Best Pop Albums of 2023

The 20 Best Pop Albums of 2023

The 20 best pop albums of 2023 radiate with unstoppable playlist power, much-needed sweet escapism, self-reflection, self-criticism, and killer melodies.

20. Andy Schauf – Norm (Anti-)

Andy Schauf‘s Norm is a concept album about a guy named Norm. According to Schauf, the tracks feature four different narrators advancing the story. The mysterious plot is far from clear whether there is a beginning, middle, and end. His style is part Raymond Carver and part Raymond Chandler. That doesn’t matter. The sensation of incomprehension itself is part of the record’s charm. The music itself is suggestive, rapturous, mysterious, and mesmerizing. The lyrics set the mood. Each song works on its own. The connections between cuts may be vague, but they share an alluring magnetism. The 12 tracks offer journeys down sonic trails that start in the same hallway but change from room to room. The overarching theme concerns the big topic of love. – Steve Horowitz

19. Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation (Columbia)

Miley Cyrus has gladly reversed the narrative that has followed her for the last decade with her latest record, whose name alone sounds like one could expect a dance-pop album that would impact mainstream airplay just in time to influence the summer charts. But that’s far from the case: Endless Summer Vacation is, in fact, suggesting that the real endless summer vacation for all of us is not the rave pop music purists have come to demand from Cyrus. Rather, it’s protecting our peace, staying in our lane, and buying yourself some damn flowers every now and then because we deserve them.

But what makes the LP a full-circle experience is not Cyrus’ newfound sense of self and maturity in her 30s but rather that she’s accepted more chaotic parts of herself that aren’t going to change. “You know I’m savage, you’re looking past it / I want that late-night sweet magic, that forever-lasting love / But only if it’s with you,” she sings. The singer knows what she wants from life and isn’t afraid to go after it while also maintaining protection over her own happiness. “Forever may never come,” she tells herself, for once sounding secure in such a proclamation. – Jeffrey Davies

18. Magdalena Bay – mini mix vol. 3 (Luminelle)

It’s been three years since Los Angeles’ acclaimed synthpop duo Magdalena Bay dropped one of their trademark mini mix tapes of short original songs, but we can forgive them for the break. Between vol. 2 and their excellent third iteration, singer Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin dropped 2021’s Mercurial World, which easily notched a spot on PopMatters’ Best Pop Albums of 2021 list for its bold melodies, unique style, and impossibly catchy hooks, all given the slickest of professional sheens. They toured the world on that record, so the short experiments of mini mix vol. 3 feel like a well-earned victory lap.

“EXO” continues to build on their love of stadium-filling synths, but curious left-turns like the acoustic mid-tempo “Top Dog”, in which the narrator keeps referencing movie characters they think they’re like, are as goofy as they are strangely affecting. “Wandering Eyes” is the kind of indie strummer that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on MGMT’s Congratulations, but the climax it reaches is so epic in scale that it’s no wonder the band signed to a bigger label right after its release. It may be a short lil’ mini mix, but Magdalena Bay’s ambitions only continue to grow. —Evan Sawdey

17. Laura Wolf – Shelf Life (Whatever’s Clever)

Laura Wolf‘s shows are a dazzling, endlessly creative one-person display of on-the-fly sampling, loops, cello, and vocals, all complemented with gorgeous, soaring melodic turns. This kind of live performance dovetails nicely with her recorded works, which combine studio weirdness with genuinely sophisticated songwriting and touches of classical sonic maneuvers. Shelf Life‘s opening track, “Alluvial Fan”, begins with spacey keyboards and samples while Wolf repeats, “I’m just sitting past my shelf life / Who’s left to say otherwise / I got stuck along my lifeline / Who’s left to say otherwise?” before a gentle thumping beat keeps the song moving along. Wolf’s vocals are delicate, almost whisper-like. The song has a danceable, pop sensibility infused with alien-like weirdness. – Chris Ingalls

16. Lanterns on the Lake – Versions of Us (Bella Union)

Over the last 12 years or so, Lanterns on the Lake have forged and honed a singular sound and gradually found a niche in the indie pop landscape. Versions of Us is their fifth album, and it doesn’t sound all that different from the others: a rich, atmospheric milieu marked by dramatic chords, clattering drums, and blasts of distorted guitar tempered with shoegaze-inspired washes, Hazel Wilde’s vulnerable vocals, and cozy, folky sensibilities informed by the band’s Northern English heritage. They are signed to the Bella Union record label, which former Cocteau Twins member Simon Raymonde runs, and it would not be easy to imagine a more perfect fit. – John Bergstrom

15. Pink – Trustfall (RCA)

“Close your eyes and leave it all behind,” proclaims Pink amidst EDM production that begs to be put on repeat. It’s not necessarily that pop singers grow up and get boring as fandom chooses to believe. It’s that singers like Pink need to be fully in their element to get their point across, which she is on her ninth studio LP Trustfall. “Wouldn’t you think by now I’d be ready?” she asks on “Feel Something,” one of the highlights on a track listing that consists mostly of ballads reflecting on life, loss, and the reality of living in an age of anxiety.

Pink gets nostalgic and emotional elsewhere on “Kids in Love” or “Our Song”, but it is offerings like “Hate Me” that make Trustfall sound like a full-circle moment for the singer in ways that its predecessor Hurts 2B Human was just a collection of songs about how life is hard. Indeed, years after outgrowing her manufactured role as the “not like other girls” figure in pop music and culture, Pink has matured into a musician seldom other female pop singers reach. So what if we just fall, as she suggests? Would life get easier? I’d like to think so. – Jeffrey Davies

14. Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, the Water, the Sky (Saddle Creek)

Black Belt Eagle Scout

With her third album, The Land, the Water, the Sky, Katherine Paul, aka Black Belt Eagle Scout, elaborates on the songcraft displayed throughout 2017’s Mother of My Children and the explorative sonics employed on 2019’s At the Party with My Brown Friends. On her latest 12-track sequence, she delves more ambitiously into various playbooks, basking in hypnotic instrumentation, stellar hooks, and engaging lyrics. If Mother underscored Paul’s gift for melody, and At the Party accentuated her musicianship, The Land immediately spotlights her as a consummate composer, her pop sense, knack for audial dynamics, and affinity for rich atmospherics seamlessly fused. – John Amen

13. Kesha – Gag Order (Kemosabe / RCA)

After the promotion cycle for Kesha‘s 2020 album High Road got cut short due to COVID, her long-running legal dispute with producer Dr. Luke, where she accused him of assault, continued to make headlines, and despite not having worked with him for years, her music was still coming out on his record label. Thus, Gag Order, her final album under that contract she signed when she was 18, arrived with a much darker shift in tone. Co-produced by Rick Rubin, Kesha swapped the more joyous and exploratory tone of her last two records to a palette that was more gritty and minimalistic, with some tracks made of little more than snarling analog keyboards and crude drum beats. These are still pop songs, after all, but darkly tinted and bloodlettingly raw.

“Greatness just a shade of madness / Ego just a face of sadness / Pain is just part of the package,” she notes on the opener “Something to Believe In”, and that’s just the tip of the emotional depths she plumbs on this record. “Only Love Can Save Us Now” and the indie-leaning digipop of “The Drama” show pulses of life and energy, but Gag Order is one of the most intense listens we’ve had this year, as even a cursory knowledge of the context surrounding it immediately fills in the gaps Kesha has carefully left in the lyrics. There may be no more lawsuits after both parties reached an amicable agreement earlier this year, but this brutal and honest sonic document will have a legacy long after the headlines have faded away. —Evan Sawdey

12. Samia – Honey (Grand Jury)


If The Baby announced Samia as a vocalist and songwriter to watch, Honey makes it clear that we’ll be watching her for a long time. With ample self-awareness and a keen sense of the surreal, Samia has delivered a sonically dynamic voyage through the monstrous and merciful extremes of intimacy. Even though life can be hard to scrub off, there’s always something to learn in looking back. As Samia sings on Honey’s centerpiece, “To Me It Was”: “How much better can anything get / than sitting on your porch remembering it?” Many of Honey’s tracks deal with The Baby’s central question: how does one walk the line between concealing and revealing? But now, narrative arcs are tighter, images more compelling, and Samia’s instincts regarding which sparse details to include for maximum emotional impact are sharpened. – Rachel R. Carroll

11. Troye Sivan – Something to Give Each Other (Capitol)

When Troye Sivan dropped Bloom in 2018, it felt like a breakthrough pop moment, where songs depicting the contemporary gay experience (in fairly unflinching terms) were close to approaching mainstream popularity. Now, with his long-awaited Something to Give Each Other, he moves away from heartfelt midtempo and takes his listeners directly to the club. While lead single “Rush” became a summer anthem and his other music videos from this era generated quite a bit of buzz, there’s a sense of romance that percolates throughout this set, all riding on a more joyous bounce than any of his records prior.

“What’s the Time Where You Are?” finds Sivan pining for long-distance courtship, while the easy fan-favorite “Silly” uses hushed blacklight synths to deflect the serious pangs of new romance, as if he’s convincing himself of how unserious his affections are throughout the song. Sivan’s pop music has always leaned on the side of the mature, but with Something to Give Each Other, he gives himself a bigger budget and a larger canvas to project his emotions onto. Months after its release, we’re still feeling the rush. —Evan Sawdey