Women Dominated 2019: Ken Tucker Picks His Top 10 Albums Of The Year

Dec 9, 2019
Originally published on December 13, 2019 10:35 am

From rap to rock to singer-songwriter pop, 2019 was a bountiful year for all kinds of music. Lil Nas X's hit "Old Town Road" defined the year with its massive, genre-crossing popularity and sheer catchiness. But when it came to the best albums of 2019, female artists reigned.

When I started drawing up my list my favorite albums of the year, it was quickly apparent that the first three entries would be in very close competition. I love Lizzo's Cuz I Love You for its soul ballads and hip-hop funk; I admire Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? for its artful intimacy; and I continue to be nourished by Lana Del Rey's Norman F****** Rockwell! for its long, languid songs about the ways that men intrigue, please and disappoint her.

In the end, Del Rey's cinematic compositions pushed her collection just slightly ahead of the others to take the No. 1 slot. Here's my list, in order, of the best albums of the year:

1. Lana Del Rey, Norman F****** Rockwell!

2. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You

3. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

4. Carsie Blanton, Buck Up

5. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever

6. Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated

7. Maren Morris, Girl

8. Beyoncé, Homecoming: The Live Album

9. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow

10. Jenny Lewis, On the Line

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Last year, women artists took seven out of 10 spots on rock critic Ken Tucker's top 10 album list. This year, women took over completely, filling all ten slots. Ken says that from rap to rock to singer-songwriter pop, 2019 was a bountiful year for all kinds of music. Here's a song from one of the artists on his list, Lizzo, who was just nominated for eight Grammys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUZ I LOVE YOU")

LIZZO: (Singing) I'm crying 'cause I love you.

(Rapping) Never been in love before. What are feelings, yo? Once upon a time, I was a ho. I don't even wanna ho no mo. Got you something from the liquor store, little bit of Lizzo and some Mo. Tryna open up a little mo. Sorry if my heart a little slow.

(Singing) I thought that I didn't care. I thought I was love-impaired. But, baby, baby, I don't know what I'm gon do. I'm cryin' 'cause I love you.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When I started drawing up my 2019 best list, it was quickly apparent that the first three entries would be in very close competition. I love Lizzo's album "Cuz I Love You" for its soul ballads and hip-hop funk. I admire Billie Eilish's "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" for its artful intimacy. And I continue to be nourished by Lana Del Rey's "Norman F'ing Rockwell!" for its long, languid songs about the ways that men intrigue, please and disappoint her. In the end, Del Rey's cinematic compositions pushed her collection just slightly ahead of the others to take the No. 1 slot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREATEST")

LANA DEL REY: (Singing) I miss Long Beach, and I miss you, babe. I miss dancing with you the most of all. I miss the bar where The Beach Boys would go, Dennis' last stop before Kokomo. Those nights were on fire. We couldn't get higher. We didn't know that we had it all. Nobody warns you before the fall. And I'm wasted. Don't leave. I just need a wake-up call. I'm facing the greatest, the greatest loss of them all.

TUCKER: Other artists on my best list are adored within their genres, but are perhaps less well known to a wider listenership. Megan Thee Stallion's debut album "Fever" collected her witty, profane thoughts. Carly Rae Jepsen's "Dedicated" offered a whole new set of dance-pop confections. And I was completely won over by the album full of tough-minded songs written and performed by Carsie Blanton on "Buck Up," which I have no doubt is the most underrated album of this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN KID")

CARSIE BLANTON: (Singing) I was once a American kid, growing up on hallowed ground. Rode to the river on a pretty red horse in a pretty little country town. But I grew up fast, and I cast my vote for the president. And I had my doubts, but I still had hope, until I read the finer print. Don't look now, but it won't be long. They're going to wonder what we did. And we'll have to admit that we done them wrong. God held the American kid. Oh, God help the American id.

TUCKER: Of course, men made great music as well, frequently in the form of a different measurement of artistic achievement, the hit single. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the song of the year is Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road?" It's the song that defined the year for its massive genre-crossing popularity and sheer catchiness. And if I had to narrow down to one favorite song in 2019, it was probably this one - 21 Savage's musical list of trials and tribulations called "A Lot."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A LOT")

21 SAVAGE: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, yeah. How much money you got? Straight up. How much money you got? Straight up. How much money you got? Straight up. How much money you got? A lot. up. How much money you got? A lot. How many problems you got? A lot. How many people done doubted you? A lot. Left you out to rot? A lot. How many prayed that you'd flop? A lot. How many lawyers you got? A lot. How many times you got shot? A lot. How many [expletive] you shot? A lot. How many times did you ride? A lot. How many [expletive] done died? A lot. How many times did you cheat? A lot. How many times did you lie? A lot. How many times did she leave? A lot. How many times did she cry? A lot. How many chances she done gave you? [Expletive] around with these [expletive]? Every day that I'm alive, I'ma ride with...

TUCKER: In the end, I narrowed it down to these 10 albums. No. 1, Lana Del Rey's "Norman F'ing Rockwell!" Two - Lizzo, "Cuz I Love You." Three - Billy Eilish, "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" Four - Carsie Blanton's "Buck Up." Five - Megan Thee Stallion, "Fever." Six - Carly Rae Jepsen, "Dedicated." Seven - Maren Morris' "Girl." Eight - Beyonce, "Homecoming: The Live Album." Sharon Van Etten's "Remind Me Tomorrow" is No. 9, and 10 is Jenny Lewis' "On The Line."

It was also a very strong year for women writing music books. A fine new biography of Janis Joplin by Holly George-Warren, Deborah Harry's eccentric autobiography, Karen Tongson's critical study titled "Why Karen Carpenter Matters" and, the best rock memoir I read all year, Amy Rigby's "Girl To City." Yes, as far as I was concerned, it was the Year of the Woman, and it was exhilarating. My best to you for this holiday season.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is FRESH AIR's rock critic. You'll find his 10 Best list, as well as book critic Maureen Corrigan's 10 Best list on our website, freshair.npr.org. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Peter Bergen, national security analyst for CNN and author of the new book, "Trump And His Generals: The Cost Of Chaos." We'll talk about how Trump went from saying he loved his generals to later basically going to war with the generals in his administration. Bergen says with the generals gone, Trump is surrounded by yes men. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "BAD GUY")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GUY")

BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) White shirt now red, my bloody nose. Sleeping, you're on your tippy toes. Creeping around like no one knows. Think you're so criminal. Bruises on both my knees for you. Don't say thank you or please. I do what I want when I'm wanting to. My soul - so cynical. So you're a tough guy, like it really rough guy, just can't get enough guy, chest always so puffed guy. I'm that bad type, make your momma sad type, make your girlfriend made type, might seduce your dad type. I'm the bad guy - duh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.