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Best 2020s Albums: 10 Albums That Have Shaped The Decade
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List & Guides

Best 2020s Albums: 10 Albums That Have Shaped The Decade

From soul-searching indie to escapist electro-pop, the best 2020s albums hold up a mirror to the challenges and triumphs of the modern era.

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The 2020s are already proving to be a complex and demanding chapter in modern history. As we grapple with an overwhelming array of global challenges – from the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic to the global impact of the war in Ukraine – the musical landscape of the decade is constantly being shaped by themes of resilience and introspection, underpinned by a collective pursuit of meaning. Whether tackling topics such as mental health, anxiety or racial injustice, or simply giving audiences an outlet to break free from restrictions and express pleasure and joy, the best 2020s albums are playing a vital role in helping us navigate our way through a tumultuous decade.

From the quirky sarcasm of Paramore’s post-lockdown social observations to the uplifting electro-pop of Dua Lipa, these records offer listeners both solace and inspiration, and provide sanctuary from the chaos of everyday life. Counting down the best releases from recent years, we reveal how the best 2020s albums that have defined the decade.

Listen to our Pop playlist here, and check out the best 2020s songs, below.

10: The War On Drugs: ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ (2021)

A stellar representation of The War On Drugs’ ability to seamlessly blend heartland rock, Americana and indie rock, the band’s fifth album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, shimmers with sonic beauty. “From a songwriting point of view, I was set on having everything be concise and clear,” frontman Adam Granduciel told Pitchfork. “I wanted to cut as much fat as possible. I wanted things to have an arc and be dynamic.” Streamlining the songwriter’s introspective and existential lyrics with jangling 80s-style guitar riffs, I Don’t Live Here Anymore is one of the most ambitious records among the best 2020s albums, combining Granduciel’s calm and winsome voice with atmospheric and meandering soft-rock grooves.

Must hear: I Don’t Live Here Anymore

9: Paramore: ‘This Is Why’ (2023)

Dripping with sarcasm and casting a cynical eye over the world at large, Paramore’s sixth album, This Is Why, sees bandmates Hayley Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro move further from their early emo-punk sound to embrace angular art-rock guitar riffs and quirk-filled power-pop. Across a collection of lively tracks written and recorded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the album teems with playful lockdown gripes, as Williams squares her feelings of social alienation and personal inadequacy with the crises then sweeping the world at large. “I tried lyrically to express what was going on internally for me as a human being living on this Earth in this time,” Williams told Entertainment Weekly. “The album reflects something of what all of us are experiencing currently and the anxiety of it.”

Must hear: This Is Why

8: Kendrick Lamar: ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’ (2022)

Few albums can instantly be considered cultural milestones, but Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is one of them. Kendrick Lamar’s fifth studio album saw the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper emerge from a five-year absence on typically self-reflective form, fully embracing his role as the spokesperson of a generation. “I’ve had rewards for my other albums in different ways, whether it was accolades, whether it was the Pulitzer, whether it was the Grammys,” Lamar told W magazine. “This one is the reward for humanity for me.” Thanks to the bullshit-skewering verbosity of N95 and the domestic slanging match of We Cry Together, Lamar’s hip-hop masterclass garnered him a fourth consecutive Grammy Award nomination for Album Of The Year.

Must hear: N95

7: Silk Sonic: ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ (2021)

This retro-soul team-up from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, recording as Silk Sonic, saw the supremely talented twosome turn their hands to 70s-inspired funk and Philly soul. Indulging in lush and timeless R&B grooves and sophisticated harmonies, An Evening With Silk Sonic is an elegant highlight among the best 2020s albums, giving listeners a much-needed pick-me-up after struggling through the dismal isolation of successive lockdowns. “A good song can bring people together,” Mars told Rolling Stone magazine. “So that was our mindset with the whole album. If it makes us feel good, and resonates with us, that’s gonna be infectious and make other people feel good – and that’s our jobs as entertainers.”

Must hear: Leave The Door Open

6: Jessie Ware: ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ (2020)

Jessie Ware’s playfully coquettish fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, is a flirty and seductive dance-pop record, passionately imbued with elements of smooth soul and nu-disco grooves. Like some of the other contenders among the best 2020s albums, its release, in June 2020, offered fans a fun and energetic reprieve from pandemic-related woes, Ware serenading listeners with a cascade of dreamy synth-funk and house-inspired beats. “I think people need distraction at the moment,” the singer told Billboard magazine, “and that’s the beauty of dance and disco – it can provide euphoria.” Supremely confident and bursting with passion, What’s Your Pleasure? is one of the decade’s most gratifying delights.

Must hear: What’s Your Pleasure?

5: Little Simz: ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ (2021)

One of the best albums of 2021, and arguably one of the greatest UK hip-hop albums of all time, Little Simz’s fourth record, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is a fierce and powerful blend of galvanising neo-soul and nostalgic jazz rap. “This album has really allowed me to explore my creativity,” Simz said in an interview with London’s Evening Standard. “I’ve been into so many spaces, so many textures and genres. I was listening to Motown stuff but also real rap – 90s New York hip-hop, which is what I grew up with.” From anthems of female empowerment (Woman) to tribal Afrobeats-style shakedowns (Fear No Man), Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is nothing less than a modern classic among the best 2020s albums.

Must hear: Woman

4: Black Midi: ‘Hellfire’ (2022)

An intense work of avant-prog swimming with vaudevillian excess, Black Midi’s jazz-rock freakout Hellfire is not only one of the best 2020s albums but, strangely enough, it’s also the London-based trio’s most accessible record yet. “It’s a significant step in the right direction for us where we feel much more comfortable with what we’re doing,” singer Geordie Greep told The Ringer. “It’s much more melodic, there’s a lot more kind of storytelling and stuff and it’s a bit more varied in sound.” With Greep’s absurd character studies verging on the operatic, like set pieces from a deranged Broadway play, Hellfire’s knotty mix of intense art-rock and noisy dissonance collides with everything from flamenco to cabaret, taking listeners on an outrageously imaginative journey into the wildest corners of the imagination.

Must hear: Welcome to Hell

3: Mac Miller: ‘Circles’ (2020)

Two years after Mac Miller’s tragic passing, his posthumously released sixth album, Circles, was a sobering reminder of the prolific rapper’s undeniable talents. Released in January 2020, as the follow-up to 2018’s Swimming the album was painstakingly completed by producer Jon Brion, resulting in a diverse, psychedelic-tinged collection of songs ranging from the laidback introspection of Good News to the future bass vibes of Blue World. “It made me so sad he was gone,” Brion told Vulture of Miller’s passing. “It’s one of those moments, like, Oh my God, he’s even better than I thought. And I already thought the world of him.” A shoo-in among the best albums of 2023, Circles finds Mac Miller’s lyrical drawl perfectly meshing with dreamy jazz-rap rhythms and neo-soul reverie, strengthening the enduring afterglow of the late rapper’s unparalleled artistry.

Must hear: Good News

2: Black Country, New Road: ‘Ants From Up There’ (2022)

A sprawling masterpiece that stands as one of the best albums of 2022, Ants Up There, Black Country, New Road’s fusion of art-rock and chamber pop, is a positively life-affirming listen. With frontman Isaac Wood’s cryptic lyrics shining a light on the album’s misty-eyed arrangements, the group created a cathartic and gutsy outpouring of poetic self-expression that explores themes of alienation and existential longing amid the fallout of COVID-19. “The album itself is meant to be enjoyed as a whole,” drummer Charlie Wayne told Under The Radar. “It’s meant to be conceptually consistent.” With its melancholic beauty, Ants From Up There comes across as a bittersweet therapy session that mirrors the uncertainty and upheaval of the times in which it was made.

1: Dua Lipa: ‘Future Nostalgia’ (2020)

Arriving in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dua Lipa’s second studio album, Future Nostalgia, gave furloughed fans and locked-down listeners a reason to rejoice. Insatiably fun and gleefully escapist, it was a dance-pop party bonanza with 70s-era disco influences (Love Again) and lashings of funky house grooves. “What I wanted to do with this album was to break out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to make music that felt like it could sit alongside some of my favourite classic pop songs, while still feeling fresh and uniquely mine,” Lipa told London newspaper Metro. From unrelenting electro-pop (Physical) to funky hip-swingers (Break My Heart), Future Nostalgia is simply sensational, and more than deserves to top our list of the best 2020s albums.

Must hear: Don’t Start Now

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