TRL's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

Bye, 2017!

2017 was one heck of a year, but music saved us all from internally combusting. It's hard going through the entire roster of releases, but somebody's gotta do it—lucky for you, TRL's staff is hopelessly devoted to the cause. After several rounds of voting (and debating), we narrowed down our top 20 albums of the year. Read the recaps for each record in the list, below.

  1. SZA, Ctrl

    Being on the wrong side of a breakup always brings that cloud of unanswered questions that greet our sudden loneliness. SZA’s first full debut Ctrl—a heartfelt R&B album about the complete loss of its namesake—consistently asks those fruitless questions in earnest. “Why am I so easy to forget like that?” she demands on beautiful intro “Supermodel”, before turning inward: “Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?” Interwoven with defensively careless kiss-offs like the excellent, Travis Scott-assisted “Love Galore”, the record still hits hardest when in its feels. “Why you ain’t say you was gettin’ bored?” she pleads on “20 Something”. “Do you even know I’m alive?” she wonders on “Anything”. Collectively, it’s a stunning well of evergreen emotions explicitly crafted for 2017; in the age of social media showboating and pretending we all have our sh*t together, Ctrl actively explores the deepest truths of being young and openly lonely. - Terron Moore

  2. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

    To be a marginalized human—a person of color, a woman, a non-heterosexual person—is to exist in a constant struggle to be seen and understood. That experience creates a spectrum of feelings: the rage, the sorrow, the loneliness, the joy of your unique identity. DAMN., Kendrick’s fourth full album, is such a brilliant encapsulation of what those torrents of emotion feel like through the lens of an African-American male, from the deeply felt frustration of “DNA.” to the soft sweetness of “LOVE.,” interweaving self-realization, self-grandiosity and questioning faith, oftentimes on the same track. Kendrick’s devotion to pouring his life into his art is purely unmatched; on “ELEMENT.,” his admission that “I’m willing to die for this sh*t” doesn’t just feel like another line in a song. It feels like virtuous fact. - Terron Moore

  3. Daniel Caesar, Freudian

    There's something special about the R&B music that is coming out of Toronto and Daniel Caesar is leading the way. His debut album is a refreshing take on romance and the old-fashioned concept of courtship with carefully selected features from Kali Uchis ("Get You"), H.E.R. ("Best Part"), Syd ("Take Me Away") and Charlotte Day Wilson ("Transform"). The single that instantly stole my heart was "Blessed" where Daniel passionately sings "Yes, I'm a mess, but I'm blessed to be stuck with you." There's a reason why so many people are dropping down on one knee and popping the big question at his shows—Daniel gets what true love is all about. — Sydney Gore

  4. Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy

    On his fourth album, Tyler, the Creator shows that he is an artist in full bloom. With this record, the 26-year-old proves that he's more than a rapper—he can also sing, produce, collaborate and most importantly, execute a vision that is purely his own. This past year, Tyler continued to break out of the boxes that the industry tried to confine him in by teaming up with Converse on a new sneaker collection, dropping another line of Golf Wang, and hosting his annual Camp Flognaw festival. The best is truly yet to come. - Sydney Gore

  5. The xx, I See You

    “They say we’re in danger, but I disagree,” opens The xx’s third album I See You, a consistently pitiful series of moments between two lovers who have no idea who they are individually, much less how they relate to one another. The result is heartbreakingly beautiful indie pop, most notably on standouts “Say Something Loving” and “A Violent Noise.” But the wounds don’t heal by the album’s close: the haunting pain of “Test Me” implies that the relationship is just as toxic as it was when it began. “Just take it out on me,” Romy Madley Craft sighs. “It’s easier than saying what you mean.” - Terron Moore

  6. King Krule, The OOZ

    A New Place 2 Drown is still Archy Marshall’s most cohesive album, but The OOZ doubles down on ambition to create an entire world, one where the essence of A New Place has been blended into a more expansive horizon of feeling. There’s even a subtle reference to A New Place on The OOZ’s highlight, “Czech One;” the site to drown has now become a place “to mourn.” But while A New Place started and ended in one, moody night spent in Marshall’s soul, The OOZ brings you to the lonely morning, and the subsequent anguish of an entire day—a life even—spent in the shadow of heartbreak. It tumbles through anger, remorse and regret, quietly drifting by on tracks like “Logos” and “The Cadet Leaps,” then finding brief, frustrated flashes of life in “Dum Surfer” and “Vidual.” It’s the sound of drowning and coming back up for air, only to realize you’re as stuck as ever. - Gus Turner

  7. Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory

    In the midst of one of hip-hop’s louder, more flagrant years, Staples’ sophomore effort is so highly focused in its sound and delivery that it could have been easily drowned out in the Cardi B of it all. But Big Fish Theory cuts through the noise as Staples fuses sharp productions of hip-hop and Detroit techno with bars that speak on everything it means to be a young black man in modern America. “How’m I sposed to have a good time when death and destruction’s all I see?” he asks on the jittery “Party People,” a question with particular meaning in this age of unease and unrest. Whether it’s ear-friendly club bouncers like “Yeah Right” or “Big Fish” or middling low-ride thumpers like “745” and “SAMO,” Staples’ lyricism is stunningly dense with truth at a time when it’s needed more than ever. - Terron Moore

  8. Syd, Fin

    At first, it was hard to understand why The Internet would take some time apart, but now that the members have been putting their solo projects out into the world, I get it. Syd's debut solo album is a masterpiece, something out of an R&B-themed wet dream. From "Body" to "All About Me" and "Know," she doesn't disappoint on any of the 12 tracks that shape this project. Syd's rhythm and flow can't be duplicated—she has developed a sensual sound that is completely her own. Even though the album was released at the top of the year, it can't be forgotten because it makes a deep impression that stays with you. - Sydney Gore

  9. Billie Eilish, dont smile at me

    Even though this project is considered an EP, Billie Eilish still put together an impressive debut that is worthy of recognition. Age is insignificant, but the way that the 16-year-old sings about love, loss, insecurities and heartbreak is the opposite of juvenile. She initially sparked interest with her breakout ballad "Ocean Eyes," but there's even more depth on tracks like "Bellyache," "Bored" and "idontwannabeyouanymore." Not only did she make her big TRL debut this year, but she also finished off 2017 with Vince Staples on a new single called "&Burn," her first official collaboration. Billie is just getting started, but I can already tell that she's going to be a breakout star in 2018. - Sydney Gore

  10. Princess Nokia, 1992

    This Afro-Puerto Rican princess remains one of New York's best kept secrets, but she finally got the recognition she deserves following the release of 1992. The album is woven together with empowering anthems such as "BRUJAS," "TOMBOY," and "G.O.A.T." that call for unity in their own individual ways. Princess Nokia's energy is contagious. - Sydney Gore

  11. Sampha, Process

    Sampha made us wait for his full-length debut, but delivered with Process, an LP that sees the behind-the-scenes genius step fully into his own. Previously, he was best known for his work with Drake (Nothing Was the Same’s “Too Much”), Solange (A Seat at the Table’s “Don’t Touch My Hair”) and Frank Ocean (Endless’ “Alabama”), as well as a too-brief 2013 EP. On Process, the London singer takes us beyond Dual’s softly lit alt-R&B to explore panic, loss and heartbreak over arrangements that are occasionally frenetic and other times spare, but always moving. - Gus Turner

  12. Khalid, American Teen

    This 19-year-old came out of nowhere—or to be specific, El Paso, Texas—and dazzled the entire music industry with his prolific R&B tunes. Khalid is proud to speak on behalf of the teenagers of America even though he is on the brink of adulthood. I rarely get nostalgic for my high school days, but Khalid reminds me of the rush I used to feel in the presence of my crush. Looking back, the obsessive aspect of it is immature in practice, but it's something that your parents don't tell you will fade away when you grow up. American Teen isn't just about love though—Khalid touches on other fundamentals like friendship, family and finding yourself. Being a teenager is one of the most complicated phases of your entire existence, but it remains the same for every generation.- Sydney Gore

  13. JAY-Z, 4:44

    Vulnerability was 2017’s enduring quality. Even Jay-Z, famously protected from the public eye by a heavily mediated relationship with the press and a nearly nonexistent social media presence, lowered his mask of success and showmanship to let his fans look at the human behind. With respect to his career and legacy, the importance of the turn can’t be understated. He’s an artist whose brand is founded on his wins; that it’s all been an image is part of the point. But when 4:44 dropped, so did his guard. Though many expected Jay to hold an L in the wake of Lemonade, he instead used his failings as an opportunity to reflect, showing his fans the importance of honesty, patient love, and even therapy in the process. - Gus Turner

  14. Lil Uzi Vert, Luv Is Rage 2

    Lil Uzi Vert is our next rock star. His summer hit “XO Tour Llif3” is the strung-out, heartbroken anthem every generation needs, performed with all the attitude and originality of any era-defining musician. What sets him apart from his SoundCloud peers is his vocals; it’s entirely possible to listen to a song that only features Uzi—“Tour Llif3,” “No Sleep Leak” or “Feelings Mutual”—and hear three different rappers on the track. He’s unafraid to experiment, to use even his ad-libs as opportunity to completely take you aback. On Luv Is Rage 2, he leans into his innate talents, twisting and turning his voice in every available permutation across 16 songs (plus the deluxe version’s four, essential bonus tracks). It’s the perfect tool for exploring all the highs and lows that come with his newfound status as an icon—the dissolution of his relationship with longtime girlfriend Brittany Byrd; the interlocked, sometimes competing, pursuits of fame and excess. Uzi takes us through it all: love, rage and everywhere in between. - Gus Turner

  15. Charli XCX, Pop 2

    It's amazing how Charli XCX still has the pop world wrapped around her finger even though she hasn't released a full-length record since 2014's Sucker. Toward the top of the year, she whipped up her Number 1 Angel mixtape and then proceeded to close out 2017 with one more just for fun! As demonstrated by the title, Pop 2 is an experimental pop project that shows Charli doing what she loves the most—collaborating with artists that she admires. Nothing feels out of place, from the polished "Unlock It" featuring Kim Petras and Jay Park to the moody MØ-assisted track "Porsche." - Sydney Gore

  16. Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds From Another Planet

    Don’t be fooled by the name of Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet. There’s nothing gentle about the blow Michelle Zauner deals with her second studio album, an arrestingly human project that never wastes a word. Her lyrics are so uncannily specific to the feeling of loss, it’s as if she engineered them in a lab to travel express from your ears to your heart. You’ll cry for “Till Death,” and then let her guide you to the other side of grief on “12 Steps.” To borrow a phrase, this isn’t the album of the year; it’s the album of the life. - Gus Turner

  17. Mount Kimbie, Love What Survives

    Dominic Maker and Kai Campos have gone and done it again with their third album. The English electronic music duo have really taken the time to hone their skills and craft a project that picks up where the predecessors left off while offering a fresh perspective from an entirely new lane. James Blake, King Krule and Micachu lend their voices and set distinct moods on the record—instead of taking over the track completely, they complement the overall Mount Kimbie soundscape. The result is something that is noticeably different, but still feels comfortable.- Sydney Gore

  18. Mura Masa, Mura Masa

    It's hard to believe that Mura Masa's self-titled album is his debut because the breakout producer completely nailed it. With features from icons like Charli XCX ("1 Night"), NAO ("Firefly"), A$AP Rocky ("Love$ick"), Damon Albarn ("Blu") and Desiigner ("All Around the World"), Mura Masa not only showed that he values versatility, but has established himself as a global artist. - Sydney Gore

  19. Lorde, Melodrama

    New Zealand's most promising pop star has always thrived on channeling darkness in her music. After experiencing a painful breakup, fans expected Lorde's next project to be bursting with brooding ballads about love and loss, and she fully delivered on her sophomore album with songs like "Green Light," "Perfect Places" and "The Louvre." Melodrama is a romantic coming-of-age record, a testament to Lorde letting go of her teenage woes and accepting the impending perils of adulthood. - Sydney Gore

  20. Harry Styles, Harry Styles

    Styles’ debut album is certainly the least flashy of his One Direction counterparts: where Niall, Liam, Zayn and Louis have gone varying degrees of radio-friendly, Harry Styles is filled with refreshingly unfussy soft rock, tinged with shades of folk and britpop. Energetic “Kiwi” is as classic British rock as he gets, but Styles’ vocals resonate most when he’s in the throes of love, making the pretty “Sweet Creature” and somber “Ever Since New York” the album’s most poignant moments. - Terron Moore