From hit machines like Katy Perry and Bruno Mars, to up-and-comers like Zendaya and Tinashe, to legends like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, 2016 is looking to be another year full of giant hooks. Here’s the pop albums we’re most looking forward to.
20 Most Anticipated Pop Albums of 2016
Katy Perry, Zayn Malik and more
Rihanna came out guns blazing in January 2015, mentioning that her long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Unapologetic was on the way, executive produced by none other than Kanye West. But after a few singles, including the acoustic “FourFiveSeconds” with West and Paul McCartney, and the R&B radio hit “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the campaign seemed to go quiet. The title and cover of Rihanna’s 8th album, Anti, was finally unveiled in November, and her Samsung app ANTIdiaRy has been teasing fans with cryptic hints — but 2016 has so far begun with no new single or release date. “To me it’s never done until it’s done,” Rihanna said of the album in September. As recently as November she canceled a performance at the Victoria Secret Fashion Show to put in some more work into it.
The follow-up to Katy Perry’s 2013 hit machine Prism has yet to be announced, although in May Perry’s manager Steven Jensen said the record would drop “by 2016.” During the run-up to her Super Bowl appearance in February, Perry told the Associated Press that her new songs would be about “real-life experiences,” and that a makeover of sorts might be on the horizon. “It’s important for me to maybe start reinventing myself,” she said. “There’s only one Mount Everest and once you’ve reached it, it’s like, where do you go from there? You’ve just got to sail somewhere else.”
This Is Acting, Sia’s seventh album, pays tribute to the bewigged Australian’s other gig — writing songs for the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and other chart-toppers.Acting (due January 29th) will consist entirely of songs that have been rejected by bigger names, and the match between song and intended target will, at times, be apparent on first listen. “One of them is a Shakira reject, which there’s no doubt when you hear it. You’ll know that it was a Shakira reject because I sound like Shakira,” she told Rolling Stone in December. “Alive,” the album’s lead single, was intended for Adele and written alongside the British belter and the hotly tipped Canadian troubadour Tobias Jesso Jr. “I chose the people that we worked with and I choose those people because they’re so incredibly talented and they check their egos at the door too and allow me to be the artist. Then when I want to bring another artist, I try to check my ego at the door and be of service to them and allow them to be the artist.”
Beyond working on “All I Ask” off Adele’s blockbuster 25, Bruno Mars has been focused on creating his third album, the follow-up to 2012’s double platinumUnorthodox Jukebox. Despite the wait in between albums, Mars has never really exactly left the spotlight, playing the Super Bowl Half Time show and appearing on 2015’s biggest single, Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” which spent 14 weeks at Number One.
She’s spent the last year touring classic pop songs with Tony Bennett and starring as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, but Lady Gaga has also been working on her follow-up to 2013’s Artpop. “I want the fans to be surprised,” Gaga told Yahoo in late December. “But I will just tell you that it’s a wonderful, soul-searching experience. … This record is like – my old self as a cadaver. And I’m just, I’m operating on my old self.” Among the forensic investigation: Possibly returning to the studio with RedOne, if a studio selfie with the “Poker Face”/”Bad Romance” producer is any indication. “We took a little break from each other and now it feels like we are in a good place, both of us. She did her thing, I did my thing, and it feels like we’re back on track together,” RedOne said to The National.
New Zealand teen Lorde revitalized alt-pop with her 2013 debut Pure Heroine and its anti-materialism anthem “Royals.” Since then, she curated the soundtrack for the penultimate installment of The Hunger Games film franchise and appeared on “Magnets,” the standout track off Disclosure’s latest album, Caracal. Lorde teased a follow-up as 2015 came to a close, tweeting about how she was “feeling quietly excited about 2016” and confirming that an album name has been chosen.
A ninth album appears to be imminent for the pop princess, who stormed 2015 with a hit Las Vegas show, an appearance on disco icon Giorgio Moroder’s comeback LP, and a campy single with Iggy Azalea titled “Pretty Girls.” Several songwriters and producers have confirmed studio time with the singer, including frequent EDM vocalist Matthew Koma and rising songwriting titans Justin Tranter and Julie Michaels, the duo who co-wrote Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” Selena Gomez’s “Good for You” and Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself.”
When the swivel-chair-assisted singing competition The Voice returns for its 10th season in February, Christina Aguilera will be back on the judges’ panel — and that return might coincide with new music. In October, Aguilera told Today that she was “accumulating ideas” for two albums: An English-language follow-up to 2012’s Lotusand a Spanish-language album, her first since 2000’s Mi Reflejo. Amd during a January interview with Extra, she mentioned that she had been working on music with fellow Voice mentor Pharrell Williams.
Jonas has been “digging deep” into R&B and soul vibes for the follow-up to his self-titled 2013 LP. In September, following the release of the bouncy “Levels” and his dip into trap-soul with “Area Code,” Jonas told Entertainment Weekly that a new album will be out early this year, just in time for his co-headlining tour with fellow former Disney Star and current business partner Demi Lovato.
Beyond the glare of tabloid cameras and The Voice, tireless businesswoman and artist Gwen Stefani has, in fact, had some time to make some actual music. Stefani reportedly started work on her third solo studio album, the follow-up to 2006’s The Sweet Escape, in 2014, but scrapped most of it. Instead, we got the first single, the nakedly personal ode to ex-husband Gavin Rossdale, “I Used to Love You.” Stefani told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe that the song arose as part of an unusually prolific, post-writer’s-block period. “I think I have enough for probably two albums,” she told him. “I have to write a few more songs, because I feel like, might as well keep going while it’s there.” It’s not all torch songs and ballads, though, she told him. A new single, a “really happy song,” is likely due out next — it’s called “Misery.” Go figure.
Charli XCX canceled her fall 2015 tour with Bleachers to work on her follow-up to 2014’s Sucker. In September, she offered a few details about the still-untitled albumto the U.K. newspaper The Mirror: “It’s definitely the most electronic pop sound I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve been really inspired by Paris Hilton, small dogs and a glitter, luxe lifestyle.” In October she bore out that prediction when she released the dark, pounding “Vroom Vroom,” produced by future-shocked electro artist Sophie.
It’s been nearly a year since Bradford bad boy Zayn Malik dropped out of the boy band life, leaving behind a world tour with One Direction and swearing he wanted to be a “normal 22-year-old.” By summer, Malik had secured a solo deal with RCA and began teasing his studio time on Instagram. According to his recent Billboard cover story, Malik’s new sound, which is being cultivated with the help of Frank Ocean’s producer Malay, focuses on “beats and atmosphere,” following in the vein of Drake and the Weeknd.
The Haim sisters have experienced a roller-coaster ride since their 2013 debut, Days Are Gone — including collaborations with Calvin Harris and M83, a show on Beats 1 and an opening slot on Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour. In October, they told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe that their long-in-the-works second album was almost finished. “Essentially the oven has been pre-heated and the oven door is open. … Fish fingers in the tray,” they quipped. While their signature harmonies will likely remain intact, there are a lot of wild cards at play: “We’re always writing and figuring out new vibes and trying to get our inner Kanyes out,” Alana Haim told Rolling Stone in 2014.
Former Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande has had one of the easiest transitions from child star to pop diva. Her 2014 sophomore album My Everything showed off her vocals and pop dominance, and her third LP, Moonlight, may continue to solidify her as a star. She debuted first single “Focus,” which features uncredited vocals from Jamie Foxx, in October. Charlie Puth confirmed that he had written tracks for the album, and Grande spilled to fans that the track “Moonlight” was co-written by her and Victoria Monet.
Moody pop upstart Sky Ferreira kicked off her 2016 with an Instagram post updating interested parties on her long-in-the-works second album, Masochism. “I refuse to put out something that isn’t honest,” she wrote. “It’s not something that I can force out. If I was to do it any sooner I either would have been compromising myself & anyone listening. I would have had to put out music that wasn’t true or a message I would not want to put out into the universe.” The first single from Masochism, “Guardian,” was supposed to come out in August, but “health issues” delayed its release.
Even though member Camila Cabello began stepping out on her own with her Shawn Mendes duet “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” Fifth Harmony has been recording their sophomore LP, deemed “5H2” by their fans until more information is released. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Cabello revealed that she hopes the album will be released “at the top of the year” and that the group had been working with pop super-producer Max Martin on the new material.
Tinashe’s 2014 debut Aquarius was a strong start for the multi-talented musician and dancer. She spent 2015 touring with Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry and is now prepping a sophomore album, Joyride, that will solidify her mark. For the LP, she’s worked with Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Boi-1da, Hit Boy, Diplo and Dev Hynes, to name a few, and has already previewed a darker, grittier vibe to her party-R&B with singles “Party Favors” featuring Young Thug and “Player” featuring Chris Brown.
For her follow-up to her 2015 Christmas record, Kylie Minogue is thinking back to her sinewy dance music. “I could see myself going full pop after this. Getting back to my dance/pop roots,” she told Idolator in November. “Recently it was the 12th anniversary of [the Grammy-nominated] ‘Slow.’ I think back to songs like that and I go, ‘Yeah, I’d like to do that again.'” No collaborators have been confirmed, although Minogue did release the Kylie + Garibay EP — a collection of songs she worked on with Lady Gaga co-conspirator Fernando Garibay and electronic-music legend Giorgio Moroder — in September.
Disney star Zendaya became a prominent figure in 2015 outside of the tweens who adore her shows and films on the family-friendly channel. On red carpets, she became a style icon, and on social media, she spoke out against racism and sexism. She’s poised for pop stardom, and the first step is her sophomore album, originally rumored to debut in February though never confirmed by the singer or her label. For her next album, the singer has been working with Diane Warren and Timbaland. In November, she gave a taste of what’s to come with the Timbo-produced song “Close Up,” which was featured in a fashion film for Vivienne Westwood.
We already got a taste of one of 2016’s first big releases, Santigold’s 99¢ (Due January 22nd), from the album’s first single, “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” a giddy tune driven by a unique and uncharacterizable global pop beat. “The record cover is a picture of me basically in a bag, shrink-wrapped, with a bunch of items, random clutter from my life … and there’s a 99-cent sticker on it,” Santigold said of the album title. “Everything is a product at this point, including people and relationships, and everything’s about marketing products. So, I’m a product. And also, everything is undervalued, so I thought 99 cents is a good price for me and my life and all my hard work.”