Your introduction to the pop world could make or break your career. No matter how much promise a record executive sees in you, you will never make it in the music world if you don’t make a good first impression. It’s happened a countless number of times. But other times, that debut album pushes you to heights that no one could have ever predicted. And that usually means that you made a pretty damn amazing album. These are those albums. The ones that came and made these artists names be on everyone’s lips. These albums aren’t just good, they’re rare lightning strikes in the music world. In an industry where failure is usually the first step, these albums broke the mold. And music is all the better for it!
*This list includes studio albums only and no EPs.
10. Bruno Mars – Doo-Wops & Hooligans
It’s hard to imagine a time when Bruno Mars wasn’t a household name, dominating the radio. But back in 2010, Mars wasn’t very well known. In fact, only people who paid attention to the “up and coming” scene knew of Mars from his EP ‘It’s Better If You Don’t Understand’. However, he broke out into the mainstream with his power punch single “Just the Way You Are” which was followed by the even more wildly successful “Grenade”. This album is a lot of fun to listen to because it has a loose structure, almost like it’s a small club set from a jam band. Mars has some pretty silky smooth vocals throughout the album and that soft lower register mixed in with those punches of the high upper register that he boasted in the more emotional moments of the album. Mars almost instantly drew comparisons to Michael Jackson, but the most interesting thing about this album is that while MJ’s influence is there, Mars never directly emulates or mimics MJ, making this all his own. Mars would record better music in the future, but this album is an incredibly strong first effort that laid incredibly strong foundations for what would go on to become one of the most electrifying carriers in modern pop music.
9. Kelly Clarkson – Thankful
The Queen of American Idol had a lot to prove with her first album. She won the (at the time) biggest reality music competition in the world for her golden voice and undeniable charisma. All eyes were on her to see if she would choke when she finally came into her music without Simon Cowell’s spotlight. And you know what? Every critic that said she would fail was totally wrong (something that would become a norm in Kelly’s career.). This album sees Kelly putting her influences to good use. She sings her way beautifully through songs with R&B vibes, soft rock influence, and pop sensibility. Kelly is very confident through the whole album. Not to mention she sounds like she’s having so much fun with the music which makes the listener have fun with the album. There were many expectations that Idol fans had on this album, and Kelly (not surprisingly in hindsight) decided that she wasn’t going to meet a single one of them. She was interested in what was expected of her, she was interested in doing what people weren’t expecting. The things that people said she couldn’t do. And that truly is what made Kelly stand out then and what makes her standout now.
8. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
Lana Del Rey’s voice. The musical equivalent to relaxing on a beach with perfect weather. Lana made her way into the hearts of the music buying people with “Summertime Sadness”. But with this album, she proved that she is so much more than that. Lana made music on this album that was far from the norm at the time. In fact, its music still sets apart from everything mainstream even at this point. Lana possesses such emotional resonance in her voice and it is so intoxicating when you listen to her music. This album is filled with strange sounds, airy instrumentation, and very strange and nonlinear lyrics and it makes the listening experience very exciting because you can never tell where she is going when she gets headed on her way. This album made a big splash when it came out because it was so different than anything else that was out. Lana has never conformed to what what was musically popular and that’s something that is so refreshing about her. This was an incredible introduction to who, and what Lana is. And we can be all the thankful for it.
7. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston
From the beginning, Whitney showed that she had pipes that few could mess with. This album is a fairly straight forward 80’s R&B record musically, but Whitney wasn’t concerned with the instrumental side of things. This was all about introducing to Whitney’s voice and what she could do. And the interesting thing is that she didn’t even go all the way that she could with her voice. This album is so enjoyable to listen to because it’s full of songs that feel cared about. The team involved made sure that nothing on the record went off half cocked and that it was fully formed and ready to be given to the world. While Whitney would go on to do even better music, this was an incredible introduction to one of the most cherished voices in music history.
6. Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time
This album isn’t perfect. But there aren’t many albums that can say that they are. However, Britney Spears did something really special on this album. She started a movement. Britney sent the already growing teen pop scene over the top and into the world as we know it. What followed was countless teen pop albums that ate the charts alive. But …Baby was the best of the bunch. Britney had so much personality oozing through every track and that charisma made even the “okay” songs such fun to listen to. Not to mention that the album had some rock solid songs that to this very day are some of the most adored pop tracks. The spark lit Britney’s fuse and she made an album worthy of ushering in the career of the Princess of Pop. If you’ve not heard this record in a while, please give it a listen sooner rather than later.
5. Gwen Stefani – Love Angel Music Baby
Who would have thought that lead singer of a ska-punk/rock band would make one of the most perfect pop albums of all time. This album is filled to the brim with the best that 2004 had to offer. With a heavy Japanese influence, the album set new boundaries for what a 21st century pop album could sound like. Marrying elements of Japanese music, rock, island, straight pop, and acoustic soft rock, the album is a smorgasbord of styles. And it works beautifully. This album takes experimentation to an entirely different level. Each track is sonically, lyrically, and musically different than the one that comes before it. There are just a few misses toward the end *cough*long way to go*cough* but even those cannot derail an album that left the music world shocked in the best possible way.
4. Mariah Carey – Mariah Carey
The one who came along to challenge Whitney. A fool’s errand in the opinions of most people back in the day (and Whitney hadn’t even come close to releasing ‘I Will Always Love You’). But Mariah took it in stride. And she delivered perhaps the greatest R&B debut record ever. This album is from start to finish displays some impressive gusto and introduced the iconic notes that this songbird could chirp. Not only that, but it’s success was completely unprecedented. Odds were stacked highly against Mariah, and she used that knowledge to make something incredible. The most striking part of the whole album is Mariah’s confidence coming so early. She wastes no time in finding herself comfortable with the task at hand. Something that the pop flashes in the pan that appear every day should take note of.
3. Madonna – Madonna
When Madonna came along, the world changed. A young woman came along with a dream and a hell of a lot of ambition and in the span of a year, she had the world in the palm of her hand. This album is full of some of the most iconic songs from the 80’s. You’ve got ‘Borderline’, ‘Lucky Star’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Burning Up’, and more. Madonna took no prisoners and put everything out on the field for this album. Everything she had rested on the shoulders of this album, the most stressful thing for a musician. But she shows none of the stress in this album. She left her inhibitions, fears, and uncertainties at the door, came in the studio, and turned herself into the badass we all came to love. Solid production, simple yet effective lyrics, and honestly the best display of professionalism of any 80’s record came together and propelled this little Michigan girl to the top of the world, right where she belongs.
2. Lady Gaga – The Fame
It’s become a rare thing for someone to publicly admit that Lady Gaga handed down the best pop album of the latter 2000’s unless they are sitting behind a keyboard. But if you zoomed back to 2008, this album and it’s hits were plastered everywhere. And for good reason. It’s almost unbreakable. Sure it stumbles in the back half, but it never falls. And it more often just runs past all of the competition. Gaga worked hard for this album and the effort is clear in every song. Even in the most disposable songs on the album, there is love sewn in. Not to mention, the beats are addictive, the vocals are intoxicating, and the energy is beyond the roof. Gaga would find roadblocks as her career went on, but this triumph still towers as one of the crown jewels of pop music.
And for my #1, I want you to read and understand. Put aside your devoted fan loyalty and really listen to what I have to say. You just might find yourself agreeing with my #1 pick. Here goes…
1. Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood
It’s a sin that this album isn’t hailed as the total masterpiece it is. It’s sickening to see people push this album away in favour of whatever vanilla pop thing is hot in the moment. When you dive into this album, you see that it’s honestly the closest thing to a perfect album that we as a music buying public have gotten in years. First off, saying that everything in this world was against this album even being listenable is a massive understatement. Nobody expected for a YouTuber (yes a YouTuber people!!) to be capable of making anything worth anyone’s time. But Troye has never been someone that plays into expectations. He plays by his own rules. This album is beautiful from start to finish. This 20 year old took everything in him and put it into this album. He lets us inside his head, inside his heart, inside his deepest secrets. Never before has anyone put in so much of what makes them who they are into music. The only thing this album doesn’t contain is his literal flesh and blood. The lyrics are genius and hardly ever come across as overstepping (it literally happens only twice and not even for whole verses). The instrumentals are absolutely slaved over. Every beat, every key, every single sound in every corner of the album has noticeably been worked at. If you can hear it on the songs, then it was perfected down to the letter. Troye had everything and everyone against him. And he knew it. But he wasn’t afraid. He did what he wanted to do and made music that he cared about. He made music that he is proud to stand by. Every ounce of his being is put on display and that is something that the “artists” of today need to learn a little something about. Oh and the critics agree with me and here are the receipts ladies and gentlemen.
Troye, if you’re out there, know that you are the pop bar that the world needs right now. Much love.