The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (2024)

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Beyoncé, 'Cowboy Carter' Charli XCX, 'Brat' Rachel Chinouriri, 'What a Devastating Turn of Events' Billie Eilish, 'Hit Me Hard and Soft' Empress Of, 'For Your Consideration' Sierra Ferrell, 'Trail of Flowers' Ariana Grande, 'Eternal Sunshine' Hermanos Gutierrez, 'Sonido Cosmico' Idles, 'Tangk' Justice, 'Hyperdrama' Khruangbin, ‘A La Sala’ Kacey Musgraves, 'Deeper Well' Jessica Pratt, 'Here in the Pitch' Shakira, ‘Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran’ Taylor Swift, 'The Tortured Poets Department' Aaron Lee Tasjan, 'Stellar Evolution' Tems, 'Born in the Wild' Tyla, 'Tyla' Kali Uchis, ‘Orquídeas’ Young Miko, ‘Att.’ More from Variety ‘Star Trek: Starfleet Academy’ Series Casts Kerrice Brooks, Bella Shepard, George Hawkins Gaming Layoffs Already Top 2023’s Total — and It’s Only July Welcome to Necaxa: FX and Disney+ Latin America Order Docuseries About Mexican Soccer Team With Eva Longoria and ‘Wrexham’ Duo Despite Emotional Send-Off, Ellen Pompeo Returning to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 21 for at Least 7 Episodes Summer Movie Season Testing 3D Cinema’s Recoverability Korean Vengeance Miniseries ‘The Tyrant’ Launching on Disney+ More From Our Brands Casetify Taps Cult-Favorite Sonny Angel for Latest Partnership A Veteran Tech Exec’s Coastal NorCal Estate Is Up for Grabs at $9 Million Highest-Paid Tennis Players 2024: Alcaraz Leads With$45M The Best Loofahs and Body Scrubbers, According to Dermatologists The Acolyte Episode 7 Reveals What Really Happened to Mother Aniseya — Read Our Recap References

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By

Chris Willman, Jem Aswad, Thania Garcia, Steven J. Horowitz

The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (1)

The erstwhile Year of the Woman keeps looking like it’s turning out to be the Century of the Woman, as popular music goes … and there’ll be no complaints about that when we have a surfeit of superstar divas who just happen to be delivering the goods with superior new albums. The by-now utterly reliable Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Charli XCX and Shakira did not let down, with the likes of Kali Uchis and Tyla proving they’re ready to join those ranks. (Obviously there’s a nation that’s all ready to place Chappell Roan and Sabrina Carpenter in this company, too, but Roan’s still-cresting album was a late-blooming 2023 release, and we’ll be waiting till August for Carpenter to tack a full meal onto our “Espresso” order.)

But we come also to praise those who are just starting their very first “era,” like Jessica Pratt, or those who may will likely never have a TikTok moment, like Hermanos Gutierrez, who also touch us deep in our musical souls. Here’s a wide-ranging list of 20 knockout albums selected by Variety‘s music staff — executive editor Jem Aswad, senior writer Steven J. Horowitz, associate editor Thania Garcia and senior writer/chief music critic Chris Willman — to playlist your summer and beyond.

  • Beyoncé, 'Cowboy Carter'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (2)

    In her artistic quest to reclaim traditional Black art forms, Beyoncé initially subsumed herself in the world of dance and house music on 2022’s “Renaissance,” a shimmering exploration of club culture and the sounds of queer abandon. With “Cowboy Carter,” she turned to country — or Americana, however you choose to parse it — for a sprawling examination of ownership over genres and their demarcations. In turn, “Cowboy Carter” smears the boundaries of what country music can be, in a way that the best country artists often do, careening from more dead-on interpretations (“Texas Hold ‘Em,” “Just for Fun”) to satiating approximations (“II Most Wanted”). And just when you think she loses the thread with the respective hip-hop and R&B of “Spaghettii” and “II Hands II Heaven,” she recenters the narrative, folding in spoken word moments from Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. With all the discourse around how “Cowboy Carter” can and should be categorized, Beyoncé showed that genre isn’t something that defines her, but rather something she commands. —Steven J. Horowitz

  • Charli XCX, 'Brat'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (3)

    Charli XCXhas been one ofpop music’s leading innovatorsfor more than a decade, and with “Brat” she’s launched a bold new chapter that combines the hard hooks of its predecessor “Crash” with the effervescent hyperpop shimmer of her earlier work, and lots more. She said in the weeks leading up to its release that “Brat” is a club album, and although there are a lot of fun and club-friendly tracks like the hard-hitting “Von Dutch” and “Back 2 Back,” there’s a lot more: The songs swerve between boastful swagger and shriveling insecurity and vulnerability, and are autobiographical in their conflicted feelings about fame, success and her own worth. It’s a grand slam of Charli XCX’s formidable talents — the sound of the future and the moment in one 41-minute album. —Jem Aswad

  • Rachel Chinouriri, 'What a Devastating Turn of Events'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (4)

    “I overthink the things I said,” begins Rachel Chinouriri on “Garden of Eden,” the opening track to “What a Devastating Turn of Events.” But that isn’t a detriment. Pop music in 2024 is largely predicated on vulnerability and authenticity, and on her debut album, the British singer-songwriter lays it entirely bare, from dark meditations on self-harm and abortion to death and eating disorders. But she’s adept at spinning yarns of experience into therapized examinations of her life, often focusing on relationships gone amiss across a soundscape that mines from pop-punk and Y2K pop. At 25, Chinouriri perceives the world with clarity and, across “Events,” communicates it with poise. —Horowitz

  • Billie Eilish, 'Hit Me Hard and Soft'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (5)

    “Subtle blockbuster” may seem like an oxymoron, but Eilish’s third full-length album has managed to hold onto a spot near the top of the album chart week after week — it’s one of the year’s most obviously unqualified successes — without ever really getting in your face. Whatever equanimity the title promises, this one is definitely about the soft sell, not the hard one. Maybe there was one exception to that bold no-bangers policy, “Lunch,” with a big bass sound and saucy lyrics designed to cunningly linger in the 2024 pop zeitgeist. But everything else here feels about 50 shades of low-key, and always transfixingly so, in her and Finneas’ no-skips smorgasbord. Eilish is the only pop star who managed to have three huge streaming songs simultaneously this spring, as the audience quickly embraced not just “Lunch” but “Birds of a Feather,” the rare ray of pure sunshine on one of her records, and “Chihiro,” as close as she’s come to a progressive R&B cut. Some of the best tracks on the album are mini-suites in which the dynamic duo offer intriguingly bifurcated tracks, like “Bittersuite” and the haunting closer “Blue.” Thematically, too, she’s far from a one-trick pony, knocking off tunes about body image, stalkers, true love with a shelf life, and summer sadness. We don’t see the punches coming, but she keeps on hitting us with her best shots. —Chris Willman

  • Empress Of, 'For Your Consideration'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (6)

    Empress Of, aka Honduran-American singer-songwriter-producer Lorely Rodriguez, contains so many multitudes that her music can be hard to process at first. With lyrics in both English and Spanish, she’s a Latin artist (“Femenine”), an an alternative singer with a crisp Halsey-esque voice (“Kiss Me,” featuring Rina Sawayama), an electro artist (“Lorelei”) or a sweet pop singer (“Baby Boy”), all within one remarkable album that finds her delivering on the promise and potential of her previous releases and then some. As its title says, the album is Hollywood-inspired: “I was in love with a director and he was announcing his ‘For Your Consideration’ campaign for the Oscars,” she says in the press materials. “He said he was emotionally unavailable and he kindofbroke my heart. I went into the studio that day and wrote a song called ‘For Your Consideration’ —that was the gateway for the album.” —Aswad

  • Sierra Ferrell, 'Trail of Flowers'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (7)

    With her second Rounder release, Ferrell may have cemented her status as the new queen of roots music, or at least the youngest and most obvious current contender for the crown. She has an unerring voice you could languish in for days, and material to match, in a number of closely associated but variant veins. “Fox Hunt” skews toward her bluegrass influences; “Why Haven’t You Loved Me Yet” is pure country two-stepping material; “Wish You Well” is the year’s most upbeat heartbreak ballad, if that’s not an oxymoron; and “Lighthouse” is a love song with a hook a hepster, a toddler or a grandma could sing along to. If anyone in the modern day can unite the jam-band crowd, string-band people, singer-songwriter enthusiasts, Gram Parsons-loving country-rockers, hippies and hillbillies, it’s Ferrell. —Willman

  • Ariana Grande, 'Eternal Sunshine'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (8)

    Where 2020’s “Positions” felt like an exercise in self-soothing, Ariana Grande went plainly diaristic on “Eternal Sunshine.” Her seventh album is a snapshot of a relationship’s tatters — presumably her divorce from Dalton Gomez — dovetailed with the birth of a romance and the renewed comfort that it brings. Over time, Grande has increasingly approached pop songwriting with subtlety and sophistication, and “Eternal Sunshine” never overplays its hand. Instead, tracks like “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again” and “We Can’t Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)” are as satisfying as they are deeply confessional, even at their most uncomfortable. It’s a nimble path to match pop sensibility with stark revelation, but Grande does it with ease. —Horowitz

  • Hermanos Gutierrez, 'Sonido Cosmico'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (9)

    Any Khruangbin fans seeking something to play next need look no further than the latest from Ecuadoran-Swiss brothers Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez. Working closely with producer and “third brother” Dan Auerbach, the pair expand on the haunting spaghetti-Western-influenced sounds of their previous releases, incorporating subtle salsa and cumbia influences. But as always, their sound is atmospheric and low-key, the kind of music that can operate as background but on closer inspection reveals the intricacy and sly brilliance at work: Even the songs’ leading melodies are often delivered subtly. —Aswad

  • Idles, 'Tangk'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (10)

    One of the most exciting rock bands to emerge in decades, this British-Irish quintet is a wild fusion of hardcore punk and experimental electronic skronk with a ferociously commanding frontman in Joe Talbot and two guitarists whose rancorous din shows inspiration from ‘80s indie icons Sonic Youth and Big Black, as well as a strong influence from hip-hop and electronic music. The group branches out even further on its fifth album “Tangk,” combining slower, darkly ambient and/or rhythmic songs with the blistering roar its audience hungers for. —Aswad

  • Justice, 'Hyperdrama'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (11)

    French duo Justice, consisting of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, were once torchbearers of bloghouse, a mid-2000s, Internet-propagated subgenre defined by skittering electroclash beats. Nearly 20 years after releasing their career-defining debut “Cross,” the pair meticulously crafted its fourth studio album “Hyperdrama,” sanding down the face-punch belligerence of earlier work with intention. “Hyperdrama” flows from one song to the next, spanning mood and texture, and while there’s a sprinkle of their signature aggression on “Generator” and “Incognito,” much of “Hyperdrama” floats on a cloud. Some tracks, like “Moonlight Rendez-Vous” and “Muscle Memory,” barely have percussion. It’s no surprise that Justice has largely outlasted some of their early peers, yet to produce a record this poignant and realized at this point only justifies their staying power. —Horowitz

  • Khruangbin, ‘A La Sala’

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (12)

    With each passing album, Houston-based trio Khruangbin succeeds in making just enough of an alteration to its distinct psych-funk sound to keep things fresh. In its latest 12-song offering, “A La Sala,” Laura Lee Ochoa’s melodic bass lines, Mark Speer’s lilting guitar playing and DJ Johnson’s breakbeats come together to create a tropical vision of amalgamating instrumentals. “Three From Two” best captures this combination with elements ranging from Cuban guitar progressions to fuzzy psychedelic reverb, generating a one-of-a-kind mingling of flavors. —Thania Garcia

  • Kacey Musgraves, 'Deeper Well'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (13)

    After giving us her honeymoon album and her divorce album, Musgraves comes back with something positioned somewhere right in the spot where sweet openness, gun-shy caution and a kind of spiritual acceptance all meet for a friendly campfire. The new album kind of counts as a return to a “Golden Hour”-style exercise in melodious tranquility. But the songs stay interesting and edgy as well as pretty, with their implicit sense that the blues hover right around the edges of bliss, and vice versa. It’s not just a starting-over-in-relationships album, either, although that’s a big part of it. Wisely, there are songs here about looking for peace outside the realm of romance, and even looking for intelligent design in a world sometimes lacking clearly signs of divinity. Even the big-picture songs can sound small in just the right way, though. Nearly every one of the 16 tracks begins with delicate finger-picking, and then stays there, staying committed to the acoustic bit. It’s uncompromising in that way, and all the lovelier for its confidence that you’ll turn up the volume, so she doesn’t have to. —Willman

  • Jessica Pratt, 'Here in the Pitch'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (14)

    Jessica Pratt doesn’t need a lot of time to leave a lasting impression, which is why her fourth album “Here in the Pitch” feels replete at 27 minutes. The Los Angeles-based artist broadens the palette of her endemic sound — Laurel Canyon folk, 1960s bossa nova, light psychedlia — with minor adjustments, tossing in a brief drum roll or faint synth that add texture to her spacious, yet somehow intimate, compositions. Pratt is a mellifluous performer and a gifted songwriter, coding intimacy into songs like the twinkling “Life Is” and gentle “World on a String” with equal parts mystery and intrigue. You don’t walk away from listening to one of Pratt’s albums with a full understanding of who she is, and yet, each listen feels like a gift to be subsumed in her world of wonder. —Horowitz

  • Shakira, ‘Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran’

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (15)

    Shakira’s “LMYNL” came after a seven-year hiatus. When it arrived, it was clear she came ready to flex her place at the peak of pop music. She honors the rock roots she cultivated in her native Barranquilla, Colombia, while also digging into regional subgenres, as she’s done in the past with Afrobeats and Arabic pop. On her 12th studio album, Shakira fully invests in these cross-genre marvels — songs with rapper Cardi B, Tejano band Grupo Frontera, Mexican corridos group Fuerza Regida and EDM masters Bizarrap and Tiesto, among others — that, together, represent the evolving soundscape of current-day Latin pop. —Garcia

  • Taylor Swift, 'The Tortured Poets Department'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (16)

    Despite her reputation for being a breakup-and-tell artist, Swift had focused much of her recent albums either on fictional storytelling or basking in love, so it’s been a very, very long time since she gave us a record that spent much of its running time on romantic postmortems. “The Tortured Poets Department” isn’t all downbeat — the extended “Anthology” edition does have a song with pointed, very topical football metaphors — but for a good part of its double-album length, it goes deep and hard on things that went wrong, which is where her audience is most eager to cheer her on for getting it right. It’s not like she exactly lacked for candor as a writer at any point in the past, but “The Tortured Poets Department” feels like it comes the closest of any of her 11 original albums to just drilling a tube directly into her brain and letting listeners mainline what comes out. If you value this confessional quality most of all, she’s still peaking, with this album as a culmination to date of her particular genius for marrying cleverness with catharsis. —Willman

  • Aaron Lee Tasjan, 'Stellar Evolution'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (17)

    One of the sleepers of the year. Tasjan has ventured all over the map in his discography to date, from glam-rock to Americana, and “Stellar Evolution” covers all those bases and adds a bunch more to boot, like luscious, Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop balladry and funky MTV-era synth-pop. Wedding it all together is a knack for fantastic hooks and lyrical acumen — which this time covers a lot of ground that will be particularly of interest to LGBTQ+ audiences, for which he speaks up in sobering new songs like “Nightmare” or delightful ones like the androgyny-celebrating “Pants.” —Willman

  • Tems, 'Born in the Wild'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (18)

    This Nigerian singer has been such a leading light of Afropop —she’s featured on Wizkid’s 2021 global smash “Essence” and even with Drake on Future’s “Wait for You” —that it’s surprising to see that “Born in the Wild” is her first full-length album. The singer did not disappoint, with a far-ranging album that contains multiple songs with the genre’s trademark skittering beats but also several contemporary R&B tracks, most notably the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad “Burning.” With J. Cole and Nigerian singer Asake guesting on the album, Tems is delivering the best of both worlds in multiple ways. — Aswad

  • Tyla, 'Tyla'

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (19)

    After conquering global charts with “Water,” Tyla fulfilled her ultimate goal of spreading her trademark formula: “popiano,” a twist on South African amapiano coined by the singer to describe a blend of the genre’s piano-driven, tech-house beats and the progressive tempos of pop and R&B. Tyla is nimble when it comes to her vocals. She knows when to fall back in an effortless-sounding whisper and refines her demure vocal style with quiet burning emotion. “Priorities” is probably as traditional pop as the record gets, though she marries these and other conventions of genres with hallmarks of South African music all throughout. —Garcia

  • Kali Uchis, ‘Orquídeas’

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (20)

    Kali Uchis builds a world of luxury, self-empowerment, revenge and lust on “Orquídeas,” her second Spanish-language album. Uchis ventures through pop, R&B, merengue and dembow on the 14-song LP, inviting Latin peers – Peso Pluma, Karol G, El Alfa, Rauw Alejandro – to join her in crafting experimental combinations of sounds. One of the most outstanding examples of this being the synthy pop hooks of “Igual Que Un Ángel” where Peso irons his twangy vocals to sound honeyed, while Uchis shows off the range of her whistle register. “Orquídeas’” flowery, powder-pink aesthetics ultimately sell you on the idea of accepting nothing less than princess treatment. —Garcia

  • Young Miko, ‘Att.’

    The 20 Best Albums of 2024 (So Far) (21)

    Nearly one year after making her first Billboard chart entries with juggernaut reggaeton singles “Chulo Pt. 2” and “Classy 101,” Young Miko comes in hot with something to prove on her futuristic debut. Starting strong with “Att.” opener “Rookie of the Year,” Miko incorporates elements of honeyed hip-hop to compliment her relaxed and sultry cadence. When she strays from her signature dembow rhythms, Miko seamlessly glides on playful trap and pop beats. She does this well – especially when leaning into the deeper parts of her register, as she does in the Las Ketchup-referencing “Wiggy” and the defiant “f*ck TMZ.” —Garcia

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