2019 is over, and so is genre.
It’s a dangerously pithy thing to say, especially considering how the separation of music’s sound is still central to the inner workings of the entire industry. Radio is based around genre. So are Billboard’s charts and Spotify’s biggest playlists. Programmers bake it into the algorithms that help you discover your next favorite artist.
But here’s the thing: Your future faves don’t care about genre. And the ones at the top of their game right now don’t have much use for it, either.
Billie Eilish, one of 2019’s biggest breakout stars, landed with a shape-shifting blockbuster debut where clips from The Office mingle with dentist drills and lovely piano ballads. Her idol, Tyler, the Creator, reemerged with a nuanced, electric collection of neo-soul and funk that sounds both like yesterday and tomorrow. Ostensible boy band Brockhampton rapped their way through collective trauma over rainy R&B that they warped into their own image and likeness.
Yet a pop star is still a pop star — and in 2019, the major stars shone even brighter by sharing more of themselves than ever before. Stray Kids illuminated a new path in the crowded K-pop landscape. Ari Lennox captured Blackness and feminine sexuality in a highly personal song cycle. Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande probed deeply into their respective images, Swift grappling with her own genius and Grande marching boldly into her own weirdness. King Princess, meanwhile, showed what a new kind of pop star looks like.
Just outside the mainstream, Nilüfer Yanya fashioned an entire cosmos from guitar strums and a brilliant voice. Once a lo-fi confessional singer-songwriter, Angel Olsen went maximal, diving into symphonic heartbreak pop bolstered by a wall of sound miles wide. The albums they made are gargantuan, yet they feel lived in, never sticking to a single formula for too long.
Which brings us back to genre. It’s over, and yet it’s the equation that actually gets more foolproof the more complicated it gets. The more variables added — disembodied sitcom voices, lonesome trumpets, trap beats behind repurposed NSYNC lyrics — the more compelling and rewarding the final product. And the less it matters what you call it.
We’re calling these 10 our Albums of the Year for 2019. See the full list below; each comes with its own essay, where we’ve delved into what made them essential listens in a year with no shortage of them.
Genre might be over, but the post-genre landscape is just getting started. Start with the 10 albums below.