First of all, let's take a moment to declare 2016 as The Year Pop Divas Took Risks. From Beyonce's unstoppable Lemonade and Britney's Glory to Gaga's Joanne and Rihanna's Anti, this was the year these femme fatales gave zero f**ks and released material that defied expectations, going against the norms of pop. These women went outside the box with their respective albums, and we're all the better for it.
1. BLUE NEIGHBOURHOOD by Troye Sivan - Released just 27 days before the start of 2016, this magnificent album deserves to be celebrated now. Hailed as a "triumphant experience" by other critics (and "One to Watch" by Rolling Stone), Sivan's debut is just that and more. It's an emotional, haunting, electro-R&B collection filled with devastatingly gorgeous lyrics about sexuality, religion, and family that belie the singer-songwriter's 21 years. (See: "FOOLS," "WILD," and "HEAVEN.") Certain tracks sneak up on you, delivering a gut punch and then blooming into small, beautiful revelations worth revisiting no matter your status in life.
Read more about Troye's impact in a piece I wrote for The Huffington Post earlier this year HERE.
2. LEMONADE by Beyonce - Bey bestowed upon the world what music history will deem the album of her career, a politically-charged collection (and series of exquisite short films) that is neither preachy nor too heavy-handed. "6 Inch" is the sexiest, late-night, femme fatale theme song of the year. "Daddy Lessons" is the country ditty we never knew we needed. "Sorry" is the zero-fucks anthem to end all zero-fucks anthems. "Formation" is a layered argument on feminism and just about every other social issue that was on the table in 2016. And "Freedom" is the best rally cry that powerfully encapsulates the current American zeitgeist. Bow down, indeed.
4. "SAX" by Fleur East - The attitude! Those sassy vocals! That Miami Sound Machine-esque chorus! The best rump-shaker of the year that sadly never made it to Top 40 radio. Give it a listen (and watch the colorful video) here, and just try to resist those horns and beats.
5. TWO VINES by Empire of the Sun - The otherworldly harmonies of this Australian duo (think: Fleetwood Mac with a mellow EDM twist) are in full effect on their luscious third LP.
6. "SOMEBODY ELSE" by The 1975 - With melancholic hints of Depeche Mode, this hypnotic track about a "love gone cold" is also the British group's most intoxicating:
7. "U-TURN" by Tegan and Sara - Everyone's favorite twin sister act returned to glorious form on their bubbly Love You to Death. (Also worthy: "Boyfriend.")
8. JOANNE by Lady Gaga - For those looking for another collection of dance floor jams, you got something entirely different -- and that's a very good thing. Gaga defies expectations once again by delivering an electric cornucopia of 70s glam rock and dive bar anthems.
9. "DRIVE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT" by Hudson Thames & The Cast of Sing Street - Inspired by Hall & Oates' "Maneater," this take-charge anthem was the synth-laced centerpiece of John Carney's uplifting love letter to the suburbs of Dublin (see: the aforementioned Sing Street).
10. "WORK FROM HOME" by Fifth Harmony - The girl group hit pop gold with their minimalist, euphemism-filled banger that sizzled all of our summers, becoming the perfect jam used by millions to lure their lovers back to bed.
Anti (Rihanna), Choreography (Bright Light Bright Light), "Into You" (Ariana Grande), Generationwhy (Zhu), "One Dance" (Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla), "Closer" (The Chainsmokers), "FAB." (JoJo), "Hard to Forget Ya" (Britney Spears).