Over the past few years, it seems pop music in general has slowly emerging from a slump, with the sterile electro-pop sounds and autotune being balanced out by a bit more in the way of folk, rock and acoustic elements. This growing diversity of sound is reflected in some of this 2012’s best pop albums, as you’ll see in my list below. It was actually a bit difficult to put these in any particular order—I think all these records are good—but for what it’s worth, here they are, from least to greatest.
8. Phillip Phillips, The World From the Side Of the Moon
Perhaps the most promising American Idol champ since Carrie Underwood, Phillips has scored big with this one, particularly with his hit “Home.” An acoustic-driven sound with just enough grit to make it interesting.
7. Mumford & Sons, Babel
Admittedly more folk than pop, Marcus Mumford and crew have so much crossover appeal that their follow-up to Sigh No More definitely warrants mention here. While critics complained that Babel sounded too much like their debut album, I found it to be better produced and more exciting overall than the first. When you have a good thing going, you don’t change it; you just refine it. This record deserves a listen.
6. Taylor Swift, Red
This was a hard one to place, because with Red, country’s top-selling artist went so far toward pop that classifying the record was just plain confusing. But at the end of the day, this is a pop record, and a darn good one at that.
5. Justin Bieber, Believe
Arguably the first record of Bieber’s adulthood, Believe proves that this guy has staying power beyond mere teen heartthrob stardom. While not my personal favorite flavor of pop, this is an excellently produced pop record, nonetheless.
4. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die
Say what you will about Lana Del Rey—Born To Die proves she can make a compelling record. Not so much femme fatale as fatalistic female, Del Rey exudes a sultry-yet-sad sexual vibe with deep vocals that are just plain haunting.
3. Pink, The Truth About Love
Everyone’s favorite tough girl provided us this year with a record filled with sing-able hooks, danceable rhythms, unflinching raw emotion, and most of all—passion. One of Pink’s most solid efforts to date.
2. Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox
The last major pop release of 2012, Unorthodox Jukebox also happens to be one of the best. Although Mars veered a little too far toward a Michael Jackson knock-off, he also steered clear of many mediocre electro-pop pitfalls, and in the process created a masterful record.
1. Fun., Some Nights
Coming seemingly from out of nowhere, this band quickly dominated the charts early this year with their hit “We Are Young”, featuring guest vocals from Janelle Monae. From there, things have only gotten better, as we heard hook after hook from their breakout album Some Nights. Nate Reuss traded the indie-rock vibe of his former band The Format for a more theatrical pop sound, and the trade-off paid off. A couple of weeks ago, fun. landed a whopping six Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. They deserve every one of those nods. They’re likely tired of the puns by now, but this band is just plain—well…you know.