’s going anywhere,” she intones on “How to Disappear,” a line of reassurance that drips with melancholy. Elsewhere on the album, she puts herself in the company of the not-so-distant ghosts of L.A.’s past — Dennis Wilson, Bradley Nowell, various ladies of the Canyon. By invoking their let-down desires instead of attempting to rise above them, Del Rey finally earns her title as queen of the West Coast.

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Billie Eilish, ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’

At only 17, Billie Eilish dismantled and rebuilt the pop song with her debut LP. With help from her producer-brother, Finneas O’Connell, Eilish layered bizarre sounds (the clicking of a crosswalk signal, a sample from The Office) under nihilistic lyrics about Satan, the downfall of humankind, and the uselessness of prescription drugs — all delivered in Eilish’s characteristic whisper-hum. “Most people need to stand and open their diaphragms, but Billie sounds amazing just slumped on the bed,” Finneas told Rolling Stone. That’s especially true when she drawls such cutting takedowns as, “Man is such a fool/Why are we saving him?” (“All the Good Girls Go to Hell”). “Bad Guy” was an eerie foray into off-kilter sexuality, equal parts Marilyn Manson and Rihanna, while “You Should See Me in a Crown” was pure trap-derived pump-up. With this stunning effort, Eilish promised to keep scaring — and seducing — us for years to come.

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Ariana Grande, ‘Thank U, Next’

“Remember when i was like ‘Hey i have no tears left to cry’ and the universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought,” Ariana Grande tweeted in November of last year. She was referring to the lead single off 2018’s Sweetener, which was meant to be a post-tragedy bright-side opus. But Grande’s life took a couple of more turns: Her ex Mac Miller tragically passed away less than a month after the album was released, and her whirlwind engagement to SNL star Pete Davidson came to a halt. In just two weeks, Grande let the tears flow and wrote Thank U, Next, her trap-R&B-pop masterpiece that nods to ‘NSync and The Sound of Music and features appearances from her grandma and drag queen Shangela. We’re so fuckin’ grateful for her exes too.

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