The Daily Californian’s Arts Awards: Music of 2020

Photo of Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa/Courtesy

Best Pop Album

Winner: Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa

Photo of Dua Lipa album

Courtesy: Warner Records UK

With her sophomore LP Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa put the pop music genre on her shoulders — and needless to say, she carried it without wavering. While Future Nostalgia spawned some of 2020’s biggest hits, its function was much more than just a singles album. The record was arguably one of the most defining moments in pop music’s shift back toward danceable, disco-inspired music. While many artists tried to catch onto this trend of nostalgia-driven tracks, Lipa took it, ran with it and exploded it. Future Nostalgia is everything its title promises it to be: a sonic time capsule that revives the liberation and pure joy of disco music while simultaneously looking forward to what pop music can become. To Lipa, that appears to be a weird, fun and totally carefree sound that has proven to be both infectious and timeless. 

It’s rare that an artist crafts an album that so accurately predicts and improves on everything the culture is hungry for, yet Future Nostalgia time and time again blasts through expectations for a sophomore pop record. It may be one of the most confident, self-aware albums that has hit the mainstream in recent years, and hopefully, it isn’t nearly the last we hear from Lipa.

Ryan Garay

Runner-up: Women In Music Pt. III, Haim

The anticipation that built before Haim’s newest release, Women In Music Pt. III, could well have precluded its success. An abundance of hope is a dangerous thing. But with an album as sunny and bouncy as this one, it’s hard not to be satisfied. 

The trio’s music is more refined than it’s ever been, but it avoids the pitfalls of overproduction and bloat that plague other artists operating under similar circumstances. With blazing guitars, compact drums and drooping synths, the sisters create a sublime musical experience, one that can be casually enjoyed as accompaniment while winding over local hillcrests or as a supplement to late afternoons in the park.

The lyrics are nothing to ignore, either. Haim’s music hits a perfect zone: personal but relatable. Somehow, a statement as trite and bland as “fucked up, but it’s true” is turned into a lachrymose reflection on abuse and suppression, something only possible because of Haim’s consummate combination of lyrics and melody.

— Crew Bittner

Best Alternative Album

Winner: Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple

Photo of Fiona Apple album

Courtesy: Sony Music Entertainment

In one word, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is catharsis. The album is an anthology of Fiona Apple’s deepest pains and desires: her refusal to bury her anger, her desire to break free from a patriarchal world and her need to be listened to. But despite how intimate the album feels to the singer’s own experiences, it also resonates deeply with listeners. Apple’s raw emotions come through the record and speak to listeners’ most personal troubles, making Fetch the Bolt Cutters as much of a catharsis for us as it is for the artist herself.

Apple is able to accomplish such ingenuity through her masterful artistry. Even on the most superficial level, the album sounds raw — Apple recorded the songs in her living room, and her band stomped on the floor and banged on the walls to create the instrumentals. Her emotions shine through her ragged, unrelenting voice. Her lyrics come across like beautifully constructed prose, as she tells intricate stories about her experiences of being silenced and her desire to speak up. And on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, she doesn’t just speak up — she insists on being heard, and her audience listens earnestly, eager to hear her story unfold.

— Salem Sulaiman

Runner-up: Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers 

Punisher is wistful, dreamy and musing all at once. On her sophomore project, Phoebe Bridgers’ songs are just as poignant as they were on her critically acclaimed debut album Stranger in the Alps, though the artist is palpably more mature than ever before on Punisher

Her growth shines through in the form of moody instrumentals and pensive lyrics that tell stories about love, loss and heartbreak. Bridgers successfully immerses listeners into her stories, making us feel and appreciate the sorrow she describes. She ends the album with “I Know the End,” a song concluding with loud screams and booming instrumentals — the cathartic climax of a melancholy journey that listeners feel lucky to have witnessed.

— Salem Sulaiman

Best Rock Album

Winner: The New Abnormal, The Strokes

Photo of the Strokes album

Courtesy: Sony Music Entertainment

The New Abnormal is solid proof that The Strokes truly are the kings of garage rock music. Featuring a perfect blend of The Strokes’ nostalgic sounds from the early 2000s and a modern, synth-infused take on the very indie rock music they pioneered, The New Abnormal is not simply a hallmark of linear growth for them, but one of revitalization. With expectations for the record set incredibly high, and pressure on the band to fit into the volatile indie music industry without sounding dated, The Strokes chose to highlight their inner struggles without holding fans at an arm’s length. 

The somber notes on “Why Are Sundays So Depressing?” harken back to Sundays spent longingly staring out a window, the medley of sounds on “Eternal Summer” stirring up memories of chaotic scenes that may no longer hold their charm. But a level of self-aware nonchalance is present throughout the album as well, most memorably observed through lead singer Julian Casablancas casually interjecting, “Drums please, Fab,” on “Ode to the Mets” without missing a beat. 

The New Abnormal shows that The Strokes are still structurally intact, and haven’t lost the charisma and cohesion they need to beautifully capture the essence of ageing gracefully.

Pooja Bale

Runner-up: Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan

Everyone hated it when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he definitely showed up in his newest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. Now on his 39th studio album, Dylan surprised with his first set of all original songs since his 2012 album, Tempest. Rough and Rowdy Ways is filled with humble silhouettes of human truths, philosophy and life. Just take a look at the epic-length song, “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute deep dive into some of the United States’ pivotal historical events, prompting much reflection in light of this year’s presidential election. Dylan’s work is a testament to the role that songwriting plays in the world of literature and its subgenre, poetry, as his evocative narratives and innovative ideas continue to shape the American song.

Cameron Opartkiettikul

Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album

Winner: Circles, Mac Miller

Courtesy: Warner Records

Released in January, Circles is Mac Miller’s sixth studio album and the posthumous capstone to his music career. The record’s highest charting track, “Good News,” softly opens with “I spent the whole day in my head,” this line congruent with the album’s disorienting, illuminative soundscape.  

The drifting beats make for music that is far more emotive than rhythmically intense. Miller floats through reflective songs, such as the titular track “Circles” and the melancholic, beat-driven “Everybody.” The album’s high-level production, however, is still dynamic and not wholly centered on his lyricism. The grave truths dispersed throughout Circles are complemented by more buoyant, synth-laced tracks such as “Complicated,” “Blue World” and “I Can See.” And although hard-hitting bars may be sparse, this is not to say that rap conventions are entirely absent. Miller’s career started in hip-hop, and it only makes sense that such texture lies throughout the record. “Hands” in particular exhibits a sense of self that isn’t found elsewhere on the album: “Ooh, it’s true, I want it badly/ Hit the zoom, I be movin’ like a athlete,” he strides. 

The record is deviant from rap in the traditional sense; its critical merit has far more to do with what it achieves artistically. Rap as a genre and Miller’s career have both seen vast evolution, often bleeding into other styles. Circles stands as art of the moment, and with that, it honors an artist gone too soon.

Kathryn Kemp

Runner-up: Run the Jewels 4, Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels 4 is an intense, biting album and one of the most relevant and pointed releases of 2020. Run the Jewels tackles issues from police brutality to systemic racism, adopting a fervent message of “sticking it to the man” while setting its sharp bars to smooth hip-hop beats. 

While the members of Run the Jewels have always been outspoken activists, Run the Jewels 4 finds Killer Mike and El-P honing in on the urgency of the times more so than in their last release, Run the Jewels 3 — and rightfully so. It’s this utmost level of transparency and palpable passion that make Run the Jewels 4 a powerhouse record.

Pooja Bale

Best Indie/Folk Album

Winner: Folklore, Taylor Swift

Photo of Taylor Swift album

Courtesy: Taylor Swift

In a quarantine-spurred surprise, Taylor Swift released Folklore, her eighth studio album. Swift’s artistry throughout her decade-long career has traversed a vast, fertile landscape of genres, but Folklore feels like a sincere retread to her songwriting roots — the saccharine sounds sugarcoating her previous album, Lover, have mulled into mild, tender maturity.

The air is thick on Folklore: Swift’s breathy vocals navigate tiers of somber piano and gauzy acoustics. It’s Swift’s first album since turning 30, and Folklore not only points to but manifests the maturity of this milestone. The album feels both new and nostalgic, steeped in candid contemplation. Her developing wisdom comes into fruition through the vivid, empathetic songwriting.

Through poetic imagery, Swift intertwines “Cardigan,” “August” and “Betty” to chronicle the unraveling of a complicated relationship. In this powerful trio of tracks, Swift glides between the perspectives of the people involved, preserving unwavering remorse and compassion. Swift embraces her singular role as a storyteller, and Folklore notably boasts only one collaboration: “Exile.” A heart-wrenching duet between Swift and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver dusts off the baggage of an anguished, discordant relationship. With austere piano and haunting overlapping vocals, the song wallows in exquisite melancholy.

Folklore teems with intimacy and growth. The thin veil of pop music dresses a few of the songs, such as the opening track “The 1” and the bouncing “The Last Great American Dynasty.” Yet, even familiar sonic conventions feel reimagined in Swift’s virtuosic storytelling.

Maya Thompson

Runner-up: Songs, Adrianne Lenker

On her latest record, singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker emerges with startling clarity as she explores feelings of love and longing within the recesses of pain and heartbreak. The artist, known for her work as the frontwoman of the folk-rock band Big Thief, strips back her sound to sparse arrangements of warm acoustic guitars and airy, evocative melodies. They sound like birdsong, resulting in music that is sonically and emotionally transparent to a remarkable degree. Songs is the mark of an artist at the height of her craft — it’s one of the most intimate, universally touching pieces of music you will ever hear. 

Vincent Tran

Best International Album

Winner: Sawayama, Rina Sawayama

Photo of Dirty Hit album

Courtesy: Dirty Hit

With her debut album Sawayama, Japanese-British artist Rina Sawayama demonstrated the huge variety of music she is capable of dominating. Her music incorporates elements of Eurovision kitsch, Japanese pop sensibility and bubbly American standom. Sawayama spans genres with ease, and her debut record is perhaps the strongest assortment of musical variety on deck this year.

Thrashing guitars roar on “STFU!” Pulsing electronic dance beats inject themselves into “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys).” “Tokyo Love Hotel” is pure diva poppiness, complete with vivid, self-aware imagery. Song after song, Sawayama secures another genre, as if she is creating a collection of artistic prowess.

Under other circumstances, Sawayama could be a muddled disaster. But with incredibly tight production backing Sawayama’s strong, effervescent vocals, the artist’s debut is complex but clear. It functions as a capsule containing dozens of moods firmly expressed through genre. “Bad Friend” is slow and soulful while “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” bleeds stadium pageantry and international renown. Songs fluctuate from aggressive to saccharine to determined, but are always rooted in their security and confidence.

What makes Sawayama such a compelling experience is the pure liberty behind it. From her lyrics to her melodies, Sawayama is consistently firm in her conviction of her own ability’s quality. It’s that conviction that pushes Sawayama over the edge into greatness. It is the powerful statement of an artist who knows the extent of her abilities, and who is only just getting started.

— Crew Bittner

Runner-up: Song Machine, Gorillaz

Virtual British band Gorillaz took an innovative approach leading up to the release of Song Machine, dropping tidbits of the album over the course of a few months. But despite the staggered tracks reading as disjointed songs upon initial listen, when put together, every song builds on the flow established by the last. 

Song Machine is an excellent example of a successful collaborative effort without relying purely on clout, showcasing the strengths of not only the band member personas, but also of each guest brought on. Plus, who doesn’t want to hear Elton John, St. Vincent and New Order’s Peter Hook on the same record?

Pooja Bale

Best Billboard 100 Single

Winner: “Don’t Start Now,” Dua Lipa

Photo of Dua Lipa album

Courtesy: Warner Records UK

From TikTok to Billboard, Dua Lipa’s front-runner single “Don’t Start Now” took 2020 by storm. About 4.2 million videos on TikTok featured the song as fans and creators choreographed dances and started some of the year’s most iconic memes. Clearly, though, “Don’t Start Now” didn’t stop with social media, eventually overtaking mainstream pop and climbing all the way to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Lipa’s most successful single in the United States. Accolades aside, the track is an undeniably catchy return to pop music’s roots, transporting listeners with its disco-inspired production and infectious chorus. While the track maintains Dua’s staple as a carefree, confident female figure in pop, the song is a complete sonic departure from the tracks on her debut LP. It is a clear indicator of the artistic growth she is capable of. 

Where digital drums and synth harmonies ruled her 2018 hit “New Rules,” sassy piano and a funky bass fill “Don’t Start Now” with the groove and rhythm of disco’s golden age. Importantly, however, “Don’t Start Now” isn’t a carbon copy of anything that’s been done before — its absolute star power comes from Lipa’s energy as an artist with a focused vision and a clear talent to make that vision a reality.

Ryan Garay

Runner-up: “Say So,” Doja Cat

If “Say So” had been released at anytime within the last 30 years, there’s a good chance it would’ve been an international hit — albeit, some of the sexual lyrical content may not have been as appreciated. Only in 2020, though, with the exponential rise of TikTok, could Doja Cat’s January single have achieved multiplatinum status. 

In many ways, it could be argued that the disco-groove, pop-rap track was the first song truly associated with its dance, which was created by a teenage girl on the viral video-sharing platform. Haley Sharpe, the TikTokker behind the popular choreography set to the song’s chorus, was eventually featured in the single’s official ’70s disco-themed music video. And while Doja Cat was unable to perform the tune for any spring tour dates, it became the quintessential TikTok anthem — the amelioration of social media’s hyper-influence on music trends. 

Ethan Waters

Song of the Year

Winner: “Watermelon Sugar,” Harry Styles 

Photo of Harry Styles album

Courtesy: Sony Music Entertainment

Harry Styles returned last year with Fine Line, a worthy follow-up to his highly successful self-titled debut in 2017. “Watermelon Sugar” undoubtedly stood out this year, garnering more than 890 million plays on Spotify and becoming Styles’ first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. With a catchy chorus perfect for stadium chanting and a sultry tone, Styles discovered a sound to include in his budding discography.

The song has been deemed as a sort of sexual innuendo, but Styles has yet to explain the meaning, previously mentioning that he likes to leave his songs up for interpretation and let the music speak for itself. Indeed, this song and album mark a milestone for Styles’ career; recently, he was nominated for the first time in three Grammy Award categories: best pop solo performance, best pop vocal album and best music video. After working at a bakery, competing on “The X Factor,” becoming a pop superstar in One Direction and transitioning to being a solo act, Styles has been on a long journey — and he’s just getting started.

Cameron Opartkiettikul

Runner-up: “Ringtone (Remix),” 100 gecs feat. Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito, Rico Nasty

2020 was a huge year for hyperpop, and 100 gecs’ “Ringtone (Remix)” from 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues is the genre at its very best. Featuring Charli XCX, Rico Nasty and Kero Kero Bonito, this collaboration could feasibly be called the most ambitious crossover event of the year. The sound stays true to 100 gecs’ chaotic style while seamlessly highlighting the strengths of each guest. The sweet, pop vocals from Kero Kero Bonito are balanced by Rico Nasty’s powerful auto-tuned verse, and the entire song is held down by Charli XCX singing the irresistibly catchy hook: “My boy’s got his own ringtone/ It’s the only one I know/ It’s the only one I know.” “Ringtone (Remix)” is pure, danceable fun, and after a few listens, it just might feel like the only song you know.

Sarena Kuhn

Best Music Video

Winner: “Watermelon Sugar,” Harry Styles

Photo of Harry Styles

Courtesy: Harry Styles/Vevo

There is no denying that the past couple of years have been major successes for Harry Styles. His latest studio album Fine Line received much praise following its release at the end of 2019, emphasizing Styles’ immense talent and ability to resonate with his listeners. 

“Watermelon Sugar” quickly became one of the most notable on Fine Line, leading to a music video in May that visually affirmed its sweet, summery ambience. 

Styles notes at the start of the video that “This video is dedicated to touching” — a statement all the more significant given the isolation of the pandemic. Set along the shore, the music video embraces a retro aesthetic that accompanies the warmth of Styles’ music. Similar to his “Lights Up” music video, “Watermelon Sugar” is rather sensual, surrounding Styles with a plethora of individuals and, of course, seasonal fruit. The video’s vibrant colors and visuals stand out alongside his smooth vocals, bringing much-needed joy and enthusiasm to fans stuck at home. 

And, as Styles’ success continues to grow, the “Watermelon Sugar” video serves as another reminder of the artist’s growth from boy band member to solo artist. It is something that fans will be sure to look back on, especially when they crave summertime vibes. 

Sarah Runyan

Runner-up: “Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd

Fast, bright, beautiful and manic, “Blinding Lights” on film is aesthetic indulgence at its finest. The Weeknd is known for his unique melding of sound and dark glamour, and “Blinding Lights,” the second single off After Hours, delivers a fresh perspective on these consistent themes. 

The “Blinding Lights” music video pairs the electric melody of the song to a multitude of rapidly changing frames, focuses and angles, embodying the desperate emotions of the song itself. The music video displays The Weeknd as confidently crazed, zooming through “sin city” in flashes of colored lights and Joker-esque attire — a bold suit and a manic grin. The video is haunting in its visual depiction of glamorous isolation. 

The Weeknd has proved he is capable of far more — musically and visually — than he has shown in previous albums. If the “Blinding Lights” music video is any indication, his continued evolution promises to be a uniquely decadent specticle. 

Nathalie Grogan

Best Collaboration

Winner: “WAP,” Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion

Photo of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion

Courtesy: Atlantic Recording Corporation

WAP” — an acronym for “wet ass pussy” — is a chart-topping collaboration between Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Released in August, the song is the lead single for Cardi’s upcoming album, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the inaugural Billboard Global 200 chart. 

Across social media, conversation regarding “WAP” exploded, with TikTok users engaging in dance challenges and household names, namely Ben Shapiro, exposing their complete lack of knowledge surrounding female arousal.

While “WAP” does not demonstrate the full musical range of either Cardi or Megan, it is an immensely entertaining and memorable experience — the secret of its success. Cardi and Megan haven’t clearly acknowledged “WAP” as a symbol of female empowerment, but the song’s explicit sexual lyrics and female-dominant position have prompted extensive discussion. In particular, negative reactions to the “WAP” music video have sparked critical dialogue around the negation and shaming of Black female sexuality. 

Cardi and Megan are two of the most confident, sexually empowered female rappers in the music industry, and their delivery of outlandish lyrics with “WAP” has been the most entertaining musical collaboration of 2020.

Nathalie Grogan

Runner-up: “Savage,” Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé 

“Savage” took the world by storm on its own, but when a remix with Beyoncé was released, the world wasn’t ready. TikTok went crazy as teenagers around the world danced to this with their parents, siblings, friends and anyone else who knew how to be classy, bougie and ratchet all at the same time. Beyoncé adds a lot to this remix, transforming the vibe with her sensual background vocals and a powerful presence in her rap verses. Who knew saying “OK” could hit that way? No doubt, we have to give this collaboration some props for cultivating unforgettable energy during this quarantine. 

Cameron Opartkiettikul

Best International Artist 

Winner: Dua Lipa

Photo of Dua Lipa

Courtesy: Wolf Craft

One song is all it takes to fall in love with English pop star Dua Lipa. Paving the way for pop with the fierce hit “New Rules,” Lipa’s self-titled debut album launched her to stardom three years ago. With an incredible 7.6 billion streams and counting, her debut is Spotify’s most-streamed album by a female artist — yet somehow, in 2020, Lipa has managed to outdo herself.

Releasing her sophomore album Future Nostalgia in March, Lipa truly did a full 180 from her debut. The cohesive record is fiery pop-disco perfection that showcases her strengths in the most dynamic and danceable of songs. Bolstered by colorful lyricism and slick production, Lipa’s sultry voice oozes a mesmerizing magnetism on every track. The electrifying rush of energy “Don’t Start Now” has rightfully achieved more than 1 billion streams, and other popular songs such as “Break My Heart,” “Physical” and “Levitating” demonstrate innovation welcome for years to come. Unlocking raw, radiant euphoria, Future Nostalgia is polished glamour that solidifies Lipa’s position as a queen of pop.

After her record’s spectacular success, Lipa has continued to let her imagination blossom. In lieu of touring, she brought the thrill of the dance floor to listeners at home with the remix album Club Future Nostalgia in August and last week’s Studio 2054 livestream. Lipa is undeniably a driving force in the music industry, and this year, she proved that her 2019 Grammy Award for best new artist was most definitely well deserved.

Taila Lee

Runner-up: Blackpink

After a Coachella performance that shook the entire festival, Blackpink continues to represent South Korean pop music, showing that language holds no barriers in music. Appearing on the late-night shows of Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden and Stephen Colbert to perform songs such as “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” and “Kill This Love” off its EP Kill This Love, Blackpink established its presence in American media. Eventually, its networking paid off, as Blackpink was able to release its first full album, The Album, featuring collaborations with Selena Gomez and Cardi B in “Ice Cream” and “Bet You Wanna,” respectively. Blackpink’s success is a sign of the changing American music landscape, so people better watch out, because Blackpink is in your area.

Cameron Opartkiettikul

Best Breakout Artist 

Winner: Megan Thee Stallion 

Photo of Megan Thee Stallion

Courtesy: Megan Thee Stallion/YouTube

Though Megan Thee Stallion has been making waves in the rap industry since the release of her first EP three years ago, 2020 is the year she propelled to true stardom. The Houston rapper’s third mixtape, Suga, came out in March and was a smash hit among both critics and fans. More recently, she released her debut album Good News in November, generating a number of up-and-coming anthems — in less than a week, the album’s single “Body” became immensely popular on TikTok.

It’s easy to understand why Megan has gained such popularity. The rapper is known for pushing boundaries with her unapologetically raunchy lyrics and consistent theme of independence, and her projects this year are no exception. She challenges the norms of what the music industry believes female artists should talk about, owning her sexuality in a way that many listeners find empowering. Beyond that, Megan’s artistry is mature beyond her years: Her songs are consistently characterized by witty lyrics and hard-hitting beats that make her music sound fresh and exciting. Though Megan only recently stepped into the spotlight, there is no doubt that she’ll continue to break barriers with her hit songs for years to come.

Salem Sulaiman

Runner-up: BENEE

At just 20 years old, New Zealand artist BENEE has already made her mark on the music world. With her breakout single “Supalonely,” featuring Gus Dapperton, passing 2 billion streams worldwide, BENEE has propelled herself to stardom. 

Beloved for her bubbly personality masking melancholy lyrics, she’s an artist who sparkles with spirit and an irresistible relatability. She brings her creativity to life with music that paints colorful, whimsical dreamscapes, proving that her imagination is truly boundless. Her debut album, Hey u x, dropped last month, a beautifully experimental record that boasts collaborations with Grimes, Lily Allen, Flo Milli and other notable artists. It’s a futuristic musical feat that further justifies her current success — and at the very least, it proves that “Supalonely” wasn’t fool’s gold.

Taila Lee

Artist of the Year

Winner: Megan Thee Stallion

Photo of Megan Thee Stallion

Courtesy: Megan Thee Stallion/YouTube

Megan Thee Stallion has made herself a household name with her series of “hot girl” EPs and hit singles. The rapper, hailing from Houston, released four EPs between 2017 and 2020 — Make It Hot (2017), Tina Snow (2018), Fever (2019) and Suga (2020) — and released her first album, Good News, in November. The artist is characterized by her battle rap style, bad b— anthems and social media clout. And while Megan isn’t the first rapper to rap about sex, money and success, she is the first to brand success and sexual empowerment as “‘real hot girl s—.” 

2020 has seen Megan reach No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart with her “Savage” remix, featuring Beyoncé, as well as her feature on Cardi B’s single “WAP.” Both songs became viral TikTok dance challenges, earning Megan significant social media attention. 

Even with her online popularity, however, it would be a mistake to reduce Megan’s achievements to social media success. A Megan Thee Stallion track is a uniquely powerful musical experience, with rapid-fire raps, clever rhymes and fierce female sexuality. And while a majority of her material is explicitly sexual, it serves to identify Megan (and women generally) as absolutely in control of her own pleasure and desires — a tone that is seriously lacking in the male-dominated rap industry.

Megan is only getting started and will no doubt continue to influence pop culture with her full-bodied sexuality, raw talent and unique brand of “hot girl.”

Nathalie Grogan

Runner-up: Harry Styles

Ten years. That’s how long it’s been since Harry Styles walked onto the stage of “The X Factor” for an audition, changing his life forever. Since his wildly successful boy band years, Styles has gone above and beyond to prove his versatility as an individual artist. After the success of his self-titled soft-rock debut in 2017, the highly anticipated release of his sophomore album, Fine Line, was one of the rare bright spots of 2020. The effervescent record debuted No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and landed a spot on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list this year.

The sun-soaked, summery song “Watermelon Sugar” climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and optimism emanated from his lush hits “Adore You” and “Golden.” An insightful addition to Styles’ discography, Fine Line not only brightened a year that desperately needed exuberance but also captured Styles’ exemplary progress as a musician.

Taila Lee

Contact The Daily Californian’s arts & entertainment staff at [email protected].