2020 was a rough year for the music industry with concerts and festivals put on hold and artists forced to cancel long-awaited tours. Political upheaval, social unrest, and fear about the future all shaped the sounds and songs that defined the year. Despite the problems, 2020 produced some spectacular albums.

 

“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple

It took eight years for Fiona Apple to follow up “The Idler Wheel…” with 2020’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” It was worth the wait. Apple marries her trademark cutting and clever lyrics with a symphony of oddness. She recorded the album in her home, and elements of her home abound — echoes, doors banging, cats meowing, and dogs barking to name a few. The songs are wildly unpredictable, personal, and challenging, going beyond standard pop to create something truly original.

 

“YHLQMDLG” by Bad Bunny

In 2016, Bad Bunny went from working at a supermarket in Puerto Rico to being an international superstar. Now, with his sophomore album, “YHLQMDLG” (which stands for Yo hago lo que me da la gana, or I do what I want), he’s become the most-streamed artist of 2020. “YHLQMDLG” blends reggaetón with Latin trap to create a joyful dance party that lasts for 20 tracks — perfect for taking your mind off 2020’s stressors.

 

“After Hours” by The Weeknd

The Weeknd — aka Abel Tesfaye — raised some eyebrows when he called out the Grammys for leaving “After Hours” off its list of 2020’s best albums. He had a point. Few artists have blended soulful R&B, pop, and new wave synths with as much precision and skill. The Weeknd keeps up the hedonistic persona he created in earlier albums but adds a layer of introspection with songs like “Snowchild.” His voice soars whether he’s singing about being heartbroken or breaking someone else’s heart.

 

“Folklore” by Taylor Swift

Few artists have pivoted as much in their careers as Taylor Swift. The megastar has gone from country darling to pop princess. With “Folklore,” she shifts again to indie folk. Her songwriting is deeper than it’s ever been; its focus is on storytelling rather than self-expression, with tracks about love triangles, hated widows, and even a ghost at a funeral.