Most Popular Music Releases of the Year (So Far)


Courtesy of Variety Magazine

Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” Album Cover

A.J. Fezza, Co-Culture Editor

Five months after COVID-19 began to truly sweep through the world, the music industry appears on the surface to be one of the few industries to have weathered the pandemic successfully. After all, music consumption is now almost entirely digital (vinyl sales have skyrocketed over the past few years, but streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are the clear default for listening habits in 2020). COVID-19 has led to the cancellations of nearly all concerts and music festivals, as well as the delay of many albums, but streaming rates have still remained relatively constant. With the extra time at home, it makes sense that people are spending it consuming music. Here’s a review of some of the newly-released music that has been getting people through 2020.

The year began with Harry Styles’ domination of the charts with his album “Fine Line,” the biggest debut from a British male artist since the Nielsen SoundScan sales data system began about thirty years ago. The single “Watermelon Sugar” from the album has been dubbed by some as the “Song of the Summer” for 2020. Not long after “Fine Line” came a long-awaited project by The Weeknd. “After Hours,” which produced the popular single “Blinding Lights,” was a powerful medley of dream pop and R&B that had many of the sensual and self-loathing themes present in his earlier works.  

By far, the top-selling album of 2020 (as of August) is Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.” “Folklore” made Swift the first act in history to debut atop both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 charts in the same week (the single “Cardigan” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in late July). This acoustic, indie-folk album was a stylistic shift for Swift away from the electronic pop she has embraced for the past eight years.

Other notable album releases this year included “The Slow Rush” by the psychedelic pop-rock group Tame Impala, “Ungodly Hour” by R&B duo Chloe x Halle, “Chromatica” by Lady Gaga, “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa and “Limbo” by rapper Aminé. In rock, music lovers have seen the release of “The New Abnormal” by The Strokes and “Imploding the Mirage” by The Killers, two critically-acclaimed albums seen as a return to form for both of the bands. Two popular posthumous albums released this year were “Circles” by Mac Miller and “Legends Never Die” by JUICE WRLD. Both artists died of accidental drug overdoses back in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

One of the most interesting phenomena of the year has been the effect of TikTok on the music industry. TikTok has brought relatively unknown songs to overnight success in 2020. Some examples include “Stunnin’” by Curtis Waters, “WHATS POPPIN” by Jack Harlow, “Funny Thing” by Thundercat, “Dark Red” by Steve Lacy (which was actually released back in 2017) and of course, “Say So” by Doja Cat, which TikTok helped launch to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Along with Doja Cat, another artist who has been a force to be reckoned with (both on TikTok and in wider society) is Megan Thee Stallion. The singles “Savage,” “Girls in the Hood” and “Captain Hook” all inspired TikTok dance challenges and charted those songs in the process. And of course, it’s hard to ignore her current explosive single “WAP” with Cardi B, a song that is making its way around social media (inspiring many memes) and topping the Billboard charts.

As students and listeners alike settle into the fall semester, we expect more great music to cap off this tumultuous year. Katy Perry’s album “Smile” comes out this Friday, Aug. 28. Lana Del Rey’s “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” Joji’s “Nectar,” and The Neighbourhood’s “Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones” all come out this September and K-pop sensation Blackpink’s “Blackpink: The Album” comes out this October.

Other artists that are reported to release new albums by the end of the year are Rihanna, Adele, Frank Ocean, Sam Smith, The Jonas Brothers, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Brockhampton and SZA. 

All of the works above only scratch the surface of music in 2020. Go on any streaming service, and you will see the countless options to explore. Maybe take some time on your walks to classes or your workouts at the gym to give a listen to more unknown artists. In stressful times, music can be a source of comfort and inspiration. You might not be able to attend that concert or that music festival you were planning on going to this semester (R.I.P. Made in America Festival 2020), but music is still everywhere just waiting to be heard.