GEM’s Best Albums of 2020

Looking back on this melancholic year can be difficult for many. We lost so much during the previous 12 months. Not only were we catapulted in what seems like an alternative reality once observed in sci-fi films and series but we were also confronted with ourselves whilst we had nowhere else to run to. Throughout this time, in what can only be described as isolation, we weren’t able to get a false sense of distraction of community that is found whilst being in the midst of others but were just to rely on ourselves and our nearest and dearest. So how did we survive this year? For many, it has proven to be more difficult than others and while the release of new music might not be enough to fix our wounds it has at least proven to be a soft aid needed to find an escape within reality and some sense of normality. We are almost in 2021 and although we can’t wait to return to our “normal lives” this is the time to think back of all the good things that have happened to us. Therefore we present this list of albums that helped us find some magic in a catastrophic year to you, our reader hoping that our love captivates some of its happiness. 

Ariana Grande- Positions Album Review 

The new Ariana Grande era has begun, the 27-year-old pop star released her new album ‘Positions’ on October 30th, 2020. Working with a variety of producers on the album, including Tommy Brown, Anthony M.Jones, London on da Track, the Rascals, Shea Taylor and Charles Anderson. 

The newly released pop album expands on the R&B factors in each track and incorporates elements of hip hop, neo-soul, and funk. ‘Positions’ finds Grande discussing themes of sex and romance after tragedy. So the main question is, “what person does not love the idea of love?” We know for sure that Ariana Grande is not shy when it comes to singing about love and tragedy, as she is perfectly-known for her fair share of relationships and heartbreak in the past. 

However, it seems that she is nowhere near close to giving up on the idea of true love in her latest album. Grande released the first single from her highly anticipated album named ‘Positions’, unlike her past few albums that speak about love and tragedy, in ‘Positions’ she is optimistically moving on to her new chapter in life.

‘Positions’ is an album where Grande is thriving on life and love, embracing her new relationship, being honest about the fear she felt falling in love again, the comfort she has found in letting her guard down and embracing a new love, but most of all, all the sex she has been enjoying. 

The album can be anticipated as encouraging amongst people, convincing them to not give up on finding the one and feeling your absolute best, no matter how many heartbreaks you may endure, love, is always around the corner. 

Text by: Jessica Janes

Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

After years of self-funded independent singles, Japanese-born, London-raised Rina Sawayama released her hit debut album on April 17th 2020 under Dirty Hit. ‘SAWAYAMA’ regenerates the Y2K era with waves of dance-pop spliced with nu-metal, bonded together by production that’s reminiscent of early-naughties R&B. The album is perfect chaos that cannot be defined by a singular genre.

Opening track ‘Dynasty’ is a fitting introduction to the project as it sets the tone for an album that is full of exploration into her personal history and identity. With lyrics such as “I’m losing myself, in the darkness of the world / Saving myself, is all I really know”, Sawayama incorporates the theme of intergenerational pain in her lyricism and presents it in a way that is truthful and raw, yet somehow empowering.

Sawayama uses nu-metal throughout the album to charge her rage. ‘STFU’ rails against racist micro-aggressions, white male privilege and Asian stereotypes. The track is a massive middle finger to everyone that’s wronged her, with a chorus that reiterates one simple request: “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? / ‘Cause I have many times, many times”.

In ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)’ Sawayama makes her case to become the future of dance floor pop. The song has a heavy bassline and sonic hues that have been taken from early 2000’s disco to pay homage to the gay men who have supported her throughout her career.

SAWAYAMA is scattered with her queerness; ‘Chosen Family’, the albums only ballad and emotional centrepiece is a dedication to the community that Sawayama considers family. “We don’t need to be related to relate / We don’t need to share genes or a surname” is an invitation to anyone that shares that sense of otherness.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sawayama puts the genre lurching throughout the album down to “getting bored quickly”. The project’s sound diversity is what makes it so brilliant – it’s an authentic reflection of her, which is what an album should be. ‘SAWAYAMA’ is an honest self-portrait, one that you need in your playlist.

Text by: Vanessa Valentine

Lennon Stella – Three. Two. One.

Canada: beautiful nature, nice people, and amazing music. The list of talented people is endless, and the Canadians have yet another rising pop miracle who is ready to take over the charts. Released in the midst of the first lockdown, Lennon Stella’s debut album ‘Three. Two. One.’ made staying at home and quarantine so much more bearable. 

Even though the singer-songwriter is only 21-years old, this album has a very mature and evolved sound. ‘Kissing Other People’ and ‘Jealous’ – two songs released as singles – make the perfect pop songs. “I get the feeling it’s not love that keeps us holding on / It’s the fear of being alone” – a line from one of the best tracks on the album ‘Fear of Being Alone’ – is just like ‘Much Too Much’ vulnerable, relatable, and has an indie-pop vibe which pleases melancholiac souls. Stella reinvented pop with this album and is on her way to make ‘Three. Two. One.’ a blueprint for pop music in the ‘20s. 2021 would make all of our dreams come true if the world can finally hear this album live and in person. ‘Three. Two. One.’ is a debut album that not just pop-lovers need to hear but everyone who is interested in music even in the slightest.

Text by: Ine Vanvuchelen 

Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall

On September 25th, Colson Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly released his fifth studio album ‘Tickets To My Downfall’, inspired by his collaboration on ‘I Think I’m Okay’ with Yungblud and produced by Blink-182’s drummer Travis Barker.

With this album, the former self-proclaimed “Rap Devil” reinvented his sound completely, setting foot into the Pop Punk genre. The earlier singles he released – ‘bloody valentine’, ‘concert for aliens’, and ‘my ex’s best friend’ ft. blackbear – brought back early 2000‘s Pop-Punk nostalgia, and this is a theme that returns in the whole album. MGK explains his new sound as very “guitar-driven”, as he hopes it will inspire the younger generation to learn how to play an instrument. Lyrical wise he explains his fifth album as his most sincere LP yet, with him being as honest as he has ever been with the public. From searching for closure in past relationships and asking for a fresh start in fan favourite ‘forget me too’ ft. Halsey, to ‘play this when i’m gone’, an open letter to his daughter Casie, it’s safe to say the album is an emotional rollercoaster. ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ successfully brought Pop Punk back into the nowadays mainstream music scene and into the charts.

 Text by: Victoria Madzak

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Thirteen tracks and a disco-themed album for a world without a dancefloor: Three years after the release of her first self-titled album Dua Lipa surpassed herself with the evolving of her pop-star imagine. 2020 has been a challenging year, especially when Covid-19 first started to affect our everyday lives by closing stores, cinemas, etc. and forcing us to adapt to a new lifestyle. With closing nightclubs and bars, not only the gastronomy but also artists have started to suffer. 

With the release of ‘Future Nostalgia’ right at the beginning of the worldwide pandemic, Lipa has given listeners all over the globe the opportunity to make our home feel like a dancefloor. 

Lipa wanted her new album to be different. She purposed on creating a “nostalgic” pop and disco record with influences from dance-pop and electronic music and stated it as to be a new era. 

Before the release of her first single ‘Don’t Start Now’ the 25-year-old teased her fans with a 1-minute clip of herself in a stunning yellow bikini, hinting on what her new sound would be like. In ‘Don’t Start Now’ Dua Lipa touches on something we all have experienced before – heartbreak. But with a slight twist, coming out stronger than ever before.

With lines such as “Did the heartbreak change me? Maybe / But look where I ended up” Lipa encourages everyone to be unstoppable: “If you wanna believe that anything can stop me”

The dance-electro-pop funk single ‘Levitating’, which Lipa additionally released with DaBaby, encourages to stop whatever you doing: stop lying in bed and eating your feelings away, and create your own dancefloor. But the 25-year-old knows how difficult it can get top wrap yourself together and just move. So, for her single ‘Physical’ she released a workout dance routine, in which she is dressed in a very 80s-themed shining yellow bathing suit.

Dua Lipa has successfully changed her music style from everyday pop to electronic-disco pop and has managed her music videos to feel like an experience. Lipa is an inspiration for every pop artist wanting to make it big.

Text by: Hannah Lipfert

Haux – Violence in a Quiet Mind

Massachusetts-raised and London-based singer and producer Haux, Woodson Black, is known for creating a dreamy atmosphere by combining simple guitar-picking and piano melodies with electronically induced sounds which complement his soothing and fragile vocals. 

This year Haux released his very personal first debut-album ‘Violence in a Quiet Mind’ where the singer bravely opens up about his partly traumatic childhood, loss, despair and longing. But as much as the album is about depression, it is also about the process of healing, self-awareness and acceptance – “Take a sigh, take a breath in / Keep ’em close, keep ’em guessing / People lie, learn a lesson / Count your friends and your blessings” Haux sings in ‘Heavy’, the sixth track on the album. In ‘Violence in a Quiet Mind’ the singer invites us to look back on his younger years when he was dealing with the passing of his two aunts and the substance abuse his family was struggling with.

The 10-track album begins with ‘Hold On’ which illustrates the desperation between feelings of uncertainty and loneliness after losing someone and holding onto hope. In ‘Killer’ we can clearly hear the pain in the singer’s voice. It tells the story of forgiving someone when feeling betrayed which appears to be a heavy and agonising act, however, at the same time it can be liberating to let go of the ache that has been inside oneself for so long – “For all you caused us / For all you missed / For disappearing with a killer’s kiss / I forgive you, I forgive you / I forgive you, I forgive you”. In ‘Craving’, as the title already reveals, we learn more about Black missing someone and longing for their warmth and love – and essentially realising that time and space are finite. For the eighth track of the album, that is even called ‘Eight’, Black invited guest vocalist Rosie Carney, a 23-year old Irish singer. The two tender voices harmonise beautifully and recreate a memory of when Haux was only eight years old and struggled to cope with his aunt’s sudden death.

It seems as if the whole album is an important part of the singer’s own trauma-healing process for he can reshape his pain into art. Haux’s soothing and calming voice makes us believe every word he sings and lifts us into another world, also due to the thoughtful use of musical elements – the combination of guitar and piano with synthesised sounds create an almost mystical ambience. This album shows that music can be truly personal, emotional and transformative! With ‘Violence in a Quiet Mind’ Haux encourages us to talk openly about our issues and worries because only then we can move forward.

Text by: Alexa Zsigmond

Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic

In a world filled with uncertainty and destruction, almost nothing offers more inspiration as lively as the current events, and the British rockers of the acclaimed indie group Nothing But Thieves are no newbies to skillfully taking politics, mental health issues, and social struggles and turning them into magnificent songs. This is also how the group’s latest work, their third album ‘Moral Panic’, came to be, which, at its core, acts as a mirror for all of us, for a society that has become too idealistic, too “Hollywood” and too afraid to face its darker sides. It’s a story woven through the album where heavy-hitters like ‘Unperson’, ‘This Feels Like The End’ and ‘Can You Afford To Be An Individual’ meet shining, lighter tracks ‘Real Love Song’, ‘Free If We Want It’ and the ever so enchanting ballad ‘Impossible’ that has the band look behind the romantic nature of love. It’s this mix of monstrous riffs, beautifully written lyrics and calm, reflective moments, that brings ‘Moral Panic’ close to near faultless and might just coin Nothing But Thieves as one of the most exciting indie-rock bands of the current times. Born from a time filled with uncertainty, the group has created an expressive little work of art, which urges listeners to engage with their own minds in order to bring a dash of positivity to a steadily darkening world.

Text by: Laura Weingrill

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers’ second solo album ‘Punisher’ has proven to be the antidote of 2020. Drawn from personal stories of a lost sense of self, despair and emotions that can never ever be explained. Bridgers’ is an artist that relies on her distorted sense of self to create music that is so magical that can relate to almost all of us that get lost in our feelings ever so often. ‘Garden Song’ is the standout track that sums up Bridgers’ artistry. The soft-spoken first single of the album sees her combine her dissociative nature with a tale that can only be described as a twisted fairytale. The fragile excellence of Bridgers’ voice is perfectly combined with her indie-rock emo sound that hypnotised her ever-growing fanbase. 

In ‘Chinese Satellite’ she grapples with the reality of losing someone and wanting to do anything to get them back even if that means she has to “stand on a corner embarrassed with a picket sign/ if it meant I would see you when I die”. ‘ICU’ and ‘Halloween’ are both songs to cry and dance to – a feeling that should be patented to Phoebe Bridgers. Not only is she the comeback of introspective emo music she is also the founder of an entirely new spectrum of music. Bridgers’ music is the embodiment of “smiling through your tears”, “screaming in your pillow”, “crying for such a long time that your face is all red and puffy” but most of all her music is the embodiment of everyone who ever felt cast aside and had to find a way in dissociating into a mystical, magical world in order to cope with your own personal reality. 

‘Punisher’ is different to anything that might have been released this year because even if the world will collide and all of humankind will disappear this album will provide a safe space of love found in sadness and it has prepared us for what is yet to come in a way that no one could’ve ever have imagined. Phoebe Bridgers’ music transpires the notion of genres and influences and can only be defined as a combination of feelings and therefore it is only logical to cast her as the future of music that is about to be.

Text by: Lauren Dehollogne

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